Normally when caffeine has been flowing through me in a classroom environment, it's been because of an upcoming test or final. But at Buddy Brew Coffee on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, I got to actually taste the fruits of my not-so-laborious studying... and those fruits were roasted into delicious coffees that helped me learn more about the drink that runs much of my existence.
I headed to Tampa's most well-known roaster for a coffee cupping: it's like a wine tasting, but instead of grapes it's roasted beans being examined and explored for taste and flavor. And for six fellow caffeine addicts and myself, we came to learn more about the beverage that gives us life every morning. We attendees studied hard and took notes, and it was clear this was a class for coffee nerds and those that aspire to the title.
After a complimentary glass of beer, our teachers dove right into how different coffees from across the world are harvested and blended for flavor. All of the beans we saw were Arabica, the more popular choice of bean compared to Robusto. But where those Arabica beans were grown (as well as how they were roasted) made a great difference in the profile of the six different types of coffees we tested. The Sumatra seemed to have more depth due to its wet-hulling process, the Brazilian holding a bit less acid. All of these subtle tones of taste are picked up on the flavor profile, expertly charted here to help give descriptions to the notes running through your mouth.
"They're learning how to separate those flavors, and identify what they like and dislike in particular coffees," said Phillip Holstein, Director of Coffee for Buddy Brew Coffee. "They get the opportunity to understand coffee better, in relation to how it's processed and how it's grown, and what can be expected from each of the different regions around the world in flavor." Holstein served as co-teacher for our class, and not only was he the most informed person coffee I've ever met, he can tell stories of how Buddy Brew travels across the planet to find sustainable, well-sourced beans for their roasters.
They call it a coffee cupping, and you see why immediately: a series of handle-free cups with unfiltered fresh-ground coffee in the bottom awaited us when we arrived. Hot water was poured over the ground beans, and after waiting the froth was removed via a dual-spoon scraping method. But don't think we were shotgunning the go-go juice right from the mugs: with this much to taste, we slurped our way around to each cup individually with a fresh plastic spoon each time.
The slupring, as one would with noodles in Asia, helps both to aerate the coffee as well as get the full flavor profile across your entire mouth. It looks and particularly sounds goofy at first, but by the end of class the loud technique seemed pretty normal.
"Coffee is like a produce item: it's best to be enjoyed fresh," said Josh Bonanno, Buddy Brew's Corporate Trainer and our other proctor for the evening. "We're trying to get people to drink it in a very timely fashion, drink it within a week to two weeks tops to really get the best out of it"
"Really getting to know the product helps build an intimacy with it that kind of teaches you to enjoy it more."
After over an hour of learning and slurping, I could pick up slight differences in the beans before me, but nothing that piqued my soda-overwhelmed palate. Phillip said he was getting notes of lemongrass in something I found pretty caramel. The tastes others in the class were picking up seemed a bit lost on me, and as someone that loses the nuance of a lot of music due to an ear made out of slot machine tokens, I thought this was another case of subtlety and nuance evading my senses.
But then we took the only test of our class: nine cups arranged in groups of three, where two in each group would be the same and one would be different. The mission? Find the cup where one of these things is not like the other.
To my shock and awe, I was the only student to pick the correct cup all three times. As someone that has yet to claim a dollar on HQ Trivia, it was a surprising victory, especially when I felt I wasn't getting the notes my classmates were tasting. Maybe there's some hope for my forlorn tastebuds yet.
Each class member also went home with a bag of the Buddy Brew beans of their choice, and with a much greater understanding of what it takes to create the deliciousness which is our staff of life. If you want to take a tour of lands far away via their perfectly-roasted yields, then this class is for you.
And be sure to aerate, but still only sip, especially during the evening classes: if not you might be up a bit too late before bedtime.
Photos courtesy Buddy Brew Coffee.