Aaron De Lazzer has gathered over 16 years of experience in the coffee industry, including work with Vancouver’s top roasters, the SCAA and his current position as Director of Coffee with Ethical Bean. In March 2008, Aaron became Canada’s first Certified Q Grader. The designation is bestowed upon professional coffee graders and cuppers who have undergone a rigorous testing of their senses and skills to become the industry’s most eminent coffee experts.

Here’s what he has to say about the process of buying coffee:

Cupping is the process of critically tasting and evaluating coffee with the specific end goal of buying coffee.

Recently coffee cupping is leaking out into the mainstream. Bringing the average coffee drinker into the professional coffee taster’s ring, opening up new and never experienced impressions of coffee. Let’s call it “palate enrichment.”

It is a ritual that happens behind closed doors. Phones are off, scents are prohibited and the company of focused, well-behaved co-cuppers is encouraged. The tools are surprisingly common. Fresh water, a kettle, a gram scale, 5 oz cups and some spoons. The most valuable tools are a sharp mind and a well-rested body.

A specific portion of fresh roasted (24hrs old), fresh ground (within minutes) coffee is added to the cups. The “fragrance” (the aromatics of the dry, fresh ground coffee) is evaluated before water at 200F is poured. The coffee steeps for 3 minutes. The surface of each cup is covered at this point with a crust of ground coffee that is broken by using your cupping spoon. A process appropriately called “breaking the crust,” while gently inhaling the aromatics that are released. The surface of the cups are cleared and coffee is captured into a special cupping spoon (either silver plated or stainless steel with a uniquely shaped bowl) and then slurped, held in the mouth, considered and then spit out.

This process is repeated for each cup, re-visiting the cups multiple times. The cupper notes any changes, good or bad, taking place as the coffee cools. The best coffees maintain their poise and balance as they cool toward room temperature.

The process involves slurping and spitting and slurping again, moving between samples and parsing out details such as acidity, body, sweetness and balance of each cup. Any particulars that a coffee exhibits are gathered as well. Here, anything goes; turbinado sugar, lemon verbena, sage blossom, tobacco…

Notations are made on a cupping score sheet that helps a cupper articulate their impressions of the scents, aromas and flavours into words and numbers, concluding with a score out of 100 for each coffee.

We’re looking for coffee that is fundamentally sound. The cup is clean with no off-flavours or taints. The coffee must also be current crop, indicating the freshest and most vibrant qualities in the cup. Beyond that, we’re looking for:

• Coffees with distinctive characteristics or qualities

• Coffees with an overall harmony and pleasing combination of components

The next step after establishing that we like a certain coffee is asking whether we’d actually buy it? It’s the easiest thing in the world to wax poetic about the merits and weaknesses of a given lot, but who cares?

• Will we buy it?

• How many bags do we need?

• What will we pay?

• We cup to answer these questions.

Want to talk coffee? Drop me a line.