On Sunday 24 September I hurried to MAME for their semi-regular monthly tasting, which may not be happening in October as they’re closing briefly for a refit! Emi mentioned that they plan to have more seating, which would be great. The Germans and Swiss are into standing while you have your coffee, but it doesn’t encourage lingering.
It had been one of those mornings and I arrived late, so only got to smell a few of the coffees dry before Mathieu started brewing. I’ll move swiftly on to the tasting notes! After mentioning that a Japanese coffee champion he tasted with started at 8 minutes (tongue-scaldingly soon) Mathieu advised us to wait for 10 before tasting, then to wait a few more minutes and taste again to see how the flavours evolved. We were all making our way around the table when a blue and white VW camper van arrived outside – the policewoman and ex-policewoman team that make up local roasters Vertical had arrived! They listened in on our comments, which weren’t entirely what they wanted to hear but they took them on board in good spirits. One of the attendees was a Japanese Q-grader so her comments were of particular interest.
As usual, the coffees were served up identically with three-digit numbers to stop people unconsciously ranking them, with all packaging hidden away. Mathieu explained the standardised cupping procedure, suggesting that we didn’t need to make a note of it unless we wanted to annoy someone else who didn’t know what they were doing. (Got to love the French sense of humour.) He then had us practice slurping water from the cupping spoons as the coffees brewed, the crusts were broken and then cleaned up and we lined up to start tasting!
There were about a dozen people there, so I decided to make one fast pass down the table (trying to sort of keep up with Mathieu) just noting which coffees I liked – basically I liked the ones at the far end of the table more and the last one was amazing – and then went back through them again and made notes. I have to admit that I was still recovering from a cold and was feeling particularly tired, so even the note-taking didn’t go very well as I couldn’t put much detail onto some of my impressions, like what kind of sweetness or acidity I was getting. (At least I avoided the pine-scented hand soap this time.)
Mathieu asked for a show of hands of who liked each coffee and some impressions, as usual, and although I didn’t dislike the first one and agreed with the Japanese Q-grader that it had some nice toasty/biscuit notes, the Vertical team were not very impressed as it wasn’t what they had been aiming for. They explained that they normally roast this Brazilian coffee for espresso but the filter version was a kind of “gateway coffee” to get people interested in single-origin speciality coffees. The third one was another one of theirs – really interesting with strong sweet and acidic notes – but apparently it was an experimental first batch and they weren’t expecting to end up on the cupping table! (Mathieu assured them that it was a great way of getting feedback, and also for coffee drinkers to understand how much goes into the process of getting the roast right.) I shot my hand up for one coffee I particularly liked and Emi fell around the place laughing – I had picked out Coffee Collective‘s Akmel Nuri yet again. It really is wonderful!
Everyone commented on the last coffee on the table. It was simply amazing, unlike anything I’d tasting before – like stewed fruit, incredibly intense and punchy, one person even described it as alcoholic. It turned out to be from a tiny, tiny packet of very expensive coffee from Jose Alfredo Ninety Plus range, which is apparently mostly used only in competitions. It’s not normally on sale to the public, or even coffee shops, but Mathieu had found it in an auction and 20 little packs (“makes three ~90 ml servings”) cost USD $350. Wow. And no, it wasn’t available for the post-tasting coffee round.
So another fun and furious tasting session – Emi and Mathieu will be in Japan and Korea in November after the cafe refit but will hold another tasting when they get back. Unfortunately I’ll probably miss it as I’ll be in Japan for the whole of November but I’ll try to visit some Japanese coffee shops while I’m there!