by Stephen Hurst
When I founded Mercanta in 1996, I cannot say that we immediately adopted the now-famous M cupping table. We worked in a small riverside office in my home town of Sunbury on Thames and the cupping ‘’lab’’ was quite rudimentary.
However, when the office moved to our current premises of Princeton Mews in Kingston in 2003, we wanted to develop an entirely new concept of the coffee cupping table.
Until then, most cupping tables were ‘’Chinese Banquet’’ style; white, seated, rotating, with the cuppers seated and the table revolving. Perhaps this type of cupping developed from the tea industry
I thought that participatory cupping would require a higher counter (our table is 1.05m high), and be designed for a number of cuppers to work simultaneously. Importantly, I recall that cupping, quality approval, quality evaluation needed to move out of the approve/reject style common in the commodity coffee business into the quality celebration and wide-ranging descriptors and flavour notes. Also, we worked with some emerging specialty roasters back in those early 2000s. I recall specifically recommending them to move their cupping and quality assessments ‘’out of the darkness’’ in what was often a backroom or enclosed off space and ‘’into the light’’ literally and figuratively.
The M Cupping Table was born.
My business partner of the time, Flori Marin, and I set about to ‘’design’’ a new style of cupping table – part of a great ‘’revolution’’ that was just beginning at the time in quality-driven specialty coffees.
The original drawing/design of the M table started out as an oval, then a snake-like squiggle, until I realised the M shape was not only useful and innovative but, of course, also represented the Mercanta M.
We knew Dupont Corian was a material that was recommended as durable and hard-wearing, testimony to the fact that our 2003 Head Office cupping table is the same one installed 15 years ago!! We tracked down a Corian ‘’fabricator’’ in greater London and went to them with our plans and ideas. They asked to see our Computer Assisted Design (CAD) drawings, draughtsmanship plans, and specifications.
I attach my shameful original nonsense of a ‘’drawing’’ and I think the fabrication company took pity on us. They had never seen such a poorly presented plan, but they got the general idea and we worked with a cardboard cut out floor plan until the correct shape emerged. We also wanted sinks incorporated. This shape was then ‘’cut’’ and we mounted it on a wooden platform which is today’s cupping table not only at Mercanta Kingston upon Thames UK HQ but also at every office and coffee lab (also shows and events) that we have worldwide including Seattle, Singapore, Guatemala, and soon to open in Glasgow.
The Cupping Table is the very heart of Mercanta, you will see no commodity price screen in our offices. The coffee lab is the centre of our action.