Campos Cupping Room Experience Newtown

For almost a year I had wanted to go the Campos Cupping Room, yet never really got around to it. I initially read about it in the first Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide; where the Campos flagship store in Newtown was crowned best coffee innovator in 2011 for its installation of the cupping room and cold drip coffee.

Campos is far from new to the coffee scene, having had been around since 2002, producing speciality coffee with an absolute focus on integrity, vowing to provide the best coffee in Sydney, and actually delivering. Will Young and Raf Bartkowski founded Campos in a tiny store amongst the back lanes of Newtown in 2002 and since then, the brand has only grown bigger. Campos Coffee maintains a strong focus on buying, roasting and selling only the finest quality coffee to ensure that they will always be one of Australia’s premium coffee roasters. Since the genesis of Campos, Young and Bartkowski have been determined to support direct trade with bean growers around the world. This cuts out any middleman buyers and sellers, allowing a mutually beneficial relationship. Campos also frequently visits their bean growers to make sure the bean quality is maintained there is no child labour in place.

But what the hell is cupping? Cupping is the basic practice and international standard of coffee tasting and aroma observation. The role of the coffee taster or ‘cupper’ is to try to gauge the degree of acidity, sweetness, flavour and body within the beans. The only necessary items being ground beans and hot water, and of course, a cup. Cupping is used by coffee merchants when selecting beans to buy and sell. However, it’s so simple that everyone can do it. Cupping can become very much a social experience as well, comparing and contrasting opinions, allowing you to gauge and understand different degrees of acidity and flavour within the beans.

I finally got around to booking cupping and waited until the day arrived.

I arrived at Campos on a Thursday at 2pm. It was early afternoon and not as crowded as it can be – which was nice, as it is one of the reasons I don’t always stop by. A young Campos staff member greeted us and led us through a door and up a dark flight of stairs at the back of the cafe. We stopped at another door at the top of the flight of stairs, and she completed the secret knock. A panel in the door slid away, and two eyes peered out, ‘three’? A voice asked. She nodded. We proceeded into the Campos cupping room; it was completely dark other than about five warm globes, which hovered high over the table in the middle of the chamber. I soon realised I’m lucky enough to have Will Young running our private cupping session.

We each had 6 cups in front of us, all filled with approximately 10grams of coarsely ground coffee beans, all different. Behind them sat two glasses filled with boiling water and one spoon.

Will first got us to smell the ground coffee, just the aromas. He asked what flavours we pick up. The first 3 cups are subtly different; I noticed dark chocolate, molasses, brown sugar and very light berry flavours. The next two are very fruity, almost like an earl grey tea. I could pick up apricots and berries, almost unlike coffee at all. The final one is a blend of the two sets, dark but with fruity notes. We were also given a quick smell of generic brand coffee, something straight off a supermarket shelf and as expected it smell feels stale and of not much at all.

The second phase involved pouring 92C water over the top of the ground beans, ensuring that the beans and water mix thoroughly. While we waited for the water and coffee to settle, Will ran us through a quick information session about bean sourcing and cupping that Campos undergoes to find the perfect beans. It’s not long until a crust has formed in cups and we were ready to cup. Will instructed us to break the crust with our spoon gently and while doing so, stir the mixture and waft the aromas and oils trapped under the crust. It was incredible. All the flavours I subtly picked up earlier were now right under my nose; I could grasp every note of character.

The third phase of cupping involved the removal of the ground beans from our cups, which was quickly done by one of the lovely Campos staff members. While we waited, Will continued to speak about speciality coffee, sourcing beans, the process of roasting and building a rapport with bean growers.

Once all our crusts were removed, we began the final phase of cupping – tasting. Tasting is simply filling your spoon with coffee infused water and giving a short and sharp sip, enough to cover your entire palate and take in the full flavour. We tried each of our six coffees, not drinking water in-between, letting the taste linger a bit. This process was undertaken without anyone talking, absolute silence in between a cacophony of spitting and slurping.

After we had finished tasting all the different beans, we discussed what we tasted and how they differed from one another, Will providing his insight along the way. Finally, we scored each selection of beans on a scale of 0-100. Will added that Campos only buys beans that have scored above an 84 out of 100, which gave us a good indication of where our scores should lie.

At the end of the session, we were allowed to purchase our favourite beans from the afternoon, me picking the Cup of Excellence Colombia lot#9 – El Mañana. As described earlier, the El Mañana is almost like an earl grey, packed with citrus and sweetness, absolutely delicious and very distinct from the rest. I can’t wait to test it out in some espresso.

Campos Cupping Room sessions run for about 45 minutes and cost $30 with a 250g bag of beans included. The Cupping Room holds approximately 4 to 6 people comfortably, depending on the time and day. Sessions run on Thursday and Friday at 2 pm, as well as Saturday at 8.30am, 10.30am, 1 pm and 3 pm.

Cupping was a fascinating experience, broadening my knowledge of the bean selection, roasting process, cupping technique and practise, as well as realising the entire spectrum of flavours that roasted beans can produce. Everyone leaves the cupping room with a heightened sense of taste and knowledge of coffee production and roasting. I would highly recommend heading down to Campos in Newtown for some coffee education and appreciation.

To book a session in the Campos Cupping Room head to www.camposcoffee.com

Image Sources: Bean Scene Magazine & Weekend Notes