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January 18, 2011 > The art of coffee, from bean to beverage

The art of coffee, from bean to beverage

Story and photos by Julie Grabowski

Take your love of coffee to a whole new level by jumping onto the Caffeine High-Way, a new class offered through the City of Fremont. Attendees will learn the process behind making a great cup of coffee as well as the art of cupping, a technique used by professional tasters to evaluate the fragrance, aroma, and flavor profile of coffee.

The idea for coffee tasting sprouted from the success of the monthly Wine Tasting 101 classes. "I love coffee and I know a lot of people do," says Recreation Supervisor Damon Sparacino, who pitched his idea to the owner of Suju's Coffee, Mahesh Papel. At Suju's for over a decade, Papel roasts his own coffee on the premises and does all of the blending, making him the ideal man for the job. "It's somebody who's actually entrenched in the business," says Sparacino.

Papel will take attendees on a journey from bean to beverage, including where the beans come from, how they're processed and cultivated (picked, washed, and dried), how they're put on the market, how beans are roasted and blended, and finally delivered into your cup. "Coffee is very fascinating to me. It's a learning process. I'm learning every day," says Papel.

Coffee cupping has the same foundation as wine tasting and is very particular for the coffee industry. Different regions around the world (as well as regions in the same country) yield different beans, and different climates, how plants are grown, whether organic or with pesticides, and weather are all factors in producing coffee. "If Mother Nature is not cooperating, we don't have coffee," Papel says. Cupping provides an understanding of different coffee growing regions with an opportunity to compare and contrast, and learn characteristics of various beans.

All coffee beans have a very different look and taste, and they roast differently as well.

Blending and balance is an important part of the process, to ensure the quality and taste of the coffee remains the same for each cup. "It's very important to make sure we pick the beans in advance and as similar as possible," says Papel. There are different grades of coffee, with bigger beans containing full ingredients and costing more because of the high quality. Striking the perfect balance between caffeine content, acidity, and aroma is a continual process. "Roasting coffee is not a science, it is an art," says Papel.

Suju's offers about 60 different beans a year, 40 year round and 20 seasonal. They roast in small batches about three times a week, roasting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds a month. They are also the only gourmet coffee house from Oakland to Gilroy who does coffee flavoring, offering 10 different flavors year round like chocolate raspberry, hazelnut, coconut cream, and macadamia nut.

Papel has done coffee cupping for wholesale customers, one on one, but welcomes this opportunity to share his knowledge in a group setting. "I'm very happy to do this because I want my customer or anybody out there to know what coffee's about," he says.

Between six to 10 different coffees will be brewed to taste, including Kenya, Sumatra, Guatemala Cielo, Costa Rican, and Mexican, giving attendees a chance to identify various flavors and roasts, and judge to their own tastes.

This class is the first in the Caffeine High-Way series; Sparacino says they hope to offer two classes a quarter. "It's a marriage of us and a local business... trying to bring new things to the community," he says.

Anyone who loves coffee is invited to attend, whether a casual enjoyer of the beverage or a die hard, must-have-multiple-times-daily enthusiast. Not many people know what it takes to produce the satisfying drink in their hand, and not too many places offer a coffee cupping opportunity to the public. So this class is a unique chance to get a behind the scenes look into one of the world's most popular beverages.

The class is for those 18 and over, and limited to 15 guests per class. Those interested can sign up online at and enter code number 144186, or call (510) 790-5541. The next class is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29.

Caffeine High-Way
Tuesday, January 25
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Suju's Coffee
3602 Thornton Ave., Fremont
(510) 790-5541
Cost: $15 for residents, $20 for non-residents

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