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Cupping on the iPhone

3 Apr

Ok. I admit it: I’m a gadget freak. But what would life be without these all to often oh so useless, pricey machines that sparkle like jewels and make cool sounds?

Please don’t answer that question.

I have for a while been looking for an easier way to jot down cupping notes. My writing can sometimes be less than legible after hurriedly writing down notes on pieces of paper while cupping. Enter the iPhone! This little companion plays me music, entertains me with games and useless applications (and once in a while puts me in touch with other people.). Why can’t it be my cupping notepad?

This has bothered me for a while. Most of the crew at TW are loaded with iPhones just waiting to get that little bit more useful. Well, I’ve heard your pleas (even though you didn’t realize you were making them.)!

I have “modified” an application called Tap Forms (opens in iTunes) to double as a cupping form, and it works! You can even export the results. I’ve made an excel sheet that I can paste these results into so that they later on can be compared and stored.

As you can see I’m very thrilled about this, and it will last at least until I spill the first coffee on the iPhone. I enclosed some pictures below so you can gaze upon this wonder… Click on the pictures to see large versions.

(By the way, the cupping notes in the pictures below are just an example and not from an actual cupping of Mountain Top. It’s a great coffee, and I’m enjoying it as a single origin espresso at the moment.)

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Cupping resource Part 1

23 Mar

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Ok. Finally I’ve managed to make a new version of the cupping form I had made after looking through all the cupping forms I could get my hands on.

I was going to post it long ago, but the harddrive of my mac died and with it all my work.

So now I’ve painstakingly made a new version of the old form. I decided to make some changes to it. It’s based partly upon the Cup of Excellence cupping sheet and is intended to be used either as a full CoE cupping sheet or just a simple descriptor cupping sheet where you can disregard the point scale all together, or you can even choose to use both.

Personally I’d like to be able to have a cupping form that could be used not just for the full thorough cuppings.

I find it sometimes a bit difficult to read my hastily jotted down numbers on a CoE cupping sheet so I decided to make them more like volume nobs. No illegible numbers, just plain lines. I feel that this way it’s also easier to read at a glance after cupping.

Next time I’ll post the cupping sheets I’ve managed to reclaim after the harddrive crash.

Feel free to download and use this form, but if you do please give me some feedback on it and don’t use it for commercial purposes.

Edit: I looked through the cupping form recently and discovered that if you added 36 as per the normal CoE form you’d end up with 108 points max instead of the desired 100. I have changed the form so that you add 28 points extra instead to get to 100 in the end. I also changed “Flavour” to “Taste” as per suggestion.

Cupping form 2nd draft

Are you making coffe on autopilot?

13 Oct

Let’s face it. There is no shortage on opinions on the internet about how to make the best coffee. And quite a few has, in their own mind, come up with the perfect routine.

In this post I’m not after finding my own perfect way, nor am I particularly experimental, but what sparked me to write this was a first hand experience on how a seemingly perfect routine can be deceiving. As the parameters surrounding the brewing process changes, such as new coffees, different roasts and so on, this will affect the brewing.

We realized that we hadn’t checked for a while about what brew time and grinder setting was optimal for the current freshness of our coffee when making french press coffee. We’ve also been switching back and forth between two different grinders (same make but different models) but keeping the same grinder setting. We then decided that we had to check if what we were doing were correct.

To make a long story short: We kept the grinder setting, but varied the brew time.

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We brewed several french presses at once, but let them brew for different lengths (4, 4.5, 5 and 5.5 minutes) and cupped the coffees blind. We used a Kenyan coffee (Eeagads Estate) with a very distinct blackcurrant flavour.

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We ended up deciding to let the coffee brew for 5 minutes as opposed to the 4 minute brew we have been using up until now. Originally we had decided that 4 minutes of brewtime were perfect for this coffee, but since then some parameters have changed without us adjusting our routine accordingly.

This discovery led me to think of how many other coffee bars and roasters must be doing the same thing without realizing that things maybe should change.

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Have you tested your own routine recently? Be it roasting a certain coffee to a certain colorette or agtron degree or brewing an espresso on one temperature setting with the coffee coming in almost certainly being roasted to slightly different degrees.

Personally I feel comfortable that we check our own routine and coffees regularly but this was still an eye opener. We roast our own coffee and know when we need to adjust the brew temeperature slightly to accommodate slight variations in the roast degree. But what about coffee bars that don’t roast their own coffee. Do they test to see if their new batch of coffee needs an adjustment of their routines?

Is it perhaps time to see if you’re making the most out of your coffee or if you’re just making coffee on autopilot?

Just a thought.

Cross contamination! Is your cupping routine up to scratch?

28 Sep

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After our previous experiment with unripes we got a comment suggesting that the lack of a clear result might be due to cross contamination of the coffees. Even though we feel we have a good cupping routine, cleaning the spoons between each cup and so forth, we thought it might be interesting to check for ourselves what the effect of a really bad cross contamination would be and if our current cupping procedure is up to scratch.

For those of you who don’t know what a cross contamination is I’ll try to explain: Imagine that on a cupping table you have several cups of coffee and one of these contains a stinker bean or another defect which is really apparent. During the cupping process some bozo isn’t cleaning his spoon between each cup, or that during the breaking of the cups that same clown is just going from cup to cup breaking the crust without rinsing the spoon in between. This can lead to the taste of that defect being brought to the other cups and consequently affecting their taste. There are several other scenarios where you might get cross contamination, but this was just an example.

So to our experiment:

We found the worst defect we could come across, which in this case was a really past-crop Harrar from Ethiopia we’ve been using to roast. We picked the worst looking beans of them all and put them in a cup.
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We then picked two coffees we know are nice and clean. A Kenyan coffee from Eeagads Estate and a Rwandan coffee from Bukonya Estate.
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We set up three groups of the two coffees. One to be thoroughly cross contaminated with the defect cup, one being treated to our normal cupping routine and one not being cupped with the defect cup at all. The three groups were cupped with different spoons cleaned in seperate cups to make absolutely sure there were no cross contamination between the groups.
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The defect beans were ground last to make sure that no cross contamination occured in the grinding process.
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Then we started cupping. One by one we tasted Bukonya from the first group, the Bukonya from the second group and from the third. Then we did the same with the Eeagads. We were four people cupping but I wont mention the names save to say it was the usual suspects. (We had another comment saying that mentioning who the people cupping were might influence how the readers would interpret the results.)

The overall conclusion was that even though we over contaminated the first group, the defect wasn’t as apparent as one might expect. The second and third group (the control group) dispalyed no apparent differences thus proving that our normal cupping procedure is thorough enough and doesn’t produce cross contamination.

What we found interesting though was the low degree of defect taste in our overly cross contaminated group. The cup with defected beans tasted really horrid of ferment and unripe beans, but very little of this taste made it over to the cross contaminated cup. We found this strenghtening the concusion of our last experiment that the actual type of defect (say a stinker) has a lot more to say with whether or not it stands out (and cross contaminates) than it just being a nasty tasting bean. We also feel it strengthens the theory that cross contamination between two “fresh” coffees will be hard to taste.

All this being said, we feel strongly that for hygenic reasons it’s important to have a quite strict regime, and it also helps ruling out all eventualities when production cupping.

How many defected beans in a cup before you taste it?

18 Sep

At the roastery we have a great dry processed coffee from Santa Alina in Brazil. The only drawback is that it comes with it’s fair share of unripes. So each time we roast this bean we spend some time picking unripes and defects from the cooling tray. As you probably know they stand out by being of a lighter colour than the rest. As we are a small specialty roaster we can take the time to pick out these and just to keep reminding ourselves of the importance of removing them we keep them and once in a while cup them.

But we have asked ourselves the question: How many defects can you have in a cup before it ruins it?

Today was the day to put this to the test. We picked a clean coffee (La Montanita CoE, El Salvador) as a control and a base to add the defect beans into. We set up the cupping table with six cups. One was a clean cup of La Montanita, the next we added one defected bean into, then two into the next and so on until the last cup which had five.
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For our cupping cups we measure 12 grams of coffee to be within the ratio of 55 grams to 1 litre of water. Each defect bean weighed around .2 grams. This means that the ratio of bad beans to good ranged from roughly 60:1 to 12:1 in favor of the good beans.

Todays panel of cuppers consisted of the usual supects: Tim Varney, Tim Wendelboe and myself.
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Personally, after tasting a cup of defect beans several times before I thought this would be an easy match. I was wrong…

We blindcupped the six cups and none of us got them all right. In fact Tim V and Tim W only got the cup with the most defects and the control cup right. Myself I got none spot on, but were able to distinguish them roughly. The challenge seemed to get the better of us. For instance we all thought cup number one had a definite taste of defected bean in it but it proved to contain only one.

This is the cup with 5 defect beans. The horror!
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Tim W was suprised over how difficult it was to pinpoint them excactly, and I could not come over the shock of not getting even one cup right.
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In conclusion we agreed on that the actual taste of defect in the cup would probably have more to do with the type of defect than the amount of defected beans in the cup.