Educating your palette
WHAT: Coffee Cuppings
WHEN: 10am and 1pm every Friday
WHERE: Maniac Roasting, 205 Grand Ave.
COST: Free; sign up at the Black Drop, 300 W. Champion St.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
That may be a blessing, being that it was a truly foul concoction, acrid and sharp, a heinous assault on the senses. But it got the job done, and we were glad for it. It was agreed, very early that grey morning, that while people in the Midwest or the Middle East could make it through a day on solar power, we northwesterners needed sterner stuff. Coffee was probably all that kept most of us going. Since that day, I’ve never looked back.
The point of this anecdote is twofold. The first point is that I really like coffee. I look forward to my first cup when I crawl out of bed, I depend on it to get me through the day and I harbor a fundamental distrust of people who don’t. The second point is that, in spite of the all-encompassing love I have for coffee and my staggering dependence on it, I know almost nothing about it and have absolutely zero refined appreciation for it.
But, thanks to the folks at Maniac Roasting, there may be hope for me yet. Alexarc Masterma, who does the roasting at Maniac to make the excellent coffee at the Black Drop Coffeehouse, has been hosting cuppings every Friday morning and afternoon for the past six months.
A cupping is the caffeinated equivalent of a wine tasting—a delicious way to educate your palette and learn what you actually like about your favorite morning addiction. “It’s a way of learning to tell what you like in a coffee,” says Masterma, who brings almost two decades of brewing and roasting experience to the table.
Tasters join the coffee pros at Maniac in comparing the most elemental aspects of two different coffees and learning to understand their respective aromas, acidity, flavors, bodies and finishes. Participants are given a worksheet and provided with a slew of terms to help them describe what they’re tasting in the fine coffees on display.
Sounds intimidating, right? Don’t get the wrong idea. Masterma and his partner in crime, barista Ryan Siu, make it their first priority to make everyone, gourmand or goofus, feel at home, assuring tasters that there are no right or wrong answers. The bevy of posters and photocopies don’t represent correct answers, but serve to jog participant’s memories and provide them with a place to start. As Masterma puts it, they’re there “to help people put a word to what they’re tasting.”
Masterma and Siu obviously enjoy the tastings, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Along with being able to identify new notes and dimensions in coffee—such as caramel, pipe smoke, alder and apples—tasters are treated to bits of trivia about the origins of coffee measurements. They’re also given the opportunity to learn where their coffee came from and what conditions it was produced under, a rare chance in today’s globalized economy.
The duo’s easygoing, friendly attitude does a lot to ease the process, which includes arcane coffee tricks like “the breaking of the crust” and a significant amount of slurping and spitting coffee in a room full of strangers. But this sense is just what Masterma hopes to evoke in his cuppings. “By making it more accessible…it encourages people to be a part of the process and to respond to it,” he says. And that sort of engagement with the product and the process is just what the cuppings at Maniac aim to engender.
“I want people to know what they’re tasting,” says Masterma, who relishes the chance to interact with his patrons on a closer level. By doing cuppings… we can give them the tools to describe what they want.”