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A tiny coffee tasting game for you to print and play

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.

Cuppings coffee tasting game card front and back

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.

Playing the Cuppings coffee tasting game at The Village

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?

Playing the Cuppings coffee tasting game at The Village

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.

Playing the Cuppings coffee tasting game at The Village

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.

Playing the Cuppings coffee tasting game at The Village

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.

Playing the Cuppings coffee tasting game at The Village

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.

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  1. Paul
    Posted December 11, 2013 at 21:32 | Permalink

    This looks like an inter­est­ing way to prac­tice tast­ing and fun to do with anoth­er person.

    Sug­ges­tion: make anoth­er for­mat that fits on a busi­ness card. Office sup­ply places sell blank busi­ness cards (10 per sheet, per­fo­rat­ed) and it would make it cheap and easy for peo­ple to print out sev­er­al copies at a time. You can find tem­plates on the web.

  2. Kars
    Posted December 12, 2013 at 09:44 | Permalink

    Glad you like it! And thanks for the sug­ges­tion about alter­na­tive for­mat. We’ll con­sid­er it.

  3. Posted December 14, 2013 at 06:49 | Permalink

    Love the idea and thanks for shar­ing. This may be a fun Sat­ur­day morn­ing game with the wife!

  4. Kars
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 15:53 | Permalink

    That’s great, glad to hear you like and that it made for a good shared expe­ri­ence. That’s what we were going for.