Cupping Coffee -Full Court Press, Broad Street, Bristol

Enthusiastic talk of the perfect grind, brewing pressures and tasting notes can sometimes put people off from appreciating good coffee. At its simplest, all you need is a cafetiere (French press), or if you prefer your drink espresso-like, a hob top brewer such as a Moka pot. No need to worry about expensive contraptions or machines, unless of course you really want to. As for the bean, appreciation for a fine coffee is not just for the cognoscenti.

A good way to start is by heading to your local coffee bar and trying what they have on offer. Many places will also have beans for you to buy, to grind and brew at home -or at least tell you the name of their supplier. With relatively inexpensive hand grinders, it is possible for you to enjoy a good cup of coffee at home with very little fuss.

As I've mentioned before, although I love good quality coffee, I know very little about it. Now, with the opening of some cracking independent coffee bars in Bristol, there is ample opportunity to taste and learn a bit more.

A few weeks ago, Full Court Press (FCP) put on a cupping or tasting session for a new batch of beans. This tasting process determines whether a larger batch of beans will be bought, the basis on which to optimise brewing conditions and, whether they are better destined for filter or espresso. We were taken through this process by Mat North, owner of FCP, who has many years experience within the coffee industry and whose enthusiasm about coffee is infectious.

There are largely four stages to cupping:
1 -The Bouquet

Each of the bean varieties was ground to a coarse texture with the odd flake, like sea salt, here and there. The first step was to smell the volatile oils from the fresh, dry grounds. To those who are familiar, each bean variety, from each region, has a distinctive bouquet.

'This,' said Mat, passing around a glass of gritty Arabica, 'is the smell of Brazil.'

Going from glass to glass, hovering and inhaling, it was the green fruit and bergamot, with wild, wild, floral notes from an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that knocked me sideways. Unlike anything I'd smelled before, I was hooked. 
2 -The Aroma

Next, boiled water -well, water at 95oC, was poured over the coffee, saturating the grinds evenly to avoid clumping. We then took in the aroma of these wet grinds, noticing how the addition of water had altered it. Many of the coffees took on an oaty, baked aroma with a sweet caramelised edge, whilst others had a more pungent, almost resinous release.

3 -Breaking The Crust

How fresh your coffee is, also has an effect upon flavour. Roasting, essentially the controlled burning of the coffee bean, is an oxidative process which alters the flavour compounds from its raw, green state. Alongside water, carbon dioxide is a by-product of the roasting process which remains largely trapped inside the bean. Coffee beans are said to be at their best between 2 and 10 days following roasting. Not too full of carbon dioxide which might make the brew quite acidic, but not having degraded or lost any of their flavour.

As water is poured, carbon dioxide is released from the grounds causing them to rise in the cup and form a crust. Also known as the bloom of the coffee, bubbles form on the top creating a pale froth; the reason why espresso has a reddish-brown layer of foam called crema.

Left to stand for 4 minutes, the next stage of cupping was to break the crust. Using a cupping spoon, one that is wide and circular, the crust was pushed aside. This released another puff of aroma to consider and savour.

4 -The Flavour
Armed with spitting cup and cupping spoon, we pushed past the crust again, taking up a small volume of coffee to our lips for the final stage. Like wine tasting, Mat demonstrated how we needed to slurp the coffee from the spoon, turning it into an aerosol so we could appreciate all its flavours. And, as with wine the coffee was spat out, into our spitting cups, spoons washed with hot water and dabbed dry on a clean towel, before moving on to the next brew.
The idea is to continue tasting intermittently as the brew cools to a lukewarm temperature, taking note of how the acidity, body and balance changes. I have to say, I made quite a hash of the slurping, almost inhaling and swallowing the coffee instead. After one and a half cycles of cupping, the sense of impending palpitations made me stop.

A lovely introduction to cupping, it gave me the chance to try coffees I'd never tasted before and, spend time to think about and savour them. Rather than gulping down blindly in my need for caffeine, as I so often do. Rumour has it that FCP may be advising and/or collaborating with We Hunt We Gather on a concise field guide to coffee... I do hope so, and I for one cannot wait.

Temporarily closed due to flooding -when FCP is back up and running, do make a trip and keep an eye open for the next cupping session, if you wish to learn more about the brew.

Labels: , ,