January 26, 2007
Inexperienced. That is the best word that I can think of to start this blog. First, this is my first post on any blog anywhere. Second, this is the only blog that I have ever seen. I think those two things are a pretty good example of inexperienced. But lets take it one step further and apply the word inexperienced to coffee. That is the reason your reading this blog anyway, right?
I went with Edwin to Long Beach last week to take the CQI coffee cupping course and Q grader tests with him. Now to give you an idea of my status in the coffee community I’ll tell you what my friends and family said when I told them I was going on this trip…number one answer, “WHY?” proceeded by a few chuckles. This is where the word inexperienced comes in handy. I don’t drink coffee, I haven’t cupped much coffee, I don’t know that much about coffee and the worst of it is (don’t read this part if you are prone to nausea or light headedness) I don’t even like coffee. I drink peppermint mochas with soy milk and I often get them at Starbucks. There, I said it. Think what you want about it, but try to refrain from sending us any nasty-grams.
Why did I tell you all of this? Edwin thought that you might be interested to know my opinion of the CQI course and tests. After all, I am now an SCAA Certified Cupping Judge. No, seriously. If you don’t believe me I’ll send you a copy of my certificate!
The course started out on Monday and there was not much course to it. I quickly learned that one should know two important things to get through the week, Coffee and Spanish, neither of which I knew very well. We had a one hour and fifteen minute intro, one practice cupping and then went straight to the first tests and continued testing and re-testing for the rest of the week.
What were we tested on?
We had 5 Triangulations, where you had 6 groups of 3 cups on the table. Each group had two identical coffees and one slightly different coffee. The object there is to identify the one that is different.
We had 5 Cupping Tests. Each test featured a specific growing region like Colombia or Central America and had 6 different coffees from that region on the table. The object was to grade them according to the Q grader judging form.
We had 4 Olfactory tests. Each test had 9 different vials of oil that smelled similar and the object was to identify each vial by its smell. For example, in one group there was Walnut, Hazelnut, Peanut, Almond, Vanilla, Chocolate, Caramel, Butter and toast.
We had one three part sensory skills test. This tests your ability to recognize salt, sugar and sour. In parts one and two we just had to identify the intensity. We new it was sugar but had to say whether it was intensity one two or three. In part three they were all mixed at different levels and we had to say what was in each cup. For example, this cup has intensity one sour, intensity 2 sugar and intensity 1 salt!
We had one matching pairs test where there were 6 groups of 4 cups of coffee on the table, two control and two with a small amount of one of the acids that makes up coffee. The object was to identify the pairs.
We also had to grade green coffee, I.D roasted coffee and take a 100 question general coffee knowledge exam.
How did I feel about the tests? Well, that’s complicated. I liked the olfactory, the triangulations, the general knowledge and the matching pairs tests. I felt like they were fair tests with calculable results. You either got it right or you didn’t. I passed all of the olfactory tests with flying colors. When it comes to the sense of smell I am gifted! I passed the general knowledge test probably becasue it was just that, general. I think I’ve gained more of an understanding of coffee than I thought just from listening to Edwin talk all of the time! I had to retake two of the triangulations, but in the end had a pass on all of those as well.
As for the other tests, I think that CQI has a lot of refining to do. For example, the cuppings were graded on a curve. What that meant was the class set the standard and as long as you fell in the middle somewhere you passed. Now, I am a good test taker. I came out of college with great grades. Did I learn anything? Probably not too much. But I can take a test. I felt like, in these cuppings if you figured out how to be in the middle on everything you could pass and still not really know what you were doing. I have to be honest. I thought that most of the coffees smelled the same and tasted the same…just like dirt. When people started talking about the coffee having a hint of the smell of an orange peel, or like a cucumber or dry toast, I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding me”. Even at the end of all of that cupping I was not getting any floral notes, or sensing that the coffee was old or that it had good body (which I still don’t think I totally understand). But I was passing those tests and some people that have been cupping for years and years were not!
The course over all was a little unorganized and the standards not very clear. I could sense that a lot of people were feeling frustrated. I went into the whole experience expecting to just bomb, and even I was frustrated with how some of the testing was being handeled. But I will say that all of the instructors were first class. They were very nice and clearly doing their best.
So what was my overall opinion? I’ll sum it up by saying that the fact that I, me, the peppermint mocha drinker, am now an SCAA certified Cupping Judge, and other people that have been cupping for years didn’t pass, doesn’t give me much faith in the test. It’s either that or the coffee community better make way, because I am comming in!
January 26, 2007
When Joseph Rivera first introduced himself to us Q grader wannabes the first thing he said is “I started working for SCAA thinking it would be only for 6 months or so until I found a better match” 6 years later he continues to push the envelope in research and education regarding coffee chemistry as the director of science and technology for SCAA.
The wicked sensory skills exam is administered by this friendly face. Most of us dreaded seeing the results on the 3rd phase of this exam and upon sharing with Joseph how difficult we thought it was (thinking it was just too difficult and maybe he didn’t realize it) he would just smile, laugh and agree.
In his freetime Joseph is working on his site www.coffeechemistry.com, it is not up yet, but I’ll post an official link once it is. Also pictured at the table at Seville is Genevieve. My wife said she has got to be one of the friendliest people she has ever met. She is a buyer for Orens Daily Roast in NY. She doesn’t only call the odd one out in a triangulation, but she successfully matches it’s pair somewhere else on table. Originally from Paris, she fit right in as her spanish was just as good if not better than her english.
January 22, 2007
What was supposed to be a 40 hour rigorous course turned into 60. 17 of us made it through to the end. I believe 8 completed the course and received a certificate of participation, 6 including my wife and I became certified SCAA cupping judges, and 3 received Q grader certification. The part we both failed was 1 out of 5 triangulations… the one on Indonesian coffees. My wife Nina did better than I accross the board with the exception of the knowledge exam, where I beat her by only 2 points.
I’m excited about how the CQI is evolving including their contribution of the Q grader program. I felt this testing was not easy. When I heard the list of those who had taken it and failed, I felt it a challenge to take it and pass. No such luck. I thought is was quite difficult, yet my wife doing as well as she did shows you don’t need to be an experienced cupper to do well. You just need to be a super taster with a great sense of smell. We left with very mixed thoughts realizing that this testing needs to be more refined. There were also very experienced Colombian cuppers from the federation that have cupped for 16 years that did not do as well as they’d hoped. It is new and as with any new project it takes time to iron out the wrinkles. Considering it’s infancy it was a phenomenal week of confirmation on calibration skills… or lack of =). I’ll ask Nina to contribute her first post to this blog and share more of her experience.
January 11, 2007
Having visited a number of green coffee storage options up and down the west coast 6+ years ago I didn’t like what I saw. Warehouses that focus exclusively on green will have many containers coming in and many containers worth going out each day. With the boom in the roasting market and many securing coffee and keeping it at a warehouse for up to a year.. and sometimes more, storage conditions become much more critical than if coffee as a commodity is kept moving and rarely sits too long. Today there are many great options and warehouses now give much more attention to temp, humidity, rodents, contaminating aromas and fumes… such as from a non electric forklift. Anyway, there is nothing high tech about how we store our coffee, but we do keep a close eye on it and make sure it’s comfortable. We practically sleep on it. Really!
With the help of customers and friends we’re doing some experimenting where we will take our 07 crop until 09 and beyond and we will test and evaluate different methods of transport and storage including sealed air tight as well as sealed and frozen below Zero. More on this later….