Toby’s Estate is a new cafe and roastery in Brooklyn, with Australian roots. I’ll be writing more about them later (the short review: nice coffee, great sandwiches, cool space), but for now I wanted to share that they are offering public cuppings every Wednesday. I went a few weeks ago and had a great time.

If you’ve never done a cupping, it’s basically the standardized method for evaluating a coffee. Multiple coffees are ground and brewed simply, in bowls or cups, with the floating bits skimmed off the surface. You go around the table to note the aroma, and then taste with a spoon, slurping to aerate it, and spitting to avoid fatigue that can impact your ability to taste. If you want to learn more about coffee you should hit up every free cupping you can find — it let’s you systematically compare and contrast the impact of a multitude of qualities and characteristics, including the farm, variety, processing, and roast. Doing this simultaneously with multiple coffees is always an eye-opener. If you’re lucky, you can also get in on cuppings of acids, defects, or even cuppings of different brewing water, all of which highlight how many variables affect the flavor of a coffee.

Our cupping had a few surprises, one being a distinctly aromatic coffee, with fragrant notes of brown sugar, spice, cinnamon, and herbal tea. I was really looking forward to getting to it on the tasting round, but when I did it was lacking in acidity and tasted fairly generic and roasty. It turns out it was Panama Esmeralda roasted for espresso by Coffee Collective  — the most highly lauded coffee, and one of the best roasters in the world. Coffee intended to be brewed as espresso is generally roasted a little darker, which is why the flavor didn’t come through in the cupping. The aroma makes me wish we could have tried it as espresso!

The star of the show was a Kenyan coffee that Toby’s is serving in their cafe. It smelled to me like baked raisin bread, had a red grape acidity, and I wrote “plum and citrus” on my notes for flavor. There were also some other interesting flavors on the table, like a Brazil with a strong peanut butter note.

Unless you’re a veteran coffee professional or have other tasting experience, you’ll probably come away from a cupping with a distinct sense of the limits of your vocabulary. It’s really difficult to put words to the aromas and flavors you experience in the coffee, but that’s why cuppings are so valuable! Also, if you’re at all like me, you’ll be wishing you’d had breakfast and a coffee to wake up your mind before the cupping; it requires focus and attention, and goes by quicker than you’d expect. Be advised!

If you’d like to visit one of these cuppings, space is limited so make sure you get your name on the schedule by contacting Toby’s Estate.