But thanks to our client Tazza D’Oro and their education director, Zach, a coffee cupping and espresso workshop brought us one step closer to expertise. Even better, it brought us closer to the magic bean elixir we love.
Cupping? What’s that?
Also called cup tasting, cupping is a technique used by coffee producers, buyers and professional baristas to examine the quality of a batch of coffee.
The process involves smelling, and then tasting coffees to observe their characteristics — things like aroma, cleanness, acidity, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
For our purposes, cupping was a great way to pinpoint the differences between each coffee and get to know a few of the many possible flavor compounds a cup can offer.
And, most fun, we got to come up with the best ways to describe those flavors. Or try to.
Nose in the grounds
Cupping involves a few steps, and the “tasting” portion doesn’t begin until about halfway through. There are fragrances to take note of first.
With four Counter Culture coffees on the table, in cups — just the grounds, to start — we took a whiff of each.
(Holding the cup very close to your face is proper form. Promise.)
Zach steeped each coffee in hot water. We took a round two, starting with “breaking” the foam-like crust gathered at the top of each cup with a spoon to release the gases from brewing.
A whole new variety of aromas to take in.
You say “coffee.” We say “blueberry,” “bouillon cube” and “planks of wood”
Finally, we removed the crust entirely and gave these coffees a taste.
The key to tasting coffee is to slurp it by the spoonful. Slurping aerates the coffee so it coats your palate and gives all your hungry taste receptors the full spectrum of flavor and aroma.
Tasting four separate coffees back-to-back (and each a few times), does great things for the imagination. Like wines or craft beer, it’s clear that the more coffees you taste — the Tazza D’Oro baristas do a cupping with each new coffee they brew — the more refined your palate and flavor vocabulary become.
With a little time left to spare, Zach whipped up a few espresso shots — a good one and two bad ones — to give us a taste of the perfect balance alongside under-extracted and over-extracted espresso.
What’s espresso, really? It’s just coffee, but brewed using high water pressure and finely ground beans to make a small, concentrated shot.
When under-extracted, it’s sour, lacks sweetness and makes Ben step away from the table with an awful look on his face. When it’s over-extracted, it tastes a little hollow, lacks flavor and may taste too “mild.”
We each tried our hand at making a shot.
It takes a perfect balance of many variables to create the perfect espresso shot, and a lot of practice. But we didn’t do too badly, if we say so ourselves.
When your coffee is as high-quality as Counter Culture, tasting really just comes down to personal preference.
Our favorite? We recommend the Dido Birre — notes of dried blueberry, vanilla and pastry.
Want the coffee cupping experience?
Tazza D’Oro holds coffee cuppings every 3rd Saturday at their Millvale location. Find the details on their Facebook page and stay tuned for their new website, set to be launched early next year.
(We talk about that project here.)
About Tazza D’Oro
Known for serving up some of Pittsburgh’s finest specialty coffee, Tazza D’oro has been in business since 1999 — before Starbucks even knew where Pittsburgh was.
In fact, they introduced the city to the cappuccino, the panini and more, even developing their own professional barista certification before national associations got to the task.