The Art of the Coffee Cupping at Swing’s
I went home after my coffee cupping at the new Swing’s coffee roastery and soon-to-open cafe in Del Ray with coffee grounds stuck to my nose, completely unaware. Even though nobody told me at the cafe (embarrassing!), it was worth it.
Mark Warmuth (at right in the photo below), Swing’s president and CEO, and Neil Balkom (at left), their buyer, trainer, and coffee quality control guy, filled me in on the cupping process as well as the nearly century long history of coffee selection and roasting at Swing’s. Cupping, for the uninitiated like me, is the process of evaluating different coffee beans, comparing and contrasting their characteristics, which can vary according to country and region and farm. Neil does cuppings all the time to discern which beans earn the Swing’s label.
At each cupping, which the public can attend in the cupping lab every Friday at 10 a.m., Neil sets out six small bowls of coffee beans. On one side, he selects three coffee beans that represent different varieties from all over the world (all Arabica beans) — in this case, an Ethiopia Sidama, Sulawesi Toraja, and Colombia Paez Cauca.
On the other side, each week he features single-sourced coffee from one major region.
This week, we sampled coffee from the Americas, featuring a Honduras Las Papas, Costa Rica La Vida, Mexican Esmerelda, and Guatemala Laurel.
And this is why it’s called cupping. You bring the cup of ground coffee up to your nose and take a big sniff.
After making observations about the aroma and learning some coffee-tasting lexicon having to do with a coffee’s acidity (mild, tart), body (rich, thin), flavor (butter, spicy), and finish (sharp, dry, and more), Neil pours the nearly boiling water over the grounds in each cup.
After a few minutes, he gingerly scoops the grounds off the top.
Then, giving each of us a deep spoon to use for tasting the brewed coffee, he told us to slurp a spoonful of each kind, to hold the coffee in our mouths for a few seconds, and then swallow. The purpose of the big slurp is to let the liquid mix with air, and then spray the coffee over every part of one’s tongue, to let all the taste buds capture the flavor evenly. I did taste a subtle difference in the blends. And one things’s for sure, I have the utmost confidence that they know what they’re doing in the Swing’s cafe.
Their new Swing’s cafe baristas take 3-4 hours of training to learn how to make coffee drinks properly. If the barista is new to the craft, they schedule ongoing training and evaluate their skill level progress throughout the training period and schedule more training if needed. Swing’s also has an in-house barista certification program that the employees go through to improve their skill set.
And when you stop in for a cup of coffee or a cupping, be sure to take a peek into the back roasting room to see the three old world German roasters of varying sizes. They pick the appropriate sized roaster to suit the size of the batch of beans in order to create an even roast.
Also, you’ll see the fresh coffee beans in mounds of burlap bags…
…which they put out front when empty for anyone to take home and use no doubt for sack races, or a fabulous DIY project, like Katie and I are bound to do.
For details about the Alexandria location, see the Swing’s website where you can also find links to their Twitter and Facebook accounts and find out when they plan their grand opening. Until then, I’ll see you at one of the weekly cuppings, every Friday at 10 a.m. at 501 E. Monroe Ave.