Coffee with a Conscience: The Cupping Room

Let me get this out of the way at the start: I like coffee but I don't LOVE coffee. I'm more of a coffee-flavoured-sugary-milk kind of person and, to be perfectly honest, a bit of a tea snob. After my first visit to The Cupping Room, home of Australia's 4th and 5th best baristas, that might just change.

In their own words, "the Cupping Room is a cafe project of Ona Coffee. It's aim is to involve, engage and educate coffee drinkers in the finer appreciation of coffee".

Ona Coffee is a Canberra coffee institution so deeply rooted that it is surprising to note that founder and director, Sasa Sestic, only started getting serious about coffee six years ago. Sasa's passion for the growing, (fair) trading, roasting and brewing of coffee is only matched by his honest desire to share this with the people around him. This is what led to the founding of Project Origin, Ona Coffee's own coffee sourcing company, where the company travels to the source, trades directly with the farmers and pays at least 20% higher than Fair Trade price. Not only does Project Origin result in some amazing coffee and lasting friendships, it also works to provide better living and working conditions for the coffee farmers, their employees and wider community. A recent project that Project Origin contributed to involved building and staffing a childcare centre on a coffee farm in India so that children can be sheltered and cared for while their parents are working out in the field.

Gus, barista trainer and coffee cupping extraordinaire, takes us through a cupping session which involves tasting two differently processed coffees - natural and washed. Natural is the original process wherein the beans are dried with all of their layers intact, including the coffee cherry, and typically has a heavier mouthfeel with a more intense flavour profile. Washed process involves the complete removal of cherry and mucilage by way of friction, fermentation and water, making for a cleaner, brighter taste. We are taught the proper tasting technique,where you essentially suck the coffee off the spoon, along with some air, so that it sprays across your palate. It is surprising how much this made a difference not only to the taste of the coffee but in the ability to taste the significant differences between both processes.

We move on to taste two filter coffees and, much like wine tasting, there is lots of sniffing and swirling involved. The first glass is delicate while the second filter has a large yet light bouquet big on fruit. The citrus notes we are getting perfectly compliments the first of two dishes served - cured salmon, beetroot jelly, shaved fennel salad with lemon oil, creme fraiche and sourdough croute. The lemon oil and fennel cut through the richness of the salmon beautifully while the croute provides an interesting textural contrast.

Just before our session ends we are given a rare and remarkable treat - Sasa's signature drink: espresso creaming soda. This is not just a coffee flavoured soda, oh no, this is a spectacular work of art involving fine espresso, a raspberry reduction and dry ice! The raspberry and vanilla of the reduction work to highlight the flavours of the coffee, bringing sugary chocolate notes to the surface. This was so impressive I didn't even have time to take a photo but you can see the video that Tara took here. As we sipped, we were served avocado, banana and cocoa mousse with balsamic strawberries and an oat & wheat crumb. The strawberries proved the perfect foil for the unconventional yet decadent flavour combination of the mousse. It took all my will power not to pocket the plate this was served on, isn't it sweet?

That passion and honesty I mentioned earlier? You can sense it coursing through the veins of the dedicated team at The Cupping Room and you'll taste it right there in your perfect cup of coffee, so good you can't help but smile.

The Cupping Room

Location: 1/13 University Avenue, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

Opening Hours: Mon - Fri, 7:00am - 4:00pm / Sat 8:00am - 3:00pm

Phone (02) 6257 6412

**I dined, drank, sniffed and slurped courtesy of Visit Canberra's Human Brochure campaign. All opinions are my own**