Fifteen java aficionados gathered around the barista and drank in every drop of a coffee tasting event.
"This is the basic standard way of tasting coffee,'' explained Kenneth Diaz, an employee at Panther Coffee in Miami Beach during a sampling session known as cupping. Not to be confused with the suction therapy, also known as cupping, that made headlines during the summer Olympics, coffee cupping is an evaluation process where coffee roasters and connoisseurs consider a product's aroma, flavor and quality. Or as Diaz said, "It gives you the a sense of the flavor profile of the coffee. It's kind of like a science experiment where we keep it controlled."
Diaz was presenting five new coffees at this recent cupping, one of several tasting sessions that have been percolating in South Florida. As more independent specialty coffee roasters and shops open up in the region, so have these free public events which draw small groups of people looking to learn more about a coffee product's journey from berry to barista.
"We can pick up on things such as defects, or bad coffee qualities or characteristics,'' said Amy Miller, who with her husband Manny Carrera owns Argyle Coffee Roasters in Fort Lauderdale where they've also hosted cuppings. The next one takes place 5 p.m. Oct. 8 and will be accompanied by a screening of the documentary "The Coffee Man."
The Millers have been holding cupping events since they opened their roasting company on N. Andrews Avenue two years ago.
"It's for sampling. We will invite the public into this experience to provide them the opportunity to gain more knowledge and view the coffee experience in a more interesting and intricate way,'' said Amy Miller, who handles the marketing at the company. "They are more actively able to understand coffee and can taste differences. It really expands that experience."
Wells Coffee Company, which supplies coffee beans to The Seed cafe in Boca Raton, has also held cupping events. Brandon Wells, who founded Wells Coffee Company in late 2014 in Boca Raton, said he plans to hold cuppings at an upcoming new Fort Lauderdale location that is currently in the design stage.
"We're super stoked and hope to continue making our contribution to the specialty coffee scene in SoFlo,'' Brandon Wells wrote in an email.
Panther Coffee rotates its cuppings at its three locations: Wynwood, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove.
"This is really part of our routine. Sometimes we do it with the public or the team,'' said Leticia Pollock, co-owner of Panther Coffee with husband Joel. "You get to taste the coffees a little bit like the wine tastings. In a sense, you are comparing one coffee to the other. It's a way of building a vocabulary for coffee."
At the recent Panther Coffee cupping in Miami Beach, Diaz introduced five coffees, one from Brazil, one from Ethiopia and three from El Salvador.
He began by adding the freshly ground beans into small glasses which were lined up and ranked by the coffee's acidity levels.
With their index fingers, attendees then tapped the glass on its side to sniff the earthy fragrance of the grounds. The products' names, origins and farmers were detailed on sheets of paper that were placed in front of the sample glasses.
After steeping the beans in hot water for four minutes, Diaz then led the group in using a spoon to gently break the crust which formed after the grounds bubbled up to the glass's top.
"There are gases in the coffee, carbon dioxide...That will release a big dose of the aromas out,'' he explained.
Then the group took another another appreciative whiff from the glasses.
Using spoons that have deep bowls, attendees slurped and swished the various brown liquids inside their mouths.
"The reason we slurp is because the coffee is hot,'' Diaz said, also noting that the method allows the coffee to fully coat the tongue and mouth for flavor.
And just like in wine tastings, some people spat their sample in a separate paper cup (which was encouraged) to avoid becoming too caffeinated. But many of the attendees gladly swallowed their samples.
Some people who attended said the various tastings gave them a better understanding of the notes in the coffee and the farms they came from. The grounds had hints of fruits or chocolate.
"It's kind of like tasting wine or whiskey. You can study it for the rest of your life,'' said Mike Lester, a Miami computer security consultant, who attended the Miami Beach cupping. "There is some science to study and some geekiness to be had...I wanted to hear from an expert and I wanted to ask questions. It was something fun to do,'' said the self-described wannabe coffee connoisseur who was more partial to the Brazilian coffee which was made of peaberry.
Lester, 40, described it as "mild with a little bit of sweetness. It popped for me. It stood out."
Ana Staniscia, an employee at Panther's Wynwood location, attended the cupping as a spectator. She said it was a way for her "to develop the palate and to learn about the brewing method. It's educational,'' she said after tasting the Ethiopian coffee.
"You can really tell the African coffee because of its acidity. It's dry and fruity. It almost takes like tea,'' said Staniscia, 32.
This was her fourth cupping event. She said the tastings are popular with her relatives when they visit Miami from Brazil.
"Every time I have family visiting, they love it. It's a great tourist option," she said.
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