Riff Roasters Coffee wants to teach you the right way to drink your coffee: slurping it, in the name of science. Generally, it’s considered rude to slurp your drinks or food, but according to Riff co-founders and owners Dave Lash and Matt Schaefer, coffee-tasting experts actually encourage the practice.
In May, Riff hosted a free coffee-cupping (as tastings are called in the coffee business) event at the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery in RiNo. Riff’s partnership with IMT began when Lash and Schaefer created a specialty coffee for members of its wine club. This time, IMT offered space in the Larimer location’s tasting room to host the demo.
According to Lash, his version of cupping is like a wine tasting, but for coffee fanatics. “There’s a lot of correlation between the folks that are drawn to the beer or wine industry to the way that you taste coffee, as well,” he explains.
This is not the first time the roaster has hosted a coffee demo. In the past, Riff has also teamed with Dry Dock Brewery and Brewability Lab for similar events aimed at introducing potential customers to specialty coffee.
“Ultimately, what we like to do is really show the world of specialty coffee to people who haven’t been exposed in the past," Lash adds. "It’s about being able to share coffee in a way that’s truly approachable and talk about coffee in a way that they can relate to.”
Riff is a reference to the founding duo’s musical background: Lash and Schaefer met as part of a triple bill in 2011 at the Larimer Lounge, and they've been playing music together ever since. In 2016, they started making coffee together, too. Schaefer, who has a background in science and engineering, began as a home roaster. For six years, he developed methodologies of roasting now used at Riff Roasters, where he's the designated master roaster. Riff’s goal is to deliver specialty coffee with “no pretense, no dress code, no secret handshake.” The coffee-cupping demo fulfills all three aspects of this mission.
“We don’t want to guide your perception or experience,” says Lash, who facilitated the event. He doesn’t tell the group what they should expect to taste, but instead leaves it up to the individuals to decide for themselves. In one case, though, the “right” answer is molasses, black tea and apricot (for the Tanzanian coffee). On the other hand, the Ugandan tastes of hibiscus, dark cherry and toasted walnut — or, as the roastery compares it, “comforting and complex like [Leonard] Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’”
To ensure consistency in coffee tasting across the board, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, or SCAA, has specific rules about how many grams of coffee are served, how many fluid ounces of water are poured and at what temperature, and how long the grounds are left to steep before sampling. Although Lash and Schaefer provide the audience with this information, there is not a test at the end. And while they try to get the coffee amount, water temperature and steep time as close to regulation as possible, Riff’s objective isn’t to be exact.
“The goal is different for the informal cupping," Lash says. "We’re trying to be fun and approachable while people are learning things they didn’t know about coffee and coffee tasting. Weighing out the specific amount of water takes away from the entire approachability and intimacy of it.”
Participants at the event in May also had the opportunity to be some of the first to sample Riff's nitro cold brew coffee, which they hope to have on tap at several locations this summer — Infinite Monkey Theorem among them.
So, why slurp?
“The reason you slurp coffee is because it’s important to aerate it — to take the coffee and spread it across your tongue and mix it with oxygen,” explains Lash. “The objective of a cupping it is to taste all the elements of the coffee — you want to taste it across your entire tongue. If you just take a sip of it like regular coffee, you might only go down the center of your tongue because that’s what you’re used to doing when you drink anything hot. What we want is for your whole tongue to experience the coffee. That gives you a truer picture of what the characteristics are. It’s bitter or it’s sweet; it has an aftertaste or it’s earthy.”
“And," he adds, "it’s just kind of fun."
According to Schaefer, “louder is better.”