What is coffee cupping?

Have you heard of coffee cupping? If you are reading this, you probably have and are curious to know more. Here's a little explanation.

In the world of coffee, two chefs define this unique product called coffee: The Roaster and The Professional Barista.

With fire, the roaster modifies the dried coffee beans into something completely different.

With his knowledge and experience, the Barista "brews" the roasted coffee beans, extracting the aromas and creating a drink.

But who defines the value of what the chef offers? The end customer, of course.

Even before the customer, there is a taster. The taster has a lot of experience and specific education in the understanding of taste and sensations.

What makes a cupper so different? How can their knowledge help us understand the world of coffee tasting? Let's take a look.

Firstly, anyone can become a good cupper. Secondly, the perfect tool to improve our coffee tasting map is something called cupping. I am sure many people have heard of wine tasting or tea tasting, but today we are going to talk about coffee tasting.

What is coffee cupping?

Cupping is a separate activity that is practised all over the world to evaluate the quality of coffee beans. Similar to wine tasting, cupping consists of evaluating coffee from different perspectives: visual analysis, smell, tactile sensations and taste.

In addition, this method of coffee evaluation requires some tools such as several sample roasters, a grinder, special cups, spittoons, an electric kettle, water glasses, deep tasting spoons, sometimes even a colourimeter to determine the roast level.

In short, cupping is a way to truly understand a specific coffee. You end up thoroughly feeling and understanding that coffee from bean to brewed cup. 

As a barista or coffee fanatic, this is a noteworthy experience and may be something to talk about at length. 

How does coffee cupping help you?

Tasting coffee better or trying something better can help us all understand what we consume every day.

In general, this method of coffee evaluation called cupping is done by roasters to determine the quality of the beans and by coffee shop owners to choose one of the best beans. And, of course, by the barista to better experience the coffee and improve its taste.

For you, it can be a unique way to broaden your knowledge of tasting and coffee.

But, first of all, let's see what the tasting protocol is and, after that, how to improve our taste by actually tasting.

So how do you drink a cup of coffee?

As I said before, it requires some tools, although having all of them is not absolutely mandatory. That's why I'll keep it simple, so I'll just give you the most basic tools you'll need.

Quick tip: you will need at least 3 different coffees to make a cupping assessment, or the same coffee roasted in at least 3 different ways. 

Tasting equipment:

  • Cups. It is recommended that the containers are glass or ceramic. They should be between 207-266 ml / 7-9 oz with a matching lid.
  • Ground coffee. This should be a little coarser than what is normally used for drip brewing with a paper filter. All the coffee you use should be ground to the same size.
  • Water at 93°C / 200 F. Use clean, odourless water, but not distilled or softened. Ideal TDS (total dissolved solids) is 125-175 ppm, but should be no lower than 100 ppm and no higher than 250 ppm.
  • Timer. It is very important not to brew ground coffee for more than 5 minutes.
  • Spoons. Deep spoons are enough.
  • Cups for warm water. This is really indispensable. After each sip it is necessary to clean the spoon before the next sip.
  • Cups for the crust. After the coffee is brewed in the cup, a crust will appear on the top. You have to go through that crust, smell at the same time (this will be the first impact with the coffee) and clean the surface of the coffee to avoid drinking ground coffee. All that crust will end up in these cups.
  • Lids. Each cup needs a lid; you can use a plate instead.

Sample preparation

On your favourite table, place the cups with ground coffee in a row. Don't forget to place a note in front of each cup describing what coffee you use to better understand what you are tasting.

Then, place the beakers with hot water for cleaning and the beakers for the crust. Prepare the spoons and the timer.

In the cupping cups, add the ground coffee. Carefully pour in the water and set the timer for 4 minutes brewing time. Place the lid on each cup.

After 4 minutes, break the crust and smell the top of the coffee. Try to memorise that smell to judge the coffee. Every time you notice something, write it down.

Clean the rind and place it in a special glass. Now you can start with the fun part, the tasting. Good manners are not important here.

Get a clean spoon. Take a spoonful and taste it. To get the best experience, you will need to suck a little air into your mouth, over your tongue, while the coffee is on your tongue. You are taking the coffee notes.

It's strong, yes, but it's the best way to decipher notes.

To get a really complete analysis, you should taste the coffee at its peak (about 5 minutes) but also at 10 and 15 minutes, to see how it breaks down and how the notes change.

Be sure to take notes from each cup and rinse your mouth with fresh cold water between each cup to keep the roof of your mouth clean.

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