Coffee cupping is a vital tool that allows the roaster to track quality and consistency between roasts. For the consumer it can refine the palate, sharpen the senses, and provide some transparency to the world of coffee roasting. Coffee cupping is very accessible, fairly simple, and an introduction to roasting as a hobby.
Cupping on a large scale can take on a whole new meaning--for the home it should remain relaxing and enjoyable. The purpose of this guide is an outline of tasting coffee for casual consumption.
- 3 coffees, whole bean. Approximately 12 grams of each (enough to cover the palm of your hand).
- 3 cups, 6 to 8 oz. Wide mouth preferred.
- 1 soup spoon.
- 1 towel.
- 18 to 20 oz of water, just under 200 degrees.
Building up a kit over time can be inexpensive and advantageous.
A relaxing quiet environment, such as a kitchen table is best. Avoid distracting scents, such as cooking if possible. As practice, having fruit or nuts available to smell can have an advantage, but overall eating can dampen the taste. Having a cup of cool water available to sip between tasting is preferable.
When picking beans for this exercise different countries, roasters, processing styles will help differentiate each coffee. Each coffee should have the roast date as close as possible in common.
Look over the beans on a white piece of paper or coffee filter to provide some contrast. To get a proper representation of the coffee flavor don't pick anything out. Coffee is a natural product so there will be some inconsistencies such as lighter beans, dark spots, open "shell" beans, and so on. Some lighter beans, when cracked, have a wine or tobacco scent. Cracking open a bean is a great way to see a cross section that serves as a rough time line of the roast. Noting the darkness, cross section, oil, and other details is a good way to track personal preference. Pictured is our Hacienda La Minita Tarrazu roasted the day before. For roasting purposes the coffee can be cupped the same day, for consumption waiting for the coffee to 'mellow' for 3 to 5 days allows all of the more subtle flavors to develop.
Cupping at least three coffees at a time (but no more than 8) will allow for an intimate comparison between flavors. Picking a known coffee to compare against provides a good starting point to try out new coffees. Here I have Panama Boquete, Costa Rica Tarrazu, and Tanzania Peaberry. Compare color, oil, chaff (the remaining outer skin), defects, and cross section.
Each coffee is ground on the finer side of drip. Cleaning or dusting the grinder between coffees prevents any mixing. Wipe the rim of each cup to minimize tasting grinds.
For the purposes of tasting at home auto-drip grind is more than acceptable.
Let the coffees brew for 3 minutes. A handy way to tell they're ready is when the bubbles have popped. Do not stir or move.
The best way to get the strongest impact of the scent is to inhale deeply as close to the grinds as possible while 'breaking' the cap of grinds. Stir briefly and wait a few seconds to let it settle.
It is useful to use the towel to wipe the spoon between tastings and coffees. The oils from the coffee will build up rapidly and mute the taste.
Carefully scoop off the foam or move it to the sides, if the grinds persist let them settle a few more seconds. The ideal spoonful, below, has little to no grinds left in it. Slurp, inhaling as much air as possible. The louder the better. Making chewing motions, breathe deeply, and take in the scents and flavors as they come and go.
How does the flavor begin, persist, and end? Is the coffee light, medium, or dark? Is the body heavy, creamy on the tongue or light and delicate? Are there chocolate, caramel, or fruit flavors? Is there sweetness? Brightness?
Experience in cupping is invaluable to choosing quality beans. Cupping as a hobby creates a time line of how a coffee changes from crop to crop as the growers refine it. Coffee can not be preserved like wine, so each batch of freshly roasted beans is a glimpse of how it was cared for up until that point. Building up references points and background adds visceral unshakable associations with growing locations, processing, and roasting.