After a quick burrito lunch at Whole Foods last week, I was stopped by the stairs and invited to participate in a coffee cupping workshop being held by Cafédirect, a Fairtrade drinks company based in the UK, to coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight. (If you’re not entirely sure what Fair trade is, I’ll direct you to the Wikipedia definition. Very briefly, more is given back to the producers with an emphasis on sustainability.) I was also told that it would last about half an hour and was the magical price of free – alright then! This was one in a series of workshops this fortnight that were being offered – I had just missed one showing us how to be a better barista!

Our guides were Victor, a coffee cupper and former coffee grower in Mexico (in the state of Chiapas), and Whitney, the translator but still obvious expert in coffee. Victor’s been cupping for six years and emphasised the need for practice, practice, practice when it comes to coffee tasting.

Whitney and Victor

We were taken through the life cycle of the coffee plant, from sprouting seeds and seedlings…

Sprouting Coffee Beans

…to young plants…

Coffee Plants

…all the way to maturity, complete with unripe coffee cherries. I learned that these cherries are actually quite sweet when ripe and red.

Coffee Tree with Cherries

We were told of how coffee is roasted and how this roasting brings out various flavour notes. As well, we were walked through the various flavours that we might encounter when coffee cupping, or coffee tasting, such as as those of citrus, chocolate and nuts. At all times we were encouraged to touch and smell everything they had on the table – I quite enjoyed sniffing the unroasted green beans with their light coffee scent.

Coffee Cupping

We then got a chance to taste the various roasts: a light roast, medium roast, and dark roast blend; one is supposed to slurp each spoonful of coffee to really splash it all throughout one’s mouth to get the full flavour of it. Cupping is usually performed with a light roast, with most of the coffee characteristics, both positive and negative, coming out. Unsurprisingly, the best blend and roast was that direct from the Cafédirect packets that were being sold at Whole Foods!

After a question and answer session (I asked about the different varieties of coffee – the main ones are Arabica and Robusta), we were each sent away with our own little bags of medium roasted coffee, roasted right there in front of us throughout the duration of the short workshop. The smells coming out of the roasting machine were magical – I picked up lots of chocolatey and almost fruity notes; those smells were actually quite distracting!

I’m glad I took part as it was a very informative workshop and I learned quite a bit about coffee. I never knew Whole Foods held such events and I’ll now keep an eye on their website for any more in the future.