Home Barista / Cupping with Angie Thompson
by Angie Thompson
The air conditioning blasted on my neck and back, my face and chest glowing heat from the incoming sunlight. This morning, I stood at the window bar of our Stone’s Point shop, enjoying that very specific cool/warm combo only achieved this way or by cranking the AC with the windows open in the car on a hot day. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, though I’m betting it’s not. My dad would call it wasteful. He’s not wrong.
“I always get kind of sad in July,” my friend said. He was working next to me, and we had removed our earbuds to say hello and, of course, to complain about the heat. It’s sort of an expected pleasantry in midsummer South Carolina. “Yeah, it’s like I get Seasonal Affective Disorder all over again,” I replied. It’s not that energizing sunshine of the spring or the fall, the kind that makes you feel invincible. For me, it zaps me of energy, slows me down. It’s the kind of tired that coffee can’t fix. But today, when I need to get work done, I know just how to take my coffee in a way that turns my brain on while also giving me a little dose of caffeine.
When I came home for lunch, I passed by my couch without a glance, immediately requested my Google Home to “Play David Bowie,” and gathered what tools I had on hand for a little makeshift cupping. I cupped coffee for a living once, and I found it to be an incredible sensory exercise. After all, cupping is meant to be an ordered method of sensory analysis for quality assessment of coffee. It makes sense, then, that it helps the cupper become more present, more aware, more awake. Today in my hot sleepy stupor, a cupping was just the thing to give me a boost.
It’s worth mentioning that while I am a coffee professional, I don’t spend a lot of money on coffee gear. Never have. I have the basics, but I really believe in being able to make good coffee with the tools you’ve got. So for my home cupping, I gathered a burr grinder, a scale, a gooseneck kettle, a cupping spoon (though a soup spoon will do!), and my trusty Fiestaware teacups to use as cupping bowls. Since cuppings are a great way to focus in on a coffee that is new or different or interesting to you, I chose my current Methodical obsession, El Balcon Natural.
First, I checked the volume of my Fiestaware by tare-ing one out on my scale and filling it with water. It was about 8 oz. Using the standard cupping ratio of 1.63 grams of coffee to every 1 oz of water, I weighed out ~13 grams of the El Balcon into each cup. While my water boiled on the stove, I ground each dose at a medium-coarse grind, dumping each ground dose back into its cup. I like to arrange my cups in a triangle pattern–it helps me keep everything a little cleaner and to keep a good pace while cupping–but it isn’t necessary. I also set out a cup for rinse water.
Once everything was dosed, ground, and set up, I took my just-off-the-boil kettle and hit go on my stopwatch as I poured hot water in each cup, agitating the grounds and filling to the tippy top. When my stopwatch read 4 minutes, It was time for the break. Breaking the crust with the back of my spoon, I could bend down and inhale a quick burst of aroma as the carbon dioxide released from the coffee. When all the aromas were sniffed and all crusts broken, I removed the excess grounds from the surface of the cup. Or as I like to call it, “scooping the goop”. Tell your friends. They’ll think you’re really cool.
Alright, I know this is a lot. And like, who even is going to cup coffee at home, right? But let me pause here to say that this isn’t a “Cup Like The Pros” guide or even a call to be super duper methodical (pun!) and anal retentive about your coffee. Have fun with it! This isn't your job! You aren’t in charge of some intense quality program! Okay, now that you’ve relieved yourself of that responsibility, let’s dive back in. Now’s the part after alllll the setup and preparation where I get to *taste the dang coffee*.
My stopwatch reads 12 minutes. I know that the coffee is cool enough to slurp without danger of losing taste buds. I lower my spoon into the first cup and lift it to my lips. *Slurp* Just like my mama said not to do with soup. But I’m an adult, and this is my kitchen, and I do what I want. I taste mellow florals and dried mango and I rinse my spoon. *Slurp* Cup two, more of the same and sweeter. *Slurp* Cup three, and I’m all in on that boozy, fruity cup profile.
By this point, I’ve done what amounts to a very effective guided meditation that my therapist would be proud of. I’ve grounded myself in my kitchen by doing fixed tasks. I’ve touched base with my five senses–measuring out beans with quiet precision, the sound of the grinder and “I Feel Free” in the background, the myriad aromas from the dry and the wet coffee, stretching to bend as I smell and slurp, tasting everything the cup has to offer. All of a sudden, I’m back in my (slightly caffeinated) body and ready for the day. All of a sudden, even this July heat is no match for my focus.