Welcome back to What’s The Ish, Trish?—an advice column on Sprudge.com, featuring words of wisdom from Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, Director of Programming at the Coffee Quality Institute, creator of the term “Third Wave“, and more.
What’s the ‘ish with all the obnoxiously loud slurps at the cupping table? Just when I think that I can settle in and get focused, somebody makes a loud ZWIPP! or a disruptive WHEEK! or a full-on earsplitting SHREEP! Oh my god I hate it so much!
What is the most appropriate way to tell them to shut the heck up?
So Hate U Slurping Hard
Sympathies to your poor abused eardrums! Take a step away from the table right now and think about why you are cupping with these people and if you might be able to avoid it in the future…or at least until you understand it better. It really is not appropriate to tell them to shush their slurps, sorry.
I can only gather that this is a real problem because I hear a lot of similar complaints from the sound-sensitive in our industry. I mean, at every cupping someone tends to get rattled by someone else’s rattle. In my opinion, there are plenty of other issues of cupping etiquette to get upset about. For example, I really can’t stand someone reaching through and taking a spoonful as I work a set. Wait your turn, pal! Do you have a plane to catch? (Sometimes they do have to catch a plane, but still…). I also have real concerns when someone appears unsure about what to do with their spoon as they rest between slurps. I can spot them a mile away, and I begin to fret. What’re you gonna do with your spoon, friend? Will you absentmindedly drop it into your spit cup? What then, huh? THEN WHAT?! But I digress.
Slurp noises seem a big issue for cuppers—especially if you are kind of new to it all and really not sure why some insist on being so dang loud about it. It disrupts our focus, interrupts useful dialog, and worst of all, alienates coworkers. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but as someone who has been on the receiving end of a few pretty serious side-eye looks of disdain in my slurpiest moments, I feel the need to defend those with a righteous objective. We are not all putting on airs or engaging in one-upmanslurps at the table. Some of us are earnestly working on our slurp.
A good slurp's function is simple and complex at the same time. We need to spray the coffee over the inside of our entire mouth to hit all of the taste receptors simultaneously while also incorporating air. The way we spray also helps us trigger our retro-nasal receptors, which helps us to get a little extra feel for the coffee’s aroma. A good slurp is not only for the benefit of your tongue—it’s really for your whole head.
Okay, here comes the story part: Years ago, I was on a trip to Brazil with two renown coffee buyers—one Japanese and one Australian. During a week of tasting table after table, I noticed that my slurp was not only more “slurpy” sounding than theirs and the Brazilians’ clean whistle/zipper sounds, but mine was also more clumsy in its delivery of the spray. My slurp had the coffee falling in clumps on the surface of my tongue. As I observed their process more closely, I saw that they had opened their mouths wider than I had. They were bypassing their teeth (which I had assumed they were using to make all that sound) and incorporating way more air than I was. Their zipper/whistle sounds were a byproduct of a much more evolved slurp. After a few attempts at their technique, I was sold! It worked better for me, and I went home fully aware that I was about to annoy the heck out of my coworkers. “Sucks to be them!” I thought to myself.
Ever since that trip, I’ve been working on my slurp, and it’s still a work in progress. I have to say, though, I am better at not disrupting my fellow cuppers than when I began this journey. It is interesting to note that it is far more distracting for me to cup alongside someone who does not make any sound as they cup, or one who is perhaps too concerned about being polite and silent in their work—because I’m keenly aware that they are only tasting part of what the coffee has to offer. Then I start to fret. What if he misses that floral note? What then, huh?!
These days, I mix it up a lot. Sometimes I’ll do a zipper while the coffee liquor is hot and volatile, and move toward a clunkier slurp as it cools so I can assess the texture of the coffee in a different way. I have stopped worrying about the sound I make, and instead have been known to really encourage others to get louder. As an instructor of such things, it’s my job to nudge students to find their own slurp.
So I’m listening for you, SHUSH! Get to gettin’ your slurp!
See here the slurp journey from 2012 to present of Katie Carguilo, Cupping Sorceress and West Coast Quality Control at Counter Culture Coffee:
Mr. Matthew Williams, roaster for Ruby Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin and friendly friend, sent me this little question via Facebook. It's also related to coffee issues of sound & noise, and I hope the answer will be helpful to many more roasters out there!
Got coffee questions for Trish Rothgeb? Send ’em our way at email@example.com.