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Cupping Marathon

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anna Canning, Special Correspondent

There's always something whirling in the roastery. Whether it's beans in the roaster, whirlwind travel schedules, crazy concoctions in Head Roaster Derek's imagination, or the ordinary hustle to get beans roasted and out the door, something's up.

I caught up with Derek to hear about all of the above. He'd just returned from a visit to Co-op Coffees' lab in Montreal, where he joined members of the Green Bean Committee in three intensive days of cupping coffee. This trip highlighted some of the unique aspects of our coffee purchasing model as Derek joined a group of other roasters to look back on the end of the harvest season and look forward in anticipation of the coffee that will soon be ripening in Mexico and Central America.

Any gathering to discuss coffee will likely include cupping, and any time there's decisions to be made about coffee, there's scoring involved. The first exercise when a group of coffee tasters come together is to do a round of cupping for calibration. The goal: to take those personal memory banks of taste associations that make up an experienced palate and reach consensus on how they translate into numbers and scoring. That exercise is crucial for a group like this, as that consensus of tongues guides the evaluation of the samples that will pass across the cupping table in the course of the year.

One of the exciting things on the cupping table in Montreal was a collection of samples from the FECAFEB Co-op in Bolivia. Other members of the co-op have been purchasing their coffee, and raving about it, but hasn't found a regular place in our lineup yet. One of the ways in which our way of buying coffee is unique is that Derek isn't just choosing which bags of coffee he'd like to purchase off an importer's cupping table.  Because of our unique role as importers and roasters, we're able to connect with the producers we buy from to give input on which farmer's beans make it into the mix that fills a shipping container. It's a way in which the quality that ends up in your cup is a result of collaboration from field to cup. After tasting 8 possible lots from FECAFEB, Derek's excited to report that his favorite will soon be making its way towards your mug. Look for a lot more to come on this budding partnership soon!

And of course it wouldn't be a coffee event without a late night cupping full of unlikely connections, happy coincidences, and distant potential. If you see Derek, ask him what Haiti, the band Arcade Fire, and some blue-green coffee beans have in common.

Anna Canning is juggling words, cups of coffee, and autumn leaves in Portland, Oregon. Only some of them are falling.

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