Last weekend in Wellington we were treated to a private cupping session with Joe Stodart the Master Roaster at one of Wellington’s most famous coffee spots, Havana Coffee Works.
We arose fairly early on Saturday feeling the handful of Salted Caramel Old Fashioneds we’d consumed the night before and walked up to Havana’s roasting space, located around the corner from their bar (where we’d been the night before). Owners Tim Rose and Geoff Marsland appear to be the pin-up boys of Wellington’s coffee and hospitality scene and their distribution network covers some 60 or so cafes in the region. Master Roaster Joe tells us the owners are very selective with who they distribute to because it’s a direct extension of their brand. Any coffee that isn’t up to scratch tarnishes the reputation, one the team at Havana Coffee Works have spent 20 years building.
On the day we were invited to partake in a cupping session to taste the company’s entire range of beans on a regulated playing field. The process requires drinking A LOT of coffee, tasting three cups in each blend for over 10 varieties – thank god we skipped our breakfast cappuccino! Joe tells us that in a proper scientific cupping session to rate/award coffee the judges must prepare by increasing their tolerance in the months leading up to avoid caffeine poisoning. It’s not a big issue for Joe who’s happily knocking back 16 cups a day.
As Joe talks it becomes apparent very quickly that coffee shares a lot of similarities with wine; training your palate to taste the differences is the most complex part. Every cup was filled with boiling water and left to sit and blend while the temperature cools for tasting. Joe removed the skin on the surface of the coffee and tested the temperature before we dived in with our noses. Through a process of breaking the surface and rolling a spoon through the coffee, the beans release their aroma before slurping a spoonful into your mouth for tasting. Whilst slurping is commonly regarded as one of the rudest things you can do it’s essential in the cupping procedure because it means the coffee hits your tongue with force, impacting how you taste. Very interesting.
Picking out the differences between three cups of the same blend was tough, only one stood out for me, an ‘imperfection’ in the blend Joe calls it. Picking out favourites was a lot easier and there were a few that got the nod from both Tom and I including their delicious Cuban Revolucion blend. After the session Joe gave us a run down on how and where Havana source their beans – all fair trade and at premium prices to support the local growers.
Monday through Friday Havana’s coffee roasting facility is packed with customers and workers including a team of 15 who still package and stamp all of Havana’s coffee by hand. Havana’s honest approach to sourcing, roasting and teaching people about coffee is certainly represented in their business and their coffee is second to none. A seriously enjoyable a unique experience, one we’ll never forget.
Big thanks to Joe and Amelia for hosting us.