Coffee cupping may sound like a complicated technique reserved for coffee professionals, but the truth is, it can easily be done in the comfort of your own home.
This article will explain what coffee cupping is, what it entails, the equipment you will need to carry out the process and offer a step-by-step guide to mastering coffee cupping at home.
- Things you need: a few cups, spoons, a scale, a kettle, filtered water, and 3 to 5 coffee samples.
- Use a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:15, meaning 1 gram of coffee for every 15 ml of water.
- Use freshly boiled water at about 200°F.
- Use medium-fine grind size.
- Prime the coffee grinder before grinding another coffee.
- Steep coffee for 4 minutes, then stir and break the crust.
- Slurp the coffee to aerate it and reach all taste buds.
- Take notes on flavor notes, aroma, body, acidity, and overall impression.
What Is Coffee Cupping?
Coffee cupping, sometimes called cup tasting, is a method employed to assess the quality of a batch of coffee. The process involves brewing small cups of coffee side by side and examining their characteristics and flavors, including sweetness, cleanness, mouthfeel, aftertaste, and acidity.
Each cup of coffee is prepared using the same equipment and methods. For example, through the coffee-to-water ratio, before they are compared against each other.
The technique is used as quality control by many in the industry, including consumers, buyers and roasters. When carried out correctly, it provides a reliable means of determining the taste of several coffees for reasons including deciding which to place on a menu, or which you would like to purchase.
Perhaps you are choosing from a range of specialty coffees. While opting for several based on the description is fine, if you can sample several, you will know which you prefer without guesswork.
Coffee Cupping- Basic Guide For Beginners
Coffee Cupping Ratio
The Specialty Coffee Association recommends a particular coffee-to-water ratio when coffee cupping. Specifically, it suggests 8.25g of coffee for every 150ml of water . While it’s a good idea to follow that recommendation, in practice, you can choose different ratios to carry out the process. We prefer a 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio when cupping coffees.
However, the important thing is to ensure that you employ the same coffee-to-water ratio across each coffee sample you use.
Coffee Cupping Grind Size
When grinding for coffee cupping, the best size to use is the finer end of medium fine. Aim for something around the size of table salt. The size is recommended because it allows for a good extraction of flavor and aroma. It also offers a balance between a fast extraction time and a full extraction of flavor, which is ideal for each coffee’s characteristics.
Prime The Grinder First
Before grinding the coffee, it is important to prime the coffee grinder first. That’s because, even if you don’t notice them, remnants of coffee grounds are left in the chamber after each use.
While that may not affect the quality of your coffee on a day-by-day basis, when cupping coffee, it’s important to minimize the chance of any unwanted residual ground coffee reaching the cup as that can harm the characteristics.
To prime the grinder, grind a small batch of the beans you intend to use first, which will ensure that any residual grounds are identical to the current coffee bean you will be using.
Use Filtered Water
Of course, water is a dominant ingredient in coffee, so you want to ensure that coffee cupping uses the best quality water you can find. Well-filtered soft water will suffice.
How To Cup Coffee At Home Like A Pro
Things You Need:
You will need several pieces of equipment for coffee tasting, but thankfully, most are commonly used in the kitchen. Here’s what you need:
- Kettle – it doesn’t matter what type of kettle you have. For example, it doesn’t need to be a gooseneck kettle or something specifically designed for coffee brewing. A standard electric or stovetop kettle will suffice. It’d be awesome if you have one with variable temperature control so that you can ensure the hot water is consistent for each coffee sample.
- Weighing scale – it doesn’t need to be the most accurate. However, aim for something accurate to .1 of the gram if possible.
- Coffee grinder – a low retention grinder is best. However, if you have a grinder that retains coffee, it may be best to choose a hand grinder if you have one.
- Several spoons – you can opt for a designated coffee cupping spoon, although a soup spoon or a dessert spoon is equally acceptable.
- Cups – there are dedicated cupping bowls available that are like sugar bowls. Heatproof glasses or regular mugs are also completely sufficient. Aim for several cups of around the same size.
- A range of different freshly roasted coffee beans – you won’t need full bags. Indeed, even as little as 20g per sample is enough. Aim for four to five coffee samples if you’re a coffee-cupping beginner. Many coffee subscription services provide coffee samples at an affordable price.
- Cupping form – you can download a cupping form here, taste coffee, and score them like a coffee professional. If it is too complicated, simply get a notebook and write down your thoughts when cupping coffees.
Coffee Cupping Instructions
One of the most important aspects of coffee cupping is ensuring you brew the coffee in a way that means you don’t have much technical input. In other words, the way it is brewed should have minimal human interaction. That way, it will be less likely to affect the taste.
You also need a method that allows for scalability. For example, you don’t want to use a time-consuming method to prove several cups of coffee.
Let’s look at a step-by-step approach to cupping coffee:
- Grind some medium fine coffee for each coffee you intend to sample. Don’t forget to prime the grinder after each time.
- Place a cup onto the scale and add the coffee grounds. Do this for each cup in turn. Aim to measure the coffee amount to within 0.1g. So, if you’re using 12g for each cup, aim for accuracy between 11.9g and 12.1g.
- Put the bags of coffee away from the cupping table, so any tasting notes do not influence you on the packaging.
- Smell the dry grounds and take notes. Get close to appreciate the dry aroma of each fully. What do you notice? What flavors come through? Note your observations.
- Add the same volume of water at 200°Fto each cup and allow them to steep for four minutes.
- While the coffees are steeping, smell them again and take notes of the wet aroma.
- When a crust forms on top of the coffee, stir each three times to break the crust using a clean spoon to allow the grounds to sink to the foot of the cups. Remove any of the remaining crust with two spoons.
- Smell the coffees again and observe the aromas.
- Leave the coffees to sit for around 10 more minutes to let them cool. This part is important because the cooler the coffee becomes, the easier it will be to taste the flavors. Also, it won’t be so hot that it burns your tongue.
- Before tasting the coffee, it’s a good idea to clean up your cups, spoons and other equipment to ensure a tidy area to enjoy the process and have clean spoons on hand.
Tasting Coffee Flavor Notes
To get the best out of this part of the process, it’s important to taste your coffee at various temperatures as it continues to cool. The cooler the coffee becomes, the easier it will be to taste the flavors.
Not only that, but as that happens, each coffee will reveal new flavors and characteristics, giving you a far more rounded appreciation of each. Here are the steps for getting the most out of the tasting.
- Use a spoon to take some of the first coffee and slurp it. Take notes of which flavors come through. Then, you can either swallow the coffee or spit it out. It’s up to you.
- Rinse the spoon and move on to the next coffee. Repeat the process for each. The aim is to compare and contrast the flavors of each.
- Continue tasting multiple coffees one after the other in an identical manner until they reach room temperature. The flavor profiles will change considerably as they cool. Take notes as you progress.
What To Look For When Smelling And Tasting The Coffee
As you progress through the steps, you can do several things to maximize the coffee cupping process. Here are some of the key steps to consider:
- As you smell the dry coffee grounds, take notes of the profiles, including fruity note, chocolate, nuts, and so on. Do the same once the coffee is poured.
- Consider swirling the coffee in your mouth to coat your tongue fully. Look out for aspects including acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and aftertaste.
- Note the coffee’s body. A coffee with a heavy body will be thick and syrupy, while a lighter-bodied coffee is thinner and more watery.
- Note the changes or new flavors that appear as the coffee cools.
Pro tip: Rinse your mouth with water between each coffee to avoid cross-contamination of taste.
Coffee cupping can be a fun and useful way to expand your knowledge of coffee and appreciate which are more suited to your taste preferences. Meanwhile, if you can get hold of several samples before committing to a bigger purchase, it can help inform your buying decision.
To the uninitiated, the process may seem daunting. However, in reality, it’s the opposite because it is necessary to keep the process as simple as possible so that elements including brewing method don’t influence the taste of each coffee.
Hopefully, once you’ve attempted coffee cupping, you will better appreciate the often complex aromas and flavors of specialty coffees. Not only that, but you’ll have a greater understanding of exactly which coffee you prefer.