They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but at Tony's Coffees & Teas' Ballard facility--equal parts showroom, training center, and mad-scientist laboratory--there is such a thing as free lunchtime coffee tastings. It's not as filling as lunch, but you'll have a better buzz after.
Every Friday at noon, the wholesale roaster welcomes likeminded coffee nerds for a themed cupping. Sometimes it's an opportunity to compare the beans of a certain region, other times a chance to taste a new roast in Tony's arsenal. Mostly, it's an opportunity for serious caffeine junkies to get together and talk shop without alienating their friends (oenophiles, sound familiar?). Last Friday, the focus was on freshness: When does coffee taste its best?
With business developer David Yake at the helm, control group cups of Ethiopia Sidamo--a single-origin roast boasting flavors of lemon verbena, tangerine, and honey--were handed out. The brew was seven days past its roast date and peaked with a crisp acidity. The experimental group (to be tasted blindly) involved a number of variables. There were beans from six different roast dates, ranging from just three days past to more than two months ago. Each of the six was stored both in a valve bag and a tin-tie bag. Of these now 12 variations, David recommended tasting each three times--when it's hot, lukewarm, and cooled--because the flavor profile changes with the temperature. I'm no math whiz, but that's a lot of coffee.
Spit cups in hand, though not always used, the crowd gathered at the make-shift, waist-high tasting table (actually the sign from their original location) for the elaborate ritual of the cupping: sniffing, pouring, cracking, and finally, slurping. Tasting notes--fruity, bright, flavored with apricot or, in one instance, wet cardboard--are thrown out the way they would in any good winery.
The results? Surprising, and fairly inconclusive. This motley crew of coffee experts that ranged from café professionals to hobbyists favored a batch roasted about two weeks ago, which makes sense, since coffee hits its sweet spot generally 10 to 14 days after roasting. But another favorite was the oldest batch, which, we all agreed, makes very little sense. "That's the joy of coffee," David said. "We never know."
If you can't make it to Ballard at noon on Fridays, or prefer to guzzle your coffee rather than sip and slurp it, taste Tony's Coffees at Cloud City Coffee in Maple Leaf or, as of just recently, at El Diablo in Queen Anne. But for the full experience--and a friendly education surrounded by a great set of people--stop by the lab.