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Coffee Cupping

Many of us practice wine tasting, but wouldn’t evaluate coffee in the same way.

However, coffee tasting, known as “cupping,” introduces you to unexpected

and subtle flavors and helps you to identify and appreciate different coffees.

The coffee industry uses cupping to measure

and control the quality of coffee beans—

a cupping bowl provides a snapshot of the

beans, whether it’s a “micro lot” of a few bags,

or a “large lot” of several containers. Coffee

is usually scored on a scale from 0 to 100.

It’s an industry-wide practice—from the

exporters or importers, to the roasters and the

baristas. Professional cuppers work for coffee

companies, sourcing, tasting, and choosing the

best coffees in the world.

There are even national and international cupping competitions

where the best cuppers compete for awards.

Increasingly, producers and millers cup at

the very beginning of a coffee’s journey, too.

Cupping is easy to do at home—you don’t

have to be a tasting expert to know what you

enjoy or dislike about a cup of coffee. Building up

a vocabulary to describe flavors takes practice,

but cupping a range of coffees from around the

world soon introduces you to some broad flavor

groupings that you can refine with time.


You can prepare just one cup of each coffee and explore its flavors,

or try several side by side. You could cup with pre-ground coffee, but

coffee tastes a lot fresher if you grind it yourself (see pp36–39).

1 - Pour 1⁄4oz (12g) of coffee beans into

the first cup or glass. Grind each dose

of beans to a medium grind, pouring the

coffee back into its cup (see Tip).

2 - Repeat with the other beans,

but “clean” the grinder by grinding

through a tablespoon of the next type

of bean before you grind the beans

you’ll actually be cupping.

3 - Once all the cups are full of ground

coffee, smell them, taking note

of how the aromas compare.

4- Bring your water to a boil, then let it cool down to about

200–205ºF (93 –96ºC). Pour the water over the coffee,

making sure it is fully saturated. Fill the cup all the way to

the top, or use a scale or measuring cup to ensure

you use the correct volume of water to beans.

5- Leave the coffee to steep for 4 minutes. In this time you

can evaluate the aroma of the “crust”—the floating layer

of coffee grounds—taking care not to lift or disturb the cups.

Perhaps you’ll find the aromas to be stronger, weaker, better,

or worse from some coffees compared to others.

6- After 4 minutes, use a spoon to gently stir the surface

of the coffee three times, breaking the crust and settling

the floating grounds. Rinse your spoon in hot water between

every cup so you don’t transfer any flavors from one bowl

to another. Bring your nose to the cup as you break the crust

to catch the release of aromas, and consider if the positive

(or negative) attributes you noticed about the aroma in

step 5 have changed.

7- Once all the crusts are broken, skim off the foam

and floating particles with the help of two spoons,

rinsing them with hot water between each skim.

8- When the coffee is cool enough to taste, dip your spoon

in and slurp the coffee from the spoon into your mouth

with a little air, which helps to spread the aromas to your

olfactory system and the liquid across your palate. Consider

the tactile sensations of the coffee as well as the flavor. How

does it feel on your palate: does it seem thin, oily, soft, rough,

elegant, drying, or creamy? How does it taste? Does it remind

you of anything you have tasted before? Can you pick out

any flavors of nuts, berries, or spices?

9- Go back and forth between coffees to compare. Revisit

them as they cool and change, and take notes to help you

to categorize, describe, and remember what you’re tasting.

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