The break

August 27th, 2012

The break, for those not exposed to the coffee industry’s tasting rituals, is a part of the tasting process when cupping. After letting the ground coffee and water steep for a set time we bring our noses down to the floating layer of grounds we call the crust. We stir a prescribed number of times and we inhale the aromatic release through our noses. We pause, we think, we assess.

It is a part of the process treated with much seriousness when training or explaining the process. It is one ritualistic moment of interaction in the otherwise pretty boring brewing process before we start tasting.

Over the last couple of years I’ve become less and less interested in this part of the process. It isn’t just because I’m tall and the table often feels a long way down for a lazy man. It just felt like an awkward process from which I gain no real insight into the coffee I am assessing.  Or perhaps better – I get no information of value from it that isn’t available via tasting.

In the past I had various theories about why I thought the break may be a valuable tasting tool, but I suspect they were so wrong that I am not even going to confess what they were.

When I started cupping getting the chance to break felt like a privilege, but now it feels more like a chore. I am reassured to find that I am not alone in this. When cupping with colleagues and peers it is getting to the point where we need to draw straws to see who, reluctantly, has to do it.

I think there is some value in assessing the smell of the dry grounds, but if I am honest I love the idea of arriving at a cupping table with the bowls already stirred and cleaned, cool enough to be ready to start tasting.

There is pleasure in ritual. Perhaps the frequency of the process has fatigued me, and I don’t feel like I can give it the time to be patient, slow and methodical.

There really isn’t a bigger point to this. I am not saying that we should never smell the break ever again. I’m not trying to play the “challenge everything we take for granted” card either. One of the reasons I continue to write this is because it is a journal of sorts for where I am, what I am thinking, and a way to share that with a large, global audience who may react to it in a way that inspires me.

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