The newest product to come out of McMenamins Coffee Roasters is our seasonal offering -- Fireside Blend. This is a mixture of two of our finest coffees that work together to enhance the warm, nutty chocolate tones in one another and combine to create the ultimate beverage to enjoy throughout the chilly winter months in the Pacific Northwest.
This new blend required much research and experimentation to develop. Here at the Roasters, we are continually working to create new products that represent our commitment to quality. One important tool we use to achieve this is coffee cupping. This is a traditional coffee industry technique and can be seen as our equivalent to the more widely known art of wine tasting.
The information gained from cupping is used to evaluate the quality and flavor of the bean and to select new coffees for purchase or for the development of blends. The coffee must be freshly roasted and ground immediately prior to cupping. A small, predetermined amount of grounds are placed into glasses that have been arranged on the cupping table. The participants smell the dry grounds and begin to discuss and write down their thoughts about the coffee - what flavor notes arise, what does it remind you of? The grounds are then combined with water that has been heated to just under the boiling point. Gently, the cuppers each smell the coffee as it sets in the water, inhaling deeply to take in the nuances of the flavors. Soon the grounds float to the top of each glass and create a crust.
A preheated spoon is used to break the crust that sits on each cup. As the crust is broken, a large amount of aroma is released -- each cupper must be ready to inhale vigorously as they push down on the crust. This is one of the most crucial moments of the entire ritual. After the initial release of aroma, each participant cleans the crust from the top of their cups with a pair of preheated spoons. It is important not to agitate the grounds that remain at the bottom of the cup so that the liquid will stay free of debris.
At this point the actual tasting begins, using a preheated spoon to slurp the beverage. The slurping helps to distribute the liquid all the way to the back of the tongue and promotes the reception of a large dose of aroma.
The tasters make their way down the table and evaluate each sample, rinsing their spoons in a glass of water between each stop. It is important to taste each coffee multiple times to evaluate them at different temperatures. The taste of coffee will change drastically during the cooling process -- returning to each sample will help the cuppers understand the full flavor spectrum.
After everyone agrees that they have sufficiently tasted each coffee on the table, everyone sets their spoons aside as they discuss their conclusions and compare notes. Coffee professionals look for any defects and also evaluate such characteristics as the aroma, flavor, body and acidity.
Aroma and flavor contribute to the overall taste of the coffee while body refers to the feel of the liquid as it sits in the mouth. Acidity is the brightness or liveliness of the coffee. Cuppers discuss these factors using descriptors, or words that describe their perceptions. Descriptors can range from the basic to the very detailed or abstract - however, the important thing is that each cupper's ideas are documented in a way that others can understand and discuss. This is the process that is used throughout the specialty coffee industry and one that helped us to develop ‘Fireside Blend,' the newest offering from McMenamins Coffee Roasters.
Note: Stay tuned for upcoming coffee cuppings at McMenamins historic venues! Try this ancient ritual yourself, guided by one of our roasters.