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Cupping at Starbucks: The Sound of Silence (and Slurps)


Likening the Starbucks Seattle HQ cupping lab to a corporate boardroom, Fast Company has shared with the world some fascinating insight into the corporate giant’s cupping process.

So as not to let personalities influence perceptions, cupping there is mainly a silent affair between seven quality control managers gathering to slurp some 70 percent of Starbucks’ roasts:

They’re tasting with clear parameters for outliers — is something exceptionally good or bad? Should a bean be pulled from rotation or elevated to a reserve status? Might a particular shipment improve by being aged not three but five years? Does something just appear mislabeled?

And when these outliers are tasted, no one says a thing. Instead, a taster moves one glass in an endless line of glasses just a few inches to the right or to the left. They flag it, in essence, to tell the others “give this one special consideration.” It’s somehow notable.

(more: A Tall Order: Cupping at Caribou Coffee)

The Fast Company report does note that the seven Seattle cuppers represent a kind of last line of defense after initial roasting and tasting has been done in Switzerland. But the look inside Starbucks’ operations makes for a good read.