Notes from the Cupping Table: June 2024

Posted by Lauren Lathrop on

June in the Twin Cities is a perfect time of year. For our roasting team, it was filled with new coffees, a sold-out Roasting 101 class, recording new videos, and testing some cool new equipment. We were also able to travel south for Coffee Fest New Orleans, where we connected with coffee friends new and old and enjoyed a few days in one of our country's best food and music cities. 

Between classes, new greens purchasing and profiling, and special projects like Profile Design and Roasted Evaluation services, we tasted 49 coffees! Here are some of the highlights. 

Regions of Ethiopia

Tasting coffees from across several regions of a country is a fun and informative way to experience terroir. In June, we profiled three green coffees from Ethiopia for a local customer who plans to sell roasted coffee in her Ethiopian market and bakery. 

She brought us coffees from Sidama, Guji, and the Chelbessa region of Yirgacheffe and asked us to sample roast each of them, then select one to move forward with for her store. A regional comparative tasting like this is a great learning experience, especially since all three of these coffees were processed naturally. The expression of fruit flavor, sweetness, and acidity was different in each cup. But there was a “through line” or overarching theme that was undeniably Ethiopian, a great reminder of how small changes in geography can impact agriculture. 

The Guiji was a classic natural Ethiopia profile. One of those “ah-ha!” coffees many of us experienced early in our coffee careers. Blueberry Pop Tarts, fresh berries, and grape juice. The Sidama felt more sophisticated with floral aromatics and notes of sweet mulled wine and pomegranate. The Chelbessa took us to a summer pool party: lychee candy, fruit punch, and orange wine. We loved them all but recommended that she move ahead with the coffee from Sidama. 

EA Colombia Decaf 

By now, you probably know how we feel about decaf coffee. We love it! A really good decaf is a special kind of treat. Many of us bring a small bag home to enjoy in the evenings or after dinners with friends. We’ve always offered a great decaf on our Toll Roasting menu, and we know that cafes that prioritize a nice (and freshly roasted) decaf will be rewarded with loyal and enthusiastic decaf drinkers. 

For the past few years, the decaf on our menu has been an EA, or Ethyl Acetate, processed decaf from Colombia. This indirect-contact, gentle, and chemical-free decaffeination method produces very sweet and clean decaf that tastes like where it’s from and not how it’s been treated. 

Our current decaf offering is from Huila. We taste it regularly as part of our production cuppings and always enjoy the pleasant sweet and savory profile it provides. In June, we had a few different roast profiles on the table and the coffee showcased a wide variety of flavors: warming spices, lime juice, nougat, honey, black currant, roasted tomatoes, cinnamon apples, and buttercream. 

Dark Roasts

We helped two different roasters improve their profiles last month with our Roast Evaluation Service. Both companies shipped us 4 coffees, along with all of their profile data, and we got to work on an in-depth cupping and roast color analysis. 

Several of the coffees we reviewed were on the darker side of the roast spectrum. It was a great reminder of the fact that there are many ways to roast dark, and some ways are more successful than others. This is a larger topic for a future blog post (titled something like “Exploring the Dark Side”, probably) but for now, here are cupping notes from two different sides of the dark coin:

A great dark roast: Spice (especially baking spices), fudge, black cherry, cola, oaky, butterscotch, black plum, English breakfast tea, cocktail bitters, cooked cherry, black licorice, cocoa. 

A not-so-great dark roast: Charred nut, hardwood smoke, rubbery, varnish, medicinal, long finish, coating, herbaceous, oaked red wine, heavy.

The difference in these roasts was mostly related to overall roast time and the roasters' ROR in the development phase, rather than finish temperature. But the comparison of the cupping notes demonstrates something we often talk about in Roasting 101, which is that your cupping notes should be objective. 

There’s no preferential language, no “I like” or “I didn’t like”. The quality of the roasts are apparent in the word choice, the notes used for the first roast are describing a higher quality flavor experience than the second roast. You can tell which roast was more pleasant and enjoyable. The takeaway is simple: record your experience accurately, word choice matters, and even very dark roasts can be delicious and complex.


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