My first event with new website Kicktable was a revelation. Billed as a coffee cupping class with Dunne Frankowski, they promised to cover palette calibration, taste deconstruction, coffee origins, varietals and processing methods to give a unique experience of what coffee can be. I was pretty revved up about this as I love coffee and was keen to learn more. Given that this was taking place in the evening after my usual full day of espresso abuse, I expected to be even more revved up when I left!
Getting there a little early to get first dibs I entered the kind of serene space that’s just like balm to your frazzled, over-stimulated nerves. A long table, beautifully laid with what looked like place mats (but turned out to be our note paper cum instructions), simple white crockery, glasses, square rustic platters, one piled full of tempting sweets, nuts and dried fruit, the other a collection of berries and slices of fresh fruit, 3 small shot glasses with different colour liquids, three bottles with pipettes and three syringes full of a viscous white liquid! Well, well… seemed like it would be more than just coffee going down tonight.
I asked Rob and Vic, the two chaps who run the cupping class, what kind of people usually come to their evenings. Coffee lovers from all walks of life really, was the answer, taxi drivers, architects, artists, lawyers, but on the whole not anyone from the coffee based industries. One of my fellow coffee cuppees mentioned that when he moved over from the states in 2007 the coffee map in London was quite sparse, adrift in a milky sea of indifferent Starbucks there were few ‘real’ coffee places of note. All this changed when James Hoffman of Square Mile Coffee Roasters won the World Barista Championship in 2007; suddenly a passion for real coffee had been ignited and the London coffee bar market was transformed as people started paying the same attention to origin and roasts as they would a good wine. You might argue, oh why so serious about this? Coffee is coffee, doesn’t really matter as long as it’s hot and gets me up in the morning. To you I’d say, dear friend, do not go through this life just mindlessly consuming like some anaesthesized whale inhaling plankton. There is so much pleasure to be had from paying attention. Slow down. Take notice.
Rob and Vic’s passion for coffee is certainly impressive. They both come from a solid background of café culture with a near encyclopedic knowledge of coffee. Both are clearly in love with the cultural side of coffee and as we sit down by the table, the heady scent of the 3 taster cups in front of us containing the varieties of freshly ground coffee we are to sample literally drugs you. I really really REALLY would like some coffee now! However, to be truly primed for the main event by these skilled coffee Casanovas we first have to go through a series of ‘foreplay’, tasting various flavours to awaken our palettes, while Rob educates us about the provenance of the coffee bean. Everyone’s excited and the debate is lively. If only school could have been like this…
Encouraging us to sample the real natural flavours i.e the berries and fruit and then the fake flavours (the mixture of sweeties, chocolate and nuts) by first chewing while holding your nose, then chewing without holding your nose is a revelation in taste and aroma manipulation. The blackberry literally explodes in a symphony of flavours whereas the apple slice still tastes dull and flavourless. The dark chocolate is dark, bitter and powdery initially, then a heady overwhelming surge of pleasure. The milk chocolate cloyingly sweet on the other hand, not something I want to repeat (and this is coming from a renowned champion guzzler of milk chocolate).
As we’re now quivering instruments of taste sensations to a man, it’s finally time to sample the coffee. First it’s prepared, a precise process involving freshly boiled water, a standing time, us ‘breaking the lid’ of grinds on the surface while inhaling the scent, then Rob and Vic kindly clear the scum of grinds and after showing us how to slurp it the right way, we finally get to grips with the actual product. Each cup is very different and we all enthusiastically slurp and write down our impressions on the score sheets. I loved the first coffee, very much like my super dependable Ristretto from my Nespresso machine (obviously I’ve not divulged that dirty little secret to anyone present), dark, bitter, tobacco and leather taste, the second taster cup is full of a symphony of honey, dark brown sugar, skin that’s been in the sun, maple syrup and the third cup is to my taste kind of like stewed tea. Yuck. Did not like. Number 2 is the clear winner. Afterwards we all compare notes and are told where the coffees came from, even given the respective beans to smell.
The class reluctantly comes to a close, it is clear that everyone enjoyed it tremendously. I realized that although I’d have described myself as a sensual person I didn’t really have a clue before this class. It was wonderful to be taught the basic intricacies of coffee appreciation but more than anything it taught me the sensuality of taste, the beauty of immersing yourself fully in the aroma and flavour of what you put in your mouth.
Kicktable is a community marketplace for authentic experiences organized by passionate people. They help people to ‘do what they like and share what they love’.
I strongly recommend this class to anyone wanting to know more – not just about coffee but also how to appreciate the flavour of life.
Words by Anna Bang
Tagsanna bang, Dunne Frankowski, Has Bean, Kicktable, Square Mile Coffe,