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Exploring the Art of Coffee Cupping: An Introductory Guide

Updated: Jun 29

Art of Coffee Cupping
Art of Coffee Cupping

This article is a basic introduction. There are no right or wrong ways of cupping, but this should help the novice who wishes to enjoy the delights of origin coffee.


We will introduce you to cupping, explain why and how we cup, and discuss some commonly used terms and evaluation methods.


People in the trade will have you believe that coffee cupping is a science, an exact art requiring a lot of expertise. This can be true to some extent, but this should not stop the coffee enthusiast from enjoying it. It can be very simple (and enjoyable), and there are no right or wrong answers. Your palate may pick up hints of a taste that the most seasoned cupper would not, as each person can find different things in the cup.


What Is Cupping?

Cupping is a method of evaluating the different characteristics of a particular coffee bean. It allows us to compare and contrast coffees and better understand each coffee.


You must use the same method each time as this can affect the results, so if cupping is being used as a comparison/evaluation tool, then uniformity is key.


Why Cup?

We cup coffee to understand their basic tastes. This can help us understand where different coffees could be slotted into blends for this brewing method and all other methods. It also makes us look at coffee in its basic form and appreciate some of its finer points. It’s a fantastic evaluation tool for something that changes from farm to farm, region to region, country to country, and crop to crop.



Art of Coffee Cupping
Art of Coffee Cupping

How to cup?

There are no right or wrong ways of cupping coffee. We will explain the textbook method. What we suggest is that you always use that method. Any deviations will mean you lose many tools to compare like with like.


Art of Coffee Cupping
Art of Coffee Cupping

Preparation

We prefer to roast all my samples to a medium roast. This allows the delicacies or the faults to stand out and not get complicated by roast-type tastes. Once again, this is our personal choice, not a rule.


For the professional atmosphere, having a sample of green raw coffee, roasted coffee, and some ground coffee is a nice idea. Although this is not essential, it allows you to judge the quality of the grade, smell the dry grounds, and see the quality of the greens.


The method we use here uses the infusion type of brewing. Grind up your coffee (two days of rest is a minimum, in our opinion) to a medium-type grind. Place the grounds in a small bowl. Pour over nearly boiling water (195-205 °F, 95 °C). Allow the grinds to infuse for around 3-4 minutes.


Art of Coffee Cupping
Art of Coffee Cupping

A point often missed by some cupping sessions is that breaking the crust of the bowl will give you a great deal of insight into what is about to come. Take time to smell the coffee at this stage, as it will give hints of what to look out for during the tasting.


Once the crust has been broken, stir the bowl gently, allowing some grinds to sink to the bottom. Any left on top of the bowl should be scooped away.


Once the surface of the coffee infusion is clear of grinds, the slurping may commence. Don’t be afraid to sound silly while doing this: everyone does. When we are cupping, we try to make the silliest noise without getting spotted by others for making it. It’s a great game and all should play along with it.


Take a deep spoon (a soup spoon is a good substitute for the traditional cupping spoon) and fill it with your infusion. Bring the spoon up to your mouth, and inhale (well, suck powerfully anyway!), drawing the coffee to the roof of the mouth to tickle the tongue and then fall into the back of the mouth. This creates a coffee vapor to stimulate that part of your sense of taste, which is your sense of smell.


Then, roll the coffee around the mouth and look for tastes you can compare it to.

It’s easy, and don’t be afraid to say what you can taste. We have found things in coffee, others haven’t, and things everyone noticed. There are no wrongs or rights, just opinions. Now, again is a choice, but we prefer to spit out the coffee. It seems a waste, but after 12-18 coffees, even a die-hard caffeine addict can start to feel a little funny from the effects. Also, it’s hard work on the taste buds if you’re swallowing it all, and you’re being unfair to the later coffees.


You should drink the coffee, not slurp it! It’s always a good idea to take notes while doing all this.


Art of Coffee Cupping
Art of Coffee Cupping

So, what are you looking for?

The fragrance of dry grounds


Does it smell fresh? Does it smell stale? Over roasted? Under-roasted?

This is a great place to find out.


Examples:


  • Sweet

  • Spicy

  • Roasty

  • Nutty

  • Malty

  • Carbony

  • Stale

  • Fresh


The fragrance of wet grounds


Aroma: what’s there? The water mixing with the coffee and oxygen will produce a more intense smell than the dry grounds.


Examples:

  • Smooth

  • Fresh

  • Lively

  • Creamy

  • Sharp


Acidity / Liveliness

Acidity in a coffee can be a welcome attribute, or it can be a most unwelcome one. In one form, it can give liveliness and freshness to the flavor. In another form, it can appear as sourness. Coffee without acidity is lifeless. Coffee with too much or the wrong acidity can be unpleasant or sour. Note if the acidity is unpleasant, pleasant, fresh, sour, or whatever.


Examples

  • Nippy

  • Neutral

  • Soft

  • Tangy

  • Tart

  • Rough

  • Mild

  • Delicate

  • Smooth

  • Winey


Body

The body is a description of the fullness and richness of the feel of the coffee in your mouth.


Examples

  • Full

  • Rich

  • Fat

  • Thin


Flavor / Depth


What’s there? This is the fun part. Is there chocolate? Fruit?


Examples

  • Fruity

  • Winey

  • Buttery

  • Caramel

  • Chocolate

  • Blackcurrant

  • Woody

  • Grassy

  • Honey

  • Licorice

  • Malty

  • Nutty

  • Spicy (and what kind of spice?)


Finish

What does the coffee leave in your mouth when you have finished? The aftertaste is a very important part of the cup.


Examples

  • Sweet

  • Sour

  • Bitter

  • Sharp

  • Smooth

  • Full

  • Silky

  • Burnt

  • Dry


Comments

How would you summarise the coffee? Is there anything you want to say about it that you haven’t been able to express in any of the specific sections of the cupping form?


Conclusion

In conclusion, we hope that this guide is helpful. It is just a set of guidelines with no hard and fast rules. Everyone, from the beginner to the expert, can greatly benefit from the cupping experience.


How To Cup (Taste) Coffee At Home Video





 


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