Coffee Field Trip! Cupping with Fairway Master Roaster Benny Lanfranco

It was a cool, crisp fall day in Brooklyn and Fairway’s coffee extraordinaire Benny Lanfranco invited me to join him for a day of cupping.

Cupping?

Coffee cupping, or coffee tasting, is the ritual of examining the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. At Fairway, we do this every single week to make sure we maintain our sky-high quality standards, and that cup after cup after cup of Fairway coffee is nothing short of perfect. 

I’ve been working with Fairway for a while now, and so I take for granted that we are perfectionists about quality, that we meticulously select and source everything on our shelves, down to the nittiest, grittiest detail. Still, I couldn’t help feeling proud of Fairway coffee, excited by the rich aromas, wound up a little by my third (fourth?) cup of seriously good espresso.

The Coffee Lab (where the cupping magic happens!) is a coffee-lovers’ heaven. I am surrounded by every kind of coffee and roaster, flavor charts and nifty tools and coffee accessories. There is seemingly endless coffee for the sipping. Not just any coffee, but Fairway coffee.

First, Benny inspects the beans. He takes a sample from one of the big, green coffee bean-filled burlap sacks that arrive straight from the growers each week; freshness is critical. We also receive lots of coffee samples from farmers and coffee mills around the world. We spread them out on the table and look for gnarls or potential defects. Ideal coffee beans are smooth, shiny, and symmetrical.  We pass them through a special coffee sieve to make sure they are the right size. We test for moisture—if the beans are too dry, the flavor profile may be adversely affected.

We roast a small quantity of coffee, to test for its flavor and quality. And now, the official cupping commences! It’s quite a precise, scientific process. Benny parcels out 8.25 grams of ground, roasted coffee into five cups…Benny’s such a pro he doesn’t need to measure. We double check his intuition on the food scale—the coffee weighs in a 8.2 grams. Benny’s got the eye.

He covers the grounds in hot water—not just any hot water, but 150 ml of water at exactly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Inky grinds float to the top of the cup and form a sort of crust. We get all up close and personal, sticking our noses in the cups to deduce the “wet” aromatics. 4 minutes later, we gently break the crust with a spoon, stirring to release volatile aromatics. We sniff again. We then taste the sludgy stuff, sucking and slurping loudly, as serious wine people do with wine. (Retro-nasal breathing allows us to discern a more complete array of flavor components.)

What are we sniffing and tasting for? Our coffee must be devoid of flaws—off flavors caused by old beans, poor storage, or incorrect roasting. When coffee is flawed, it emits sour flavors, bitterness, or smokiness. We’re looking for great acidity and body. Like with wine or cheese, there are an encyclopedic amount of potential notes that make coffee unique and wonderful—from citrus and berry, to chocolate and hazelnuts.

We also brew the coffee. We make shots of espresso and check for the perfect, frothy crema. We press it in a French press, bubble it in a chemex, brew a batch in a vacuum and one in a percolator, and make a pot of drip coffee. When the coffee makes its way to your home, this is how you’ll be bringing it to delicious life, and we want to ensure that it tastes nothing short of incredible.

All of our coffees are closely inspected before, during and after roasting to make sure that all is right at every step of the way. If anything is inconsistent or below our standards, we pull that batch.

The result of all this precision, care, and obsessive attention? Truly outstanding coffee, every day at your Fairway.

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