What about coffee cupping?

What about coffee cupping?

Posted by Mark Bentham, The Coffee Man on 5th Dec 2018

The Coffee Buzz – What About Coffee Cupping?

Coffee Cupping is the term used to describe the (amazing) job undertaken by trained and certified people known as "Q Graders" who taste different coffee bean brews and categorize them according to their tastes and aromas. This allows coffee producers and roasters to compare the different types of coffee and the individual characteristics of a single origin or blend.

Professional "Q Graders" who cup coffee undertake intensive training through a standardized course must sit examinations in order to be recognized as professionals in this field.

Since the introduction of standardized training and testing in coffee cupping in 2003, the worlds coffee industry has become much more standardized. Uniform procedures to evaluate physical and sensory attributes to coffee have been developed for the arabica and the Robusta beans.

There are more than 4,000 Q Graders worldwide, who work in a similar way to the wine sommelier and allow coffee to be graded globally.

But, do you have to be a professional, certified coffee tester to know all about coffee? Certainly, the professional Q Graders have the certifications to give advice on buying, roasting, blending, judging and writing reviews. But as a Coffee Lover, you can also enjoy the wonderful experimentation into the flavors of awesome coffee at home or in your café.

What about coffee cupping at home?

You can simulate a professional coffee cupping set up to find out more about the smell, taste, flavor, body, and acidity of a variety of coffee blends with some simple arrangements and guidelines. Here we will guide you as to how to explore this as a hobby!

First, you must have an abundant supply of fresh, filtered water. Reverse osmosis water is the best as it is completely neutral. Even the best ground coffee can lose all it’s beautiful charms if it is made with ‘stale’ or tainted water.

Why? Water can absorb smells (and micro-chemical that create smell) from the air. It can also contain sulfur. Sometimes mildew in water pipes can alter the taste of water. Never use distilled water as it contains an excessive amount of softening salts which will also affect the pure taste complexity of the coffee.

To get started, compile an array of small glasses, small bowls, measuring spoons handy on a tray. It's a messy business.

And of course, you need the coffee you will be grading. You have to grind the coffee beans in a good quality ceramic burr grinder. Different settings on a grinder are needed for different trials of coffee. Surprisingly, grind quality and consistency make all the difference to the taste of coffee. A French press (or plunger, as your Nan used to call it) grind is the best to bring out the flavors in cupping. This is quite a coarse grind at a medium to coarse – try a number 6 on your ceramic burr grinder.

Have your good quality boiled water close by. Remember coffee is best made with water around 20 seconds post-boil. The temperature of the water should be around 90 to 95C. A good measurement to start with is 10 grams of coffee per 180 ml of water. Of course, as you go on trying out different methods and tastes, you can adjust any of these basic profiles.

Cover the coffee grounds and soak the coffee for a few minutes.

Now it’s time to test…

Filter the liquid or scoop out a little with a spoon to smell it. Take a deep breath to let the smell sink in. Imagine you are testing a good wine and really be mindful of what comes into your mind when you take a good sniff. Then, taste the liquid with your whole tongue. You have different sensory cells all over your tongue so it’s important to let the liquid hit the whole tongue. Don’t drink it. Roll it in your mouth then spit it out in a container.

What is your impression?

  • Did you find it woody or somewhat winey?
  • Did you think is acidic or smooth?
  • Was the aroma flowery or spicy like pepper?

Coffee comes in a large variety of flavors and tastes. Much like wine, it is grown in a large variety of soil, climates that all impact the taste and qualities. Also, the preparation and roasting styles make each bean and even batch of coffee unique.

If you experiment with different beans you will be rewarded with experiencing different characteristics – enjoy spreading your coffee wings and try something new for comparison each time you do home cupping. Kenyan AA looks darker and is different from a cup of Colombian which is more floral in flavor. The Yemen Mocha again is different and tastes and smells a little bit like wine.

Altering the grind and roast can make a lot of difference to the taste and smell of coffee too. Try variations of a course and smooth grind and see what you discover.

Usually, 10 grams of coffee is needed for every 180 ml of water. The temperature of the water should be around 90 to 95C. Of course, as you go on trying out different methods and tastes, you can adjust any of these basic profiles.

Consider these attributes when making your evaluation of the coffee :

Acid – a dry taste.
Milder in beans from Sumatra. Here age and roast make a big difference.

Aroma – the steam or vapor gives out the smell, which can be fruity or herbal.
Kona coffee, for instance, has a floral smell.

Bitter – you can sense this taste by the back of your tongue. It comes from caffeine and other components.
For instance, Robusta is more bitter than Arabica.

Body – how ‘thick’ is the brew?
American roasted coffee is light when compared to the dark French coffee.

Nuttiness – this is the sign of a poor quality of coffee beans. It is the result of aldehydes and ketones and tastes like roasted nuts.

Sharpness – this is the result of a mixture of acids and salts.
You can see a pronounced sharpness in the Robusta beans compared to the Arabica beans.

So go ahead and experiment with as many tastes, countries and smells as you like and soon you will become a self-styled coffee expert! Please share me stories of your coffee cupping adventures. Make a little video and post it on Insta – tag #kimberleycoffeecompany when you do so you can share it with our Coffee Lovers Tribe.