Before we go any further, let me define What is Coffee Cupping? Coffee cupping is the controlled process of assessing the taste and aroma of brewed coffee to choose the best quality of roasted coffee beans.
Coffee cupping is steadily growing in popularity as a bucket list item among those for whom drinking coffee has become a passion.
Frequent cupping events are held at cafes to attract coffee lovers who want to sharpen their taste buds to tell good coffee from bad coffee. The skill is no longer a top secret, and people are even doing it at home.
The tasting adventure has since turned into a marketing venture, with cafes aiming to convert coffee learners into addicts, avid choosers and loyal customers.
The general belief is that the more you taste high-quality coffee, the less likely it is that you will want to get anything but high quality fresh roasted coffee.
There was a time when only baristas, coffee traders and coffee roasters cared about ascertaining coffee quality through dedicated sniffing and tasting. Things are different now.
Why Is It Done?
Cupping is done to determine the types of coffee that customers can add on their favorite list. Even for amateur coffee tasters, the process helps to learn the distinct differences among coffees before adding milk and sugar. The process could also be solely for the nosy to satisfy their coffee curiosities.
Coffee Cupping is a foolproof way to learn more about flavor, texture, aroma, and to share that with people that matter – friends, family or customers. Most coffee houses today cup every type of coffee that they roast. That is why they have employed baristas who they also train in the art and science of coffee cupping.
Tools Needed for Coffee Cupping
Every coffee on the table needs to be treated the same way without bias. Coffee cupping doesn’t necessarily require special tools, but there are some which make the cupping process easier. Here is some equipment that will help you in your cupping.
Start With An open mind
This is the number one tool for the job. Objectivity is necessary to allow each coffee to compete by merits. As mentioned before, one would also need scientific skills among them the ability to make right and equal measurements, and the ability to prevent cross-contamination between the coffees during the process.
A Burr Grinder:
The grinder is important for taste consistency. Before grinding your next samples, you should take a some coffee from your next sample and run it through the grinder to remove any leftover grinds from the previous samples coffee. If the samples are mixed then you will not get an accurate taste profile.
A accurate timer is also of great importance; when you pour hot water into the grounds the steeping process kicks off, and the coffee goes through many changes from the time its the coffee until the time it is sampled.. Experts coffee tasters know that it is essential to assess each coffee from the beginning of the cycle to the end.
Having an accurate scale for consistency is imperative because if each sample has a different amount of coffee and/or water the taste can drastically different. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest scale but it does need to be consistently accurate.
Professional cuppers also use unique silver-coated spoons for tasting. The reason is that the spoons’ design and shape enables fast slurping action while the silver plating minimizes taste-alteration in the coffee samples. Spoons made of steel may change the coffee taste even though subtly.
Here is some additional items you should ideally have for any coffee cupping:
- Cupping glasses of the same volume– the ideal size should be about 7 ounces.
- An electric water heater with a kettle capacity of about 64 ounces. •
- A coffee grinder – Ideally you should go for a burr grinder to achieve consistency in the grind between samples
- Two regular glasses for storing rinse water – These come in handy when washing cupping spoons during the procedure.
- Cupping forms – It would help to document your findings when evaluating the coffees. You might not need this in a home cupping but taking notes never hurts. It helps concise and clear during the whole process.
- Four empty cupping bowls – Before getting to slurping and tasting you will need coffee mugs or bowls for holding the brewed coffee. The cups should be the same make and same to maintain equal temperatures.
- Sample trays – You need a sample tray for holding your different coffee samples. Sample trays are usually available on Amazon at super low prices.
- Four silver plated cupping spoons – You can look like a Pro … or make them think you have gone completely mad! But its good to have a nice set of spoons!
- A Timer – Any timer will do. You could use the timer on your phone or get an expensive one from almost any store or online.
The 11 Step Process of Cupping
Step 1: Choose The Coffee
Choosing coffee samples is a big part of the cupping process. The more coffee samples you plan to cup, the more cupping tools you will require.
Beginners ideally start with 3 or 4 coffee samples. Professional cuppers may want to evaluate different coffees from a particular region to find out their differences and similarities.
If the purpose of the process is to find the best samples, then one may end up testing more than eight samples at once.
Other times, one may want to taste different coffees from various regions that may have similar flavors. The purpose of such cupping is to find a set of back up beans for the future if the current variety goes out of season.
If your whole cupping experience is to satisfying curiosities from previous cupping notes, then you can get coffee samples based on their reputation. Cupping would be a time to taste and look for yourself and not just believe what someone wants you to think.
Step 2: Roast the Coffee Samples
Grab your coffee (if you have are a home roaster) or buy fresh roasted coffee from a local roaster, and if that is the case, you will have to try to get them as close to the day they were roasted as possible.
Needless to say by roasting the beans yourself will help you keep consistency with all the samples but I understand that most people won’t have their own home or commercial roasters.
Step 3: Flush the grinder
Flushing the grinder is necessary to remove all grounds from the previous coffee you used. Flushing is done by running a little amount of the first coffee through the grinder and discarding it. It is a purification procedure to be sure that you only taste the flavor of the coffee sample you are evaluating.
Step 4: Run 9g of the First Sample
Set the grinder to a medium coarse setting, and grind 9g of the first coffee sample. Store the grounds in one cupping glass and label it. You can either hide the label under the cup so you don’t know what coffee you are cupping or on the side so everyone has an idea of what coffee it is.
Step 5: Smell the Aroma of Dry Grounds
Put your nose close to the coffee and smell the dry grounds, noting the distinct aromas. You can better judge the smell by opening the mouth (not sure of the science behind this) when sniffing the grounds. Just write down whatever you smell; there is no perfect or wrong answer. Repeat the same process with the remaining samples as well.
Remember to prime the grinder each time you switch to another coffee sample. The cupping glasses holding the grounds need to be slightly far apart from each other.
Step 6: Start the timer and add hot water
First, heat water to about 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit and pour 150ml or 5oz of the water to each cupping glass. Fill the spare glasses with hot water and place in it your cupping spoons.
Step 7: Break the Crust
After 4 minutes pass from the time you added hot water to the grounds, break the crust using the back of the spoon. Doing this helps to release aromatic gasses.
Make sure you put your nose close as to the grounds as possible but not touching, inhale and smell the aroma as you remove the crust on each sample. Rinse the spoon in hot water, or use a new spoon for each coffee.
Step 8: Remove the Broken Crust
Move the spoon in a circular motion to remove any grounds floating on the surface. It helps to prevent you from drinking coffee grounds later on. By moving the coffee grinds on top to the coffee bowls will help to rid most of the grounds.
Let the coffee site for about 8 minutes in order to cool down a little before you start tasting the cups. With hot coffee, it can be impossible to pick out all the flavors.
Step 9: Start The Tasting
Scoop a spoonful of each coffee and slurp it quickly. The process helps to aerate the coffee so that it coats your palate to allow you to taste more flavor and aroma.
Rinse the spoon in the cup of hot water before switching to another coffee. You don’t have to swallow- spit the slurps into a jug so that you don’t drinl to much coffee (and caffeine) during the cupping.
Step 10: Note down your findings
Note down important points about the flavor, aroma, and texture for each cups, and details about the differences between the cups.
Step 11: Do another tasting round
After tasting all the cups, go around again at least once more. This second round of tasting helps to find details and differences that you might have missed the first time.
After the Cupping
If you are cupping with other coffee tasters, the code is to keep your findings and opinions to yourself until everyone has tasted all the cups:
The reason is that the human psyche is very open to suggestion, so someone saying they have picked up a certain smell or taste may prompt other tasters to pick up the same.
Coffee cupping helps to better understand the aromas and flavors in a mug of coffee. It helps to understand the impacts of processing and roasting on the final taste and pinpoint a coffee’s country of origin. But this skill takes time to sharpen, the more you do it, the better you get at it.