September 14, 2022
The Cupping Room
The scent of coffee and baked goods is the first sign of a good cafe.
I could tell that The Cupping Room met this olfactory standard as I pushed open the glass doors to meet an aroma of slight caramelisation floating out from behind the counter. Sitting behind a glass wall were huge machines roasting coffee beans. In the center of it all was the roaster, slowly chugging away.
For many, coffee is the daily energy boost required to get through early mornings, employed more as a caffeine rush than the artisanal handcrafted beverage that coffee aficionados intend it to be.
I also started drinking coffee as a means of staying awake, suppressing the bitter taste to get through Monday mornings. My experience with coffee is not broad, with my go-to order at most shops being a mocha. However, a mere glance through Instagram and YouTube yielded aesthetic pictures of coffee, espresso machines, and many pretty patterns made from milk foam.
I was still new to it all, so when the opportunity arose to visit a roasting session in Hong Kong, I jumped at the chance to learn more about it.
On this particular morning, the cafe was busy: a couple in the corner sipping on their lattes, a man in headphones rapidly typing away at his laptop, and office workers stopping by during lunch break. Tamie guided my mother and me behind the counter, into the glass room. The steam hit me face first, the cooler and the roaster whirring softly to my side. With the beans right in front of me, I could almost taste the coffee. The sweet and the tangy, the heavy notes and light texture barraging my nose.
Tamie described to us the small yet complicated process of coffee roasting. Tamie showed us that, like Willy Wonka tinkering with his chocolate, coffee roasters scrutinized every aspect of production, even using graphs to calculate when the first bean would “crack,” signifying the end of the roasting procedure. A large monitor displayed lines and numbers dancing across the screen. Each line represented the amount of time it took for a bean to crack, providing Tamie with more accurate data for future batches of beans.
Coffee Beans After Roasting
Tweetspeak Poetry │ flickr
The process wasn’t nearly as complicated as I had expected it to be, with roasting and cooling being the main components of the operation.
Although, variation and complexity did enter the equation concerning different types of beans and coffees. The Cupping Room sources its beans from Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and many other countries with each having its own distinct flavor.
Although a foodie myself, coffee has been an area I haven’t explored much, my experience mostly limited to drinking coffee diluted with milk and chocolate. However, after minutely observing the roasting process and noticing differences in beans, such as in size, color, and smell, I had to try coffee in its rawest form at least once.
Arguably, more complex than the roasting process is how the brewing of an espresso is a rite of passage for most coffee lovers. The beans must be ground into powder, measured out, distributed, tamped, and finally brewed.
After Tamie demonstrated the process once, it was my turn. Everything was methodical and calculated, down to the last 0.1 gram of coffee powder. To some extent it was therapeutic, carefully distributing and tamping the coffee powder, then watching as the espresso seeped into a waiting cup.
All that was left after bringing in the beans, roasting them, and finally brewing the espresso was a small puddle of brown liquid. A very flavorful and aromatic puddle, but still a minuscule amount of product considering the work behind every cup. Taking a slow sip, this cup of espresso was unlike any coffee I had tried before. It was sharp, tangy, and hit you right in the throat.
As a first step into the vast world of coffee, this experience was more than I could have hoped for. Through learning about different types of coffee beans and actually brewing a cup of espresso myself, I realized that I’d greatly underestimated the work behind that caffeine boost in the early mornings.
As I prepare to dive deeper into local and global coffee culture, I am grateful to have had the chance to learn more about the intricate processes and preparation required to place that aromatic cup in my hands.
Hong Kong, China
Born in 2006 in Hong Kong, Christian Yeung studies at the Taft School in Connecticut. His academic interests are in history and English, and he enjoys writing in his free time. He speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and is learning French.
His hobbies include playing squash, the violin, and the drums. At Harbinger’s Magazine, he writes about food and history.
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