Here at Boston Common Coffee, we work with green coffee brokers in order to receive the wide variety of coffees we roast and sell. Working with a green coffee importing company is the easiest way to ensure we roast high quality beans from farms with fair practices. We work mostly with two companies to achieve this quality: InterAmerican Coffee And Royal Coffee NY. While we are always interested in direct trade relationships with farms, the use of these two brokers helps our variety greatly. I recently took a trip down to South Plainfield, NJ, to visit the Royal Coffee NY warehouse and take part in a cupping class.
My trip had two main purposes. First, I wanted to see the warehouse in person, and be able to sit down with Jamie, our personal coffee broker and talk about new coffees. Establishing this personal connection is important, because our broker serves as the connection between us and the farm. In working with our broker, we are constantly being informed of the newest coffees entering the warehouse, and the stories behind them. Here at Boston Common Coffee we don’t just buy the basic, machine picked, cheapest beans. We choose coffees with a story, from human beings who take pride in their work and product. The process of finding this coffee requires a lot of research into the farm as well as discussion with Jamie.
The other reason I traveled to Royal was to take part in a cupping class. For those who don’t know, cupping is the practice of tasting freshly roasted coffee to determine its quality and distinguishing features. Cupping is a way of preparing and slurping the coffee that has been developed and proven by the SCAA as well as others to be the most effective way to taste a coffee’s character. This is extremely important for a roaster to know, because it is one of the only tools a roaster has in understanding how to roast a great bean. Regardless of the amount of coffee technology on the market, a roaster’s most important tools are the five senses.
Cupping is also a very important aspect of Royal Coffee’s job. They cup with a different goal in mind… to determine if certain coffees are worth selling based on a method of scoring. This score is incredibly important, because it can determine the price and attention paid to a certain coffee, and because of that, can determine the livelihood of farmers. The score is out of 100, with anything over 80 considered as “specialty coffee.” The difference between a 79 and 80 grade for a farmer could mean everything. The only people eligible to give an official score to a coffee are considered "Q-graders." The certification process to become a Q-grader is very long and intense, and involves many blind tastings (with the lights out as well), and an ability to detect hundreds of smells and flavors in a coffee. At Boston Common Coffee, we don’t buy any beans that score below an 80. Additionally, they use this method to maintain quality control and to check that all the coffee is still in excellent condition and consistent. The class I attended focused on teaching the scoring process according to the SCAA guidelines.
At the bottom of this post I included a link to the SCAA guidelines for cupping. That is a snapshot at the kinds of details and protocol required to fairly taste coffee. I couldn't possibly go over every detail in this post, but i recommend reading the protocols. The strict SCAA rules are very thorough, including 5 cups per sample in order to detect inconsistencies, exact PH and tempurature of water, and lighting and sound in the room you cup in. Since almost no one is officially SCAA grading at home, it is up to you to be as strict or not with the rules. Cupping is something anyone can do at home. It only requires a good grinder, freshly roasted coffee, spoons, and many identical small cups. The key is to have fun and enjoy tasting coffee. For so many people, coffee is something we just shoot down and barely taste. Taking the time to slowly taste and understand a coffee, regardless of your knowledge or intention with the information, will make you a better coffee drinker and a better person.
Since this trip I have been able to confidently understand and taste every single roast, which will only continue to contribute to the amazing quality of a cup of Boston Common Coffee.