A mini guide to coffee cupping

This weekend I attended a coffee cupping event hosted by some of the best in the industry. I was surrounded by individuals who have been in the coffee industry for a minimum of 15 years. I felt honored to be surrounded by such experts as I am a novice in this industry. Even though this wasn’t my first coffee cupping event, each event that I attend allows me to improve my palate and knowledge of coffee.

What is coffee cupping?

Coffee cupping, also known as coffee tasting, “catas de cafes” is the method of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. A standard coffee cupping procedure involves sniffing the coffee and then loudly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue. The coffee taster attempts to measure aspects of the coffee's taste, specifically the acidity, aroma, body, and aftertaste. Since coffee beans determine the flavors from the region where they were grown, coffee tasters may attempt to identify the coffee's origin.

How to cup?

There is no right or wrong way to cup coffee but here is one of the standard methods that you can do at home.

First, you must have an abundant supply of fresh, filtered water. The best ground coffee can lose all the charm if made with ‘stale’ or tainted water. Water often absorbs smell from the air or may contain sulfur. Sometimes mildew in water pipes can alter the taste of water. It’s best to not use distilled water as it contains an excessive amount of softening salts.

Keep an array of small glasses, small bowls, measuring spoons handy on a tray. And of course, you’ll need coffee.

Keep boiled water ready. You have to grind the coffee beans in a burr grinder. Different settings of the mixer are needed for different trials of coffee. Surprisingly, grinds make all the difference to the taste of the coffee.

Then soak any kind of coffee for a few minutes. You can filter the liquid or scoop it out with a little spoon to smell it. Take a deep breath to let the smell sink in. Then taste the liquid. Don’t drink it!! Roll it in your mouth then spit it out in a cup.

So after this cupping process, what is your impression of the coffee?

Is the coffee acidic?

Acid – a dry taste. Prominent in Mexican coffee. Milder in beans from Sumatra. Here age and roast make a big difference.

What about the aroma?

Aroma – the steam or vapor gives out the smell, which can be fruity or herbal. Kona coffee, for instance, has a floral smell.

And the body?

Body – how ‘thin or thick’ is the brew? American roasted coffee is light when compared to the dark French coffee.

And finally the aftertaste. What did the coffee leave in your mouth when you finished?

Was it bitter or smooth? You can sense this taste in the back of your tongue.

This is just a small set of guidelines in the art of cupping coffee. From the novice to the expert everyone can have a learning and an enriching experience from coffee cupping. I sure have. So go ahead and experiment with as many tastes, countries and smells as you like and soon you will become a self-styled coffee expert, at least that is my goal.