Head roaster at Seven Seeds Aaron Wood demonstrates coffee cupping. Photo: Eddie Jim
''The slurping can get quite macho in some countries,'' says Aaron Wood as he brings a spoon to his lips. ''The louder the slurp, the better. You hear this incredible whistling around the table.''
The table is the coffee cupping table, and the loud slurping is the preferred method of getting coffee from spoon to mouth. It's not all for show (though a loud slurp does indicate an experienced cupper): the slurping distributes aerated coffee around your palate for maximum tasting.
Cupping has traditionally been the preserve of green-coffee buyers, who might work their way through several hundred samples at a time, and of roasters monitoring their roasts.
But Melbourne coffee drinkers are getting in on the cupping action now too, with specialty cafes such as Seven Seeds, Market Lane Coffee and Auction Rooms offering free public sessions.
Wood, Seven Seeds' head roaster, runs public cuppings on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Carlton cafe. ''Saturdays are crazy,'' he says. ''We try to limit it to 10 people, but we have them spilling out the door.'' Cuppers assess the aroma of the dry grounds and add hot water. After 15 minutes, when it has cooled a little, the slurping (and spitting) starts. The idea is to assess qualities including cleanness, sweetness and balance, and to detect different flavour notes.
''But the sessions depend on the level of knowledge of the group,'' says Wood. ''It usually starts out very reserved, but as people taste the coffee and are able to compare the different flavours, they get pretty excited.''
Simran Sethi, who is researching food crop diversity at the University of Melbourne's School of Land and Environment, was at her third Seven Seeds cupping earlier this week. ''I used to just stir the sugar in and drink my coffee without thinking about it,'' she says.
''What I get from cupping is being able to break down the experience. It starts with the nose, then the flavours reveal themselves.''