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Cupping is coffee jargon for cup-testing and is the primary means for quality control in any roasting facility. In short, it’s a simple way to brew coffee that over time has become the standard method for assessing flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of a given coffee. While it’s ubiquitous within the industry cupping coffee at home is a great way to expand your palate, and step into the shoes of coffee producers and buyers the world over.

DOWNLOAD A SIMPLE TASTING NOTES FORM HERE.

...Cupping coffee at home is a great way to expand your palate. On this week’s stream Brian will be leading a cupping. Join us live to follow along!

When we drink coffee at home it is almost always a singular experience, rarely if ever are we going through the trouble to make more than one batch. Cupping provides an efficient opportunity to compare coffees against each other. Its’ simplicity grants ease of access. If you have coffee, water, a cup, and a spoon then you can set up a cupping.

The low barrier to entry and ease with which you can taste multiple coffees at the same time are the reasons that cupping has become the standard method for coffee analysis. There’s no need for filters or an expensive machine, and it eliminates the brew method as a variable when coffee buyers make purchasing decisions. For instance, if a coffee producer prefers to drink their coffee as a French press while a roaster decides to brew it as a Chemex the two are getting very different experiences.

Cupping creates common ground. When roasters, coffee buyers, and growers discuss a given coffee they know they have all brewed it the same way, and when you decide to cup coffees at home you are tasting coffee in the same way as many others in the coffee supply chain.

So, if you’re staying in with family or friends and you all have different coffee preferences try a cupping so that you can compare and contrast different roasts, origins, and flavors. Here’s how:

Tools

Before you get started you will want to get your supplies together. You will need:

  • Coffee, at least 10g of each coffee you want to cup
  • Grinder
  • Cups or cupping bowls, 6-8oz in size
  • Scale
  • Timer, your phone will do in a pinch
  • Spoons for tasting
  • Kettle
  • A few extra small cups or glasses to rinse spoons, collect used coffee grounds, and hold spoons

Protocol

  1. Grind your coffee to about the consistency of coarse sea salt.
  2. Using your scale weigh 10g of coffee into each bowl. At this stage you can small the ground coffee and assess the dry fragrance of the coffee. Is it sweet? Roasty? Nutty? Intense? Mellow?
  3. Bring good quality water to a boil and let the kettle sit for a minute. Our ideal brewing temperature is 195-205 degrees so it it important to let the water cool slightly.
  4. With your cupping bowl on a scale, pour 180g of water over the coffee. Be sure to start your timer!
  5. Gently remove the coffee from the scale and repeat with the rest of your cupping bowls.
  6. While the coffee is brewing you can assess the wet aroma of the coffee. Now that you have added water how has the small changed? Is it more intense or has it mellowed?
  7. At 4 minutes the coffee is ready to break. To do so push the coffee grounds with your spoon from the front of the bowl towards the back, breaking the crust. Get close and smell when you break! The break releases a lot of aromatic compounds all at once, creating a rich experience. Be sure to rinse your spoon between the break of each bowl.
  8. After the break most of the coffee will settle in the bottom of the cup but we need to clear any grounds and foam that remain on the surface. To do so use two spoons to clean the cups before tasting.
  9. Allow the coffee to cool and begin tasting at about 12 minutes. Using your spoon take a little bit of coffee from the bowl and slurp. Be sure to rinse your spoon between each bowl. As the coffee cools you will notice different flavors emerge, as the liquid gets closer to our body temperature we can more easily notice subtleties and nuance.

Tasting

When the coffee is at its hottest the flavor and acidity are less perceptible, so the body of the coffee is typically considered at first blush. Is it heavy and oily? Thin and watery? Balanced?

With the next pass it’s common to consider the acidity of the coffee. Is it mellow with almost no acidity? Is it sharp or bright? When we talk about acidity in coffee we’re referring to the perceived acidity – the pH of coffee will always be the pH of the water used, which is ideally neutral.

Finally, flavor, which is the combination of taste and aroma. As you taste consider what the coffee reminds you of, starting generally and getting specific when you can.

If you’re interested in cupping coffee at home then grab three different coffees and download our companion simplified tasting sheet below!

Have a question or a topic you’d like to see covered? Shoot us an email at [email protected], or tune in to the livestream Wednesdays at 10:30am, Brian will be taking questions in the chat!

Scott Klepper
Scott’s first cafe job served Portland Coffee Roasters. He’s still in coffee eight years later because of the people and community. The free coffee helps.