Cupping Coffee at Workbench Coffee Labs

posted in: education, musings, reviews | 0

I’m writing this after having just participated in Workbench Coffee Labs’ first “triangulation Tuesday” coffee cupping. It was a great experience and you can look forward to Workbench doing this every 3rd Tuesday of the month at 3PM. This was definitely a pro-level cupping and while I don’t consider myself an “industry professional” in any way, shape or form, the opportunity to test and train my palate for $10 on a rare Tuesday where I was done with work early was something I couldn’t pass up!

There were 10 of us participating in this cupping, including myself, most of the gang from Oddly Correct and a gent named Lee who has worked in the sales side of coffee for a long time. Greg Kolsto of Oddly Correct summed up the experience of cupping perfectly, calling it, “humbling.” And this is someone who owns a cafe/roastery and has been a coffee pro for many years! I would say you should definitely not come into a cupping like this with the idea that a lower score = bad. It is training, not competition or testing, so it should be approached as such.

There are many ways to cup coffees and today’s purpose was “triangulation.” In a triangulation cupping, there are multiple stations set up, each with three bowls cupped to SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) standards. We did two rounds today, each one consisting of six stations. At each station, two of the bowls contain the same coffee while the third is different in some way. The goal of a triangulation cupping, then, is to identify the odd coffee in the group… It’s a “game” of “which one of these does not belong?” We were given one minute at each station, which goes a lot faster than it sounds. Triangulation cupping can range from extremely easy (for example, an Ethiopian natural in a group with a Brazilian washed coffee) to extremely difficult (the same coffee roasted to different levels).

Workbench Coffee Labs is a professional level, independent SCAA training facility attached to About the Coffee in Kansas City. So, the cupping room is the real deal, complete with red lights so that you cannot visually tell any differences in any of the coffees. You can see, but you’re essentially blinded because each cup looks the same!

I don’t think I’m giving away any trade secrets here, so I’ll go into some details about the coffees and pairings in our two rounds of cupping today. I missed two on the first round (which was above average) and I missed three in the second round, also about par for the course. I don’t think anyone scored perfectly on any of the rounds, or if they did, they were very humble about it! I felt like Round 2 was a lot more difficult.

Round One:

  • Station A: two cups of a washed espresso blend from The Coffee Ethic in Springfield, MO and one cup of Toarco Jaya AA from Sulawesi (a washed Indonesian, so it lacks the “dirt” and “earth” flavor of wet-hulled Indos). I’ve actually reviewed this Toarco which was roasted by Messenger Coffee here in KC! This was one of the stations in this round that I got wrong.
  • Station B: two cups of Finca Amistad from Costa Rica and one cup of Rusty’s Hawaiian Espresso (unknown roast date), which consists of typica from Guatemala and a washed Kenya. I got this one right.
  • Station C: this one *really* stood out and all ten of us immediately knew where at least one of these coffees was from! This station had two cups of Starbucks “Medium” House Blend and one cup of Cameron’s Donut Shop Blend. I know nothing about the latter but it was incinerated like the Starbucks, and it is quite telling that the score sheet included the fact that the label on this coffee said “Sell By 1/30/2016.” We were doing this cupping on April 21, 2015. Yep. This was a tough station for most people but Lee and I nailed it!
  • Station D: two cups of The Coffee Ethic’s Espresso Blend and one cup of the Finca Amistad from Costa Rica. I got this one correct, too.
  • Station E: this was actually my starting station, then we moved clockwise every minute, so I went from here to F, then A, and so on. Interestingly to me, this is the other station I got wrong in this group, and it consisted of two cups of the Cameron’s Donut Shop and one of the Starbucks. I wonder why I could discern the Cameron’s from the Starbucks but not the Starbucks from the Cameron’s? Who knows?
  • Station F: two cups of the Rusty’s Hawaiian Espresso Blend and one of The Coffee Ethic’s espresso blend. Got this one correct.

Round Two:

  • Station A: two cups of Kigeyo Station Lake Kivu, a washed bourbon from Rwanda (roasted 4/16) and one cup of Kiunya Kirinyaga, a washed Kenya SL-28 roasted 4/7. I got this one wrong.
  • Station B: one cup of Sidamo Ardi, a natural process Ethiopian heirloom roasted 4/8 and two cups of Konga Yirgacheffe, another natural Ethiopian heirloom from the same region roasted on 4/16. I got this one right!
  • Station C: two cups of Messenger’s Patio Bonito from Colombia (which I have reviewed before) and one cup of Huabal Cajamarca from Peru. I missed this station.
  • Station D: I also got this station wrong, and not surprisingly it was the same coffees as Station C, except this one had two cups of the Peru and one of the Patio Bonito.
  • Station E: I started this round here. This one had two cups of the Sidamo Ardi and one cup of the Konga Yirgacheffe and I got that one right again.
  • Station F: Two cups of the Kiunya Kirinyaga from Kenya and one cup of the Kigeyo Station from Rwanda. Again, interestingly, I got this one right but missed Station A, which had the same coffees!

All in all this was a cool experience. We talked some after the cupping to see how it could be improved upon, if at all, and there was mention of possibly offering easier, more entry-level cupping events for consumers along with the more difficult pro-level Tri-Tuesdays, so if you’re new to cupping (like I am, this was the third cupping I’ve ever done and my first triangulation) there may be some options at About the Coffee and/or Workbench Coffee Labs for you.

There are lots of other great cupping opportunities in Kansas City, too. None of these require cupping experience so they’re a good way to learn about it and they are all open to the public and free of charge. Second Best Coffee does their cuppings every Wednesday at noon and Broadway Roasting Company does a public cupping every Tuesday morning at 10AM (although I have a newsletter that also says every Friday morning at 10AM, so you may want to contact Broadway to clarify).