I would like to organize and host some educational public tastings. The issue is that the only space I have to work with is the retail floor at our main shops. I would like to offer various kinds of coffee with either similar characteristics, origins, etc. and offer some hands-on time with french presses, cones, and other brewing techniques. These would be geared toward the "standard" customer...no cupping yet. Anybody have any suggestions, horror stories, tips, or tricks?
I host public cuppings and tastings all the time, and one thing I have learned to do is keep it simple. Maybe one coffee from each growing region, or three from a specific region, and focus on those. Any more than that, and it gets hard for people, and sometimes yourself, to remember the ones you did. Also, Use the standard form you can get from coffeegeek.com. If you explain what aroma, acidity, body, flavor and aftertaste are well, they will have good reference points to log what they learned.
And oh yeah, cup blind. It will eliminate any mental images of what your participants are expecting from that bean. I always cup blind. Plus, I think it's made me a better cupper, and improved my palate tremendously.
I'm also curious about bigger issues like crowd control. Are you doing the kind-of standard round-robin style where everyone rotates around and tries each coffee? Do you see any benefit to starting with freshly brewed french press coffee as a tasting first and then moving in to cuppings? I'm very concerned about 1.) crowd control and 2.) the foreign-ness of the cupping/gourmet food-y setup. Although that is what they are here to lear, I suppose. =) thanks!
I need to separate educational and production samplings. Educational or exploratory cuppings use production roasts. Sampling for purchasing purposes should be cupped or sampled light roast, just at first crack. The reason is it gives you a common guideline to start from and evaluate. For our in-house cuppings, I use our coffees, as well as our competitors coffees, but I do try to keep them as similar as I can, unless I am doing the three growing regions. Cheers in your efforts to do public cuppings!
I would start out doing the three regions, a coffee from each, do it blind, and help your customers learn the differences! Great work!
I agree with the keep it simple philosophy. Be a teacher and be aware of the fact that your customers are not as engaged in the coffee business as you are.
Have tastings that are easy to understand, and can be used to build your customers knowledge and confidence. Compare very different coffees, untill the "students" understand the concepts and taste/aroma variances to begin looking at comparing similar coffees.
My best idea is to host an around the world class, and present one or two coffee from each of the coffee main growing regions.
Another idea is to take one country and do a deep dive into the variouse coffees available and to learn about the complexiites of a sinlge origin.
Pitfall - be careful when showing and presenting coffees for education that you do not currently stock. Your students may like the educational tasting more than your menu.
I always try and limit the cuppings to no more than 10 people. More than that takes forever, and alot gets lost in the sheer amount of talk coming out. I say do the french press after, as you want them to see how it translates to the cup. See if they can identify the attributes they noted in a brewed cup. As far as your #2 question, I find people love the experience!
I had been hosting a Coffee 101 class at the shop for a while... basic coffee knowledge/history, tasting (not cupping), roast demo and espresso demo. They were always very well recieved. My space is limited though so I would always have close early (usually Sunday) to accomidate... I'd start advertising in the shop about 1 1/2 months before and run the risk of not drawing a large enough crowd to make it worth closing early.
I ended Coffee 101 in favor of free public cuppings once a week. I figure the planning is easier, the potential customer impact is greater, up-sell purchases are likely and a cupping is, well a lot truer than just tasting.
Mike - Once you get a core goup of regulars whoa re interested in learning more you may want to begin developing a higher level training class for them a different time as the sunday cuppings.
Also, you may want to consider inviting a few local reporters to the sunday cupping and maybe get some media attention for your shop. Also, try inviting a few local chefs or restaurant owners to particiapte as well - you may acquire some new customers, wholesale customers, or just work to improve coffee all around.
A question on cupping technique. In reading the Diedrich coffee roasters manual, they say to "cup" using French-press method, not cup and spoon method. They give some reasons, but its not SCAA standard, which makes me ask, "why?"
Novices and strangers may not like the idea of sharing coffee cups for a cupping. Also, I feel that for consumers the first coffee education should be about the flavor and aroma of coffee, not necessarily about the cupping process. Too many get all caught up in the sip and spit and forget the taste the coffee. After the consumers get acclimated to the tasting, then you may want to consider introducing a formal cupping protocol.
True Spence, and the idea about inviting other key people is very true. We are hosting a public cupping next month and have invited several of the best area chefs, as well as several popular media personalities. It's not to toot our own horn, as it is to champion independent coffee in general, and show that what we offer the community is unlike what they can get in the Green Giant. Plus, it educates even more people about what good coffee is supposed to taste like, and you would be surprised, there are alot of chefs who have never had real good, fresh coffee. I am working with one now who is now in love with our coffee and espresso. (He is also going to come to the cupping.)
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