On Friday afternoon, about 45 folks packed into Oddfellows in Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts District for one of Texas Coffee School's "coffee cupping" events lead by the school's founder Tom Vincent.
Much like a wine, beer, scotch or cheese tastings, the coffee-cupping classes teach java junkies how to do more than sip their brew, and by the end of the class, Vincent had these wannabe coffee connoisseurs hollering out descriptions of the various layers of aromas and tastes within each of the featured brews. Fresh roasted coffees that were hand delivered just minutes before the class started by Lorenzo Perkins of Austin's Cuvee Coffee were Guatemalan Volcan de Agua; El Salvadorian Los Luchadores; and Colombian Cerro Azu Geisha.
Part of the allure of these kinds of cuppings is they provide coffee consumers the chance to experience a sampling modeled after the traditional cupping and tasting process conducted by coffee growers and buyers as they're testing their wares. And the other part is that these events tend to present folks the chance to sample some rare beans, like Cuvee's Colombia Cerro Azul Geisha, which retails for $40 to $45 for a 12-ounce bag.
When Vincent asked 45 or so folks for a show of hands for those who had never taken part in a coffee tasting or cupping, nearly everyone shot up a limb. Many attendees were drawn by a recent Groupon offer, and as Tom Vincent, Texas Coffee School's founder and director of coffee education, warned the crowd that they typically cap the classes at 25 to 30 people the turnout "means good things for Dallas." In fact, the next two events July 11 and 22, are sold out, with August 8 the next open cupping.
And no wonder, because there's some pretty good word-of-mouth buzz about Vincent's school (which offers much more than just cuppings and tastings. For example, all of the barista's at Oddfellows have taken the school's barista course).
And then there's the fact that the open coffee bar at Oddfellows with its gorgeous La Marzocco Strada espresso machine makes the perfect setting for a coffee cupping, as it allows Vincent and his guests to maneuver between cupping stations, which allows them to better answer each participant's questions.
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Participants receive a cupping form, clipboard and a spoon for tasting the coffees. Equipped with a colorful tasting wheel that guides users through the tastes and aromas of coffee, each coffee is rated and described by the seven following criteria: fragrance (how the ground beans smell dry), aroma (how the grounds smell after they add hot water), break (when the participants "break" the crust of grounds to release a more potent bouquet), brightness (the perceived acidity of the coffee), flavor (duh), body (perceived thickness: ranging from light-bodied to full-bodied -- like a scale from skim milk to heavy cream) and aftertaste (what ultimately helps us decide if we take home a bag of beans or not). Vincent cautioned that when it came time to assess each category, that there were "No wrong answers."
For the last four categories where tasting was involved, short, fast slurps were encouraged as Vincent explains it helps to "aspirate the flavors across your palate." The most memorable part of the event came after Vincent asked folks to call out their descriptions of the three coffees: "Barbecue sauce!!" "Caramel!" "Tomato soup!" "Toffee!" "Pipe tobacco!"
For what it is, it's a pretty good deal. Sure you could read about it online, or try it yourself at home, but for the money it's a lot of information and hands-on, spoon-slurping learning packed into an hour and a half.