We had another great day at the Latte Art championships and the Cupping Competition last Sunday. I bravely stood up to the plate again and sacrificed my tastebuds to the cause of coffee to judge the latte art competition in the morning, because as we all (should) know, latte art is much more than just drawing hearts and flowers on top of coffee. The milk temperature and texture and the way it combines with the espresso is paramount to getting a good score. So no matter how lovely your patterns are, if your coffee tastes like microwaved nescafe, you will lose.
Fortunately the competitors on Sunday were a much classier lot than that, and after some stirling efforts from many competitors, the winner once again was Production Supervisor and latte artiste extraordinaire, Kim Godleman of 5 Senses.
Sadly I was judging the whole time of the comp, and with no minions to run around taking photos for me, I didn’t get many shots of the actual competitors during the day. The 5 Senses team did get a few shots though, that you can check out here.
Next up was the cupping competition, and true to form, I had not practiced once. Still, my steely nerves and trust in my palate was strong. I managed to get a break for lunch in between the latte art and the cupping, so I primed the tastebuds with a potato and ham calzone and a lemon lime and bitters. A lunch of taste champions no doubt. A few swirls of mineral water just to round out the bitters and we were good to go.
What is cupping you say ?
Cupping is the traditional method for breaking down the flavour profiles of brewed coffee. You roast a bunch of coffee to a certain level (generally lighter than for espresso), grind it to a specific courseness, and then let it steep in hot water (not boiling) for a set period of time. Then breaking through the crust of grinds on the top and inhaling deeply the aromas of the brew, and drawing out as much detail as you can about the nose, before slurping it as you would if you were tasting wine. Aerating the coffee across your palate and assessing the acidity, body, and length of finish etc.
The cupping competition is designed to be a high speed spectacle that mirrors this tradition. Each competitor is given 8 sets of 3 cups. 2 of the cups in each set are the same coffee, and one is different. The point then is to guess the odd one out, in as fast a time as possible.
The winner of the world cupping championships last year scored 8 out of 8 correct in less than 1 1/2 minutes. That’s 24 tastes of coffee in under 90 seconds… and 100% accuracy on what he was tasting.
Whilst I doubt I’ll ever be in that league, I’ll explain the method I use for this competition (If you can call it a method).
How I do it
Basically I taste the first cup in a set, slurp it across my palate and look for one single defining character of that coffee. Some coffees are predominantly sour, some particularly bitter, others are really earthy, or acidic, or just have some weird kind of funk to them. I then use that one characteristic to match against the other cups. If the next cup has it too, then they are likely to be the same, if the next cup doesn’t, then test the third, if the third has it, bingo. You can also try and use things like the heat profile of steam coming out of cups, and the colour of the brewed coffee if you need a little help. Though often it’s just more confusing.
So in a sense, you’re really not tasting coffee at all. You’re pulling out one flavour component that you can use to match against. Of course being a professional coffee taster, those flavour components are going to be a lot more apparent to someone who does it every day than to a weekend cupping warrior. But the concept is still the same. Of course the problem arises when the coffees all start to taste like each other, or when your mind starts to wander, and the taste you were matching against suddenly slips from your mind.
So how did I do ?
Well, not bad, but not good enough to take out the win this year. I was dead certain of the first set, which I pushed out after only one sip of each cup, and later found out I had it wrong. Which still confuses me as to how I could be so certain, but then these things happen. I managed to get 5 out of 8 sets right in a little over 4 minutes. Pipped by a stirling performance by non other than barista to the stars Ben Bicknell, who managed an outstanding 7 out of 8. A host of other competitors also came in with 5 out of 8 actually. So perhaps we’re all just talented :)
For the record, here are the results from the two days of competition:
Barista Competition Final Results
1st: Mark Chandler from 5 Senses Coffee / WA Barista Academy 546.5 points
2nd: Jespa Bood from Ristretto 454.5 points
3rd: Charles Stuart from Rocketfuel 453.0 points
Latte Art Final Results
1st: Kim Godleman from 5 Senses Coffee
2nd: Dale Fewson from Café 54
3rd: Natalie Donaldson from Epic Espresso
Cupping Competition Final Results
1st: Ben Bicknell from 5 Senses Coffee 7/8 in 3 mins 58 secs
2nd: Angela Kowalczyk from Epic Espresso 5/8 in 3 mins 32 secs
3rd: Matt O’Donohue (that’s me!) Executive Producer of Abstract Gourmet 5/8 in 4 mins 7 secs