One thing Pamela and I spent a bit of time deciding was how we were going to make coffee each day, while enjoying #Vanlife. The how being – coffee from an aeropress or percolator, or both, based on the roast and desired amounts. How would we grind the beans? We thought we’d pick up a travel hand grinder. It was a romantic idea, but it meant needing to buy more stuff and why do we want to buy more stuff when I built the van with enough power to support a Vitamix. So, we’ve decided to bring our small electric grinder with us and use what we have and built in the van.
With the decisions on how we are going to make coffee complete, the biggest question remained: . What coffee(s) would we bring? We’re fans of good coffee, like most people who don’t wait in long lines at your green and white branded coffee chain :-). We appreciate a dark roast with medium to full bodied flavors. Thanks to the brainwashing of our friend David Wilcox, we became fairly addicted to Stumptown’s “Hair Bender”. David would visit us for a month at a time during the summer and we’d be gifted one to two 5lbs bags of beans. Yes please and thank you. Now you can see how we could become addicted 🙂
As our supply ran low and we wanted to find a local roaster to support and enjoy, our friend Steve suggested we try Pablo’s Coffee and see if it’s right for us to take on our journey. Steve has worked for Pablo’s for a few years and he knows a thing or two about pulling a great shot and roasting a bean or two. Steve supplied Pamela and I with a few sample bags of beans to try. Out of those sample bags we both gravitated to their Danger Monkey roast. It’s a great coffee that can be consumed anytime of the day, like now as I write this around noon during a spring blizzard in Boulder, CO. The other roast which I liked more than Pamela is their Bali Kintamani Roast. How can you NOT like a roast with flavor notes of Strawberries & Cream, Sour Patch Kids and Concord Grapes! Sold, right?! These flavor notes lead Steve and I to talk about how coffee flavors are described and the process to get there – Cupping. To sum it up, it’s like wine tasting and it intrigued Pamela and I.
Steve wanted us to meet Pablo’s owner Craig Conner, a fellow cyclist and former #vanlife community member, pre-Pablo’s. Craig is stoked for our upcoming adventure and wants to keep us properly caffeinated. Brian Gehard, the head roaster wanted to set up a cupping table and walk us through the process so we could get an understanding from how Pablo’s selects their beans to the science and timing of roasting beans at just the right temperature.
The Cupping Process:
If you thought sampling coffee in order to describe its body, flavors and hints of earth would be simple and straightforward, you’d be as wrong as I was. The process is very well documented each step of the way from the weighing of the beans, duration of the grind to the amount of hot water added to the grounds. That’s just the first three steps. The real test for the brain and pallet begins once the grounds have steeped for a few minutes, releasing their aromas.
The proper way to experience the aromas is to scrape the upper layer of grounds with the backside of the spoon, away from you. You do this a few times, then put your nose almost in the coffee, inhaling. As your brain searches its flavors and scents on file, you enhance those thoughts by filling your spoon and quickly inhaling it with a loud forceful slurp. The slurping allows the coffee to reach the back of the tongue and mouth, where tastebuds are more adapted at picking up subtle flavors vs the tip of the tounge. To help jog the brain’s memory there’s a handy kit of scented oils and a color/flavor wheel. Both of these tools are used to help one describe the overall body and flavor of a coffee. Ensuring that ideas/thoughts about flavors, etc are not shared with others, swaying their decision, this process is generally done with pen and paper and reviewed after a few rounds of sampling.
Flavor Notes and Naming:
This is pretty subjective, even with the aid of tools like a color/flavor wheel and a scented oil kit. For example, Pamela picks up on sweet flavor notes much quicker than I and her tolerance for them is much less. I on the other hand pick up on more fruity and earthy flavor notes but can tolerate a sweeter roast of beans, like the Bali. The beauty of naming a coffee’s body and flavor is that you don’t have to stick to the names on the tools provided (i.e., the use of Sour Patch Kids and Strawberries & Cream) True, strawberry is listed in the scented oils and color wheel, but Sour Patch Kids are not :-). Really if you can’t recall it or think of it, you can name it and they will drink it.
The cupping experience was a treat and something we’d love to do again. Wine isn’t our thing but coffee is and we’re grateful for our friends at Pablo’s for taking the time to give us the experience and for supporting our Roaming Robo’s adventure by keeping us properly caffeinated with a roast that’s earthy, bright and has a hint of nuts and chocolate with a smooth finish!