PORTLAND -- I stuck my nose in hillocks of ground coffee beans.
Colombian: sweet. Panamanian: chocolatey.
A barista poured hot water over the beans.
Sweet turned fruity.
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Chalky chocolate intensified.
I dipped a spoon into coffee. I slurped -- just like the barista instructed, in order to spray my taste buds with coffee. I was taking part in a cupping at Stumptown Coffee Roaster' The Annex in Portland, the coffee connoisseurs' year-old equivalent of a wine tasting room.
Fruit deepened. Citrus seeped through chalky cacao.
Did I taste cherry syrup in the Colombia La Esperanza? Pineapple and champagne grapes in the Panama Esmeralda?
That's what Stumptown's tasting notes told me I'm supposed to taste in those coffees, along with a few of the qualities I detected on my own. (Bergamot! I knew I detected Earl Gray in Esmeralda's accent!)
After the cupping, I bought some Esmeralda beans (at $44 per pound, the home-brewed pot of coffee I'm drinking this morning works out to about 70 cents per cup). I'm enjoying the combination of chalky chocolate, astringent bergamot and bracing lime. But pineapple and champagne grapes? I didn't taste them at the cupping, and I don't taste them now.
Am I complaining? Not this time. An artisan coffee roaster, Stumptown emphasizes the bean -- from where it's grown and who grows it to how it's brewed and how it's served. As Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson, Portland's coolest coffee company doesn't sell t-shirts or sandwiches. It just sells coffee. Just like tasting rooms are embassies for wineries and breweries, The Annex is an embassy -- and a showcase -- for Stumptown's beans.
If you haven't done a cupping, you should. Cuppings are how coffee professionals taste and evaluate coffee: Smell beans. Smell coffee. Slurp. Savor. Spit. Repeat.
The Annex offers free cuppings twice a day. Earlier this month, I experienced five different coffees in about 30 minutes, guided by a barista who put geography and gastronomy into context without a drip of pretense.
For those who prefer buying cups of coffee to cupping coffee, The Annex also sells single cups of any of Stumptown's coffees, as well as the beans themselves -- which means you can set your course and determine whether that's really watermelon lurking in the Costa Rica Finca Salaca or if that's indeed cannabis flavor in the Sumatra Lake Tawar.
The Annex: 33525 SE Belmont St., Portland; 503-467-4123. Free cuppings at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
CUPPINGS IN TACOMA
On Tuesday, Satellite Coffee will hold two cupping events during which customers can sample the aromas and flavors of five different Stumptown coffees. Thirty-minute sessions will be held at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.