Coffee Cupping

Professional roasters and tasters evaluate coffee flavor and aroma through a process called cupping. For an accurate profile of various coffees from different growing regions, it is important to taste them and make side-by-side comparisons. The cupping process is also used to create new blends or determine how a coffee might be improved.

Tasting


Table Preparation

At the center of the table, you will need a cup of water at room temperature and an empty cup to hold the spoons. Set the cups for each coffee to be cupped in a triangle. At the top of this triangle, set up samples of the roasted beans and the green beans. Cover both the roasted and green samples until the tasting is complete and you have documented your thoughts on fragrance, aroma and flavor. Afterward, you can uncover the bean samples and make comments on appearance. By covering the beans until the end, you eliminate the tendency for “eye cupping,” or being influenced by appearance, before tasting.

Sample Preparation

To begin, place 2 tablespoons of freshly roasted and ground coffee in a 6-oz cup (or 55g of coffee per liter of water). The grind should be somewhere between a French press and a drip size. All coffees should be of a similar roast; a light roast is best, since sweetness and aroma can burn off in a darker roast. If necessary, you can confirm the similarity by placing ground samples of each coffee side by side on black paper.

Coffee Fragrance and Aroma Analysis

  1. Put filtered water for cupping on to boil.While the water is boiling, smell the coffee grounds. 
  2. Make notes of your thoughts on the fragrance (that is the smell of the grounds before water is added.
  3. Add hot water, just off the boil, to each cup of grounds AND to the cup holding the spoons. This way, the spoons are preheated to the same temperature as the coffee. Without touching the cups, smell each one and make notes of your observations about the aroma.
  4. Wait one to two minutes. Hold your nose directly over the cup. Using a preheated spoon, break the crust and push the coffee down into the cup, releasing a potent burst of aroma. Stir a little to be sure all the coffee is wet and sinks to the bottom. Add any additional notes on the aroma.
  5. Rinse the spoon with hot water before testing the next sample.
  6. When you have finished your observations on the aroma of all the coffees, scoop out any grounds that are still floating in the water. Because lightly roasted coffee has a high density, most of the grounds will sink.
  7. It’s best to spit out the coffee after tasting. Tasting several coffees can mean too much caffeine, and caffeine can negatively affect your ability to cup accurately.

Flavor Analysis

After the coffee has cooled somewhat, put some coffee into the spoon and slurp, or aspirate, it so it covers the entire tongue evenly and sends tiny drops of coffee into the throat and nasal passages. Remember that your nose is a potent tasting tool. Try tasting with your nose plugged; you’ll notice that you taste far fewer elements of the flavor. The aromatic compounds in the coffee are responsible for much of the taste as well as the aroma. Inhaling as you taste helps you appreciate the flavors more.

After tasting each coffee, write down your opinions on taste, body, acidity and aftertaste. Then move to the next cup and do the same thing, comparing the flavor elements. It’s a good idea to taste each coffee when it is warm and again when it has cooled to just above room temperature. New flavors often appear at cooler temperatures, and truly good coffees have positive notes at a range of temperatures.

Cupping Parties

How do you become a good cupper? Practice! Learn all you can from other people and be aware that even the most experienced cuppers often disagree.

A cupping party with friends is a great way to practice, learn more, find new coffees and have fun at the same time. Whether it’s is simple social event or a sophisticated affair, it’s sure to be fun. Here’s what you need:

  • A few coffee-loving friends
  • Some snacks
  • A kettle for heating water, plenty of cups, spoons and notepads and pens
  • A few coffee makers if you want to brew the coffee
  • If you want to go the extra step, include a roaster to roast your own beans, but it’s not a necessity.

You’ll need an open area with space for moving around and a large table, such as a dining room or picnic table. If you want to keep the brands or type a secret, you can color code or number the coffees.

You can brew the coffees in coffee makers or just pour the boiling water directly over the coffee. If you choose to use boiling water, just let the coffee rest for about four minutes before you taste.

Review the cupping procedures with everyone if there are novices in the group. Encourage people to inhale as they taste to get more flavors from the aroma.

After everyone has tasted all the coffees at warmer and cooler temperatures, discuss the findings.

For more information:

CoffeeGeek.com

How to Host A Cupping Party (eHow.com)

sign up for e-news or just send us a note