Most coffee drinkers do not spend time focused on every intimate detail of the flavor profile of their coffee. They will rely on their favorite roaster, coffee shop or barista to help them to pick out a coffee that will suit their tastes. On the other side of the espresso machine, baristas and roasters spend a lot of time learning how to distinguish what a particular coffee’s flavor profile consists of. This is typically done during an event called “cupping.” Cupping is the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting.
In this article you will learn:
- The supplies needed for a cupping
- Properly measuring your coffee
- Why cooling the coffee is important
- Proper coffee tasting techniques
To train baristas or to offer something unique to interested customers, hold a cupping once every month (or more if there is enough interest). You can do this during business hours in a back room or at one of the larger round coffee tables in the front room after the shop closes.
Prepare the Basic Supplies
To start, there are a few supplies that you will need in order to properly hold the cupping. Here is a list of the basic supplies you will need:
To make things interesting or as supplemental training materials, it is a good idea to make sure everyone has several sheets of paper and a pen for notes. It is also a good idea to have several vials of essential oils of the aromas that you will be talking about in the coffee beans. Once you have your supplies all gathered and appropriate amounts put together, then you can begin hosting the cupping event. Be sure to use the following steps when holding the cupping event, though the last three steps do not need to be in any particular order.
Select and Label the Coffee Beans
Fill up seven to nine bean trays with coffee varietals. Select a wide variety of beans, making sure to include beans from light to heavy body. Various tastes and numerous strong aromas to give your guests the widest range of experience. Label each tray using the index cards with the name of the coffee and the country in which it was grown.
Be Consistent With Measurements
Consistency is of extreme importance when measuring the beans, the grounds and the water you are going to be using for the cupping. Because the aroma, taste and body are going to be evaluated, you need to eliminate all other variables in the formula as much as possible.
Use Measuring Utensils Liberally
When pouring the beans into the initial bean tray, use a small plastic scoop, to fill each tray all the way. When selecting the beans from each tray to grind, use a one-cup measuring cup to evenly measure the amount of beans you will be grinding for each cup. Pour the beans into the cupping bowls (two bowls for each bean varietal) and carry them over to the grinder.
Grind the Beans Coarsely
You can use either the coffee or espresso grinder to grind the beans, but the espresso grinder will produce thicker grounds. This will produce a stronger flavor when combined directly with the hot water, which is more desirable for palettes that are new to the art of discerning flavors in coffee.
Fill Each Bowl with Equal Amounts of Water
Too much water will dilute the flavor and too little will make the coffee unbearably strong. Fill the cupping bowl up with water to the bottom of the lip on each bowl. This will ensure that every pour is even without the use of additional tools.
Allow the Coffee to Cool
Before everyone begins tasting the coffee, make sure that the water has been able to cool to around 100°F so guests can easily sip the coffee without burning their lips or tongue in the process.
Heat dulls the taste buds.
Hot coffee masks many tastes and aromas due to its heat and the drinker’s desire to swallow it quickly rather than letting it linger. Your participants need to utilize all of their senses, in particular taste and smell, if they are going to have a successful cupping, so make sure the coffee is not too hot.
Good coffee tastes best at room temperature.
Truly great coffee, much like good beer, is best when served at room temperature. This is when temperature does not interfere with taste so all of the flavors will be more easily recognized by your guests.
Use the Proper Coffee Tasting Techniques
Now the coffee is ready for tasting, but what to do with the giant spoon and big cups in front of you? There are a few actions that need to be taken to maximize each spoonful to produce the best taste and aroma. Below are the three most important things to do with every coffee taste that is taken. Now the coffee is ready for tasting, but what to do with the giant spoon and big cups in front of you? There are a few actions that need to be taken to maximize each spoonful to produce the best taste and aroma. Below are the three most important things to do with every coffee taste that is taken. Now the coffee is ready for tasting, but what to do with the giant spoon and big cups in front of you? There are a few actions that need to be taken to maximize each spoonful to produce the best taste and aroma. Below are the three most important things to do with every coffee taste that is taken.
Unlike a wine tasting event, where there are complimentary foods and palette cleansers, food should never be served at a coffee cupping event. Because all coffee has a bitter flavor, it is important that the tongue becomes accustomed to the bitterness so the more subtle flavors can be detected. Eating food in between the different coffees will cleanse the mouth of the subtle flavors as well as the bitter overtone.
Dip the spoon deeply.
Submerge the spoon fully into one of the coffee bowls and fill it from half to completely full to make certain that you get a mouthful of coffee to taste.
It is not rude to slurp.
In fact, it is preferable to slurp the coffee into one’s mouth from the spoon like one might slurp hot soup. The slurping gets air mixed with the coffee and brings out the tastes and aromas in the mouth.
Spit, do not swallow.
If one swallowed all of the coffee used at a cupping, he or she may not sleep for a week. Each person is provided a spittoon to spit the coffee into after a few seconds of it being in the taster’s mouth. A word of advice: spit gently, lest those mouthfuls of coffee will splash right back up into the taster’s face. Now that you have educated your tasters on the wide variety of aspects that make up the flavor of a cup of coffee, review with them each coffee variety. Have them write the name, country, body, taste and aroma of each coffee on a sheet of paper so that they can take it with them. Also, challenge them to try different types of coffee at your shop that they did not try during the cupping and see what flavors they can isolate on their own to encourage their growth in the field of coffee tasting.