A couple weeks ago Paul sent an email to the Baltzersen’s staff, offering an invitation from our good friends North Star Micro Roasters in Leeds and Falcon Specialty Coffee, as they were hosting a 2014 Rwanda Cup of Excellence. Our baristas Paul and Ben were obviously quite excited, and young Aidan was tempted as well. Even Rob got on board, after some convincing.
Ben: Rob, are you coming to this cupping?
Rob: dunno, it’s on my day off.
Ben: but it’s in Leeds. You live there.
Rob: yeah, but I have a lot of things to do, you know. Like… things.
Ben: there’s free pizza and beer.
Ben: and we get paid for 3 hou-
Rob: I’m in.
Such was it that Paul, Ben, Aidan and Rob found themselves in a warehouse district of north-east Leeds on a cold and dark evening in late September, facing some of the finest coffee roasts Rwanda has to offer. What follows is some individual accounts of taste, comparison, experience and downright scrumptous coffee.
2014 Rwanda Cup of Excellence:
A cupping is essentially the coffee equivalent of a tea tasting; and involves smelling the beans as a whole, when ground and finally with water added. When this wonderfully heady process has been completed, then it’s time to get down to the tasting. For more information, please check out Paul’s previous blog article.
Now, take four members of Baltzersen’s staff and mix them with a liberal helping of their coffee peers. Then, infuse with 28 high-quality Single Origin coffees from Rwanda. Next, sprinkle in some free beer, pizza and chocolate; and finally leave to filter through North Star Roasters HQ for about three hours. The result of this potent concoction was a wonderful evening attending my second cupping.
Each of the coffees had received the ‘Certificate of Excellence’ award, meaning that they scored at least 80/100 on The Speciality Coffee Association of Europe’s (SCAE) rating scale. Indeed, with all of the coffees scoring between 85 and 91, this writer became somewhat bewildered as the evening wore on as I struggled to differentiate between one supremely high-quality beverage and another!
“I’ve seen things, man.”
Having never even heard of a ‘cupping’ until I was invited to one by North Star roasters, I was unsure as to what the night would entail. My curiosity grew upon arriving at a Meanwood industrial estate, and entered into the North Star unit. The space held many roasting machines, a large table covered in tubs of ground coffee, each with a corresponding letter, and a keg of beer in the corner.
After a warm introduction from Mike Riley of Falcon, and a go at pulling our own pints, the other guests started to fill the unit. Representatives from coffee shops such as Bean and Bud and Mrs Atha’s were present. The purpose of the night soon became clear after a brief explanation.
The aim was to sample each of the roasts, write a comment about the taste or aroma each one displayed, and then rate your three personal favourites with a score of 1,2 or 3. These scores were then added together so that one of the roasts would stand alone as the groups favourite, which would then be compared to the (SCAE guide’s) official rating of the Rwandan roasts.
This being the 5th cupping I’ve attended, I thought I knew what to expect. A few different origins of coffees, everyone tasting and discussing the flavours they were getting with the usual “oh, that’s what that was” when a revelation style tasting note is mentioned.
However, when there are 28 different coffees all from one country, it gets a little more complicated. These are effectively the 28 finest coffees from Rwanda, meaning that somewhere in there is one of the best coffees in the world.
It’s incredible how different these 28 coffees can taste. Obviously all prepared under the same circumstances as they are in a cupping, tasting notes ranged from classic Rwanda style fragrances and tastes like blackberry, cherry and wine, to custard and even tobacco.
But where do you stop and decide which one was the best out of these when you’re 28 coffees deep? And which one did official judges find the best?
I can tell you that no one out of myself, Rob, Aidan and Paul decided on the top-rated roast, and out of the entire room, only I guessed the one placing second (and I didn’t even mark it as my favourite).
However all these extraordinary and complex coffees would be nothing without the incredible hospitality of North Star, complimentary beer supplied alongside pizza from Dough Boys, and brownies from Noisette Bakehouse all bringing an incredible atmosphere to the event.
All participants were given a template for the sake of making personal tasting notes. Our notes range from sharp and accurate descriptions to more ‘relaxed’ definitions, but bearing in mind that all these coffees came from the same country, the distinctions are quite fascinating.
With 28 roasts, an exhaustive summary of our notes seem unneccesary. Suffice to say that reports were varied. Ben’s awarded coffee from the CWS Muyongwe/Sotkamu farm was described by himself as “Citrusy. Toffy, biscuity, creamy, spiced, Christmas.” Aidan and Rob ‘concurred’ with lavish descriptions such as “Tropicana” and “dry”.
The highest rated coffee present was from the CFC Muhondo farm, scoring a ridiculous 91 on the rating scale. Our description included “Salt, wine, nutty,” as well as “pine.” Aidan gave the roast in 21st place a full house, yet his description read as ” campfire – memories/nightmares.” We’ll leave that one up to Freud.
Other descriptions included “burnt toast”, “Debenham’s”, “calimari”, “Pleasant Street – Tim Buckley”, and “IKEA.”
Overall the night was different to what I initially thought of when first invited to a cupping, but it was an extremely enjoyable one. The coffee tasted throughout the night was fantastic and dispelled the myth I had in my head that all coffee tastes the same, as 28 roasts, even though they were all from the same country, each had an originality and individual taste. The welcoming and down to earth company of the night, as well as the pizza and brownies provided, were the icing on top of a truly enjoyable night.
Perhaps it was the free beer, but I thoroughly enjoyed the event; despite not knowing what I was doing for most of the night.
A favourite? I couldn’t even get close of naming one. Suffice it to say that if you feel at all adventurous about your coffee, then I cannot recommend highly enough giving Rwandan coffees a spin. They are renowned for pleasant floral flavours and lighter notes that would agree with the palate of even the most discerning of coffee consumer.