coffee cupping at houndstooth--austin

thirsty thursday
notes from maggie's farm 
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.  ~T.S. Eliot
Clockwise from left: Sean Henry, owner, Houndstooth Coffee, Eli Castro of Grubbus, and Meredith Bethune of Biscuits of Today.
This Sunday past, we had the good fortune to attend a private  'coffee cupping', graciously hosted by Sean Henry, owner of Houndstooth Coffee, Austin, arranged in concert with Eli Castro, a fellow Austin Food Blogger Alliance member and author of the website, Grubbus.

Seeing as how I learned to drink coffee in South Louisiana, where they say you can stand a spoon straight up in the cup, and that babies are weaned with 'coffeemilk' in a baby bottle (which is not entirely untrue), I thought I might know a thing or two about coffee.  I sure knew what I liked- piping hot, dark, and creamy, and absolutely knew what I don't like- coffee that looks suspiciously like tea.

Tuning in, and turning on, our coffee palate.

But boy was I wrong. Aside from preparing coffee properly (and we'll get to that), I actually found myself floundering.  Because just as complicated is the 'nose and palate' of wine, is at least as much, if not more, are the nuances of coffee.

We began, after introductions, by tasting different varieties of apples, to both cleanse our palates, and to prime us for considering the unique qualities of each coffee we were about to encounter.  Much as one apple had a citrus bite, so might one coffee.  And apple that was dense, well, coffee can be dense, too.  The entire group participated, and began to offer some pretty sophisticated observations. About the apples.

The nose—some have it, some need practice.  Lots of practice.
But then, it was time to 'smell the coffee'.  Literally.  Five unique roasts were separated into glass cups, and we all made our way around the shop, pencils in hand, making notes about the aromatic qualities of each, and what we thought upon very first 'sniff'.  And herein laid the rub.  For as much as I wanted to, I simply did not smell the 'tinge of grapefruit', or the 'grassiness', or the 'tobacco leaf'. I smelled 5pm on the front porch.  I smelled almost time for school.  I smelled breakfast in bed on Sunday morning.  And Tom?  Well, he smelled coffee.  

We took copious notes--we so wanted to be good students of the barista!  That's how we roll.  But notes or no notes, the nose was elusive.
Sean did tell us that developing a nose would take much practice, although it didn't seem to be difficult for many of my fellow bloggers.  For Tom and I, along with my friend, Christy Horton of epicuriosities, whose opinion on matters all things culinary I have come to trust—not so much.  Perhaps sophisticated coffee noses will come, but the three of us just smelled coffee.  And we wanted some.

Sean demonstrates the process: sniffing, breaking the crust, slurping
And that's when it got good.  We could smell the coffee.  Not tobacco, not grass, not grapefruit.  Just coffee; coffee being prepared.  And that kept us encouraged as Sean demonstrated the process of  'cupping'.

Beginners Step-by-Step Guide to Cupping

And then we all got down to business, sniffing, breaking a crust, slurping, and moving about to slurp some others.  
And then, soup spoon in hand, we all got to the cupping part, which was lots of fun—everyone elbowing, politely, to 'sniff', 'break the crust', and 'slurp' the coffee across our palates.  Sean was gracious and did not laugh at me as I practiced the proper 'slurp'.  No one else did, either, because they were too busy getting their own 'slurp' on.

And the holy grail---a great cup of Joe.

When the slurping settled, we gathered back for final words, questions…..and COFFEE.  Now, they're purists here you know, so no creamer.  NO sugar.  Just straight black.  But after the those grinds nuzzled into the steamy water in the top of that coffee clever, what we were left with was one perfect, not to be messed with, hearty cup of coffee.  

It tasted just like I want another cup.

Some notes:
  • Just where does coffee come from?  WHAT does coffee come from?  Our cup was the end of a long chain.  From
End of a long chain…
Tree – Coffee varietals abound, 4-6 years to produce first cherries
Picker – Coffee picked as its ripest moment.
Miller – Coffee cherry processed in a washed or unwashed method.
Dryer – Coffee dried on flat ground or raised beds.
Farmer – Coffee overseer and regulator throughout the process.
Exporter – Coffee shipped.
Importer – Coffee received.
Roaster – Coffee roasted, shipped.
Barista – Coffee brewed.
Customer – Coffee enjoyed. 
Also see From a Cherry to a Cup-- The Life and Journey of Coffee Beans

 "Herbal tea tastes so much better when it's coffee."


Here's to one perfect cup of Joe.


  1. How fun!! Never knew there was so much involved in the coffee tasting. Interesting when you look at all the steps in the process to get us a great cup of coffee.

    PS I probably would have been up all night after trying all those coffee samples:)

    1. I was unfazed by the caffeine and in bed by midnight.....albeit a late night for a girl who needs to be up-and-at-em around 5. ; /
      Thanks for leaving a note!

  2. Great post Maggie! Awesome photos too (unbiased even if I do appear in one)! We had a great time, but like you and Christy, we were at a loss for descriptors beyond "dark", "rich", or the unavoidable "chocolate-y". A fun experience though and thanks to Houndstooth and Eli for setting it up!

    1. Hey, Mike! Thanks for dropping by. Would you mind if I tagged you in that picture and linked to your blog? Next time I go to a cupping, I'ma be better prepared and bring a thesaurus. lol

    2. Hey Maggie! No problem at all. Tag away :) Your pictures are amazing.

  3. SO much fun. I love the pictures as well - and I love your descriptions of what you tasted. I had a similar conversation with Tracy on the way back home - where I was tasting balsa wood, she was tasting the first sip of a Dr. Pepper at a high school football game. I think she (and you) were tasting better than I was, it's where the taste brings you that matters.

  4. I'd love to experience something like that! Looks fun!!

    1. Eli, thanks again for setting that up for us. It was a real treat for Tom and I. I agree....where the taste brings you really does matter. Good words!

      Thank you for stopping by!

    2. oops. me and Tom. Not Tom and I. I'll never get that straight.

  5. What a post! Very educational! Do I need to be a coffee drinker before able to smell the aroma of coffee? :-) I am not one, btw.

  6. It was a very educational event. I think, like wine, the more you drink, the more your palate develops. Great seeing you and Tom as always, especially the side trip to T and S!

  7. I enjoyed this so much. I had no idea that there was coffee tastings etc. What a great fun class! I knew people smelled wine etc. I loved the bag of coffee Handmade & Damn Handsome. Cracked me up.Have a great holiday weekend.

    1. I think I'm going to go back and pick up a bag of that coffee to give to my husband for our anniversary next week. Clever packaging!

      I've sniffed my share of wine, but I have to admit that, although I'd been told I had attended a coffee cupping, it wasn't nearly as thorough as this one was. It was lots of fun.

      Thanks for dropping by, Winnie! Hope you have a great weekend.


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