So, you’ve heard of this fancy process called coffee cupping? Maybe you think it’s just for the high-end barista gods who can “taste all things coffee.” Not true!
The truth is, while high-end cupping can be intensely detailed and overwhelming, ANY coffee lover can be a part of this exciting process, too! It allows all coffee fanatics to vent our fanaticism and passion in a way that increases our coffee knowledge and experience. It’s also a fun opportunity to socialize with other coffee aficionados.
Now, with that said, there are still a few rules you’re going to want to stick to.
So, without further ado, here’s our introduction to cupping coffee.
How to Cup Coffee 101: Getting Started
First off, for anyone who’s gotten this far and still isn’t fully sure what coffee cupping is you should know that cupping is an essential part of the quality control process that serves up your cup of joe. Specialists at various stages of the coffee supply chain cup coffee to make sure their product is as good as it should be.
These people are pros and can deconstruct flavors and aromas to an impressively granular level ensuring the specialty coffee you sip every morning is deep, rich, and complex. (1)
At its simplest, cupping is a way to taste, evaluate, and compare the flavor, quality, and potential of a given coffee.
While there are a million variations and opinions on cupping, be aware that this is a fluid process, and when done at home it’s something that should be as fun as it is specific. Professionals may spin it as a scientific process (which isn’t false), but don’t be deterred! We enthusiasts can get in on the action, too and the best part is that there are no real right or wrong answers! Ultimately, though, this will help you learn to brew a better cup of coffee at home.
In this tutorial, we’ve provided the method we prefer to use, but be aware that you may notice slight differences from one cupping tutorial to the next. Don’t worry, that’s okay as consistency is the key rather than using a particular method. Once you select a method (or make minor variations to develop your own), you need to stick to it.
Changing methods means any data collected on coffees you’ve cupped will be less reliable.
You need stability in your method to make sure you are genuinely comparing each coffee.
Cupping Coffee: The Fundamentals
Before we begin the tutorial, let’s go over the major things to consider when cupping coffee, such as the type of beans to use, what’s involved in the cupping coffee brewing method, and how to judge the coffee itself.
Coffee Beans and Roast Types.
Kinds of Beans
You’ll want to use single origin beans, as the goal is to note the differences between coffee beans grown in different places.
You also will want to use lightly roasted coffee beans, if possible. Medium roasts work but are hardly ever recommended. Definitely try to avoid dark roasted beans.
The roasting process competes with the flavor and aroma of the beans themselves.
Also, make sure the beans are freshly roasted! It is important to use beans that are no more than two weeks out from the roast date.
Note: If you’re wondering where to get your beans from, consider getting a freshly roasted sampler pack from a company like Bean Box!
The official coffee cupping ratio (2) suggested by the Specialty Coffee Association is 8.25 grams for every 150 ml of water, and that’s what we’ll be using here. However, as we’ve already mentioned, these amounts do vary from one tutorial to the next, so don’t get too hung up on which one to use. Just remember, once you pick one, stay consistent!
You’re going to want to use a burr grinder to grind the beans to a medium-coarse grind, roughly that used when brewing with a Chemex.
Priming the Grinder
Every time you use your grinder, residual coffee grounds get left in the chamber. Now, with most coffee brewing you don’t have to worry about a few residual grounds sneaking into the current brew.
This is not the case when cupping coffee, though. Even a miniscule amount of a foreign flavor can affect things.
So, how do you avoid this? By priming the grinder!
All you need to do is throw a small batch of the same beans you’re about to grind into the grinder first, grind them up, and then set them aside. At that point, the grinder is lined with fresh coffee bean leftovers, and you’re good to go!
Use Good Water
Another must is to use good water with your coffee. Not distilled, though, or it’ll tamper with your extraction. Just some well-filtered water should do.
If you want to go all-out for an ideal cupping experience, consider getting something like Third Wave Water to make sure the minerals are perfectly balanced or check out our guide to the best water for coffee.
Coffee Tasting Techniques & Terminology (and Some Coffee Tasting Notes)
When cupping coffee with others, there are often some obvious flavor notes that will stand out to most (if not all!) of the people there. But then there are those subtle, difficult-to-notice flavors that are there, hiding in the background.
Make finding them part of your mission!
During the cupping, you’re going to take time smelling and tasting the coffee in several different ways. Here’s a quick list of the things you’re going to do:
- Evaluate the dry aroma
- Evaluate the wet aroma (twice – initially, and after breaking the “crust”)
- Evaluate the taste itself, including:
- Body (is it full, rich?)
- Depth/Complexity (the various flavors themselves)
- Acidity (does it add liveliness or taste sour?)
- Finish (the residual taste afterward)
In addition, a coffee tasting notes template can be very helpful in keeping focus and direction in the moment. Intelligentsia’s cupping form (3) is detailed, downloadable, and available in both Spanish and English! It could be an idea to grab a copy before you begin, as having a good coffee notes chart handy can be invaluable!
Finally, you can try using a coffee flavor wheel (4). It can be a tremendous help when you’re trying to put a name to that elusive taste that’s just on the tip of your tongue!
If you’re new to cupping, however, don’t over complicate things. Simply focus on what you notice rather than thinking about flavor wheels or specialized tasting sheets. You can get to all that later.
How To Cup Coffee
Alright, it’s time to go over how to cup coffee step by step.
Find a good cupping table (often a roundtable works well for a group of people) and then gather your supplies.
And remember, have fun with it!
What You’ll Need
- Two or more freshly roasted, single origin coffees
- Two small bowls for each coffee used
- A good burr grinder
- A scale
- Clean, filtered hot water
- A kettle
- Cupping spoons (one per person)
- A tall glass
- Cupping form (optional, recommended)
- Flavor wheel (optional, recommended)
- A laptop, tablet, or pen and paper for taking notes
- A friend or two to do the cupping with!
The Coffee Cupping Method
While cupping should be fun and relaxed, certain parts of the process do need to be done in order and in a timely manner, or you can compromise the coffee and make the cupping process more difficult. So, take your time and work through the process in order. We’ve also put together a video guide for the process too. Check it out below:
Step #1. Set Up
Place a bowl on the table for each coffee you’ll be cupping. Label each bowl with something other than the actual names or origins of the beans, as you don’t want anything to bias your judgments!
Place your spoon(s) in the tall glass nearby.
Whether you’re going electronic or old school pen and paper, get your coffee tasting notes station ready.
Step #2. Heat the Water
Fill your kettle up with plenty of water. You’re going to want 150 mL (.63 cups) of water per coffee.
Once it’s boiled, let it sit for about 60 seconds before you add it to the coffee.
If you have a thermometer, try to keep it between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step #3. Prepare the Coffee Beans
While the water is boiling, weigh out each kind of coffee bean into two portions, the 4-gram “priming” batch in one bowl and the 8.25-gram sample in the other. When finished you should have two piles for every coffee bean you’re using.
Step #4. Prime and Grind your Coffee Samples
Take each 4-gram pile of coffee and prime your grinder with it. Set aside those grounds and then run the 8.25-gram sample through the machine. (5)
Sample should be ground immediately prior to cupping, no more than 15 minutes before infusion with water. If this is not possible, samples should be covered and infused not more than 30 minutes after grinding.
Place this second batch of ground coffee beans back in its bowl and return the bowl to its labeled spot on the table.
Repeat this process with all of the coffee beans you will be cupping.
Pro Tip: Minimize waste! Set aside the primed coffee grounds to make coffee with later. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can use your notes at the end to figure out which beans will go well together, and make your own coffee blend!
Step #5. Smell the Grounds
Here we get into the first real “cupping” part of the experience.
Open your mouth and take a gentle, yet firm sniff of each coffee sample, breathing through both your mouth and nose. Feel free to close your eyes while you smell to help focus on your olfactory senses! Get nice and close to do this so you can completely immerse yourself in the smell. This is the dry aroma that you’re trying to get a whiff of in this step.
Take notes of anything and everything you notice. Do you detect cinnamon, lavender, orange, or nuts? Feel free to use unconventional words to get the description you need, too. Maybe the smell brings up a memory or reminds you of a place you traveled to long ago. Write it all down!
Step #6. Add the Hot Water
Remember, hot water, not boiling! Once it’s ready, add 150 grams, which is just shy of ⅔ of a cup (6) of water into the coffee grounds.
Fill up your tall glass with hot water while you’re at it, too!
Step #7. Smell it Again
Once you’ve added water to all of the grounds, smell each coffee sample again. Get right over the bowl, open your mouth, and inhale.
Make notes about what you smell! Does it differ from the dry aroma?
Step #8. Break the “Crust” and Smell… Again!
Three to four minutes after the water has been added, the top of the bowl should have developed a nice, thick layer of floating coffee grounds and bubbles, called the “crust.”
Take two of the warmed cupping spoons out of the tall glass and use them to “break the crust,” by pushing the floating grounds out of the middle of the bowl and to the sides.
For the third time, open your mouth and take a deep breath. This smell after the breaking of the crust is the closest introduction you’re going to get to the actual taste of the coffee itself!
Continue to do this with all of the samples, and don’t forget to take notes!
Make sure to rinse the spoon back off in the tall glass of warm water in between each sample so you don’t contaminate them with each other!
After you’ve broken the crust and smelled each one, gently stir the top of each coffee with a clean spoon. This breaks up the top a bit more, allowing more of the grounds to sink to the bottom. Then, scoop the remaining crust away.
Step #9. Taste the Coffee!
Finally, the true taste-testing has arrived!
Take a clean spoon out of the tall glass and use it to scoop a spoonful of coffee out of the center of the bowl. Try to avoid getting any coffee grounds with it!
Then sip the coffee so it hits both the roof of your mouth and your tongue on the way to the back of your mouth. Keep it in your mouth for a moment, moving it around, and then swallow or spit it out.
Take some time to pay attention to the flavor, body, etc.
Take notes, take notes, take notes!
Debriefing from Your Cupping!
If you did this with friends, make sure to compare your cupping notes before you officially look up what each coffee is and what professional tasters have deemed its official “flavor profile.”
If it went well, consider throwing a full blown coffee tasting party!
Another option to consider is to look around in your local area for anyone else who’s had the same idea, or a business that offers tastings. Just Google “coffee cupping near me” or “coffee tasting event near me” and you should be able to find something respectable pretty quickly. Another great way to experience cupping is through a live online cupping session.
Doing a tasting with a larger group of people can really help with debriefing and discussing your own individual experiences. It can also round out your thoughts on each coffee sample as well!
And that’s it! Congratulations! You’ve done your first coffee cupping. Remember, the goal here is to learn more about the aroma and taste of different coffees, to expand your coffee knowledge, and to have fun and socialize in the process!
All right, now it’s time to move on to that coffee roasting course you’ve been wanting to take for so long…
If you liked the article, please leave a comment and consider sharing it so others can set out on their own cupping adventures!
What are the main stages of cupping coffee?
Coffee is all about aromas and flavors. This means that there are four main stages in the process. The first two stages involve smelling the coffee both before and after you add the water, and tasting the coffee once you’ve added the water and allowed it to brew. Once you’ve taken your time to smell and taste the coffee appropriately you then need to understand and describe the smells and flavors.
What is the best tasting coffee?
It is difficult to say that there is a single coffee that is objectively the best tasting coffee in the world. There are many excellent types of coffee including the famous Kona coffee from Hawaii and Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica. As well as these, however, there are many other great coffee beans from all over the world that could all be considered the best tasting coffee, depending on how they were being judged.
How do you make good coffee at home?
Coffee is such a versatile product that there are many different ways to make good coffee at home. These include making coffee using an espresso machine, a French press, an Aeropress, and a Stovetop Moka pot. Each method produces uniquely tasting coffee because each method extracts the soluble materials from the coffee in different ways. To brew good coffee at home using any of these methods, though, you need to brew between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. not over or under extract the coffee, and use freshly ground beans.
What can you add to coffee to make it taste better?
The most common additions to coffee to make it taste better are sugar and milk. Milk, in particular, has become a key part of the modern coffee culture that serves up drinks like Flat Whites, Cappuccinos, and Lattes. Another interesting additive people put in coffee is butter. Butter Coffee doesn’t just taste different, however, it also offers the drinker health benefits too.
- Maddock, N. (2019, July 2). Cupping Coffee – Learn to Cup Like Pro. Retrieved from https://patriotcraftcoffee.com/cupping-coffee-like-a-pro/
- Coffee Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sca.coffee/research/coffee-standards/
- Intelligentsia Coffee. (2017, January 19). Intelligentsia’s New Cupping Form. Retrieved from https://blog.intelligentsiacoffee.com/2014/04/24/intelligentsias-new-cupping-form/
- Counter Culture Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://counterculturecoffee.com/learn/resource-center/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel
- Protocols & Best Practices. (n.d.). Retrieved From https://sca.coffee/research/protocols-best-practices
- (n.d.). Retrieved From https://www.calculateme.com/recipe/150-grams-of-water