Three glasses containing coffee grounds, two spoons and two paper cups, one filled with water and the other empty, were placed in front of each coffee enthusiast crowded into Magpie Cafe.
They were at the espresso bar and cafe at 3205 Perkins Road in Baton Rouge on Feb. 22 to attend a coffee cupping where they got to sniff, slurp and spit as part of their education in how to discern the distinct flavor characteristics of different coffees.
“Cuppings are to coffee what wine tastings are to wine,” explained James Jacobs Jr., who along with his wife, Lina, owns Magpie Cafe, which specializes in local and organic sourced products.
James Jacobs and some of his cafe’s dozen employees poured hot water into each customer’s three glasses. The water-filled cup was for rinsing their mouths between tastings. The other cup was for spitting.
“You’re allowed to spit and it’s OK,” said Jason Dominy, who conducted the cupping.
Dominy, a community outreach coordinator for Batdorf & Bronson, the specialty coffee roaster in Atlanta that supplies Magpie’s coffees, also encouraged the cuppers to slurp while tasting. “It’s important so you’re spraying the whole inside of your mouth,” he said. “If you only sip, you only taste at the front of your mouth.”
He instructed the group to wait four minutes after hot water was poured over the coffee grounds in their three glasses, then take a spoon and break the crust that formed. “Smell the rich burst of aroma that will come out, take notes and then taste,” Dominy said. “You will be able to discern the country of origin by the taste.”
Next he demonstrated how to fill a spoon’s bowl with coffee and how to slurp.
“A coffee bean is the seed or pit of a coffee cherry,” he said. “All that’s inside (the cherry) is sugar and water. The sugars absorb into the bean. Coffee should always be sweet. It should not be bitter. If it is, it’s been roasted too long or it’s bad coffee. … Roasting pulls out the sugar from the green bean.”
He explained that coffee is grown in three regions: Central and Latin America with Brazil being the largest producer of coffee in the world; Africa, with Ethiopia considered the birth place of coffee; and Indonesia and the Pacific Rim.
“Coffees from Central and Latin America are generally milder. They are mild and mellow, clean and sweet. Those from Africa are vibrant, very fruity and acidic while those from Indonesia tend to have an earthy taste. They are earthy and smoky because they are mostly grown in volcanic ash.”
The cuppers tasted a coffee grown in the Guatemala coffee district of Antigua, a Sumatra Mandheling and an Ethiopian Harrar.
“Coffee changes as it cools,” Dominy said. “The Guatemalan gets sweeter.”
Drew Sutton, a campus minister at LSU, took notes as he tasted each coffee. “I really enjoy coffee. I’ve started drinking better quality coffee in small quantities as I’ve learned about it. I’ve been coming here (Magpie Cafe) since it opened,” he said. “My brother, Dan Sutton, worked at a coffee specialty shop in Lafayette, and he opened my eyes to good coffee.”
Of the three coffees in front of him, Drew Sutton liked the Guatemalan the best. “It’s mellow, soft, light, very enjoyable,” he said. “The Ethiopian has too much of a fruity aftertaste and the Indonesian is too earthy, but all three are very, very good.”
The Ethiopian was the favorite of Dominy and many of those attending the event, but Julie Gassen, of Baton Rouge, preferred the earthy and herbal taste of the Sumatra coffee.
“What flavors do you get when you taste the Guatemalan coffee?” Dominy asked the group. They answered: “Chocolate.” “Caramel.” “Raisins or cherry.” Dominy told them that coffee was a good choice for breakfast and for iced coffee.
Several participants discerned the blueberry taste that Dominy said is always in Ethiopian coffees. The Sumatra coffee’s flavors were described as tobacco, dirt, smoky and leather, the result, Dominy said, of the bean having a hard inside because of the area’s very rainy environment. “You have to roast longer to pull the sugars out so Indonesian coffee will always be dark roasted.”
When buying good coffee for your home, ask when and where the coffee was roasted and buy less coffee more often, he recommended.
Store coffee in an airtight container on the counter, not in the refrigerator or freezer, he said “The things that break down coffee are moisture, oxygen and sunlight.” And, he added, “roasted coffee is porous so it will absorb the smells in the refrigerator.”
Dominy also told the group to remember, “If coffee doesn’t taste good on its own (black), it also won’t be good with sugar and cream.”
He then raised a coffee-filled glass and said, “Cheers to your journey” of coffee discovery.