Many people have been wine tasting, but not many can say they’ve been coffee cupping! Coffee cupping is an effective way to evaluate aroma and flavor profiles of a particular coffee. Cupping can also be useful in checking a coffee for defects or for creating blends. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to cup. What we want to do is pass along the textbook method.
At first glance, this may seem like an extremely scientific process, but cuppers have their own variations that work best for them. The more experience you gain as a cupper, the easier the process will become!
Perhaps most important is to remember practice and humility—the best cuppers are always eager to learn as much as they can about cupping.
You will need:
- Fresh filtered water
- Coffee measuring spoon (recommended 7 g)
- 5-oz glasses or small cupping bowls (3 per coffee that you are cupping)
- Glasses for cupping spoons, water, etc.
- Coffee trays
- Cupping spoons
- A cupping form (many varieties are available online)
- Whole bean coffee, medium ground
Place cupping bowls in groups of three, one set for each coffee you will be cupping. Using groups of three helps get a feel for the consistency of a coffee. In the center of the table, place a container of room temperature water and a container full of spoons.
Coffees can be cupped for many different reasons. Importers may cup coffees at origin to make a determination about whether or not a certain coffee is worth buying.
At Rosetta, cupping coffees allows us to determine flavor profiles before purchasing or can allow us to determine the most appropriate roast for a particular variety. Also, it’s a quick and easy way to develop blends.
To prepare the cups, place one 7-gram scoop of coffee into each cupping bowl. While you are waiting for the water to boil, smell the coffee grounds and write down your observations. We find it is helpful to cup the bowl with your hands and place your nose between your hands to help amplify the fragrance (which refers to the smell of the coffee before the water is added).
Add the hot water, just off boil, to each of the cupping bowls for that round and to the container holding the cupping spoons. This raises the temperature of the spoons to match that of the coffee.
Smell the coffee without disturbing it, allowing a “crust” to form on top of the cupping bowl. After 3–4 minutes, place your nose directly over the crust and use a preheated spoon to push it down. This is the most potent burst of aroma that you will experience during the cupping session—this is the smell that will fill your house in the morning while brewing coffee. (The smell of the coffee after the water is added is referred to as the aroma.) Use the spoon to stir the grounds in the bowl as you smell them. This will also force most of the grounds to the bottom of the bowl and will allow you to continue to evaluate aroma. Write down the aroma you experience while the crust is breaking.
Rinse off the spoon in hot water and move to the next sample. After you have evaluated the aroma of all of the samples, remove any of the grounds that are still floating in any of the samples, as well as the bubbles that form on the top. Do not forget to rinse your spoon between samples to avoid cross-contamination.
Once the coffee is cool enough to sample, take some coffee in the spoon and slurp it vigorously to cover the entire tongue. It’s important to slurp as vigorously as possible because tiny droplets will not only cover the tongue, but will also coat the throat and the nasal passage. The nose is also a powerful tasting tool since much of the perceived flavor in coffee comes from aromatic compounds in coffee.
During this stage of evaluation, you should be considering the taste of the coffee, acidity, aftertaste and body. After trying each sample, write down your observations. Since coffees change as they cool off, try going back to the samples after they have cooled to just above room temperature. Really great coffees should be good not only initially, but also as they cool down.
Cupping should be a fun, learning experience for everyone in attendance. If this explanation doesn’t answer all of your questions, feel free to contact us.