Coffee cupping – The ultimate guide

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Coffee cupping – The ultimate guide – Updated October 2020 //

Cupping can be seen as a funny way to evaluate and taste a table of coffee samples by determining their differences and our preferences, but if we look at it from a professional point of view, coffee cupping is more complicated.

Key decisions are taken by cupping according to our business, such as checking and improve our roast profile (and our roaster), thinking about at how the potential of that sample can be with a different one, sourcing new coffees according to how we have evaluated the samples, maintaining high standards in consistency and quality control.

Also, coffee cupping is made for training baristas about how to evaluate and assess a score like the SCA cupping protocol evaluation and lastly to keep training our palate for the annual SCA cup tasting competition (yes, there is a sensory competition).

So, basically, we do a coffee cupping session every time we roast coffee. More precisely, the following morning from when we roasted. By doing that, we try to evaluate how good or bad a coffee is, and if there are any defects in there.

coffee cuppingThe steps of making a coffee cupping

  1. Weighing 8.25g of coffee to 150 ml of water (SCA ratio): it’s recommended to grind the same coffee three times in three different cups to isolate any defects and to take a small amount of coffee to purge in between of every different coffee, to clean the grinder from the previous one; another recommendation is to do a blind tasting to not be influenced and confused by labelling all the coffee;
  2. as soon as the coffee is grounded (like a filter grind setting), we evaluated the fragrance by smelling the dry grounds and write down and notes our impressions;
  3. starting the timer while pouring filter water between 91-94° degrees all the way until the top of the glass;
  4. after 4 minutes we need to break the crust: it’s recommended to break the crust three times and make sure to put the nose close to the grounds because a lot of the aromas are released when doing that (that’s why it’s easier to find the aromas); it’s important to do the same routine for each coffee to ensure consistency;
  5. after evaluating it’s time to skim the foam by taking two cupping spoon: we are doing that cause the foam tastes quite bitter and there are a lot of particles in it;
  6. allowing the coffee to cool down: after 12-15 minutes since we poured the water we can taste the coffee; we can take a small amount of coffee from the surface and slurp it to get our mouth oxygenated. In the first round, we slurp just to have a first impression cause the coffee is still quite hot so we can’t really evaluate everything about the coffee; the second round (after around 20 minutes) is made to evaluate in detail: the flavours now are as clearer to find out as the defects. Bear in mind that a bad coffee tastes worse as we let it cool down and good coffee can still taste good.

Other tips and suggestions

  • It’s better to cup in the morning when our senses are more alert;
  • do not wear scent or perfume;
  • do not lunch before cupping or you need a palate cleanser like an apple or a pear;
  • do not talk while cupping to not influence other cuppers;
  • when cupping just do it blindly. That’s the only way to make sure you’re cupping in the best way possible;
  • the temperature of the ambient may extend or shorten the time of the steps of making a coffee cupping.

Bear in mind that sometimes we are not going to form a crust after pouring into the cupping bowl. That can happen for the reason that coffee had been roasted too light so a tiny bit underdeveloped.

Light coffee has also more chances to not get to the right point of caramelisation of sugars which can also be the reason why we are not making the crust.

Blind cupping

Coffee cupping can be run blindly. Some people choose to make blind cupping to be as more objective as possible. It doesn’t change anything of the coffee cupping process but, the fact that there aren’t all the influencing factors, simplify the job especially for beginners or not so skilled cuppers.

Doing coffee cupping is always exciting as we taste different coffee every time (think also about new varietals such as hybrids, new coffee origins like China or new processing methods like carbonic maceration or rum barrel-aged one).

Doing it right is fundamental to detect all the defects and give the right value to the coffee cupped, make the right purchasing decisions, determine a sort of roast profile and so on.

As said initially, coffee cupping is key for roasters and buyers but also for anyone that is not professional and what to develop his/her skills.

Training our palate requires lots of time and practice but obviously the more we practice and the faster we start identifying the flavours.

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