By Sherri Johns
heard people talk about cupping coffee, seen pictures of cuppers sitting
around a circular table with numerous small cups in front of them,
and now you want to try it. Youve tasted various coffees featured
at your favorite café, attended a home espresso demonstration
at your local coffeehouse and tried your favorite roaster's seasonal
offerings. Perhaps you have purchased a home coffee roaster and are
now roasting for friends, family, and yourself. Simply put, you want
to learn the flavor profiles of varietal and regional coffees and
share these experiences with your friends. Much like an armchair traveler,
you can travel the world geographically by cupping coffees.
Why cup? Coffees are cupped to evaluate
their good and bad qualities. An exporter will cup coffees seeking
defaults, taints, or other negative traits that affect the coffee's
flavor, price, and marketability. Some common defaults result when
under-ripe coffee cherries are picked and mixed with ripe cherries
or beans have been exposed to bacteria or insects or have fermented
due to exposure to moisture.
A coffee cupper at a specialty roastery will cup
to evaluate the positive attributes of a coffee before determining
whether or not to purchase that particular coffee or crop. The cupper
will scrutinize the coffee for body, flavor, acidity, and finish.
Hell note the nose or fragrance of the freshly roasted, ground,
and brewed sample. Based on a lifetime of tasting and smelling experiences,
cuppers select coffees that best represent particular regional tastes
or they cup for a coffee that is meant to be complemented by blending
it with other beans, either for an espresso or French blend as an
example. It should be noted that cupping is a systematic approach
and should be conducted using the same method each and every time;
otherwise your results will vary and not fully represent the coffees.
Cupping is not hard to do, but takes training, practice,
and patience. It is a fun way to reward yourself, and allows you to
experience a journey that will give you invaluable knowledge as you
advance your coffee skills.
For home cupping youll need:
Fresh filtered water. Water accounts
for 99% of brewed coffee, so the water you use must be free of taints.
Do not use distilled or softened water.
Coffee measure scoop. You will need
one that holds two tablespoons.
5-ounce glasses or small cupping bowls.
You will need three for each coffee to be cupped. If cupping five
coffees, youll need 15.
Coffee trays. Use rectangular plastic
trays that hold whole-bean samples. You will need one for each coffee.
Cupping Spoons. Use deep-bowled spoons
designed for slurping and cooling samples.
A Cupping Form. Use to record and
log your results in a consistent manner.
Whole-Bean Coffee. You will need enough
for three cups eachsix tablespoonsplus an allowance
Bring fresh water to a rolling
boil and let it rest. Place your five-ounce glasses or cups on a table
in groups of three, one set for each type of coffee to be cupped.
Use one coffee measuretwo tablespoons of beansper cup.
Grind each coffee sample to a fine consistency and place it in a cup.
A burr grinder achieves the best consistency; however, you can also
use a blade grinder. Make certain each sample is ground to the same
exact fineness and that the grinder is clean and free of stale
Sniff each coffee sample and log your findings on
a cupping evaluation form. Pour water that is just off the boil directly
onto the ground coffee. Allow the samples to steep for four minutes.
Grab your cupping spoon and gently break the crust, allowing
the aromatics to escape. Glide the spoon back and forth to stir the
grounds. This motion will allow the finer grounds to settle on the
bottom and the larger ones to float to the top. Inhale deeply as you
stir. Rinse the spoon in clean water and continue gliding the spoon
back and forth until all the crusts are broken, sniffing carefully
and logging the results. Carefully scoop the floating grounds from
each sample and discard. Dont forget to rinse the spoon between
each cup so you don't cross-contaminate the flavors.
Once the brewed samples have cooled slightly, dip
your cupping spoon into the first coffee. Slurp the coffee from the
spoon with a deep pull. Let the coffee spray over your entire palate,
allowing your taste buds to experience and recognize each flavor and
nuance. Hold the coffee in your mouth without swallowing and swish
it about. Some cuppers like to exhale through their noses while doing
this. Finally, purse your lips and spit the coffee into another vessel
whose sole purpose is for discarded samples. You can use a large coffee
mug that you hold in your hand and bring to your mouth for ease of
use, or a spittoon designed specifically for the cupping room that
sits on the floor. Aim carefully. (Dont worry, this takes practice.)
What does the coffee feel like? Is it syrupy, full-bodied,
thin or shallow? Is there a tingle or tartness? If so, this is called
acidity or brightness. Is the coffee highly acidic like grapefruit
juice or is the acidity more subtle like that found in grape juice?
Finally, what flavors come to mind? Is the coffee nutty, spicy, peppery,
or floral? Record your observations on a cupping form. Taste the coffees
several times to fully explore each similarity, difference, and uniqueness.
Arrange the coffees from lighter to darker roast, beginning with Latin
America, Indonesia and finally, Africa. The different characteristics
will become more pronounced as the coffee cools. Youll want
to return to each coffee at least once.
Coffee cupping is an essential developmental tool
in understanding and appreciating coffee, and this short article is
simply a primer. Remember, proper tools and a consistent approach
will get you jump-started. Dont be overwhelmed with the processhave
For more detailed cupping terminology and descriptions,
I recommend Ted Lingles Coffee Cuppers Handbook, Tim
Castles The Great Coffee Book and Ken Davids', Coffee:
A Guide to Brewing, Buying and Enjoying. Available from Bellissimo
Where to get Supplies: Coffee Cupping Kit
is available from the Specialty Coffee
Association of America (562-624-4100). Its equipped with
10 Cups, a silver-plated spoon, trays, cupping forms and an instructional
booklet. Cost is $60 for non-members, $45 for members. Items are also
Another source for individual cupping supplies is Espresso
Johns is a 26-year veteran of the specialty coffee industry, began
her career as a budding barista in San Francisco in 1976. She was
owner/operator/chef at The Blue Note Cafe in SF, 1987 through 1990,
which was recognized as serving one of the best cappuccino in North
America by Travel & Leisure Magazine. In 1990, Sherri joined Starbucks
Coffee, and for five years, she facilitated the opening of 20 Oregon
stores and the companys first drive-thru. For three years, she
was sales and marketing manager at Kittridge and Fredrickson Fine
Coffees. From 1999 to 2001, she was Director of Operations and Director
of Retail Design at Allegro Coffee / Whole Foods Market, where she
developed an in-store roaster specialty coffee concept, opened stores,
designed and oversaw the build out of the Allegro Retail store and
coordinated with regional architects and project managers on brew
and bean design sets for Whole Foods Markets. Sherri can be contacted
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