Coffee cupping is a process in which professional coffee tasters sample different brews and evaluate them for taste, flavor, body, acidity, consistency, sweetness, and aftertaste, among other things. Participants at a cupping session come from all over the coffee industry, ranging from roasters, traders, coffee farmers, and baristas to consumers — and their feedback is a valuable way to evaluate a brew for quality and determine who it will appeal to.
Coffee cupping sessions were first held in the United States in the late 19th Century when merchants would taste a range of coffees to decide which ones they wanted to purchase. And many years later, cupping sessions still play an important role in purchasing decisions, although they are also used to analyze a brew’s attributes and learn about different flavors.
The steps include:
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
- Coffees (20 grams of each coffee)
- Scale (for measuring coffee weight)
- Cupping bowls (160ml-200ml)
- Rinse cups filled with hot water
- Cupping spoons
- Hot water kettle
- Container (to collect used coffee grounds)
- Mug or glass (to hold cupping spoons)
Step 2: Place coffee samples in cupping bowls
Two bowls, each containing a 9-gram sample of a particular brew, should be placed side by side. There is a reason why two samples of a brew, served black and unsweetened, should be offered instead of one: if by some chance, a problematic sample ends up in a bowl, the sample in the second bowl can give the brew a second chance to make a good impression.
Step 3: Heat the water
The water should be heated to 200° F/93° C.
Step 4: Set the timer
Once the timer has started, start pouring 150 grams of the heated water into each cup.
Step 5: Evaluate the coffee’s aroma
At cupping sessions, professional tasters not only evaluate the taste of the brews they are sampling but also, their aromas.
Step 6: Break the crust
Four minutes after the coffee has been poured, it’s time to break the crust — that is, using a spoon to push the coffee grounds to the back of the bowl. The spoon should be rinsed after it’s been used in each bowl.
Step 7: Place remaining coffee grounds in a third bowl
Tasters will need to keep a third bowl on hand for used coffee grounds. Using two spoons, tasters should remove any coffee grounds that remain — as well as any foam — and dispose of them in the third bowl.
Step 8: Let the hot coffee cool
After the coffee has cooled for 13-15 minutes, it’s time to begin tasting the two side-by-side cups of the brew.
Step 9: Slurp the coffee
When slurping the cooled-down black coffee from a spoon, it’s important to spread it over your tongue in order to get a sense of the brew’s full range of flavors.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes
Coffee lovers tend to have strong opinions about brews that they taste, but there is a time and a place to express them — and at coffee cupping sessions, tasters should not express opinions or talk to others while sampling brews. Describing the flavors during the tasting process can influence others, and it is important that tasters arrive at their own opinions.
Sometimes, tasters will swallow the samples they are tasting at coffee cupping sessions, but it is perfectly OK for tasters to spit out the samples after tasting them — that way, they can avoid consuming too much caffeine too quickly. And it is common for tasters to keep a cup on hand to use as an optional spittoon.
Practice Makes Perfect
A novice who is attending a coffee cupping session for the first time shouldn’t expect to have the expertise of a taster who has attended countless sessions. In fact, one’s first cupping session should be viewed as a learning experience, and novices can improve their cupping skills by carefully observing the practices of more experienced tasters. Repetition is a plus when it comes to coffee cupping, and the more novices learn from those who have been participating in cupping sessions for a long time, the better their own skills will become.
Tasters can also educate themselves about the cupping process when they are away from sessions. For example, comparing and analyzing the qualities of different brews when they are home by themselves can be helpful. And reading about the aromas, flavors, and qualities of different brews is another way to become educated about what the many varieties of coffee have to offer.
Coffee is by no means monolithic. Coffee ranges from light roasts to medium roasts to dark roasts — from Brazilian and Colombian blends to Thai blends. And the more expertise one brings to coffee cupping sessions, the more one can appreciate coffee’s amazing diversity.