Coffee Cupping at Ultimo Coffee with Counter Culture

First set of coffee's for Cupping

We’ve been to two cuppings (coffee tastings) held in the Counter Culture “lab” located just above Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia and I wanted to share some pictures and thoughts on it!

As self-admitted coffee novices we have to admit that cuppings can be exciting but also overwhelming. I think Jessica and I pride ourselves on our openness to food and knowledge of specific foods such as BBQ, Indian food or Italian food. I believe we have a developed pallet from eating and can discern spices and ingredients within those prepared foods, but picking out  subtle flavors within coffee takes some extra skill. And that’s what cuppings are about. I mean, we’re still using broad based terms like “sweet, salty, bitter,” but I think we’ve come a long way in a few weeks.

What exactly is Coffee Cupping?

Cuppings seem exotic when you first hear about them, or did to me at least. The process includes smelling and tasting the coffee at various times, such as just after the grind (dry). The next is when hot water is added. After that, it’s when you break the top barrier of settled coffee that has been steeping a short while. Then there are even steps past that! The important thing to note is that there are subtle changes at each part of the process and the point is to try to start understanding what is changing. For example, the dry grinds might have an earthy or flowery fragrance that turns into a woody aroma when water is added. Then once you taste the coffee, it could taste fruity. Have you ever thought you’d hear coffee described with words like, “avocado,” “dried cherry,” “roasted walnuts,” or even “tobacco?” You will, in a cupping. When reading up about cupping in the Joe Art of Coffee and Blue Bottle books I thought that I need to check this out right away, but the self-doubter in me thought, “Can I just say that it tastes ‘good’ the entire way through?”

The answer is: Yes, you can. I have.

Row of Coffee's for Cupping

I’m kind of overstating things a bit all around for humorous effect because the reality is you will notice differences during the cupping. Maybe not every single coffee will burst out to you, but you will notice a few specific things. The cupping is structured, but in a way that  guides you down a path designed for you to educate yourself and your senses. The first week we went was different from our second. During the second week we picked up on more things and even today Jessica said her coffee tasted “astringent.” We’re now working on really picking out the flavors and working on the vocabulary to express what we smell and taste.

Shoutout to out Counter Culture Coffee Guides

I have to mention that this would not be possible without our guides Chelsea and Ben from Counter Culture. They are  welcoming and informative and although they possess far more knowledge that us, they aren’t elitists. They seem genuinely glad to share their insights and pass on their wisdom. In addition to talking us through each stage of cupping, they’ve been happy to share their experiences and answer more pointed coffee questions. It’s really awesome to be in the presence of people who clearly love their job.

If you ever have a chance, go to a cupping. It will open your eyes and also you’ll sample some outstanding coffee.  It’s a win/win all around.