Mastering the Art of Cupping in Brazil

The Foodish Boy gets immersed in coffee culture at Daterra, Brazil's first sustainable coffee farm
The Foodish Boy

The Foodish Boy continues his culinary adventures, working at Daterra, the first sustainable coffee farm in Brazil.

Although my week at Daterra was largely devoted to coffee, I cannot overlook the food enjoyed during my time on the farm. The people of Minas Gerais really know how to eat. So much so, I was starting to wonder whether they grew coffee simply to drag them out of a post-meal food-induced slumber. And no matter how much they eat, they will always find room to finish every meal with a huge slab of cheese and a dollop of doce de leite. My host Gabriel made the mistake of telling the kitchen staff that I was partial to a decent meal. This is what greeted the two of us for dinner one night…

The people of Minas, as is evident from their portion sizes, relish a challenge. After spending time in the fields and observing the production process, they wanted to put my taste buds to the test and so I agreed somewhat reluctantly to compete in a coffee tasting session with their "master cupper." Would the years splashing out on expensive single-estate coffee finally offer some form of recompense? Or was this the moment they discovered that despite my self-proclaimed love of food I have a pretty poor palate? I hoped Foodish Boy would not be exposed as a phony. The pressure was on…

 
The Foodish Boy
Gabriel tasting some freshly roasted blends.

Daterra’s master cupper is king of the coffee supply chain: his palate is the gateway between producer and consumer. Only their master cupper, after tasting a tiny sample of the estate's beans, can give the go ahead for harvest to start. They travel, taste, and train for years to perfect their palate and during the three-month harvest period they will taste up to 30,000 cups of coffee. I should add that compared to the tea tasters I’ve met they are also a lot better behaved. (The tea estates sometimes slip a cup of gravy in the tea samples to make sure that after the lunchtime curry, whiskey, and cigarettes the tea tasters are still up to the job. Sometimes they are not!)

A cupping session is a very structured process. Ten grams of ground coffee is brewed with 150 milliliters of water for four minutes. For each coffee sample, there are three cups brewed to allow for any anomalies in the samples. The cupper/taster has a chart with 10 columns, which correspond to aspects of aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Each aspect is given a mark out of 10 and at the end of the exercise the coffees are scored out of 100. Because Daterra produces only specialist coffee, the scores should not drop below 80. The session begins with smell, first sniffing the beans, then again when water is poured over and finally at the end of the four minutes when the top layer of the brew is tapped with a spoon to release the freshly brewed aromas (known as cracking).

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