Coffee cupping is a practice that’s common amongst coffee buyers, roasters, specialists, and baristas as a method of grading different types of coffee before grading it. Coffee lovers can also build upon their coffee knowledge by learning about cupping coffee and the right way to do it. It’s a great way to expand your coffee palate and appreciate the variations in different coffees.
What is cupping coffee?
Cupping is the practice of tasting coffee to evaluate its quality. By comparing and contrasting the flavors and aromas of different coffee brews, one is able to grade the coffee. Some of the factors that come into consideration during coffee cupping include texture, sweetness, flavor, acidity, and aftertaste.
Coffee cupping gives us a better understanding of how different types of coffee can be paired with other ingredients for a balanced blend. Not only is cupping a quality control tool for coffee but also helps in determining where the coffee beans originated from.
Coffee cupping is also used to determine the reasons for flavor variations in coffee beans of the same type sourced from the same region. By simply exploring the nuances in the flavor notes, a professional taster is able to give insight into how factors like weather, and altitude could have caused the taste variations.
Coffee cupping is a professional practice whereby certified baristas and roasters undertake it as a quality control process. However, if you’re a coffee enthusiast interested in knowing more about your coffee, improving your coffee cupping skills is one way of doing it.
How to cup coffee?
Here is a step-by-step guide for coffee cupping. Before you can start scoring different types of coffee by cupping, you need to gather the following supplies and equipment:
i. 5-10 different types of coffee beans (20g each)
iii. 5-10 cupping bowls
iv. Cupping spoons
v. Hot water kettle
vi. Timer clock
vii. Two rinse cups
viii. A scale for measuring the weight of the coffee samples
You can also download and refer to the Specialty Coffee Association’s coffee flavor wheel to help you out if you’re not good at verbally describing the different complexities that you pick up when cupping coffee. It is packed up with a vocabulary to describe different flavor notes.
After gathering the above supplies and tools, follow the step-by-step procedure for coffee cupping detailed below:
i. To prime the grinder, grind 2g of the first type of coffee. Then, with the grinder set to the coarse setting, grind the remaining 18g. Repeat this for all the other types of coffee. Grinding out 2g in between each type of coffee ensures that you don’t get any ‘overlaps’ in flavor.
ii. Transfer 9g from each coffee sample into cupping bowls. Make sure the number of cupping bowls is double the number of samples you have. The extra cup is to ensure that there’s consistency in each sample.
iii. Evaluate the aroma of the dry coffee grounds in each cupping bowl. Does it have an intense caffeine smell? Are there any hints of spiciness or floral flavor notes?
iv. Next, heat water inside the hot water kettle up to 200°F. Then, start your timer clock and pour 150g of water into each of the cupping bowls. At this point, assess the wet aroma of the wet coffee in each cupping bowl.
v. After 4 minutes elapses on the timer, push the coffee grounds gently from the center of the surface and towards the sides of the bowl. This is called breaking the crust and is done to unleash a more intense aroma that the grader’s nasal senses can easily pick up on.
Note: Ensure you rinse the spoon when switching from one bowl to the next to avoid contaminating the next coffee with flavors from the coffee in the preceding bowl.
vi. Use 2 spoons to scrape and collect the residual coffee grounds and froth on the crust and dispose them into the used coffee grounds container.
vii. Let the coffee cool down for 13-15 minutes before you can start tasting. The proper way to taste coffee is to slurp it so that it spreads on your tongue. This way, you’re able to sense the entire range of flavor notes. For instance, dark-roast coffee may be nutty and chocolatey with a bitter aftertaste, while light-roast coffee tends to fall on the smoother and sweeter side of the taste spectrum.
viii. If you have a coffee cupping evaluation form, use it to determine the flavors that you’ve sensed and to grade each of the coffee samples. You should make notes on the cupping evaluation form after every assessment phase. These include noting the dry aroma in step (iii), the aroma of the moist coffee (step iv), the aroma of the moist coffee after breaking the crust (step v), and the taste, body, sweetness, viscosity, and acidity of the coffee after slurping it (step vii).
Note #1: To prevent cross-contamination of coffee flavors, ensure you rinse the cupping spoon in a rinse cup filled with hot water after each sample, or use a different spoon for each cupping bowl.
Note #2: In terms of viscosity, coffee can be described as full-bodied/rich-bodied, or light-bodied. Flavor can be described as the complexity or depth of the coffee sample.
Tips for Cupping Coffee
When cupping coffee, it’s advisable to spit out the coffee into a different cup after slurping and sensing the flavors in each sample. Swallowing the coffee is believed to have a temporary negative effect on the taster’s ability to sense subdued flavor notes and fragrances in succeeding samples.
It’s better to cup coffee with others instead of by yourself. When two people have a coffee cup, for instance, they might be able to draw comparisons between their sensory experiences and help each other expand their palates in the process.
Objectivity is also crucial to improving your coffee cupping skills. As such, you should ensure that you’re mentally calm and are willing to maintain an open-minded approach so that your sensibilities aren’t impaired.
As a beginner in coffee cupping, start off by noting the more noticeable aspects of the different types of coffee. These include the flavor, viscosity, aroma, acidity, sweetness, and aftertaste. The more your cupping experience grows, you can expound your palate and progress to assessing more subtle aspects such as subdued flavor notes that you can sense in coffee.
You also need to expand your ability to describe different flavor notes and aromas. You can take advantage of various credible online resources that contain helpful information on different flavors, aromas, and mouth feels that you might experience while cupping coffee. Examples include the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon and the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
What’s the coffee cupping ratio?
According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the standard coffee cupping ratio is 8.25g of coffee per 150ml of water. However, if you end up using any other ratio, stay consistent with it for all the samples, as your findings will be less reliable if you keep changing the cupping ratio.