It’s a weird word, cupping. Yet all it is is ground coffee and hot water, with no fancy brewing process to affect its flavor. It’s what you’ve got to do to evaluate the characteristics of coffees, to understand their nuances — their basic tastes and defects — and how they compare to other coffees. And it’s something you can share with your customers with weekly or monthly cupping events — perhaps during a slower weekend hour.
Three — or more — coffees is sufficient for a cupping session. Sometimes when you try just one coffee, it can actually be harder to pick out the flavors. But when you try several in one sitting (or cupping), you get to taste different regions, roasts, nuances and underlying flavors.
All of the coffees should be lightly roasted at the same time, so their flavors and faults stand out equally, without being unduly influenced by roast type.
- Coffees! Three or more.
- Coffee grinder
- Hot water
- One small bowl (or a mug will do) for each coffee. Must be equal size.
- Two extra bowls, any size
- One cupping spoon for each person participating — or other deep-bowled spoons
- Two extra spoons
- Cupping Form (optional)
- Flavor Wheel (optional)
Now get to cupping:
- Grind each coffee coarsely — French-press style.
- Pour an equal amount (typically 12g) of each cofee, into each bowl.
- Smell the dry grounds of each coffee. This is the first highlight of the process.
- Add water to fill each cup. (No need to measure as bowls are equal in size.) Also fill one of the extra empty bowls with water.
- Wait 4 minutes. Smell the coffees as you wait. Another highlight.
- Break the floating grounds — called the “crust” — of each coffee with your cupping spoon, and stir a few times. Be sure to get a big whiff of the aromatics that rise once you remove the crust. Yet another highlight!
- Use the extra bowl of water to wash off your spoon between breaking the crust on each coffee. You don’t want to contaminate the flavors.
- Take the two extra spoons and scoop the grounds out of each bowl and discard them. Again, cleaning the spoons after putting them in each bowl is important — no mingling of flavors.
- Replace the water in the spoon-cleaning bowl with clean water.
- Now, let the slurping commence. Spoon up some coffee and aerate — i.e. add air to the coffee by slurping hard — so the liquid splashes the roof of your mouth and your entire tongue, fully touching each sensory area while and at the same time stimulating your sense of smell.
- Roll the coffee around in your mouth and think of tastes you can compare it to. Nothing is ridiculous — you taste what you taste. Take notes on fragrance, acidity, body, flavor and finish. An experienced cupper can give you pointers as to what to look for in these categories, and you can use the SCAA’s Flavor Wheel for some hints, and to get some industry lingo down. Don’t hesitate to ask questions cupping should be an enjoyable experience, and you’ll get more out of it with someone to be your guide.
- It may seem wasteful, but it’s a good practice to spit after sampling each coffee to avoid overstimulating yourself. That’s what the second extra cup is for — spitting out coffee.
- Write down your feelings about each coffee’s sweetness, acidity, body and mouthfeel. Use a Cupping Form for general or strict guidelines — depending on how serious you’re taking this cupping.
- Keep going back to each coffee and reassess them until they’re lukewarm. It’s important to note how they taste from their hottest state to their coolest. If a coffee can’t hang onto its winning traits as it cools, that’s a major mark against it—as far as specialty-grade coffee goes. If it actually gets better, you might have something special on your hands. Or on your spoon, as it were.
- Asses your scores and reflect. You’re on your way to growing your palette!