Maybe you’ve heard of the term “cupping coffee.”
Roasters write about their flavor discoveries during the cupping process. You maybe have seen shops hosting weekly cuppings. It seems like everyone is doing it.
Well, what is it?
The easiest answer is that it is a tool. Cupping is a process where people come together to taste coffee before it is sold.
More than that, it is an efficient process in which tasting takes place. Notes are jotted down, discussions are ample, and decisions are made. All cupping decisions go back to the roaster. Even further than that, cupping notes can lead to roasting an entirely different coffee.
Here’s a brief on how cupping works.
A table is set up with little cups and saucers around the perimeter. There is a cup of spoons in the center of the table, ready for all the participants of the cupping.
First – Get the Dry Aroma
Each of the cups is filled with ground coffee. The cupping participants then smell each of the cups and take notes. This is called the dry aroma. Many things can be determined just from smelling the freshly ground coffee.
If one smells dried apricots and chocolate in an Ethiopian coffee, that can be a sign that the beans were roasted in the right ballpark. If instead one smells surface cleaner and toast, that can be a sign that something went wrong during the roasting period.
Notes are taken for further inspection.
Second – Get the Wet Aroma
After the dry aroma is analyzed, water is poured onto the grounds. Once the grounds are brewed for a short time (details are discussed later in the article), the cupping participants break the crust of coffee that formed on the surface.
This wet slurry of coffee is holding in much of the aroma. When the crust is broken by stirring with a spoon, aroma explosion happens. All the participants now smell each of the coffees and take notes. Keep in mind that the wet aroma is just as important as the dry aroma. Good coffee should stretch beyond the realm of flavor. Smell and taste go together. In this step, cuppers dissect each of the sensory imprints of a particular coffee.
Instead of just brewing and tasting, cupping separates coffee into parts to be analyzed and perfected. Aroma is a very important part.
Third – Taste and Slurp
Once the water cools to around 71 degrees Celsius, tasting takes place. Each of the cuppers takes a spoonful of coffee and slurps it. Like, really slurps it. It can get loud in a cupping room.
Slurping is done to intensify the flavor of the coffee. When almost breathing in coffee in a slurping fashion, the aroma is taken into the nose, the pores in the cheeks are saturated with coffee, and initial flavors that hit the mouth become abundantly clear.
The coffee is tasted to point out unpleasant notes, and to observe palatable ones. Cuppers try to find notes like aluminum, detergent, or dirt. These bad, abstract notes can tell the roaster something that is going on, or they can point out coffee defects to green coffee buyers.
As the brew cools, different notes become apparent. Once the temperature falls below 21 degrees Celsius, the observation stops.
So that’s the gist of cupping. We do it, and every other roaster does it. We find it educating and necessary.
More in depth cupping instruction:
Time between roast and cupping – let the coffee rest after roast for at least 10 hours before cupping. Cup within 24 hours.
Ratio of water to coffee – 18:1
We use 150-200 ml of water
Grind – medium-coarse grind. Don’t wait more than 15 minutes to infuse with water
Water – Water should be poured at around 93 degrees Celsius. Brew time before wet aroma is 3-5 minutes.
The coffee is measured for balance, acidity, clarity, mouthfeel, aroma, aftertaste, sweetness…and more. We try to analyze every aspect of the coffee before shipping it out to you all.
Try cupping with your friends! While it won’t be a “true” after roast cupping, you can learn a ton.
Thanks everyone. Happy cupping!
The Hook Coffee Team