Meeting Around the Cupping Table

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By Wendy Rassmussen

If there is a metaphorical heartbeat in the coffee industry, then my suspicion is that it exists around the cupping table. If you think about it, here is where the hard work of the farmer meets the desire of the consumer; here is where the “rubber meets the road;” or, more aptly, the “spoon meets the lip.” Around the cupping table, relationships that span time, geography, and culture are developed.

In the very earliest days of the SCAA Expo, this magic occurred once you got back to your office. But, the association pretty quickly outgrew the folding-tables-in-the-hallway stage and blossomed into a full-fledged trade show. When I attended my first show in Seattle in 1992, all the ingredients for this magic were there: coffee samples from origin, cuppers, protocols, and an emerging common lexicon. But, there was not a whole lot of cupping going on at the show. By the time I left my role in coffee almost 20 years later, there was cupping all over the place, but it was reserved for those who could afford the space, electrical, and other costs associated with this activity.

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Today, thanks to the work of tireless volunteers, the heartbeat of coffee is strong and steady in rooms C108-C110. The man with his finger on the pulse of these rooms is Lennon Fediw, the senior green coffee specialist at Starbucks. I visited with him for a few brief moments and was immersed in a Proustian flood: the loud percussive beat as a handful of beans goes through the grinder, the soft background bubbling of kettles, the delightful slurping of comrades around the table, filled the air.

Every one of the three available rooms was full of energy and excitement. Fair Trade in one, Olam Coffee in another, and Amigos del Café–a private foundation designed to improve the quality of life for Honduran coffee farmers–was in the third. These groups worked through SCAA to book time in the Cupping Exchange. Each room was equipped with spoons, grinders, kettles, cups, and volunteers. Members supply the great coffee and the guests.

As I left, I was filled with love and pride for this industry. I reflected on how great it is that we have an opportunity to come together through our association and support each other with the time, space, and energy to strengthen old relationships, and develop new ones. Thump, thump, thump. The heart of specialty coffee beats as strongly as ever.

Wendy Rassmussen is a teacher at Garden Grove Unified School District and a coffee industry veteran.