Coffee professionals who have spent time in the cupping room will know that this process is very much a communal experience. Cuppers would traditionally take turns using spoons to dip into shared cups of coffee, sipping the coffee off the spoon to taste and evaluate the beverage. Although it’s normal to rinse the spoons in water in between tasting, there is definitely quite a lot of room for improvement in the traditional coffee cupping practice when it comes to a sanitary perspective.
From 2020, we’ve started to view more and more things through the lens of the COVID19 pandemic, and people are taking more time than ever before to think about sanitary practices and where improvements can be made. So, it might not be surprising that more and more coffee professionals are making the necessary changes to their cupping protocols. The need for coffee businesses to respond to COVID19 by changing the way that they taste and evaluate coffee is just one way of many that our lives have been altered by the crisis in a very short space of time, with continuous updates to these changes as we get more information.
The Modified SCA Cupping Protocol
Throughout the COVID19 pandemic, there was still a huge demand for coffee, so it wasn’t possible to quit cupping altogether. As a result of the need to change things to be more sanitary, the Specialty Coffee Association released the Modified SCA Cupping Protocol, which involved providing cuppers with individual shot glasses to taste their samples from rather than dipping their used SCA cupping spoon back into the same cup. Along with this, professionals say that batch brewing has also risen in popularity as a coffee evaluation tool as a result of the pandemic since it is a viable substitute to cupping in a group setting. Along with this, coffee evaluators realized that batch brewing actually has some advantages, including providing an experience that more closely resembles that of the consumer when drinking the coffee.
Fewer Group Settings
Other coffee professionals say that as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, fewer people are cupping in groups and others are cupping alone, using the modified protocol in order to get used to it since they expect cupping to remain different over time as coffee professionals begin to adjust to the new practices in place as they return from the pandemic. Throughout the industry, more people are now aware of the risk of disease transmission and because of this, most are beginning to embrace the new protocol for cupping as a best practice.
Different coffee evaluators have begun to use a range of different approaches in response to the COVID19 pandemic, many of which are still evolving. Some coffee businesses, such as Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters in Dallas, have found that the easiest and safest method for cupping is to have team members cup individually using their own set of spoons and bowls, rather than sharing. Many coffee businesses, including Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, say that the unusual situation due to COVID19 has helped their team get a better sense of how calibrated they are, and that close communication about the coffee has been absolutely necessary to being successful throughout the process of cupping separately.
Taking New Methods Further
On the importing side of things, many businesses found that adapting to cupping remotely was not as difficult as you may first expect, with companies like Sustainable Harvest in Portland cupping remotely since March 2020. They work with coffee evaluators around the world who are able to stay connected to one another using digital tools and an in-house app. This company is one that had been building digital tools to make it easier for cuppers to connect and communicate since before the pandemic, so found the transition easier than others, and were able to quickly pivot to protect their employees through 100% remote working.
In Minneapolis, another importing company, Café Imports, was already considering a more isolated approach to the cupping process before the pandemic hit, in order to maintain more consistency in the evaluation of coffee. Since COVID19, they have furthered this approach and added more to it such as social distancing, mask wearing, and more disinfecting. While their scoring standards, evaluation form, and other presentation protocols have not been changed as a result of the pandemic, they have had to adapt to new evaluation standards such as providing each coffee cupper with their own individual table and presenting each sample with one cup rather than sharing. While making it safer for the individuals, this has also allowed professionals to work independently with as little distraction as possible, leading to better results.
How the Coffee Industry Survived the Pandemic
Along with changes to the cupping process, various other aspects of the coffee industry as a whole have had to make some serious changes to how they do things in order to ensure that they can remain in business throughout the COVID19 pandemic. The past almost two years have been strange for many people with lots of individuals thrust into working from home, where small daily habits such as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning have helped to keep people feeling a sense of normalcy. Along with this, the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people in a position where they wanted to get more serious about making their own coffee shop-quality coffees at home, which increased demand on the coffee industry.
The pandemic has not been an easy road for lots of people working within the coffee farming industry, including the twenty-five million smallholder farmers who are responsible for growing a massive eighty percent of coffee around the world. Across the globe, 125 million people get their livelihood from coffee, including people who work in picking and processing the beans, transportation, roasting, cupping, and selling the final product. When lockdowns began in response to the pandemic, coffee shop owners were some of the first to close, and some have never been able to reopen.
However, despite the seriously challenging work environments that have been caused by the pandemic, consumers around the world have still been able to get coffee throughout, which is mostly down to just how resilient and adaptable coffee producers and coffee businesses have had to be.
Selling Coffee Online
Coffee was already the number one e-commerce grocery product before the COVID19 pandemic, and by the time the COVID19 pandemic hit, there were strong partnerships already in place with high street chains, delivery services, and subscription services, which allowed businesses to ensure that customers were not going without their coffee throughout the crisis. During lockdowns, with people continuing to work from home and having limited options for leaving the home, making and enjoying a cup of coffee quickly became one of the top ways to take a break from work, as was apparent during the time in Italy, where coffee grocery sales increased by more than 20% during the first week of lockdown compared to equivalent sales in 2019.
How Coffee Shops and Chains Have Adapted
Coffee shops and coffee chains were some of the first to be hit by the COVID19 pandemic, with many forced to close their doors to business very early on in the crisis. Starbucks, for example, which is one of the most well-known coffee chain brands around the world, had to close many of its stores in China, then the US, and then in other countries and markets as the virus began to spread around the world. Starbucks is also a company that has been directly threatened by the new trend of working from home that has been brought about by the pandemic, as a company that mainly markets to office workers and other employees who go there for a cup of coffee on their way to work or during a break.
One of the main ways that Starbucks has adapted to the pandemic, with many other coffee shops and chains following suit, was to roll out more options for delivery and pickup. The first Pickup store from Starbucks was actually a concept that was conceived over two years ago, but before the pandemic, the plan was to gradually roll these new stores out. However, COVID19 changed all that, with Starbucks forced to repurpose current stores as Pickup locations that are intended to be used in urban, dense locations where it would not be feasible to use a drive-thru model. These stores use Starbucks’ Mobile Order and Pay programs to ensure that customers are able to pick up their coffee in a fast, convenient, and safe way through a walk-up window or curbside pickup, limiting contact with others.
Around the world, professionals in a wide range of industries have been forced to adapt and change their practices to make safety a top priority, and the coffee industry is no different. While it still remains to be seen how coffee cupping and other coffee industry processes are going to look after the pandemic is over, the changes have already brought about some positives for the industry as a whole.