Did you always want to feel like a coffee connoisseur? Want to act out your fantasy of looking like one of the rich, fancy people who take a glass of champagne, stir the glass a little, take a sip and make a witty remark? Today is the day your dream comes true because you are about to get a complete guide to coffee cupping at home like a pro.
If you are nervous, the process is not that tough, and you can easily do coffee cupping at home. And the best part? Your coffee-loving buddies can join in on the fun as well! Now you can feel fancy with all your friends, as our guide is for all coffee cupping beginners.
Simply put, coffee cupping is the process of tasting coffee. But, can’t you do that every morning anyway? You cannot, since the process is far more sophisticated than that.
Coffee cupping allows you to assess the taste and aroma of a certain coffee type through a controlled process and environment. Doing so allows you a better insight into the flavor profile of a certain coffee type.
Though you can do it alone, it’s more of a group event that allows multiple people to input their opinions, amateurs and professionals alike. The entire procedure helps differentiate the characteristics of different coffee bean types and evaluate their similarities and differences.
Coffee cupping has become a regular item on their to-do list for passionate coffee drinkers. They hold coffee cupping events at different cafes to inspire more coffee lovers to pick up the habit of sharpening their taste buds.
Though the process may sound highly sophisticated, the required skill set is no longer a secret, allowing people to learn the ropes and perform coffee cupping at home.
Coffee cupping events are even considered a marketing tactic for cafes, aiming to target coffee lovers and turn them into loyal, returning coffee addict customers.
And this is a very genius tactic too. Let me ask you, if you had the taste of the best stuff for once, would you ever settle for less ever again?
Through generalizing the coffee cupping procedures, coffee tasting is no longer left in the hands of baristas, coffee traders, and roasters. Every coffee lover gets a say.
When a customer partakes in coffee cupping, they can choose the preferences they wish to consume daily.
The process even helps an amateur figure out the differences and the kinks of their coffee before adding elements like milk or sugar. Many coffee lovers take part in the coffee cupping process to satisfy their interests.
With coffee cupping, you have a foolproof way to determine every specific thing about a particular coffee and share that information to help others out as well.
Coffee shops that arrange coffee cupping parties have arranged for trained baristas, who are employed to train people in the fine art of coffee cupping, where each coffee gets judged in an unbiased fashion.
Now that we know the necessity of the process, we need to know about the tools of the trade we need to get started.
- A well-lit environment that is clean and free of unwanted odors, noise pollution, and other distractions
- A focused mindset (This is the most important one)
- 20g each of different freshly roasted coffee (number varies depending on how many different types you wish to test)
- Identical cups with the same capacity and made from the same component, and preferably wider at the top
- Clean, filtered water
- A burr coffee grinder
- Tall glass for holding cupping spoons
- A Digital Scale
- A Timer
- A soup spoon for each taster of each type (or just two spoons if you’re alone)
- Bowl for collecting wet coffee grounds
Of course, a process like this has its rules and regulations. So, here are some common etiquettes shortlisted for your convenience:
- Avoid all distractions (that means no phones either)
- Avoid using items that give out unwanted fragrances
- Don’t participate in tasting immediately after drinking anything strong-flavored, eating, or brushing your teeth. These factors affect your taste palate directly.
- Try to cup when your senses are most alert, for example, a couple of hours after waking up.
- Don’t talk to other cuppers unless the communication is an emergency. Talking influences the mindset of others differently, which can falter the evaluation.
- Most importantly – Be consistent cup to cup to get the best results.
When cupping coffee, there are quite a few obvious flavors that stand out to most. But some flavors are subtle and very difficult to notice. Finding them is your true priority in the whole process
Here’s a quick list of the things you’re going to do during the cupping:
- Evaluate the dry aroma
- Evaluate the wet aroma (this process repeats twice with both dry and wet grounds)
- Evaluate the taste itself
- Evaluate the body if its full, rich
- Evaluate the Depth/Complexity of the individual flavors themselves
- Taste if the acidity adds liveliness or tastes sour
- Evaluate the residual taste afterward
In addition, you can use a coffee flavor wheel approved by the SCA. It can be a tremendous help when you’re trying to name that one taste that you can’t quite put your finger on [pun intended]
When tasting the coffee, there will be flavors you encounter that are hard to name for you. It’s like you have the word in your mind, but it’s not coming out of your mouth. That’s where the coffee flavor wheel comes in.
The SCA (Speciality Coffee Association) created a Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel to categorize different tasting notes to help you put names to the taste you are feeling in your mouth at times.
The wheel is a colorful illustration that categorizes the flavors from the inside out of the chart. The characteristics of different flavors are also noted down inside the chart.
For the most basic tastes, you feel in your mouth, starting from the very inside and around the center of the wheel. From there, move your finger towards a more specific taste the more you advance in the procedure. Where your finger stops on the chart is the final overall taste of the cup you’re currently tasting.
If you’re a coffee cupping newbie, you need not concern yourself with these overwhelming details. Start with the basics and focus on the simple taste you can describe on your tongue. Write those down, and build up your taste bud and flavor-naming from the ground up.
- Do I like the taste?
- Why do I like it?
- Is the current cup pleasant to drink?
- Does it taste like something that I know already? If so, what is it?
- If it’s sweet, how sweet is it? Is it like a fruit? Or is it as sweet as sugar?
- Do I taste orange? Is that orange flavor fresh, or like jam? Or is it like orange candy?
- Is it thin like a cup of tea? Or does it feel rich and full-bodied like drinking whole milk?
- Is there any flavor stuck in my mouth after drinking the coffee? If so, what are they?
- Are all these flavors completely gone after drinking?
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #1. Prepare Your Environment
The most recommended environment for the tasting ritual is a well-lit and spacious room so that you don’t trip and drop your precious test samples.
The room is also supposed to be devoid of other excess aromas and excess noise. You should also make sure there aren’t any extra distractions, so your full attention, along with your other testers, focuses only on the coffee samples.
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #2. Setup Your Equipment
You need a bowl for each type of coffee you will be cupping. Remember to label the bowls of each type with anything other than their actual names. When you know which is which, your judgment tends to sway your personal preference.
After placing the required spoons in the tall glass, get your note-taking materials ready, whether it’s a laptop or old-school pen-and-paper.
Keeping your equipment consistent is one of the best precautions you can take to keep your results consistent. Here are a couple of ways to go about it
- Make sure that all the cups are of the same volume and dimensions
- Choose all cups made from the same element, whether glass or ceramics. Avoid plastic cups for negative taste effects
- Ensure correct coffee-to-water ratio for each type of coffee
- Maintain the same amount of heat retention in each cup during the extraction process
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #3. Heat The Water
For each cup, you need 150mL of water for more precise results. Measure and fill your electric kettle accordingly, and then boil said water. When you’re done boiling the water, let it sit for about 60 seconds to cool a little before adding it to the coffee.
Remember, warm water, not boiled water is the key here. Pro tip: keep a thermometer at hand, and add the water when it’s between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #4. Prepare The Coffee Beans
Weigh out each type of coffee bean on the digital scale while the water is boiling. Make two different piles of beans for each type. One pile goes in for priming the grinder, while the other is the actual grinding material.
Priming the grinder with a certain type of coffee ensures that old residues are not stuck in the grinder, affecting the final taste of the cup you are going to sample. The priming batch should contain 4 grams of coffee, while the sample pile should contain 8.25 grams of coffee beans. When you’re done, you’ll have two different styles for each type of coffee bean.
First, choose a type you wish to grind. Then take the priming pile of the batch, and put it through the grinder. Collect the priming grinds, and set them aside before running the sample pile through the grinder.
Remember that you need to grind the sample right before cupping and at least 15 minutes before infusing said sample with water.
After grinding the sample, collect the ground sample on the labeled bowl, and repeat the process with each type of coffee you wish to taste.
Pro Tip: You can set aside the primed coffee grounds for later use. You can even use your notes to determine which two types taste similar, so you can mix and brew them together to create your unique coffee blend! If you want to learn how to prevent coffee grounds in your coffee do check out this article.
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #6. Smell The Fresh Grounds
This part of the guide is where we go into serious territories.
Inhale the aroma using both your mouth and nose, and close your eyes. No, it’s not because you don’t want to smell through your eyes. Closing your eyes helps you to focus on your olfactory senses.
Place yourself as close as possible to the cup to take in most of the smell. Again, this is the part where you are analyzing the aroma of the dry ground.
Start taking notes of every trace of taste you can determine. Even if you have to come up with your terms, the words don’t make sense. Whatever works for you, right?
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #7. Add The Hot Water
A friendly reminder once again, hot water, not boiling! Introduce 150 grams of water into each coffee ground bowl. Not the priming bowls, but the sample ground bowls. And while you’re at it, fill up the tall glass with hot water as well.
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #8. Take The Smell In Once More
Now that water has been added to each sample bowl, you need to re-run step 6 once more and in the same fashion.
This time, note down what you taste and smell, then note down the differences between your experiences with both the dry and wet grounds.
After three or four minutes of the water being added, the top of the bowl should show a nice, thick layer of coffee grounds and bubbles floating there. This layer is called the “crust.”
Take the tall spoons that have been soaking in hot water in the tall glass till now, and use them to “break the crust.” Meaning, push the floating grounds out of the middle of the bowl and to the sides.
When you’re done, take the third smell. If you smell right after breaking the crust, there is a high chance you will get the exact taste of the coffee itself that the grounds would produce.
And now, repeat the same process with all your samples, and of course, write down every bit of difference and similarities that you can notice.
But you might be thinking, then what’s the point of the second spoon? You break the crust with one spoon and then stir the top of each coffee with the clean second spoon.
This step may seem optional, but it serves more than one purpose.
When you rinse out the spoons, you ensure that the samples from one cup don’t get diluted with the other, causing cross-contamination. Also, it prevents germs from spreading.
Well, you must be tired after all that coffee tasting, science work! Why not take a break with your friends? Well, this is more of a technical break.
You need to let the coffee cool for about 15 minutes before going into the second phase of the test. Remember the timer you got earlier? Set the timer for it to be exactly 15 minutes because you want your coffee to get cold, but not TOO cold.
Guide To Coffee Cupping Step #12. Taste The Coffee!
And now, ladies and gentlemen, the true attraction of the show, the tasting phase!
Take a clean spoon, and take a spoonful of coffee right from the center of the sample bowl. If you see any coffee grounds floating in the middle, it’s best to push away the crusts with one spoon and use a second clean spoon to take a scoop from the middle.
Take a soft sip in a way that it hits the roof of your mouth and slides across your tongue on the way to the back of your mouth. Keep it in your mouth for a few moments, and move it around to feel around the different flavors, present body, etc., so you can take note.
Once you’re done, you can either spit it out or swallow before taking notes, which brings us to the next step.
After tasting the sample from each bowl, you should spit the coffee out from your mouth. To prevent yourself from spitting everywhere, and especially on your friends, keep a few disposable cups around for this exact purpose.
You may not want to waste precious coffee, but you don’t want to over-caffeinate yourself either. Over caffeination can affect your taste buds, as well as a lapse of judgment by being hyper.
Now that you’re done tasting all the bowls, you need to go through them again.
I know it sounds like a lot of work, but trust me on this. When you’re tasting the same coffee once again, you can identify flavors that you might have missed the first time, since this time, you know what to look for.
Note down your new findings, and compare them with your previous reports. And in case you are cupping with your friends, compare them with your friends and their new findings.
If you arranged a coffee cupping party with your friends, don’t just keep your findings to yourself! Make sure to share and compare your results with your friends.
Want to make new friends over a cup of coffee? Why not look in your local vicinity for coffee cupping parties or local coffee shops that offer tasting opportunities? Google can help you to find a viable option pretty fast.
When you share your findings with a larger audience, you get more insights and experience based on public opinion. Doing so also increases your chances to round up your own experiences in a more meaningful way.
Cupping can seem like an overwhelming process at first, but it is relatively simple. But there are some things you should never do while cupping.
- Stay quiet to avoid influencing other people’s evaluations. Discuss your findings AFTER the evaluation, not while evaluating. This is a psychological factor that comes into play while cupping.
- When you consume large quantities of caffeine, your body can suffer from adverse short-term effects. It can also alter your palate so that you can no longer detect delicate aromas and flavors. That’s why it’s recommended to spit out the tasted coffee into different cups.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the confusing methodology and vocabulary of cupping methods. For starters, just focus on maintaining consistency and describing samples using your own reference. Over time, your methods will get honed into a more perfect shape.
- Practice makes you perfect, and cupping with a large batch of people is always better than cupping all by yourself. Participate in cupping with other people, and share your findings. You’ll learn as much by observation and repetition as you will from reading an article or watching an instructional video.
- Cupping practice requires both mental and physical strength, so being prepared, calm, and open-minded is crucial. Anything that factors into your physical or mental state will also affect the cupping method.
- Stop getting lost in more complicated details. Always focus on the major flavor details first in coffee cups, then slowly move to more precise flavors. Always treat every meal and drink as a means of tasting practice.
- Develop your palate by tasting the same food category with minor differences between them, and let your tongue pick out the difference.
- Always remember to stay consistent. Familiarize yourself with the evaluation process, and train your palate like it’s your second nature to nitpick food.
- Always ask questions. Asking the right questions at the right time can provide you with a lot of helpful information that can help you improve your tasting method and observations. Asking coffee professionals about different cupping methods and flavor profiles can give you new ideas.
To Wrap It All Up
Whether you choose to do coffee cupping alone or with friends, it’s a fun process nonetheless. Training your palette to detect more hidden flavors in a particular bean helps you choose better coffee for your everyday consumption.
The dry ground smells may vary depending on their roasting method and origin. But a dry ground mostly smells as close to the original coffee as it can.
Cupping a coffee sample gives you an idea about the taste and aroma of the particular coffee, allowing you to fine-tune your preferences from a wide world of coffee varieties.
To determine the exact flavor profile of a particular ground coffee, you need to note the aromas to compare results from different bean grinds.
The smell of wet grounds depends on the coffee bean origin and their roasting method.
A cupping form is where different taste preferences are categorized down, where you can fill in the blanks to find out what the grind exactly tastes like