Mike Mowry is a Coffee Quality Coordinator at Equal Exchange. It's his job to taste coffee.
Ashley: What did you want to be when you grew up? I'm guessing it wasn't a cupper.
Mike: When I was really young I definitely wanted to be a baseball player. That wasn't going to pan out on account of me not being athletically gifted. Then I wanted to be a musician, which I still do quite a bit. But, coffee is something I have enjoyed since a young age... My grandma jokes that I started drinking coffee at three years old.
So, when did you start thinking about coffee and making a career out of it?
Growing up in Seattle definitely helped foster my passion for coffee. My parents always took pride in making quality coffee at home, so it was an important part of my life. In middle school I rode my bike to the espresso kiosk at the local grocery store to buy lattes, cappuccinos, and the like. In college I got my first job working with coffee, as a barista at a local café. I learned about espresso and brewing, and wanted to know more about cupping, roasting, and coffee quality. That's exactly what I do now. I started as a Quality Control Technician in coffee at Equal Exchange in 2006.
What exactly is cupping and why is it important to the coffee process?
Cupping is the technical term for a coffee sensory analysis. It is a systematic way of grading a coffee by its qualities in aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, acidity, cleanliness, balance, and general impression. This is an important step in coffee's journey from our farmer partners to our customers. Cupping provides us the ability to grade coffees using internationally recognized cupping standards set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). You could also simply say that we need to make sure that our coffees taste awesome.
How do Equal Exchange's cupping procedures differ from others in the industry?
Though we follow standards set by the SCAA, we do differ in that we taste more cups of coffee in our cuppings than most other companies tend to. In doing this we can send back more information to our farmer partners, in terms of the quality of their coffee; it also ensures that our coffees are clean (meaning free of flavor defects).
Many people love coffee, and would love the opportunity to taste it all day. What's the best part about your job?
Getting to know the coffees. It may sound strange, but since I spend so much time with these coffees, there are times I actually miss some of them when they are all roasted and out in the marketplace.
Okay, I gotta ask. Do you ever get sick of coffee?
What's your favorite thing to eat with a cup of coffee?
Chocolate. I wish I had a more obscure answer, like some kind of crazy orange that can only be harvested for 20 minutes on the third Sunday of May in this one remote, mountain-top village in Papua New Guinea... but I don't. A few pieces of nice dark chocolate and a cup of coffee are natural friends.
How do you brew it at home, when no one's looking?
French press all the way. 60 grams of coarsely ground coffee to one liter of hot (200˚F) water. Pour enough water to just wet the ground coffee, let it rest one minute, then pour the remaining water to fill the French Press, let it steep another 3 to 4 minutes. Plunge and enjoy.