Yesterday, the Seattle Weekly published a lengthy, thoughtful, and somewhat critical article on the exploding fad of consumer coffee cupping: Seattle’s New Way to Fetishize Coffee – Food – Seattle Weekly.
As we’ve written here before, the coffee industry has shoehorned many wine analogies onto coffee appreciation. While this shorthand provides a simplistic reference point for consumers who can’t tell their Typica from their Bourbon arabicas, it often falls flat: by setting false expectations for the coffee experience, and by failing to take advantage of coffee as anything more unique than a second-rate imitation of wine.
Coffee cupping is the perfect example of this. There are many purveyors in the industry who failingly promote coffee cupping as an identical experience to wine tasting — with all the social trappings and educational expectations of the beverage’s enjoyment that come with that.
However, in the unimaginative rush to reach for consumer-friendly marketing rhetoric, they dismiss the origins and roots of coffee cupping. It was primarily established as a rather unglamorous means for bulk coffee buyers to taste for defects and taste for a bean’s roasting potential before buying a shipping pallet of the stuff. And neither of these critical functions has anything to do with the consumer experience of appreciating coffee in a café or at the kitchen table.
Writer Jonathan Kauffman goes on to state:
The rite of cupping has been around for centuries among coffee traders. But now, following a pattern already well-established by marketers of wine, olive oil, and the like, a highly technical evaluation protocol once reserved for industry pros is being pitched to consumers.
Coffee is the new wine … With one critical difference, though. We all get to open the same bottles of wine and potentially enjoy the same taste experience. But cupping’s Achilles’ heel — what makes it more an exercise in hype than culinary education — is that it’s totally disconnected from the way every one of us actually drinks coffee.
The article also makes an obligatory mention of the self-awarded Third Wave badge of honor, to which many of these consumer coffee cupping advocates subscribe. All of which points to suspicions we’ve held all along: that the term Third Wave says more about the marketing of premium coffee than it says about the its appreciation. (Though even wine has caught this faux-revolution sickness with things like Wine 2.0 — and we’re not making that up.)
We were particularly amused by the author’s description of one of the least socially graceful practices in the coffee cupping ritual, where one “mimic(s) the harsh snort of their cupping sips, which sound like that moment when your vacuum cleaner suddenly encounters a gum wrapper.” Just try making that noise the next time you’re in a room full of lawyers with sweaters over their shoulders, espousing the brooding nose and roasted red fruit in your glass of 1999 Domaine Ponsot Griottes-Chambertin.
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