Before Simon, Alper and I launched our little coffee guide as a side project, Cuppings was going to be a coffee tasting diary. And somewhere in between the diary and the guide, I got intrigued by the idea of a coffee tasting game. So, with help from Alper, I decided to make one and here it is for your enjoyment: a print-it-yourself poker-card-sized game which you can play with someone else as you attentively taste and discuss a fine cup of ‘slow’ coffee.
The game’s instructions are on one side of the card, and a carefully tuned list of aromas is on the other side. You’ll mark these aromas as you play so you’ll need a pen or pencil, too. Cards are one use only and afterwards kind of serve as a collaboratively created aroma profile of the coffee you tasted.
My main motivation for making this game was a fascination with the highly subjective nature of our experience of tastes and aromas. It’s a bit like that old riddle about wether the color green looks the same to you as it does to me. I might find the aroma of a cup of coffee to be nutty, while you describe it as fruity. Who’s to say who’s right? No one, in fact, because that’s not the point.
The point is to have exactly such a conversation because it focuses your attention on your senses. As I got more fond of lightly roasted coffees made with various poor-over drip methods, I found myself having these conversations with barristi who would come up with outlandish descriptions such as “ketchup” or “leather jacket”.
With this little game, we hope to spark similar conversations between people. And we’ve gotten feedback from many players that even when they don’t really get into the conversation part and play it more like a straight guessing game, it still intensifies their experience of drinking coffee. So it’s kind of a mental flavour enhancer. Neat, right?
Making this game turned out to be more complicated than we’d initially thought, and you’d be forgiven to think it was an afternoon’s work based on the simplicity of the rules. In fact both the rules, the aroma list and the materials went through numerous iterations with help from Alper, my wife, my barristi and numerous playtesters.
At one point I sat down and drew a lot of aromas, because back then we were on the track of producing a set of aroma cards which you’d use to play. This idea was abandoned in favour of extreme portability. We like the idea of having a game that can fit on just one card. Something that might sit in a tiny stack at the cash register of your favourite coffee bar. You order your coffee, grab two cards and you’re good to go.
One of the hardest nuts to crack was how to get players to collaborate on an aroma profile while at the same time being each others’ source of conflict. We tried a straight collaborative game, but this required a much larger ruleset to produce a challenging game.
Competition between players seemed a better fit, but then we got sidetracked by how to decide who would ‘win’ in any given case: should each coffee come with a pre-produced aroma card that would be used as the judge? That seemed rather impractical for something we intended to be used in as many different settings and with any coffee that players might have at hand.
So we ultimately settled on this weird guessing game in which the puzzle is to figure out what the other person is picking out of the same cup of coffee you’re drinking. What I like about this is that the task seems trivially easy until you actually try it. You really need to get into the other person’s head and taste the coffee super attentively. I’ve hardly played any games in which both players choose the same aroma, which is interesting in itself.
Once the rules and aromas had stabilised we debated turning this into a full-fledged product: doing additional graphic design, a small print run and putting it up for sale on the web or something. But ultimately, our priorities shifted. We might revisit Cuppings-as-coffee-tasting-game in the future, but for now download the PDF, print and cut a few cards and have a go with a friend. If you do, we’d love to hear from you.
The photos in this blog post were taken by Hessel Bonenkamp at The Village in Utrecht and feature Syreetha Domen and Tim Bosje. I would also like to thank Tim for additional help with the game design when the project was in its infancy.