Dareshack x Hard Lines cupping Experience

Dareshack Journal – Dareshack x Hard Lines cupping Experience – Studio space on Wine Street

We know how much our environment affects our experience; and I’ve always found this to be very prevalent within a coffee shop. Whether you’re welcomed by a smiley barista into a minimal, airy, scandi café or rushed off your feet into a busy, crowded ‘in-out-get-the-job-done-what-can-I-get-for-you-okay-wait-there-thanks-bye’ sort of space, I truly believe all of this affects the way we then perceive our coffee when we sit down to drink it. I bet that the exact same coffee tasted in completely different environments would be perceived differently. I know at least that for me when I have a pleasant experience within a coffee shop, I’m already set up to enjoy my coffee more than if I was made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in any way.

This sparked the idea for a cupping event where we could test this theory. We wanted to test the effect of the environment in which the coffee was tasted; playing with visuals, sounds and moods; We wanted these environments to be a drastic example of environmental impact on our experience. So, here’s what we did… We created two unique environments to try the same set of 9 coffees provided by Hard Lines. None of the coffees changed between the rounds, but the environment and position of these coffees on the cupping table did. Could people spot the coffees from the first round in the second? Did they feel the same way about these coffees with a different environment to taste them in? Did the distractions/sensory triggers make it more difficult to focus on the coffees themselves? Many questions come from an experiment like this, some of which are easier to answer than others.

Each participant had a score sheet per round to rate the coffees on attributes such as ‘sweetness’, ‘acidity’, ‘body’ as well as some more abstract questions such as ‘what colour does this coffee make you think of?’ and ‘how does this coffee make you feel?’. They were then given fresh sheets for the second round to answer once again within a different environment.

Let’s talk about the environments themselves…

Round 1 – ‘Distraction’
This was what we consider to be the more ‘intense’ environment. Loud, abrasive music, moody lighting, as well as a fast-paced visual projection we put together made up of old archive footage of coffee-related clips. This footage also featured ‘propaganda-esque’ words to try and influence the participants such as ‘sweet’, ‘bitter’, ‘chocolate’, ‘fruity’ – words often used to describe coffee. The aim of this round was to overwhelm and stimulate the senses of the participants, with the potential of distracting them from the coffees themselves.

Round 2 – ‘Blank Canvas’
A cleansing. A reset. Lights up, calm music, still projection. ‘The calm after the storm’ if you will. The aim of this round was to be a ‘sigh of relief’ for the participants. A much more relaxing and casual environment in which to taste the coffees. Less distractions.  Here, the coffees were also moved around the table to enable the participants to, in theory, stop the position of the coffees on the table influencing their perception/opinion.

Dareshack Journal – Dareshack x Hard Lines cupping Experience – Prepping the cupping table

THE FINDINGS
This is where things get tricky. Every finding that came from the data seemed to have a counterargument, or at least something that didn’t make it particularly concrete in terms of conclusion on the effect of the environment on our taste perceptions. However, some key interesting findings are as follows: (I’m going to refer to the coffees in a vague sense to keep the key details about the coffee purposefully out of it, to not influence your perception of said coffees and/or Hard Lines)

Coffee #1 – Natural Brazil
1. In round one 3 participants said the sweetness of this coffee was high, whereas in round two 0 noted this, they had chosen one of ‘absent’, ‘low’ or ‘average’.
2. In round one 3 participants said this coffee was watery, whereas in round two 0 had this opinion.
3. Most participants in round one guessed that this coffee was a washed process, whereas the majority said natural in the second round.
4. All of this considered, the coffee received the same overall average score of 2.6/5 on both rounds.

Coffee #4 – Blend
1. Most participants in round one said this coffee had an ‘average’ acidity, whereas most said ‘mild’ in the second round – a step lower on the acidity range on the form.
2. The coffee received an overall average score of 5/5 on the first round but only 2.2/5 on the second round.

Coffee #5 – Washed Timor-Leste
1. In round one 4 participants noted this coffee as watery, whereas in round two no one had this opinion.
2. This coffee went from an overall score of 4.3 in round one to 2.6 in round two.

Coffee #6 – Natural Ethiopia
1. In round one 10 participants said this coffee had a ‘bright’ acidity, whereas less than half of the participants – only 4 – said this on round two.

Coffee #7 – Washed Peru
1. Majority of participants in round one said this coffee had a ‘bright’ acidity, whereas the majority fell towards ‘average’ on round two.
2. Majority of participants guessed this coffee to be naturally processed in round one but washed for the second round.

Coffee #8 – Natural Papa New Guinea
1. Majority of participants in round one said this coffee had a ‘thick’ body, whereas it was found to be ‘average’ on round two.

To me, there seems to be a recurring theme here. Participants’ perceptions of the coffees in round one was just generally ‘more’ of whatever their opinion was, whether that’s sweeter, brighter, generally better; round one tops round two on a lot of the coffee’s attributes. Coffee #1 received an overall score of 5 in round one, but then only a 2.6 in round two. Coffee #6 went from 10 participants thinking it had a bright acidity to only 4 in round two. Things appeared to drop for coffees in round two. But this is where it isn’t quite so straight forward. You could argue that the reason for this is purely to do with the fact that round one was an environment purposefully made to heighten the senses, and therefore heighten the senses activated whilst drinking said coffees.

There are a couple key problems with this conclusion:

1. ‘Palate fatigue’ aka ‘taste bud exhaustion’ aka ‘sensory enervation’ – this is when you’ve tasted and compared so many coffees one after the other, eventually it becomes harder to differentiate between them and taste as clearly as you did to begin with. Just like anything we do as human beings, we tire out eventually – and that’s the same with taste. Although there is research that suggests this is more to do with your brain becoming fatigued with similar sensory information. Could the addition of the ‘intense’ environment speed the process along? Contributing to the sensory overload of taste, we also added visual and sonic stimulation which could be fatiguing participants all that much sooner than if there weren’t the environmental overload.

2. Not every participant answered every single part of the form. As you can see from the data, the figures don’t always add up to the number of participants that took part. And maybe this is somewhat to do with the amount to take in; it’s one thing to experience the cupping and potentially have your senses overwhelmed, it’s even harder to then attempt to put that into a form that you have never seen before. This then makes it harder to conclude data as there isn’t a substantial amount of data to back it up.

Saying this, I still think the findings are interesting and loose connections and conclusions can be formed to move towards further experimentation around the topic of environmental impact on perception of coffee tasting.

As an extra something for fun, and to get people thinking outside the box when tasting coffee, we also asked the participants some more abstract questions; How does this coffee make you feel? What colour does it make you think of? Does this coffee bring any particular images/memories? Personal favourites include:

Coffee #1 on round two – Natural Brazil
Q: Does this coffee bring any particular images/memories?
A: Bumblebees.

Coffee #2 on round two – Washed Colombia
Q: How does this coffee make you feel?
A: Makes me wanna wiggle.

Coffee #4 on round one – Nicaragua/Mexico Blend
Q: Does this coffee bring any particular images/memories?
A: Scraping off the burnt crumbs off the last slices of toast.

Same coffee, round two
Q: How does this coffee make you feel?
A: Stronger.

Coffee #9 – Natural Papa New Guinea
Q: Does this coffee bring any particular images/memories?
A: Dancing.

Dareshack Journal – Dareshack x Hard Lines cupping Experience – Mike Jordan – Head Barista at Dareshack Bristol
Mike Jordan – Head Barista at Dareshack

These sorts of things, I believe, can also make an impact on our opinions and the way our senses receive information. Maybe a coffee reminds us of a pleasant memory or a familiar feeling and that brings us joy. Maybe a coffee reminds us of something that we have negative memories or connotations with, disabling us to enjoy it quite as much as we could. Every single person has different experiences within life and can all factor into the way we taste coffee and perceive it.

All of us at Dareshack had a lot of fun on the night and it was nice to use our studio space for some experimentation mixed with immersive entertainment and coffee. This has truly got us excited to investigate more and continue to be playful with the ever-fascinating world around coffee.

Watch this space for more upcoming events.

All images ©Samuel Gan, shared with permission.

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