The sample you are cupping represents a moment in the value chain, from the very first coffees coming off the drying tables to green coffee landed and ready to release from our European warehouse. It is important to know which step in the value chain your sample comes from, and what you should be looking for (and looking past) in this coffee.
There are a lot of names and acronyms when it comes to samples, so here is a quick guide to help you know more about what you’re cupping.
6+ months until arrival in Europe
This is the first sample we receive, usually just as the harvest has begun. It is often a sample of parchment taken straight off the drying bed and milled by hand.
Our coffee buyers cup type samples to get an overview of the coffee from that particular region or washing station. It can give us an indication of what a coffee can be like. Our buyers might cup these samples in our Oslo HQ, or in the coffee producing countries as they travel around. Remember, this is not a sample that is representative of a production lot. It may arrive before milling, and sometimes even before processing.
Alex, GM of our sister company Tropiq Ethiopia, says “I cup type samples to get an idea of the coming harvest. Some years the cherry development is great, the trees produce a good yield and farmers deliver high quality. Other years heavy rains prevent proper development of the cherry, yields are low, farmers are desperate and quality fluctuates enormously. Type samples give me a good idea of what kind of year this is. ”
5+ months until arrival in Europe
These are samples that exporters or producers send to us that represent a specific lot of coffee. The coffee itself may still be in parchment form which requires milling, sorting and grading. We may reserve a coffee based on the offer sample, but we will always cup the pre-shipment sample before confirming the purchase.
5+ months until arrival in Europe
In some countries a stocklot is a sample from the warehouse/dry mill drawn from multiple bags representing the 100 bags in that lot. It hasn’t yet been processed for export, but it is a more accurate sample representing a specific lot. In Ethiopia, we usually make our purchasing decisions based on the stock lot.
Pre shipment sample (PSS)
Approximately 2 months until arrival in Europe
These are samples we receive of milled, screened, graded, sorted and ready-to-export green coffee right before the coffee is shipped. We use PSS for the last approval stage. That means, before the exporter can actually ship the coffee, we conduct a physical and sensorial evaluation in our lab in Oslo. If there is a problem with the PSS, we may cancel the booking, or talk to the supplier if we think the issues can be resolved by re-milling the lot.
As a customer of ours, you may receive PSS samples of coffees we have booked and expect to ship soon. This can be helpful if you need to plan your buying several months in advance of the coffees landing in our Belgium warehouse.
It is important to remember that this sample represents the coffee before it was shipped. There can be issues or delays in shipping that damage the coffee before it has landed.
The challenge of cupping PSS
A PSS sample is of a coffee that is very fresh, and fresh coffees can be closed. That means the flavours can be muted or hidden and the mouthfeel can be very astringent. Ethiopian coffees are renowned for this. Some really great coffees may start out tasting herbal or of green grape. They may have some flavour but it is muted or lacking complexity. The cup may be more astringent. This doesn’t mean it is a bad coffee, it’s just not showing you its full potential yet. The art is to be able to look past these issues. What’s hiding in those muted flavours that might reveal themselves with time? How is the acidity? Might it support more fruit flavours as the coffee opens? Does the body in the cup suggest an integrated, well fermented and well dried coffee?
If you are confident you can see the potential of a coffee at this stage and you need to plan your buying in advance, it is worth cupping the PSS. If you haven’t yet acquired that level of cupping experience, it is best to wait for an arrival sample.
Arrival sample (ARS)
Ready to dispatch
These are samples we receive after the coffee has arrived at our warehouse. This is the quality and state of the coffee if you reserve and release it today, so you can buy with confidence that what you cup is what you get.