Cup Tasting. The relaxed art of sipping a cup of brewed coffee and determining which country it comes from. Like tasting a fine glass of Pinot Grigio or Malbec. Right? Wrong! Cup Tasting, or cupping, is quite an elegant term given to the process of slurping brewed coffee, and then identifying a bunch of things relating to tastes and aromas – sweet, bitter, fruity, floral, nutty, chocolaty, spicy. You get the picture and if not, there are plenty of courses that introduce the speciatly coffee SCAA Flavor Wheel to help you out and to train your sensory skills.
Cup Tasting is fascinating. The more you taste, the more you discover and learn! You enter into the world of specialty coffee, where it’s like taking a journey to the land that has produced the coffee beans without physically travelling over there. It enhances the coffee drinking experience. Every cup of coffee you drink has gone through hours of cup tasting and grading from qualified cup tasters from around the world. These guys and gals are serious about the coffee slurping and if they do their job well, we can also thank them for the coffee drinking joy ride.
After 4 years of tasting and rating espresso, I made the brave decision to participate in the Swiss Cup Tasters Championship which took place in Basel on 2. October. It was on my 2016 coffee bucket list. As a first timer, I was extremely nervous. I knew I was the outsider and would be sharing the stage with qualified cup tasters from companies including Algrano, Delica, Henauer, Kafischmitte, Keurig, and Nespresso. After completing some cup taster training from one of Switzerland’s finest, Philip Meier, and reading through the rules and calming myself that I didn’t have to identify the country of origin of the coffees, I focused on keeping my taste-buds fresh, keeping my nerves in check and having fun – because that is was it’s all about!
This year, there were a total of 36 participants, with 3 people participating together in 1 round. Each participant within a round has their own table at which there are 8 sets of 3 cups to taste. Out of each set of 3 cups, they are required to taste each and identify the 1 cup that is different. 2 same, 1 different. That is a total of 24 cups of coffee to taste within 8 minutes. Once they have identified the cup in the set of 3 that is different, they are required to lift it slightly and place over the line. Once over the line, they are not allowed to change their decision. Once they are through all 8 sets, they call ‘time’. Each participant gets marked on how many selected cups are correct and the time completed is also noted, as this can be a deciding factor as to who gets through to the next round. Sound easy enough for you?
Round 9 was my round. I was up against Kelly Lokka (Keurig) and Gerald Kässberger (Delica). Who I was really up against was myself. I loved the buzz of the competition and felt good on the stage. I remember the advice I received the day before. Just relax and go with your instinct. So that’s what I did. The few pictures that were taken said it all. The serious, focused looked which I hadn’t seen of myself in quite a while. In those less than 8 minutes, I was focused and in my own space. Cup after cup, slurp after slurp (and a few dribbles), I got through the 24 cups and had my 8 cups selected. As long as I got 2 right I would be happy with myself. I had seen participants who I thought would ace all 8 get only 2 or 3 correct, so I knew I just needed to stay cool and high five myself for participating.
How did I go? The first cup, correct! Yeah. Second, wrong. In the end, 4 out of 8 correct! Not bad for a first timer. I didn’t get further in the competition this year, but what a great experience! Look out, I will be back..
Congratulations to all participants and to the Swiss Cup Taster Champion 2017, Kevin Mohler from Delica. Kevin will represent Swizterland in the World Cup Taster Championship in June 2017 in Budapest.
What have we learnt Coffee Me’rs? Have the courage to participate, trust your instinct and have fun. Oh, and make sure you have your own cup tasting spoon.