Adventures in Cup Tasting...

Yesterday, I tried my best when I competed in the inaugural City Wide Cup Taster's event held by Alterra. The object of the contest was simple: of each trio of brewed coffee, the contestant chooses the cup that is not like the others. The face off was made a bit more challenging by competing head to head with another taster, tasting 4 sets (of 3 cups each), and doing it accurately while being timed. Though a 5 minute cap was given, most tasters were able to nail down their choices within 2 to 3, with some snappy tongues nailing them all spot on in under a minute.

Alterra Prospect's new patio

The coffees were also brewed meticulously to the same strength, and the same coffees were used in all of the brackets. Then, all 24 tasting cups per set of contestants were wheeled to the tasting area, given time to cool a bit and sucked up (noisily, or not) by the competitors.

I didn't really know what to expect when trying to identify the odd cup, but I don't think I was expecting them to be as similar as they were. And, I didn't anticipate myself feeling quite as nervous as I was... like I knew I was about to fail a test that I had studied weeks for. I didn't actually do any preliminary studying so to speak, I just tried not to eat any wicked hot peppers on anything for a few days. (That's actually kinda hard to do.)

The staging area.

As I watched the left hand side of the brackets, the mostly Alterra employees seemed professional to me in their slurping styles: bent at the waist and hovering closely over the cups, tasting spoons in hand. I did expect them all to pretty much nail every set, but some did and some did not. It was explained that the differences in coffee are easier to taste as the liquid reaches body temperature - which I did find to be true personally. I won my first bracket, but perhaps because the coffee was easier to taste due to a cooler temperature on my next round, I felt like I tasted them faster and more confidently, and then was promptly eliminated.

I didn't feel too bad, since I did have a great time and was finally able to put a name on so many familiar Alterran faces that I've seen over the years. And, just before I took off, I got a stack of lightly used green coffee cups - since I was feeling kind of crafty. Occasionally, I have too much time on my hands and make recycled scenes out of coffee cups. Yep. Pretty labor intensive. Especially since I tend to be a perfectionist with this sort of thing. If you fancy having a recycled box of Alterra art for your very own, keep an eye on my flickr photostream, and when I complete my next one, I will be giving it away to a flickr commenter!

It was a Wonka-like Christmas, looking under the cups to see if that little red dot was under my choices, funny also that I could remember which cups I knew full well were frustrated guesses and which ones I believed heart and soul to be correct. That's the luck of the draw in cup tasting, especially under duress of the ticking clock. I sure hope I'll be able to do it again sometime.