Welcome to Angels’ Cup! You’re about to embark on a journey that actually has nothing to do with coffee at all. It’s about you, developing a stronger sense of taste, and we’re here to help. This guide will answer some common questions new subscribers often have, and help you get the most out of your coffee deliveries.
The wait for coffee has begun, and we promise you, this is the hardest part. Cupping Flight and Black Box subscriptions typically ship on Saturday morning, and All Stars typically ships on Tuesday. You’ll receive a shipping confirm and tracking number when your package goes out. Once shipped, it usually takes less than 3 business days to arrive, and we’re always here to help if there’s a problem.
Once your coffee arrives, you’re gonna need to brew it. But what’s the best way? That question is so much more complex than most people realize… welcome to the rabbit hole. But for now we’re going to keep things as simple as possible.
The number one question we get from people who are new to coffee is how much coffee to use. Here’s your guide.
If this is literally your first time brewing single cups of coffee at home, and you don’t own any equipment or know where to start, buy this Melitta Dripper and some filters. Before you click that link though, you should know that these are available in most ordinary supermarkets. They’re usually above eye level where you would never think to look, so ask someone working the floor for help.
As you get more comfortable brewing coffee (and start collecting lots of fun coffee brewing equipment), our app will help you find the exact recipe and brew method ideal for each coffee. The roasters we work with have been uploading coffee-specific brew guides on many of the coffees we ship. You can see those brew guides in-app when you’re recording your own brew method data. But be forewarned, everything should be optimized around grind, and that makes following someone else’s recipe potentially hazardous.
Chances are you signed up for Angels’ Cup (at least in part) because you want to be able to detect all those wonderful subtle flavors in coffee that everyone’s been talking about. You can do it, and Angels’ Cup was specifically designed to help you do this! But you need to avoid one mistake we see people make over and over again. Here’s what they do:
- Brew the first coffee.
- Look for the matching card and read the notes.
- Wonder for a second if that’s what they’re tasting.
- Conclude that either the coffee’s defective, their tastebuds are defective, or this whole ‘tasting notes’ thing is an elaborate sham.
The reality is that you can drink amazing coffee every day for years and never pick up on the flavor notes if you’re doing it wrong. Here is how you can develop the sharpest sense of taste in the least amount of time possible:
- Brew all four coffees at the same time. I know it feels like a waste at first, but I promise you this is the highest and greatest purpose your coffee can serve. If you can’t do four at a time, you should at least do two. It’s particularly easy to justify if you find a friend to share with. ?
- Sample them side-by-side, and take careful note of the differences. Write down how you would describe those differences, or chat about it with a friend.
- Use the notecards or the app to try and guess the origin. Even I only get this right about half the time, so don’t expect to be hitting 90% your first day.
Now, when you’re tasting coffees and trying to describe what makes them different, what you’re doing is “building your vocabulary“. I put that in quotes because it’s something you’ll hear a lot. This vocabulary will help you describe what you taste and share/compare that experience with others, but it’s also going to have its own quirks. I have childhood memories of eating honeysuckle, and it’s a common floral note that I get in coffee. I don’t expect someone who grew up in a different climate to share that association. Likewise, my co-founder Abby is Philippino and grew up eating pickled mango, papaya, and jackfruit. When I get those flavors, I just say it tastes “tropical”. I can’t get more specific than that, but she can discern different varietals and ripeness of mango. We’re all a little unique (some more than others). ?
Origins and processing techniques
Some origins are more obvious than others, and within each origin, there are a few different processing techniques which have a significant impact on flavor. Here’s how to think about it.
Natural process vs Washed Coffees – 90% of the coffees out there are either Washed or Natural. The remaining 10% are a hybrid of the two. Big picture, here’s how the flavors break down:
- Washed (60% of coffees we ship)
- Potentially brighter acidity.
- Thinner body.
- Fruit flavors are usually more citrus, apple, grape, grapefruit, cherry, and tropical fruits.
- Defects usually come through as tasting green or bready.
- Natural (30% of coffees we ship)
- Potentially sweeter.
- Creamy body, usually not syrupy or sandy.
- Fruit flavors almost always include berry.
- Defects usually come through as a weird ferment flavor, potentially tastes like rum.
Telling washed and natural process coffees apart is usually pretty easy. Every so often there’s one that throws you off. A lot of Brazilian coffee is natural but lacks a lot of the tell tale signs. Indonesia also produces some natural coffees that are tricky. But we try to ship at least one natural coffee per flight, so you’ll be able to figure these out pretty quick.
Origins are a little tougher to tell apart. Here’s a rough idea of what to look for in each origin, in order of how easy they are to identify:
- Ethiopia – Ethiopia is usually the most readily identifiable origin (and the most embarrassing to get wrong ?). Washed coffees usually have lemon citrus, black tea flavors, and floral aromas. Naturals are usually very heavy on blueberry and have a muffin or bagel like sweetness.
- Kenya – Kenya is right next to Ethiopia, but has a completely different and unique flavor profile. I don’t get tomato but many people do. Other top flavors are raisin, grapefruit, and bubblegum. What really sets these apart is the stewey nature of the coffee. You’ll know it once you try it.
- Indonesia – Usually have flat acidity (a bad thing), and very heavy body, bordering on sandy. Flavors are usually earthy or woody, sometimes some cinnamon sneaks in. Naturals can taste tropical if they’re really good. Papua New Guinea is a lot like Indonesia, but with more acidity.
- Brazil – Not the most flavorful but somewhat easy to identify. Good ones have dominant peanut and chocolate characteristics. Bad ones taste like hairspray (which I’ve seen generously described as “yellow raisin”).
- Nicaragua – Probably the most identifiable origin in Central America, it almost always has a tobacco spiciness to it.
- Yemen – Almost always naturally processed, they’re have a sandalwood flavor similar to Indonesians but usually a ton of complexity. Unfortunately they also sometimes taste like… horse ?. (Seriously, it’s an unmistakable barnyard flavor.)
- Colombia – The dominant flavor I pick up in Colombian coffee is cola, followed by cherry. I also frequently get banana.
- Brundi/Rwanda – These two regions touch, and have a similar flavor profile. Often they taste Kenyan but with less acidity and some flavors not usually present in Kenyans.
- Panama through Mexico – Pinpointing the Central Americas can be tough. There are a lot of small countries all lined up in a row. In general, the further north you go from Panama, the less complexity and acidity you’ll find, and the more chocolate you’ll pick up. I find that Costa Rican and Guatemalan coffees often have a miso soup or seaweed flavor. Honduras and El Salvador have been surprising me with some excellent coffees though, certainly rivaling Costa Rica in complexity and acidity. It’s tough! Specific flavor notes are all over the map. In general, the citrus notes are generally more orange and lime, less lemon and grapefruit. Berry notes are more strawberry and less blueberry. Also lots of good desert flavors that come from the roasting process, like caramel and nougat.
This is all just a starting point for you. It will take some time to develop an intuition for coffee origins, and there’s always something new to learn. Every region is working hard to improve its offerings, new processing techniques and varietals are popping up, and better traceability means we can get more regionally specific in our origin guesses. Brewing methods adds a whole other dimension to it as well.
Our app is designed to help you compare notes with other people, we think that’s super important. In addition to that, we’re setting up meet up groups all around the US. Here are a few you can join today to meet other coffee hunters:
We also have an active Facebook group where there are a lot of really great discussions happening (it’s not a page where you just follow us, it’s a group where people chat like a message board).
Questions left unanswered? Leave a comment below so we can improve the beginners guide!!