Nick Moers, Service Director and Head of Education at Devoción USA, shares what coffee cupping is and how to execute one on your own!
Have you ever wondered how your favorite coffee roaster was able to source and serve you that amazing coffee from a small town located in Ethiopia? How about a small island in Southeast Asia? Even how at Devoción we source coffee from small humble farmers located in the mountain ranges of Colombia. To ensure that the coffee is outstanding before being bought and brought back to the states, this coffee has to undergo a small grading system that we in the industry call cupping. Coffee cupping is one of the most intense and entertaining ways to taste and understand coffee. Everyone from Green Bean buyers, roasters, coffee professionals and coffee enthusiasts from all over the world can join or host coffee cuppings pretty much anywhere.
Coffee Cuppings allow you to grade and evaluate coffee based on the fragrance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, uniformity and overall taste - but honestly, the most important aspect is how does this coffee tastes to you. Coffee has over 1,000 living organic components and makes up over 400 flavors that we can pick up and understand.
To understand everything or how this works, let’s break down cupping to something very short and sweet. To start a cupping or enjoy the flavors found in coffee we need to remember that everyone perceives and tastes things differently. With this being said there is not a wrong answer in cupping but a unique way of looking at it. Start with getting two or more different coffees from different origins, that are not blends. The reason we do not want blends is because we want to understand that the growing regions, climates, soil, and plant varieties all provide different tastes and profiles.
To perform this tasting exercise, you'll need:
● At least 2 small cups per coffee (7-9 oz. in size, all cups should be the same size)
● One soup spoon per person to cup, plus some extra spoons to clean the grounds
● Clean, good quality hot water (not distilled or tap water as water chemistry is one of the most important breakdowns for cupping)
● A timer (because as baristas we always want to be in control of our extraction)
● A grinder (make sure it gives you consistent ‘particle size’ or coarseness of the ground coffee)
● A scale (to make sure we are extracting in the correct time)
● A pen and paper (to take notes)
● A small cup to spit your tasted coffee into (remember too much coffee can wire you and keep you up - which isn’t always a bad thing)
Now that we have all the tools let’s go through a proper cupping.
Prep your area that you will be cupping with at least 1 cup of 12 grams of weighted out coffee, remember to use your handy scale. Depending on how many people you have over you can increase the amount of cups that you are using. You never need to go above 5 cups. Once all your cups are set in place, in the top right hand side place a small cup that will be your ‘cleaning’ cup that is filled with hot water. (This cup allows you to clean your spoon after each use.) For fun, you can always place the bag of coffee directly behind the cups, so you know what you are cupping or you can make it into a game and keep each group of cups different and unknown.
Begin the grinding process of your coffee. Keep in mind coffee is filled with tons of fragrance so we never want to use pre-ground coffee or old coffee. Coffee as such will lose flavor and you will never get the full profile of the bean. Use a small amount of coffee to run through your grinder to give it a ‘purge’ or ‘season’ the grinder so old particles do not interfere with the coffee you are tasting.
Start the first part of evaluating our coffee. This is the fragrance part. While the coffee is dry you are going to want to smell the coffee and write the first thing that comes to mind on your paper or pad. Usually, the first thoughts you have are the main sents. You can perform this step a couple of times but you never want to have this phase run longer than 6 minutes.
Allow the coffee to begin its extraction and release a second part of our smelling stage, aroma, by taking your hot water and filling each cup to the brim. Just as you did for the fragrance part, you want to smell the hot coffee and grounds. The hot water will help release different smells that could have been hidden when the coffee was dry. This process is also timed, you do not want this aroma stage to take longer that 4-6 minutes, I always prefer 4 minutes.
Conclude the last smelling stage, called the break, by using your spoon to break the crust of the coffee, while smelling at the same time - as close as possible to the cup, without putting your nose in the coffee. The main thing that you are going to want to remember is that you can only break each cup once and you need to move the crust around 3 times to ensure that you are properly agitating your coffee correctly and not overdoing it.
Take two spoons and ‘clean’ off the grounds from the top of the water. Remove all of the grounds ensuring there is no over extraction and change in taste. Once you have removed all of the grounds the fun part begins.
Taste and ‘cup’ the coffee - the most exciting part of the process! What you want to do is take a small amount of coffee onto your spoon and slurp the coffee. This allows the coffee to hit and touch each part of your tongue. Your tongue is filled with tons of little taste buds that all react differently to certain tastes. Swoosh the coffee back and forth in your mouth and then spit out that coffee into a clean cup, just like wine tasting. Too much caffeine can neutralize your plate and hinder you from tasting.
Using this simple slurping step, proceed with the others while taking notes the whole time helping you remember that tasting profile of each coffee. Write down each and every note that comes to mind so you can exchange with your friends or with the bag to see if you tasted what the roaster wrote or maybe any other tasting notes.