Cupping is a tasting method used by coffee roasters and green bean coffee buyers to differentiate the unique characteristics of different coffees and to test bean quality. While it is not necessary for the average coffee drinker to “cup” their coffee, any person who enjoys learning more about coffee may appreciate taking part in a cupping at a roasterie or in a coffeehouse.
When cupping, the following attributes are evaluated:
This is the sensation of fullness, richness, and heaviness that you experience when you “swish” coffee around in your mouth. There can be a thickness, an oiliness, or slipperiness felt between the tongue and palate.
This is the feeling the coffee leaves on your palate. There can be high, thin notes, dryness, tartness, and a snappy taste (common with Kenya, Ethiopia).
This is the most ambiguous term of all, as it incorporates all the other terms. Coffees have a world of flavors that can often be described by specific characteristics such as chocolate, fruity, earthy, and so on. Understanding coffee is like understanding fine wines. In fact, much of coffee terminology has been borrowed from wine tasting.
Step One - Fragrance Evaluation
Grind an 8 to 10 gram (1 ½ to 2 teaspoons) sample of coffee on an urn or drip setting into a sampling cup and deeply sniff the gases escaping the newly ruptured cells. The intensity of the fragrance indicates the freshness of the roasted coffee. Sweet scents reveal acidity and pungent scents lead to pointed, sharp tastes.
Step 2 - Aroma Evaluation
Pour approximately 150 milliliters (5 oz.) of near boiling water onto the sample and allow the coffee to infuse for three minutes. Break the crust on top while simultaneously sniffing the released vapors. These vapors carry volatiles, which make up the flavor profile of the coffee.
Step 3 - Taste Evaluation
Gently scoop the floating grounds out of the cup to gain access to the coffee. Ladle a spoonful of coffee to the lips and aspirate the coffee in the mouth with a violent slurp. This action simultaneously coats the bitter, sweet, salty, and sour receptors on the tongue and palate. Only keep the coffee in the mouth for a moment and then quickly spit it out to determine the finish, or aftertaste of the coffee. The full range of flavors will be revealed, as well as the acidity, balance, body, and texture of the coffee.
Always start with cold, fresh water.
Use a large, shallow, and silver-coated spoon to dissipate heat.
Be consistent in grind size, water source and coffee weight.