Application of Knowledge: Cups

One of the many things on my mind recently is the application of all this (some would say little bit of) specialized knowledge to broader frameworks of understanding, and applying them to other fields. In theory, this is one of the ways knowledge should spread and evolve; and in an attempt to find the utility of theory in practice, I conducted an experiment (linked just in case…).

I brewed a wonderful Panther Coffee (best coffee in Miami, and I don’t get paid for these endorsements…), Columbia, Finca El Ventilador, brewed in a Chemex (unbleached paper filter, rinsed), and tested the liquor in 3 different cups.

The coffee aroma has a fruity body and a caramel base, an easy flowing mouth feel, and nothing but other wonderful joyous notes. On to the experiment!



Cup one is a standard home coffee mug, made in Malaysia. I expected it to be the worst of the lot. On the first round the coffee from it displayed seemingly nice highlighted acidity tending towards a nearly-sour tart berry note. I was surprised that that cup would highlight anything.



Cup two is a higher quality “specialty coffee” cup made in Japan. After cup one, the coffee tasted downright flat in it; again, not expected. What is going on here?



This is an antique English cup, probably from the inter-war years. Wasn’t sure what to expect from this guy as it was my first time ever drinking from it. What I didn’t expect was for the coffee to have  a beautiful round and mellow body tending towards dark dry fruit (figs, dates, etc). This wasn’t even in the same ball park as the flavor profile I was getting from cup 1.


And now, a quick note on perception based preferences: Many things go into ones perception of flavor, and the decisions (revealed preferences) we make on a daily basis. Taste is not as simple as [physical sensation] -> [perception], it needs to pass through the filter of [cognition]. Now our model looks like this: [physical sensation] -> [cognition] -> [perception]; cognition, the filter of thought, emotions, and all other stimuli at this very moment, will characterize the way you think about any product you are tasting. That means product “A” will not always yield “Taste 3”.

So how is it possible to run tests on flavor?

Please humor me and let me skip many of the details and explain how the test I was ruining should have worked. I believe this will be a more enlightening way of showing you the power of flavor profiling (not capitalized, I’m not talking about the singular method by the same name).

I fully expected the antique cup (cup 3) to be best, followed by the Japanese cup (cup 2), and then cup 1. That was my expectation – the null hypothesis. Yet, we know that expectation will influence taste and that influence can deceive us. So their are 2 possible outcomes, I will accept my stated non-parametric ranking and fail to reject the null (I would not have proven anything) OR I would find these cups fall in a different order. That 2nd possibility is the key; for that to happen, it would mean that the change in flavor was so great, that it overcame my pre-conceived notion of cup quality.

Should I have failed to rejected the null, I would have had to use other tests to see if I was just missing subtlety. I fully expected not to reject the null. But I did. I preferred, after 2 rounds of sipping, cup 1 to all the other cups; but cup 1 also had a different flavor profile than the 2 other cups.

I had a very hard time believing that mass produced cup 1 truly was better, but what was I to do? Enter the glass cup. Glass is not neutral the way people mean (inert), but it is more neutral than the majority of ceramics.

I used the glass cup to test what the “unaffected flavor profile” would be; that is unaffected by interaction with the ceramic materials. The flavor profile did not match cup 1. Now we’re on to something!

I sat there sipping from cup 1 when it hit me; or rather when I couldn’t help but notice that that enjoyable acidity from the small sips during the initial rounds built to an overwhelmingly un-enjoyably acridity. The cup was acidifying (or at least reacting with) the coffee!

I sat back, waited ~15ish minutes, and went back to the cupping counter to re-try the other 2 cups. The antique won handily, and I failed to reject the null hypothesis. More tests will be necessary to determined if it is truly better now.

I did learn that I need to throw out the set of cup 1’s! (probably poison).

Problems with this design

  1. Only one person (me) doing the tasting – lack of data
  2. Not blind – I knew which cup was which the whole time
  3. same coffee throughout the test – lack of data and repeatability, no generality
  4. Tasted the cups in the same order each time – knock on effects, halo effects, carry over effects, masking effects, you get the idea…


Lots more work to be done!

Now, you might ask, what spurred me to do this?
I’m getting on a plane in about an hour to Panama heading for the coffee region – my work is classified (for the moment), but you dear readers, I promise, will be the first to know.

All the Best,


Seattle is Awesome

Arriving back in the united states is always a little odd after so long away; getting off that plane and traveling alone through Seattle as my gateway for English and Americanisms, the tastes and smells and air are so different, and all of that fades to a jaded background static un-noticed after the initial shock.

Seattle makes it all easy though because its such a laid back place (other than you street canvassers!), and I had a great schedule of people to see and thinks to do and coffee to drink and tea to share.

It all needed to start out with a proper American breakfast; Shrimp and Grits with a sunny-side up egg over ’em, side of biscuits, and a proper sized fruit salad (I didn’t eat the bananas).

I spent the rest of the morning, after significant taste-but resting period, working with David Schomer of Espresso Vivace; he has his own way of doing things, and I know he takes a lot of flack, but his espresso is great, and he’s been in the business longer than anyone. I learned an incredible amount about espresso working with him, and it left me with a lot to think about.

Then the reality crushing caffine high of 3 triple ristreto shots before noon wasn’t enough to settle my coffee craving or perhaps ignited a long dormant quest for sugar (I don’t usualy like sugar). I needed organic hand made coffee ice cream. Stumptown coffee ice cream. and I was in the right city for it. Thanks Molly.

A follow up for this?

Nothing Victrola couldn’t handle. Their usual public cupping crowd wasn’t enough to contain my caffeine binge, so we filled that place up to max capacity (it had nothing to do with me I swear!).

Perry and Co. do it true, and even the worst of the coffees on the table was a success.

The next day was spent at the ever present (if your a cogent Barista, roaster, or drinker) Stumptown; Andrew let me poke and prod at the roasters (the humans) ask inane questions, and do some tastings. Great time, great feedback, and (most importantly) great coffee.

Last but not least on this breez through Seatown, was for some much needed tea with Brett of Phoenix Tea Fame. I’ve been friends with Brett for a while now, and he was kind enough to bring me into his home, feed me (awesome vegan food!), and to and introduce me to his friend and business partner “Cinnabar” (not pictured). It was a good time, and the perfect pre-flight cool down from my coffee binge.

Brett was kind enough to share with me the tea he details in this post!

Till next time,
– Jason


Seattle okapi count = 0  🙁

UPDATE: an earlier version of this post had nebulous connotations for Brett’s relationship with Cinnabar. That has been corrected, as has my terrible spelling!

Korea 2012 – Seoul Coffee Walk

Seoul is a great city for coffee; if you can find it.

The big terrible Gelato-waffle-scotch-soju-whisky-bar-coffee-hof’s and the trendy cafe’s serving 3rd crack beans outnumber the real micro-roasters 14.6 to 1 (that is a real guessed statistic); they have more signage, more customers, larger storefronts, and many of them have wised up to what the un-initiated think a coffee shop should look like.

Pat and I spent 3 days binge-ing on caffeine testing each of these places out, and they are all in one solid (awesome) area, Hong Dae (where the cool kids hang (seriously)), in walking distance, and all their coffee got a PQ (Perceived Quality Indicator, more on that large portion of my research soon) of at least 5 out of 7. These places can go toe to toe with any shops on the east coast.

Your fist stop is the main stay of the Scene: 5 Extracts [no good directions… street names and the like are impossible in Korea, this is very close to Chan’s, so if necessary, flip the order and ask them their!]

They train more Korea Batista Champion Competitors than anyone else and have the medals to prove it. Everyone specializes in something there, so just ask them behind the bar what they suggest (Probably Siphon Pot! they are one of the few places to do siphon pot in Korea).

After that, chill out at Chan’s Espresso Bar
[409-10 Seogyo-Dong Mapo-Gu; Phone 023333562]

The name says it all, and you know what your going to get. Make sure you tell them you want their “B” Espresso; its the special stuff they serve when they know you know your Coffee.

Wait for the caffeine rush to pass (your just getting started) by having a organic lunch at Bob Cafe (It’s not a cafe). Perfect Bibimbap and unbelievable chicken. try the chicken. you will like the chicken.

Bob is just on the intersection from 5 Extracts and around the corner from Chan’s.

Leave room for desert at Fell + Cole Gastronomic Ice Cream []Pu’er Ice Cream; it was shou pu’, but the delicious malty kind that you think the sugar fairy visits in the Pumador while we all age together. Good stuff. Or if you like fruit you could get the strawberry red wine with Sichuan Lajio ice cream (that one flavor). The Owner, Tristan, knows his stuff (and speaks perfect English, so give him a call when you get lost, but the website has directions and its also right around Chan’s).

Forest is changing their name to Nektar Coffee Roasters [010-9006-5079, English is passable], but that doesn’t effect the quality. This is the grand finale of the coffee walk, and lands you in the northern side of HongDae proper, so you can spend the rest of the night working off that caffeine rush. These guys know spro and have the machine to prove it; triple boiler PID with pre-infusion and programmable pressure ramping. Great stuff, and everyone there is super passionate about good coffee. Their roaster is a customized Giesen.

These + 1 more, which I will post on soon, are the best Coffee Roasters I found;
let me know if I missed any in the comments.

Hope this helps!

– Jason