Setting up a Home Cupping Lab


Thinking about setting up a cupping at your home and not sure where to start?  Let us walk you through some of the considerations that will help you feel confident in your setup. We won’t be going into detail about how to cup coffee, as you can read more about that here (insert link).  Only focusing on what types of materials you have that you can use, or what you may want to think about purchasing.


First off, let’s start by saying cupping is supposed to be a relatively easy, and straightforward way to evaluate coffee.  Cupping was designed to be able to go anywhere in the world and use a relatively standardized approach.  Whether in a remote village in Indonesia, Colombia or Ethiopia one can put together a cupping and taste various samples on equal footing.  Below is an outline of how straightforward it can be:


Good - minimum equipment necessary

1 cup per sample/coffee

Any gram scale

Grinder

Spoon - use any tablespoon

Rinse cup

Spit cup/waste bucket

Hot water


Better - getting professional

2 cups per sample/coffee

.1g accuracy scale

Grinder

Spoon

Rinse cup

Spit cup/waste bucket


Best - professional standard 

5 cups per sample/coffee

.01g accuracy scale

Grinder

Dedicated cupping spoon

Rinse cup

Spit cup/waste bucket


Keep reading, and we’ll dive into all the aspects that you should be thinking about as you decide what works best for your needs.


Cups

One of the key things you’ll want to think about is, what cups or bowls are you going to use.  Depending on how many samples you want to cup at the same time will help you decide how many you need.  Having cups that are all the same size makes setting up your cupping significantly easier, since you won’t have to adjust the amount of coffee and/or water for different size cups/bowls.


Any cup or bowl can be used as a cupping bowl, so how to decide which is right for you?  When thinking about cupping at home, I especially focus on two considerations.  Smaller cup size, and multi-use capability of the cup itself.  Using a smaller cup means that I can have more samples for the same amount of hot water.  Hot water, which we’ll talk about later, is probably the biggest challenge of cupping at home. Smaller cups also take up less space.  The multi-use consideration is so that I do not have a giant stockpile of glassware/ceramics that can not be used for anything else around the house.


Here are some options of cups that we think are great options given these considerations:


Duralex 5.75oz - Stackable, durable and nice looking, these are a great option.  They also come in 7.75 and 8.75oz sizes if you want a slightly larger glass.  We like the 5.75oz because of the water consideration, and also they take up less space, however they are a little small for most everyday uses in the house

Bodega Glasses 7.5oz - stackable, elegant, and practical these cups are another great option.  We use these glasses for everything; salsa, nuts, water glasses, wine, etc. They are not quite as durable as the duralex but they are inexpensive so the inevitable breakage doesn’t cost a fortune.


Hot Water 


First, let me insert an obligatory mention that water quality is very important for cupping.  You should have your tap water tested, check your municipal water quality report and compare to SCA Water standards (insert link).  


Beyond that, what we need to focus on is delivering the correct quantity of hot water in a timely manner.  When I first started cupping at home, the biggest hassle was not having a large enough kettle and having to break up my sessions while waiting for water to boil.


How much water do I need?  Great question!  Let’s look at how to go about deciding what size kettle is right for you.  First let’s take the number of samples that you’ll be cupping.  We’d recommend no more than 10 samples per cupping flight.  Then we’ll multiply the number of samples by the number of cups per sample, let’s say we do the standard 5 cups per sample that SCA recommends (more on that shortly).  That would be 50 cups.  If we use the 5.75oz Duralex glasses that would be roughly 300oz of water needed or almost 2.5 gallons.  THAT IS A LOT OF WATER.  Really it’s not realistic to be able to have that much hot water unless you’re in a cupping lab with 10 gallon hot water boilers on tap.


So let’s work backwards, the number of cups we can set is based on the amount of water that we have.  Let’s say you have a 1L Bonavita Kettle, then you can do about 5 cups at 5.75 ozs each.  The 1.7L kettle would get you to almost 10 cups.  If you’re looking to do a side by side comparison of 3-5 roasts, then this is probably sufficient for you.  If you want to do more than that, we’d recommend this stove-top kettle.


Cups/Sample


Aside from hot water constraints, how should we go about deciding the correct number of cups per sample?  Let’s review the SCA standard and why it exists.  The SCA standard of 5 cups per sample is designed for evaluating green coffee purchases, usually of 40,000lb lots of coffee.  In this case we’re looking for the consistency of the green coffee and/or for any sensory defects.


In the case of comparing different roasts, we don’t have the same need to check the consistency of our sample.  Since we’re roasting small batches at home, we can assume that our sample is relatively homogenous.  Also, if our roast is inconsistent we should be able to tell fairly easily from visually inspecting the beans.  So for the purposes of evaluating our home roasting profiles 1-3 cups per sample should be sufficient. 


Scale


You probably already have a scale, and really any scale that weighs in grams should be fine for our purposes.  If you want to get really precise getting a 1/10th, or 1/100th gram scale can give you extra confidence that your cupping is set up properly.  Here are some options that won’t break the bank:


Escali - this is my go to cheap scale

AWS-LB-1000 - seeing $30-60, this one is accurate to .1g and capacity of 1k

CJ-400 - half gram accuracy, but popular with the home brew/pourover crowd


Grinder


Any burr grinder that can produce a nice consistent auto-drip grind should work for us here.  My go to recommendation is the Baratza Encore.  It gives consistent grinds at an affordable price point, and you can adjust easily to reset for your different brew options.


The correct grind setting for cupping is very close to what you would use for a flat bottom brewer.  When you set up your cupping you should have almost all the grounds fall to the bottom of the cup when you break the crust.  If you have lots of floating grinds, then your grind setting is too coarse.  Not sure if you have the right setting?  Do a cupping of the same coffee but with different grind settings to dial in the sweet spot on your grinder.