How does coffee cupping work?

In recent years the culture surrounding coffee has grown, and so has the curiosity of many people about the different processes of this agricultural world. Coffee tasting is one of the most popular and sometimes virtualised aspects through social networks.

Like wine or beer tasting, more and more people want to know what the coffee tasting process consists of and what is required to learn it. The differences and the quality of the coffee are some of the aspects that need more attention in the art of cupping. Here’s how it works and how you can learn how to do it.

What is coffee cupping?

Coffee cupping is based on a sensory analysis in which the beverage’s properties are examined through the senses. Thanks to these, you can perceive coffee’s different properties and characteristics in its different varieties or preparations.

Consequently, smell, taste, and sight are essential in evaluating and comparing the aspects above. The process consists of analysing different coffee samples by judges classified as experts, tasters, uninitiated judges or consumers to establish which sample has the best properties.

An individual coffee cupping can also be developed to analyse and study the qualities of a specific sample without competitors or comparisons to know the quality of the sample.

Types of coffee cupping

  • Green coffee cupping: Brazilian cupping and Colombian cupping are the most commonly used methods for coffee cupping in origin coffee countries. A light infusion is used to evaluate most of the characteristics of the coffee, which is why this type of cupping is used in the coffee industry.
  • Roasted coffee cupping: this is the type of cupping that is carried out on consumers, especially those who prefer espresso coffee.

Characteristics to be evaluated

1. Aroma or fragrance

Among the aroma that can be appreciated through cupping, the most desirable are fruity, floral, and nutty. Likewise, pleasant acids, toasted bread notes, and spices are important. On the other hand, aromas that detract from the quality of the coffee are those with wet, fermented or woody fragrances and chemical notes.

2. Body

This aspect requires taste, as the body of the coffee is evaluated by taking a sip of the beverage and resting it on the tongue. The impression or sensation achieved in the process determines the texture of the coffee. Interestingly, the coffee must be sipped, generating a particular sound. The density or weight of the drink is also felt with the palate to be defined as light, creamy, round or full. On the other hand, the density and smoothness of the coffee cream is an important element to evaluate.

3. Colour

The beverage’s colour depends on the degree of roasting to which the coffee beans are exposed. The shades range from light brown to deep black, depending on the caramelisation of the sugars during roasting. Consequently, the higher the roast, the darker the shade of the beverage.

4. Acidity

Strange as it may sound, the sensation of acidity is one of the most desirable aspects of a quality coffee, as it indicates the liveliness of the beverage on the palate. This aspect allows us to measure the coffee’s chlorogenic acid, citric, malic, and tartaric sensations. If the coffee did not have this characteristic, its taste would be flat and indistinct.

5. Flavour

The flavour of a coffee can be acidic or sweet. These characteristics can provide a softer, balanced acidity with fruity or floral notes and chocolate or almond notes; as the beverage moves across the palate, its taste changes. Similarly, the tongue allows sweet flavours to be felt first, followed by salty, sour and bitter flavours.

6. Aftertaste

This sensation refers to what the palate feels when the coffee is swallowed. It usually varies as it is consumed by the cupper and can be short, long or lingering with a light, sharp or bright intensity. Some of the elements of coffee found during the aftertaste are nutty, pepper, smoke, tar and tobacco flavours.

7. View

Before looking at the beverage, it is important to analyse the coffee beans visually. Wrinkled beans are of higher quality and are sometimes categorised as gourmet coffee, while unwrinkled coffee is considered low quality. On the other hand, by looking at the beans, it is possible to determine whether there are insoluble particles suspended in the coffee after brewing that detract from the quality of the coffee.

How do you cup coffee?

  • Gather the equipment: some of the indispensable items for coffee cupping are teapots, towels, a timer, cups and spoons, a scale and a grinder. A well-lit and quiet space for coffee cupping is also recommended. On the other hand, the cups should have the same volume and should be made of the same material such as glass or ceramic so that the ground coffee and water can mix without the risk of contamination.
  • Know the evaluation form: the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has a standardised format for evaluating coffee cupping. However, it may vary depending on the purpose and reason for the event. This format should be well understood in order to know which rating is the most appropriate for each aspect to be evaluated.
  • Preparing the samples: the preparation of the samples varies a little according to the cupping protocol to be developed. To begin with, it is recommended to grind some grains of the sample to be used in the tasting to clean the mill of possible impurities or remains of other grains. Generally, each sample requires grinding 9 grams of beans individually and this should be roasted for 8 to 10 hours before the tasting.
  • Assessing the samples: an important aspect of the assessment is to smell the freshly ground dry sample and note the sensations perceived. To add the water, no more than 15 minutes should have elapsed since grinding the coffee and the liquid should be around 95 °C. It is recommended to implement 150 millilitres of water for the samples. After 3 to 5 minutes the cup is ‘broken’ and it is time to taste the coffee after removing the foam that forms with the help of two spoons.
  • Tasting the coffee: The rest is another important aspect, which requires a wait of 5 minutes or more. Usually, a cupper dips a spoon into a cup of hot, clean water and then dips it into the coffee sample to continue noting the perceived sensations.

As you can see, coffee cupping is a simple process that requires time, care and attention. In addition to the passion of the tasters and the contestants, the correct preparation of the samples before and during the tasting is a fundamental pillar of any coffee tasting.