What is coffee cupping?
Coffee cupping is how we sample, compare and evaluate coffees in a controlled environment. By using a predetermined weight of coffee beans, a set water volume and a fixed brew time, coffees can be compared and rated based on the aromas and flavours experienced during the tasting session. The basic method is to pour hot water over coarse ground coffee and leave to brew for 4 minutes before evaluating.
What you will need
Cupping bowls or glasses
At the Javabean HQ, we use bowls with a volume of 240ml of water, and we evaluate samples and batches using 14g of coffee beans. This volumetric ratio is based on the SCA cupping guidelines – you can explore this or create your own set ratios. The key here is consistency and repeatability between sessions.
Grind your coffee to a coarse grind. Make sure between each sample the grinder burrs are clean and free of debris from previous coffees. We tend to weigh our bowls, grind a little extra, then discard the remaining few grams to get dead on 14g. This may be frowned upon, as coffee should be weighed as ‘whole bean’ not ground. It depends how seriously you’re taking it.
Now you’ve got all your ground samples weighed out into bowls, grab your notepad and stick your nose in the bowls. Take in the aromas released from the ground coffee beans and write whatever you experience. There are no right or wrong aromas!
Start your kettle boiling, and aim for a temperature of 94°C. At this point, grab some glasses of fresh water and set them on to the table to rinse your cupping spoons in between samples. This is to prevent any contamination between your coffees. Set your timer and pour the water steadily over the grounds to your fill line, ensuring all dry coffee grounds are wetted. We tend to go 5mm below the top of the bowl, as this is where we measured our water volume to.
What am I looking for?
At this stage, you will notice some serious aromatic compounds coming off of those bowls. The aim is to evaluate these, and record what you find. It helps to have a clear head and open mind at this stage. Once the four minutes have elapsed, it is time to ‘break the crust’.
Breaking the crust
Four minutes in, and there is a bed of wet coffee grounds floating on the surface of your cupping bowls. Underneath these is a whole host of aromatics, just waiting to be experienced. At this point, take your cupping spoon and break through the layer of coffee grounds, keeping your nose very close to the surface of the bowl. Upon breaking the crust, evaluate the aromas coming off of the coffee. If you only have one bowl of each sample, let the other members present get a nose in early on. This is a key time for evaluating aromatics. Make plenty of notes.
Clearing the surface
Once you’ve all evaluated the aromas of the coffee sample, remove the remaining coffee grounds from the top of the bowl to allow tasting of the coffee. To do this, take two spoons and hold them back to back on the far edge of the bowl. With your left hand moving counter-clockwise and your right hand moving clockwise, slowly pull the coffee from the surface and allow the spoons to meet in the front of the bowl. Discard your collected coffee grounds.
Now it’s time for tasting! Take your cupping spoon and dip it into the cupping bowl to fill it up. Raise it to your mouth and with a ‘slurping’ motion, look to suck the coffee into your mouth and paint as much of it onto the various surfaces of your tongue and mouth. Because the coffee has mixed with a lot of air during the slurping, the aromatics have become very active and your taste buds will be ready for action.
Feel free to chew the coffee, roll it around in your mouth. Close your eyes if it helps to get a complete experience of the coffee in front of you. Reducing one of your senses such as sight is known to increase your others.
Once you’ve finished tasting the coffee, spit it into your spittoon (cup) and make some notes. Key features you’re looking to evaluate are acidity, body, mouth feel, sweetness and finish. Dependent on the formality of your cupping session, keep your opinions to yourself and your notepad. It’s always more exciting when you find out your colleague found exactly the same stone fruit or berry notes when you compare afterwards.
We keep every record of every cupping note of every coffee that enters our premises. Nerdy, yes, but it’s a nice reminder of what we might look to buy from the next season’s harvest. Our Coffee Club subscription comes with a tasting card for each delivery. We’re the only one’s doing it (as far as we know!) so if you like a bit of note taking, you can jump on board here.