Cupping, or coffee tasting, is an international practice used to discover the true profile of any particular coffee. Different types of beans offer completely different flavors and qualities than others, depending on factors such as location of origin, roast level, and age.
By using the standard method of cupping, you can rest assured that you are noticing all of the properties of a brew that you were intended to experience.
The first (and perhaps most obvious) step to the process is to choose your beans. You can use virtually any kind for this event, but a high-quality choice is obviously recommended. By tasting a wide range of coffees over time, you will be able to keenly notice and appreciate the similarities and differences between them.
After you’ve measured out the appropriate amount (according to The Coffee Cupper’s Handbook by Ted Lingle, the correct ratio is 1.63grams of whole-beans to every ounce of water), grind the coffee on a coarse setting. After you have accomplished this step, go ahead and sniff the grounds. What do you smell? Cocoa notes? A spicy aroma?
Pressed brewing methods are very commonly used in coffee tastings; however, they are neither the “standard” nor the most effective way to brew an ideal cup for a tasting. Typically, the most encouraged procedure is as follows.
Put your coarsely ground beans into a bowl or large mug, and then add near-boiling, freshly filtered water proportionally. Let it steep for approximately four minutes.
During this time, a thick layer or crust of grinds will form on the top of your bowl. When the allotted time for infusing is over, gently break the crust and observe your coffee. The water will have affected your grounds and will have altered the results quite a bit.
What changes do you smell? What new characteristics have emerged?
At this point, after your brief observation, it is time to dispose of the grounds. You can achieve this by scooping them out of the liquid with spoons.
Some of the granules will fall to the bottom of your cup (which is fine), but those remaining on the top need to be taken out.
If you have chosen to press your coffee or to filter it by other means, make sure to pick your method wisely. Most presses tend to leave murky grit behind, while paper filters can deprive the coffee of many of its qualities.
Now that the grounds are gone, take a moment to notice the physical qualities of the coffee. What color is it? Is it a lighter color that seems to be relatively clear? Or is it a heavy-looking black?
The best part is undoubtedly saved for last. To correctly drink, you have to slurp. Although you may have been taught as a child that slurping was “bad manners,” it’s the best way to taste the true qualities and flavors of the beverage.
Make sure, as you consume the liquid, to cover your entire palate.
Where in your mouth do you feel it? Notice the body of the coffee; does it feel heavy or light? What do you taste? Hints of citrus? Sweet or spicy characteristics? Maybe it’s earthy!
Foodal recommends Everything but Espresso as your everyday brewing bible
“Professional“ cuppers ultimately use a grading scale to officially mark the qualities that a coffee has. However, another great practice is to take notes and use descriptive words or analogies.
It’s an excellent way to figure out 1) what you like, 2) why you like it, and 3) how one bean compares to another.
Don’t be afraid to describe a brew however you see fit. Whether you find it “bold” or whether you think it tastes like an old library book, there’s no incorrect way to describe what you observe. And once you’ve finished a tasting, plan your next one! It’s a great way to enjoy the unique and amazing traits of coffee.
About Kate Ackerman
A compulsive list-maker with a profound love for art, the outdoors, good beer, and Star Wars, Kate is a stereotypical Washington native (read: rain-loving coffee addict). And while she calls freelance writing her career, she's often found traveling the world, plunking on pianos, or spending time with her well-loved bulldog.