Cupping is an excellent way of tasting several coffees side-by-side. Professionals use cupping for quality control, choosing a coffee to purchase and for improving their sensory skills. Coffee Rambler believes it's a fun way for learning more about coffee and what exactly it is you like. There's much to learn about yourself in cupping too.
As coffee is tasted side-by-side, it is very important not to add to the variables; everything must be kept the same in the brewing process. This means water temperature, grind size and coffee weight, pouring style and displacement of wet grounds. This way, we can give each coffee a fair tasting.
There are more protocols than this guide provides in a professional setting but we want to taste coffee here to further our own learning. This is a great way to practice your sensory skills and understand coffee more deeply.
Brew time | 4 minutes
Brew Ratio | 1:17-1:19
Water Temp | 95C
Remember these are guidelines, experimentation is encouraged.
Setting up first is important so that pouring of water is efficient. Use any set of cups (cups all of same size and shape to reduce brew variables). Cups that hold 200ml or have measurement markings are best for speed of pouring. If not, use scales to learn how much water the cups hold.
Use a ratio of 1:16 to 1:19. Coffee Rambler uses 9g to 150ml of water or 12g to 200ml if there are more people. That's 1:16.67. SCA standards recommend 1:18.18
Set up extra empty cups for removal of surface grounds and cups of hot water for rinsing spoons.
Grind coffee & boil water
Grind the different coffees with a burr grinder. When changing coffee, throw in a few beans of the next one to clear out the burrs of the previous coffee. This is to reduce contamination of flavours. Once each coffee of equal weight has been ground, cover to limit exposure to oxygen. Coffee is said to lose 60% of its aromas after 15 minutes of grinding. Boil your low mineral content water.
Grind fairly coarse as the grinds will be fairly immersed.
Pour and wait
Once the coffee is shortly off the boil it is time to pour. The technique is important here for speed and repetition.
Pour the water quickly and slightly off centre to create a vortex. This soaks all grounds evenly, meaning you don't have to chase the coffee and introduce a variable i.e. agitation.
Once reaching the desired level in the cup, quickly move the next cup and repeat. Then wait for 4 minutes.
Break and scoop
At the 4 minute mark return to the first cup you poured water into. Insert the spoon a cm under the surface of the coffee closest to you and push back the length of the cup 3 times. Lean in to smell the aroma. This is called the break.
Rinse the spoon and repeat for each coffee cup, rinsing each time to not cross coffee flavours.
Now return to the first cup and scoop off the bubbly crema and grounds floating at the top. Use two spoons starting at the furthest point from you, the spoons' bowls touching. Move out, skimming the surface going out and back in to meet again at the end of the cup closest to you. Empty the contents into the spare cup. Rinse the spoons and move on.
Now it's time to taste. Dip the edge of the spoon's bowl slightly under the water (like with soup) to avoid stirring or moving the grounds. Sip it off the spoon, taking in air to help oxygenate the coffee and bring out the flavours. Swirl the coffee around your mouth and think about the basic tastes and flavours.
Rinse the spoon and move to the next one, then repeat. Notice how a coffee's flavour changes over time. They may become more sour, more flavoursome or more unpleasant. Exceptional coffees just keep on improving as they cool, leaving beautiful aftertastes.
You will be finished around the 20 minute mark or sooner.
To remember your experience you may want to make notes about the coffees' acidity, bitterness, sweetness, aftertaste, pleasant or unpleasant flavours. If with others, it helps to talk about what you're tasting and to see if you can effectively communicate this. Here you learn more about your own skills.
Cupping cup with measurements - makes things easier but they're not a necessity.
All cups are filled with the same weight of coffee and water. They are left to rest for 4 minutes.
Here we cupped a selection of Rwandan coffees. Notice the setup.
The break. The surface is broken with three strokes from top to bottom. This is a good time to smell a coffee's aroma.
Gently dip the spoon into the coffee without disturbing the grounds. This way the coffee is tasted without the interference of solid granules. Notice the dirty rinsing cup in the top right.