Coffee Cupping Class at Toby’s Estate


A coffee cupping class at Toby's Estate

Coffee Cupping at Toby’s Estate
Instructor: Dan Griffin

The vibe at Toby’s Estate is what you’d expect of a coffee shop on North 6th Street in the epicenter of Williamsburg:  warm, welcoming, and with an air of self importance that is in no way unfounded.  The main room, a grand loft-like box is filled with reclaimed wood, cozy seating and some antiques placed safely on the shelving that flank the space to give it that rustic charm. Overall, it’s a comfy atmosphere to meet, do work and, most importantly, revel in the coffee that the crew so artfully serves. With their bean supply coming from farms all over the world, they are constantly changing their menu and roasting techniques to fully accommodate the complexity of each of the very different beans. That care and attention to detail comes through in every pour they make. Brewing at this level takes a certain amount of well researched knowledge, extensive knowledge they’re now passing to their customers – for free.

Behind the main counter of the coffee shop is a large glass window with the words “Cupping Room” and “Espresso Lab.” This is where the class meets for instructions on how to really judge a cup of joe. Dan, the barista/teacher of the day, handed the class sheets of paper used to grade the six varieties of beans laid out before us. He explained that we were about to embark on something that is done, on average, twice a week at Toby’s – coffee cupping. This is the same test the staff members perform when buying or sampling beans from all over the world.  Furthermore, this practice is even done at the farms themselves, in order to test the quality and consistency of a harvest. So down the rabbit hole I went as Dan explained the different levels of testing, which are basically broken down into three aroma stages and three tasting stages. These are all done blind, resulting in a climactic reveal as to which coffee was the best based on our expert opinions at the end of the hour and a half long session.

Throughout the process, Dan made the group feel comfortable and at ease, stating that there was no bad way to categorize what our senses were telling us. The fact is, everyone’s palate is different based on personal tastes, past experiences and old flavors and smells that have locked themselves away in your brain from long ago.  So if a coffee has the faint aroma of chicken parm to you, which was actually something that I personally picked up on, well that is just as valid as the guy who kept smelling dirt with every cup he sniffed. From soy sauce to blackberry, split pea soup to wet sheep, we went counterclockwise around the table jotting notes and discussing the many nuances captured in each tiny cup.  And with coffee supposedly having over 800 known flavor notes, a scientific fact I’m told, you’re bound to stumble on a right answer once in awhile, which feels pretty good.

Downside: It’s hard to say any bad things about a class that’s free, but if I was pressed, I think I’d have to remark on the room.  Barely ten square feet, the cupping room is quite tiny for a class of five and a teacher, especially if you add in the extra four students that showed up whom they didn’t want to disappoint by sending away.  With all those people, and so many steaming cups of coffee, it got a little stuffy in there–probably due to the lack of ventilation. Word on the street is they’re looking into that.

Bottomline: To be perfectly honest, it would be almost impossible to give any class a fail when it comes to a grand total of zero dollars. Regardless of its nonexistent price tag, Toby’s Estate’s coffee cupping class empowers its customers with a knowledge base to judge and find their perfect cup of coffee. These guys are serious about coffee, and they want you to know that. So refine your tastebuds, stop asking for the finca, and get your hands on some of those Burundi beans. Pass!

Toby’s Estate (347) 457-6160 is located at 125 N 6th St, between Berry St & Bedford Ave, in Williamsburg.  Cupping classes are held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 10am-11:30am, and roasting occurs every Wednesday and Sunday.  To get involved in one of their classes on everything barista check out their Brew School.

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