It will come as little surprise to friends, family and even acquaintances to hear that in recent days I’ve enjoyed an eating out and drinking adventure.
In the past it’s been a case of ‘working again’ reviewing the culinary skills of the finest chefs in some of the most exquisite dining establishments in the kingdom and, before that, in the UK.
Last weekend, however, it was less formal and even a touch educational. My good friend Chorok Cyrus Woo, director of Crust & Crema Roaster, Café and Bakery, knows I enjoy a good Americano and the occasional double espresso and I’d been accepted for a coffee cupping session at his Seef outlet on Saturday afternoon.
I’ve always fancied myself as a ‘coffee flavour profile evaluator’ ever since I set aside my jar of Nescafe Instant and placed a Nespresso machine next to my office desk.
Nine people showed up for the taste testing and we split up by the sexes with four women in one team and five men in the other, of mixed races and ages. I was the father figure and with an older nose for all things fine, I reckoned I was on to a winner.
The task was simple, we had to judge our three coffee samples for fragrance and aroma, flavour, aftertaste, acidity, ‘mouth feel’, balance and overall excellence.
It involved concentrated sniffing, a touch or stirring with a special cupping spoon and a little bit of slurping.
The aim was to guess the place of the Arabica beans’ home country with three premier coffee farms under the spotlight based in Kenya, Ethiopia and Brazil, and to best describe each example.
It’s a lot harder than you think. You can’t sniff too hard otherwise you’d get a nose full of ground coffee beans but you still had to place your head low enough without scalding the tip of your nose when boiling water was added.
There’s a lot of words come to mind like fruity, balanced, smooth and lingering but none truly captured the true flavour and when we discussed our findings after the session I appeared to be the only person who failed to recognise the correct order of magnificence.
Take the Brazilian cup, for example. I’d written ‘fruity, earthy, sour and bitter’ on my evaluation form only to find out that I’d missed its peanut butter, toffee, creamy ‘with hints of smoke’ aroma.
I think maybe I’d approached it all from the wrong angle because serious coffee cuppers wear no perfume, cologne or aftershave yet still omit no body odour, don’t brush their teeth or gargle, don’t talk (in my case that means don’t try and be funny with your repertoire of extremely amusing dad jokes) and actively focus the senses.
I think my senses were being teased too much … all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee. I really didn’t want to sniff beans or take a little slurp after the first sniffing and slurping session. I haven’t got the patience to be a coffee connoisseur.
I was happy when the session was over. I pulled up my favourite chair in the café, smiled at my favourite barista and heartily swallowed my favourite beverage brewed just to my liking. Was it sourced from Kenya, Ethiopia or Brazil? Who cares? I’ll stick to being a golden oldie coffee chav.
My food outing was much more successful … joining the thousands of expats at the Indian Club as a guest of my good pal, Gopal, to mark Onam, the harvest festival celebrations staged in Kerala.
An array of curries were placed on banana leafs with the sauces being soaked up by generous helpings of rice.
It looked noisy and chaotic when we first stepped into the main arena as folk piled into seats in rows around the trestle tables but it was clearly organised chaos as everyone found a place, everyone was served and the team of volunteers worked in unity to clean up and set the tables for the next session.
I still can’t work out how the young and old were able to tuck into the feast using only their hands. How do they accomplish this feat without pouring food down the front of their clothes?
Fortunately someone took pity on me and produced a spoon. My excuse, I didn’t want to waste any!