Well, who’d have thought that just over a month after wondering publicly whether the novel coronavirus would put an end to public cuppings, nearly the entire world would be thrust into an unprecedented lockdown. Here in the Bay Area, we’ve been sheltering in place since Tuesday March 17, and it brings me only the smallest amount of pleasure to say that public cuppings are cancelled.

Our team continues to produce roasting and cupping data as we create new Crown Jewels, but from isolation. Royal’s QC team and a skeleton crew of traders rotate shifts to make approvals in cupping teams of two, sitting at separate tables.

From the rest of us, as we work from home, here are a couple of recommendations we can make for staying productive and calibrated while maintaining social distancing.

If you’re in the same room, perhaps consider setting up individual stations. Creative Director Evan Gilman recommends that “The best case scenario is not sharing cups at all, and setting the cupping up for yourself. While not sharing cups does use more coffee, it is far safer. If there isn’t enough coffee for everyone to have an individual cupping.. then perhaps reevaluate (and this might be a sore point) if everyone needs to be cupping! Second best might be using an interstitial cup as originally recommended by the SCA.. but again it’s better to just have individual cuppings!”

What about brewing instead of cupping? General Manager Richard Sandlin suggests that “Desperate times call for desperate measures. I would never recommend not tasting your coffee, but think about the complications and the logistics. The cups. The spoons. Repeatability. Why not work with consistent brewers like Chemex or Clevers with scales? Or try the Rattleware Cupping Brewer? Assuming you and your team have access to common brewers, a scale, and a burr grinder, you should be able to taste and release your product with pride by implementing similar standards such as smaller brew doses, fixed coffee-to-water ratio, and streamlining brew pulses. It’ll be far easier to ship $50 in supplies across your team than shipping all. the. little. cups. and. all. the. little. spoons.”

Right now we’re using Cropster and communicating frequently about quality and roasting as we work on new Crown Jewel coffees. We’re relying on frequent check-ins and updates, not to mention a deep-seated preexisting trust in each other’s palates. Director of Roasting Candice Madison added a few thoughts on our ability to stay in-sync on notes and scores despite our physical distance: “…at the moment, most of us have access to the roasters we usually work on to assess incoming Crown Jewels… Three of our team are Q graders, Tasting Room Director Sandra Elisa Loofbourow is an assistant Q Instructor, and I’m a Q Instructor, and so we are constantly calibrating. For that reason, the trust we have in our extremely tight calibration is very high, and for that reason we are able to rely on each others’ notes.”

Sandra doubled down on calibration, telling me that “Calibration is crucial to successful cupping. The discussions that happen around a cupping table is often undervalued, but in times like these they must be the focus of our cuppings, accompanied with clear and thorough notes. Only through precise and thorough communication of our own cupping experience and the resulting opinions we form can we remain calibrated with our colleagues and with the industry at large. Set up a video chat, cup together virtually, and take the time to discuss each coffee on the table! Though time consuming, this discussion is critical to the success of your team and the successful evaluation of your coffees.”

When I worked for Intelligentsia, we’d Skype weekly with the entire roasting crew in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. We’d choose the next week’s focus coffee at the meeting, and make sure to send out a sample of the roast with enough time to arrive at its destination. We’d cup separately, log the cupping in Cropster, then jump on a video chat to compare our cup notes, scores, and roast curves in real time. A lot of productive discussion was had about how roasters were choosing to tailor their approach to a particular coffee under unique circumstances, plus it was a good team building opportunity. We’d send out a followup email with a short meeting summary and a graph or two of the cupping results and roast curve comparisons.

It’s tempting to want to expedite the process in some ways, but truth be told, cupping has always been time consuming, and if you’re at all concerned about the quality and integrity of your product, it’s definitely worth the extra time and precaution to protect yourself, your staff, and your customers.

Stay safe out there folks, and raise a cupping spoon for those delivery workers keeping the samples moving.