The black box of coffee quality:
pleasant surprises and let downs

Author: Cerianne Bury, Quality Supervisor

Cupping can be an emotional endeavor. All of your senses are engaged. Looking for roast issues, or quackers. Smelling the aroma. Tasting the flavor. Your sense of touch helps you determine the different temperature stages during your evaluation. And the end of the cupping you listen to your panel members; what did they experience?

The cupping: assessing,
discussing, and evaluating

Sometimes a cupping table is a bit boring. Same old, same old. Sometimes you jump for joy when that set of cups on the corner of the table cups 90+. Every so often you are surprised by that fermented, phenolic, hard cup awfulness that passes your nose and lips.

And that is just the assessing part. As soon as the samples have been evaluated and discussed, you pick up the actual samples, check the labels and see what coffees you actually had in front of you. And the emotional rollercoaster can start all over again.

Pleasantly surprised,
or totally let down

Sometimes everything is in line with expectations. That washed Sidamo-2 is cupping and scoring exactly as it should. But other times, you are surprised. Pleasantly so, when that jaw dropping, jump for joy 90+ coffee turns out to be an arrival sample of a pre-shipment that barely scored 85 points.

Or, when that aged and woody tasting cup at the back of the table turns out to be a coffee that has only just arrived in the warehouse two days ago. Fresh arrival. Congo. Kenya. Colombia. How can it already taste old? What happened?

As a trader, we want to deliver on our promises to the roasters who buy from us.

Cerianne Bury, Quality Supervisor

Our promise to deliver quality

Whether pleasantly surprised, or totally let down, this surprise factor is not very helpful. As a trader, we want to deliver on our promises to the roasters who buy from us. For that purpose exactly, Trabocca has built long-term relationships with farmers. We have invested in technology for farmers, processors, and exporters. We cup samples extensively, at different stages in the supply chain. And still, surprises happen.

The black box of
coffee quality

A lot has been written on storage of green coffee and keeping the green bean stable. Climate control warehousing. Different types of packaging. Freezing. Doing more analysis and research on moisture levels and water activity to better predict shelf-life. A lot to consider. A lot to build on.

However, while analyzing our own data and reading as much research we could find, we found that not a lot has been said about transport conditions. We cup a pre-shipment sample and we cup an arrival sample.

The transport conditions research

But what happens in between is somewhat of a black box. How hot or cold do containers get? How much moisture is present in the container at what stages? How long do specific parts of transport take?

This is a question Trabocca wants to start answering this year. We enlisted the help of a student of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Tristan Arts. For his Bachelor thesis, he will conduct a transport conditions research project.

The mission: eliminating surprises at the cupping table

The goal is to get input that can help eliminate some surprises at the cupping table. Some surprises you ask? Yes, some surprises. Green coffee will always remain a product of nature, which is amazingly complex. It is this complexity that draws so many of us to the industry in the first place. As such I’m sure I will still have surprises at most cupping tables I attend.

However, if we can discover what actually happens to our green coffee during transportation, and better develop methods on how to keep green beans more stable from exporter to roaster, we can better keep our promise to both suppliers and customers of delivering quality coffee.

Stay up to date

Follow our transport and warehousing conditions project by signing up. You will receive the latest project updates and we will share the final results and conclusions of this project in the summer of 2019.