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Cupping at The Fat Duck...

No it’s not a rude thing! Cupping is something that many of us in the specialty coffee business do to check quality of coffees, their flavours and other notes on what the coffee is like. I hadn’t realised quite how different coffee can taste depending on where is is grown, how it is dealt with on the farm, how it is roasted and then how the barista handles it until about 5 years ago when I started delving deep into this crazy world. Here I could go on an complete tangent and describe so many things but I will save this for another post.

I was invited by Dimitri, the manager of The Fat Duck, to a cupping, along with others from the industry - all experienced and great within the field, including from Square Mile, Workshop, Caravan, Cast Iron and Extract and… me! Ha. I sauntered in feeling slightly out of my depth due to the calibre of the location and other guests but quickly relaxed as we started chatting - ‘you got this James!’

To start with, we had a filter coffee and pastries over initial chats getting to know one another before taking over the lovely three Michelin starred kitchen! We were cupping 24 different coffees from each roaster plus a couple of others. It was an exceptional learning session and once all was revealed I was understanding more why I could taste certain flavours.

There were varying coffees from Kenya to Panama to Columbia, Bolivia, Rwanda and more. Both the Panama coffees I had roasted with Sheena just the day before were there, and with the initial dry aroma I was confident I knew which they were, I thought they were beautiful, but once water had been added my heart sank slightly as they did not taste as good as I thought compared to so many others around the table, and what I have previously tasted when I tested it. However later on this coffee was served as a v60 after lunch. I loved it and felt a little relieved - as a filter it had an aroma of pinot noir, just delicious! The sweet honey flavours with jasmine were seeping through and it had a beautiful full and juicy body. It was a great finish to an amazing lunch at the Hinds Head.

The remaining coffees were very interesting. Some tasted like they had been roasted a while ago but all were well roasted and nearly all packed a great punch of flavour whether it was bright zesty acidity or a warm, spiced woody tone to it. It was fairly over-whelming having so many to try but hugely exciting.

The Yummy Lunch

We were treated to a lunch at the Hinds Head as a thank you for working with the team, bringing them along this coffee journey. Dimitri gave a little thank you, and is very appreciative of the help getting them on their way to exceptional, world class coffee that now sits perfectly alongside the electric experience diners get a this immense, world-renowned restaurant. I am in turn proud, and equally appreciate them coming to us for help, but also the opportunity to keep learning and being opened up to new experiences and coffees. I don’t think anyone can or should ever stop learning.

We have roasted Maragogype and Geisha coffees The Duck sourced from the Hartmann farm in Panama. For me personally this was unique, the green beans like none that I have roasted yet. They are clearly larger in size, meaning it needed a different approach to the roasting profile - adding a little extra oomph at the in early stages to get the heat into the bean. I have much to thank this wonderful group for opening me up to a new level of coffee and chance to develop new roasting profiles, and extend the experience we can now put in our Coopers coffee repertoire.

It is a privilege to work these great people from The Fat Duck. Over the past two years they have immersed themselves in the coffee world and really gone for the peak in quality and training by going to origin, picking coffees, training and developing coffee and methods by spending plenty of time learning from so many people. It is exciting to meet others with such passion and this is what the other day with them was all about. Meeting others also was fascinating. After our wonderful lunch (see below for how yummy is was) there was discussion about coffee and the industry as a whole. The conversation was fascinating and one that needs to be discussed further and understood by more people.

There are underlying issues that need to be addressed. Differing opinions highlighted to me how far we still need to go in the coffee world. Never will all people agree, but it was interesting how people have different takes on what needs to be done to bring up the quality of coffee in general. This is not just a coffee issue but food too in my opinion. I often see posts on people muttering how expensive certain things are in various restaurants. Unfortunately you have to pay for quality and an experience - you just can not compare to buying from a supermarket and enjoying things at home.

This is a HUGE discussion and one that can go around in circles and one I could really dig deeper and deeper into on various levels - consumer, marketing, development resources ad training etc etc but here I am paraphrasing slightly in order to write a blog that is not a thousand page book!

Sustainability has come a long way and what was clear within this group was that it is a definite goal and reason to push the ‘Third Wave’ coffee scene.

Is it down to the business/barista or consumer to lead this push to use specialty coffee outlets?

The arguments were that:

  • The barista needs to be engaging with customer and provide more information and effectively help teach them more about the difference as to why it is and should be more expensive than commodity coffee and…

  • The consumer doing more learning about coffee and wanting to buy specialty coffee and not be drawn in by the big brands.

Of course much more was discussed but this in particular is a very interesting debate.

One big point was that the barista needs to give customers information when they are in the shop and not be so ‘snob-like’ when talking about coffee, as this will push them to big chains where choices are clear and consistent between all the shops.

However the flip side is that if the consumer is not interested, wants their quick grab and go, they will not want a full download of information on coffee.

One person comparing it to a sommelier was interesting - it is true on many levels but what was failed to be understood by some is that more kudos is given to sommeliers versus the barista, and in some ways fairly so. Making coffee in many outlets is done by simple steps and no knowledge is necessary if steps are followed correctly. This is enough for most people. But there are many baristas now who are specialising in coffee and learning how each step makes a difference, and it is important this is understood by all - Is it ALL details that make that cup of coffee amazing, from the farm and its location, soil properties, the processing of the coffee, how fairly they are paid, to the shipping, storage, roasting and barista skills. It isn’t just the one person making your morning coffee that ends up in your cup. It is worth the higher price that is paid and in all honesty the difference is not enough.

My opinion is that within this debate is a key factor is time.

At Coopers the aim is to engage over time. It’s not about bombarding people with information on that first visit - while the odd coffee geek will love it I am sure it would be off-putting to the majority. We aim to drip feed a little information and more to those who are interested when enjoying their coffee. Having our roaster in the corner is a real reminder and great for people to witness. We have discussed with our awesome regulars different brew methods, coffee origins or roasting profiles and we have done this over time. They can then spread the word and in turn get more people into awesome tasting coffee that also does not compromise the supply chain. Addressing the future development and security of specialty coffee is very important.

I hope that people are also open to hunting out other independent and specialty coffee outlets and not just plumping for the big chains as an easy go to due to their consistency. Keep an eye out for my blogs and posts for places, the aim is to help spread knowledge of these quality places and maybe save you searching out the gems for yourself. They are not always easy to find.

If you have a top recommendation I am always excited to find out about them.

Over and out

James & Cooper

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