Why We Cup

[flickr-photo:id=4841652555,size=-]Cupping, or the formalized evaluation of coffee from fragrance through taste, has been a part of Volta's staff training and customer experience from our first days as a shop. Admittedly, what we practice at Volta is a streamlined version of cupping final production coffees. Traditionally, cupping has been an essential part of the coffee industry from the green buying process through roasting. Coffee professionals cup first to make sure that they are not buying damaged, defective, or sub-quality lots in the field, or else cup to score quality to set a purchase price. Roasters cup to make sure that they are finding the optimal roast levels for each lot. Since we don't roast our buy green coffee-- and we trust Intelligentsia, Ecco, and our other roasters to send us amazing coffees-- we don't need to cup for any of the traditional reasons. We expect the coffees to arrive without defect and roasted to coax out the nuances in the cup. I've even heard friends in the buying/roasting side of the industry argue that shops shouldn't bother with cupping at the retail level-- that cupping for customers only confuses or intimidates consumers, or that cupping requires an acquired set of skills to be developed so that a coffee can be properly scored to industry standards, and that consumer cuppings are a shabby simulacra without any real value. They'll argue that retailers would be better off with a guided tasting of brewed coffee instead of following the cupping protocol.

Here at Volta, we're taking a stand: weekly public coffee cupping are an essential part of our strategy to introduce in-season, exceptional coffees to Gainesville.

Volta's weekly cuppings, organized by Natalie Suwanprakorn and Sarah West, have evolved into an ongoing discussion between staff and customers as they refine their sensory skills and develop the vocabulary for understanding the complexities of coffee. Gainesville is incredibly rich with intellectual and cultural diversity, and the crowd around the cupping table always brings new and unexpected insight as we develop our abilities to discuss terroir, coffee varieties, differences in processing, and nuances of flavor and fragrance/aroma. Customers cupping for the first time often experience epiphanies as they begin to untangle how sensations of acidity can build sweetness in the cup, or begin to understand why a natural Sumatra or Ethiopian doesn't taste like a washed Colombian or Kenyan. We have customers who have cupped with us for several years now and have wonderfully sophisticated observations to bring to the table. Volta's baristas are cupping all the time-- when new coffees or samples arrive, or when we need to calibrate a formula for the Clover-- and will tell you that focused cuppings have a more subtle impact on their lives: that it forces them to think critically about flavors in a way that spills over into their enjoyment of everything they eat or drink. It really makes perfect sense. Coffees are incredibly complex. They have a range of acids that can mimic a very wide range of fruits, and the roasting process develops complex sugars that echo everything from grains to candies. Certain coffees are rich with umami characteristics. To understand coffee you need to develop your palate in a way that will increase your enjoyment of so much else that you eat and drink.

Oh, and I should mention that the cuppings are also fun, in a slightly geeky/nerdy way. The enthusiasm that Sarah and Natalie bring to the discussion of coffee is infectious. They love to be surprised by a new coffee that they have never tried before. Above all else, they seem to love talking about flavors, and the way that different people can taste the same coffees and have radically different perceptions.

Volta's free public cuppings are held every Thursday afternoon at 2pm. No reservations are required; just come by the shop a few minutes early to get a seat at the cupping table.

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