Tuesday, September 23, 2014

From Laughing to Learning--Coffee!

The only thing I like better than a good wine meme is a good coffee meme.  If the two are mixed together, it is the Holy Grail of memes as far as I’m concerned.  The best chuckles ever.  I basically feel the same way about my day.  If I get to enjoy both a great mug of coffee and a fabulous glass of wine over the course of the time I’m awake, I consider the day a total success.  This love of coffee has led me to purchase a French press coffee pot, a milk frother, special flavorings, a bean grinder, and multiple cool coffee cups.  However, it wasn’t until this last weekend that it led me to actually learn more about coffee on a formal level.  Enter, the Sweet Sommelier’s first coffee cupping!

Though a coffee “tasting” is actually called a “cupping,” there are many comparisons between a coffee cupping and a wine tasting.  Like a wine tasting, I started by learning some basic information about the beverage.  This information was so interesting and showed that coffee is similar to wine in many ways.  First, coffee has two major species of plants from which coffee “cherries” are harvested.  Second, like grapes for wine, the coffee tree usually has five years from initial planting until harvesting of coffee cherries to make into coffee beans.  Next, there are different processes used to get the coffee cherries hulled to reveal the bean inside.  Finally, and possibly the most interesting likeness, is that both are agricultural products which require very specific climates only found in certain parts of the world.  I really had never thought about the climate zones for growing coffee, but I found it so fascinating that coffee-growing areas have a ring around the globe like traditional grape-growing areas. 
The brown areas are actual coffee beans marking the areas coffee beans are grown throughout the world.

After this new information, the class started the process of smelling and tasting the coffee.  Though this is an unofficial procedure, it resembles the five S’s of wine tasting.  First, the coffee beans were smelled whole and then ground for characteristics like sweet, spicy, nutty, and roasty.  Next, hot water is poured over the ground beans and allowed to steep four minutes.  During this time, a “crust” of grounds forms on the top.  After four minutes, this crust must carefully be removed while the coffee lover is smelling the aromas coming from the brewed coffee. 

Whole coffee beans and ground beans waiting to be sniffed.

After all of this smelling, it is time for the actual tasting.  Much like when tasting wine, the coffee needs to coat the entire tongue for all flavors to be tasted.  Also, slurping is a good sign, not an indicator of poor manners, so slurp away on the first coffee, noting acidity, body, flavor, depth, and finish.  Terms like nippy, smooth, tart, delicate, fruity, buttery, woody, grassy, and spicy are used throughout these steps.  Yes, those terms sound so familiar to wine lovers!  This entire method is repeated on the other coffee samples, with coffee cuppers deciding if they would like to swallow the coffee or spit it to not consume as much caffeine.  More and more similarities to wine show up from the beginning to the end of this fun cupping. 
Instructor Mary and her helper pouring the hot water for our coffee to steep.
Waiting for the grounds of the coffee to form a "crust" on the top of the cup.

Coffee and wine are fabulous beverages, proven with the fact that so many memes show up on the internet and social media outlets about them both.  However, for me, both are worth more than just a good laugh.  Sipping each has always delighted me.  Learning about wine has fascinated me for quite some time.  It wasn’t until just recently that I realized knowledge about coffee was not only just as interesting as knowledge about wine, but it is also incredibly similar to wine in ways it is grown, processed, and sipped.  Coffee and wine…beverages about which to laugh, love, and learn!