Coffee can produce endless flavour notes and while most people can quickly tell some coffees apart, when you enter the world of specialty coffee and are introduced to more nuanced and sophisticated coffee profiles, practice - and a lot of coffee drinking - is key to learning how to experience coffee to its fullest. Coffee cupping is how coffee is tasted by producers and buyers around the world to check the quality of a batch of coffee. In cupping, coffees are scored for aspects such as cleanness, sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
Coffee cupping can be a relatively complex process, resembling a scientific experiment aiming at selecting the best beans from certain producer or region, but it can also be enjoyed at home simply because it is a fun experience. This guide will show you what you need and how to cup coffee at home regardless of your coffee knowledge level and without the need for expensive equipment.
What is coffee cupping?
Coffee cupping is the specialty coffee industry standard for analyzing and scoring coffee. Green coffee buyers, roasters, quality control specialists, baristas, and so many more professionals in the supply chain make use of this universal standardized method to asses and score key factors about each coffee.
Discoveries through coffee cupping help people make decisions such as:
- Green coffee buyers use cupping to decide what coffees will be purchased to be featured to customers.
- Coffee roasters cup coffee to dial in a roast profile that ensures the development of the coffee is just right.
- Quality control specialists take part in cupping coffee to make sure every coffee that makes it out of the roastery and into coffee shops and online coffee stores is tasting excellent without any potential defects or unwanted flavors.
- Baristas participate in coffee cupping to expand their palates and get familiarized with different coffee origins.
I’m not a professional, can I cup coffee?
Truth be told, most coffee drinkers have no real reason to cup coffee. This is because every specialty grade coffee that makes it to your home has been cupped several times by producers, exporters, importers, coffee buyers, and roasters – to make sure that the coffee meets specific quality and flavour standards.
On the other hand, cupping coffee is fun and if you’re into coffee enough to be reading this article, we’re sure you’d take much pleasure in cupping coffee either in a professional setting or in the comfort of your home. Even better if you invite a few friends to cup together and compare notes.
It’s also a great way to build your coffee vocabulary and develop your palate. Say you buy a bag of coffee with pineapple and wildflower honey notes, but fail to taste it in your brew? Cupping is the best way to train your palate to identify such tasting notes.
What you need for a coffee cupping session:
- Coffees (12 grams of each coffee you’d like to cup)
- Coffee Grinder (or order freshly grounded coffee)
- Coffee Scale or kitchen scale (for measuring coffee weight)
- Cupping bowls (measuring capacity should be around 160ml-200ml)
- Rinse cups filled with hot water
- 2 cupping spoons (soup spoons could be an alternative)
- Filtered water
How to cup coffee
Step 1: Grind out 12 grams of each of the coffees you’d like to cup. Grind each coffee to a medium-coarse setting, and it should look similar to coarse sea salt.
Step 2: Place the 12g of ground coffee into the cupping bowl. If you’re comparing different coffees, use 12g for each bowl. This is where you start assessing the coffee by noticing their dry aroma.
Step 3: Heat your filtered water up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (94 celsius). If you do not have a thermometer you can boil water and let it rest for 10-15 seconds.
Step 4: Start the timer, and begin pouring 200 grams of water into each bowl.
Step 5: At 4 minutes, begin breaking the crust. To do this, use the spoon to push the floating grounds back and forth three times. Be sure to rinse the spoon after breaking the crust in each bowl. Breaking the crust helps interrupting the coffee brewing process and also brings out the coffee aromatics.
Step 6: Using two spoons, remove the remaining coffee grounds and foam.
Step 7: Allow the coffee to cool, and at 13-15 minutes, you can begin tasting the coffees.
Step 8: Use the spoon to slurp the coffee in order to allow it to spray along your tongue to taste the full range of flavours. As the coffee cools, you’ll be able to taste different and a larger range in flavour.
Note: After each use of your cupping spoon to taste coffee, be sure to rinse the spoon in the designated rinse cups. This prevents cross-contamination of coffee flavors, plus no one likes a double dipper!
Taking notes of aromatics, flavour, body, and aftertaste of the coffee is a great way to expand your palate. Because everyone’s palate varies, you may pick up different characteristics of a coffee than someone else cupping the same coffee. For example, Fazenda Eldorado is a coffee with notes of red fruits and chocolate. You might pick up notes of cherry and hazelnut, while your coffee partner may detect flavours ranging on a similar spectrum, but tasting different components within that spectrum.
To take a further dive into cupping, familiarize yourself with the coffee flavour wheel which is a tool designed to help you analyze and describe the coffee you enjoy. Happy cupping!