Ever wonder how your favorite coffee shop decided to buy and roast the particular bean you drank this morning, over the thousands of other coffees out there? In short, they cupped it.
Cupping is the coffee industry’s standardized way for tasting coffee. But don’t let the profession’s strict, formal process for evaluating and scoring coffee (or the slurping and spitting) intimidate you...or gross you out. At its core, cupping is simply an apples-to-apples taste test. Here’s how you can cup coffee at home:
The Short Answer (for The Long Answer, click here)
- Choose two coffees to compare
- Keep everything the same except the beans you’re tasting. The 3 most important things to hold constant are:
- Water temperature (~200 F / 93 C)
- Ratio of coffee grounds to water (1:18 or 8.25 grams of coffee for a 180 ml/6 fl oz cup, with the coffee only 150mL of water will fit in the glass)
- How finely the coffee is ground (medium coarseness)
- Take notes on what you like and dislike
It’s that easy!
Cupping is the coffee industry’s standardized way for tasting coffee. Because of the professional connotations it can be intimidating to approach cupping for the first time. Not to mention we’ve spent most of our lives learning that slurping and spitting are rude to do in public. However, cupping is designed to be easy! We wrote about how to set up your home cupping lab here <insert link>, but we’ll give a quick overview in this guide for how to actually cup yourself.
Cups - minimum 1 per sample
2x Soup spoon/tablespoon
Spittoon (any cup will do)
Paper & Pencil
Now, let’s get started. Usually to start I like to turn on my hot water, because heating water usually takes the longest. By starting here, we can do all our other setup while the water heats, and it should be close to ready once our coffee is ground. Also, there is no harm in letting it boil for a minute.
Next, we will weigh the coffee. If you are using a 6oz (180mL) glass you will want to use 8 grams of coffee per cup. An 8oz (235mL) glass would use 10.5 grams. If you’re using a different size glass simply multiply the number of ounces of water it holds by 1.3. If you’re used to brewing coffee, we are using a 1:18 ratio, or 1g of coffee for every 18mL of water. If that is greek to you, don’t worry! Just use the 1.3 grams to each ounce of water.
After we’ve weighed the samples we are ready to grind our coffee. Grinding immediately before starting our cupping process is one of the key things that makes a difference to evaluating the coffee. After grinding, aromatics from the coffee start to disperse in the air and we want to smell those! The grind setting for cupping should be similar to kosher salt, or what you would use for a flat bottom coffee brewer. Another tip for grinding, if you keep one extra cup then you can pour coffee from your cup into the grinder while you have another cup underneath. The key part is making sure that you don’t mix your samples.
Once you’ve ground all the samples, you are ready to start evaluating! Ok, our first evaluation is the fragrance evaluation. Basically, what does the coffee smell like as dry grounds? I recommend that you try to write down some word that describes what you smell when you sniff each coffee. Smells like coffee? Great! Write that down, smells strong, dark, bad, fresh, yellow? Great, this is what cupping is all about. Learning how to describe differences in taste and aroma by associating words with particular scents and tastes. It takes practice, so whatever that word is write it down so you don’t forget.
Is your water boiling? Ok! Time to pour. We’ll take the water off, and wait until it stops boiling, then we can pour. Start your timer as, or just before you pour the first cup. Our goal is to fill each cup to the brim in one pouring motion. Once you’ve filled all the cups you’re ready for the next step.
Now we’re ready to evaluate Fragrance. Fragrance is the smell of the coffee when it is wet. At first, it is usually easiest to think about how the smell has changed from dry to wet. Before it was sweet and lively, and now it is deep and rich? Perhaps it smells the same, great write that down. We can smell the coffee for the next four minutes to get a sense of the fragrance.
After 4 minutes we’re ready to “break the crust”. You probably noticed when you poured the hot water that some of the coffee grounds floated on the top, that is perfectly normal. What we’re going to do now is stir the coffee grounds so that they fall to the bottom of the cup. When we do that, we’re also going to release some aroma that is trapped underneath that cap. So when we stir the coffee we want to put our nose close to the cup and inhale. So, put your nose close to the top of the cup and stir three times while you inhale. Be sure to rinse your spoon after breaking each cup.
Ok, broke all the cups? Now it is time to remove the scummy foam left behind. This foam is a layer of protein and oil that would normally be caught in our paper filter if we were brewing. Simply take your spoon and dip it gently so the foam sticks to the spoon and the coffee liquid is left behind. Place the foam in your spittoon and rinse your spoon.
Ok! Cups are cleaned, and now we’re ready for primetime. Tasting the coffee! Usually everything that I’ve described before takes about 10 minutes, at that point the coffee should be cool enough for us to taste. What we’re going to do is take a small amount of coffee liquid on our spoon, place it to our lips and slurp! Essentially we want to suck hard enough to vaporize the liquid and spray our mouth. Allow the liquid to collect in your mouth and then you can swallow or spit. If you note anything particular about the coffee, write it down. Did it taste sour, bitter? Oily, light, sweet, floral, strong? Maybe you even taste something specific like cherries, caramel, chocolate, etc. Whatever words come to mind, write them down so you can keep track
Why slurp? Slurping allows the aromatics in the coffee to travel up into the back of our nose easier.
That’s it! We’re cupping… Best practice is to taste each sample 2-3 times, usually waiting about 5-7 minutes between each round, so we can see how the coffee flavor changes as it cools.
Have questions? Be sure to reach out, and we’ll be happy to help.