Pro Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee Cupping

“The blend is anchored by a decadently syrupy body, lifted by a zesty mandarin orange-like acidity, and finishes cleanly with hints of gingerbread and lemongrass.” — Intelligentsia Fruit Bat Espresso label

Coffee Cupping - Robusta Table

Coffee Cupping – Robusta Table (Photo: Flickr)

Coffee cupping became an industry standard in in the U.S. in the late 19th century, when San Francisco’s Hills Brothers started doing it to evaluate coffees for mass production. Cupping enables coffee professionals to more clearly identify nuances of flavor and aroma, and better explore the different characteristics of a particular bean. Today it’s still mostly practiced by professionals, but regular old joes like us can do it too (pun intended).

How to Prepare

First, coarsely grind your beans and place in a small bowl or glass. Pour almost boiling water over the grinds and let infuse for three to four minutes. Make sure the beans are scooped out before slurping your coffee. (And yes, the word really is slurp.) This is best done with a deep spoon, like a cupping spoon or a soup spoon. And here’s the fun part – slurp that coffee loudly! You want it to spread to the back of your tongue to get the full effect. When executed successfully, this will actually create a vapor, which heightens your sense of taste and smell. Then roll the coffee around your mouth, close your eyes, and let your creative juices flow!

Elements of a Good Cup

While you’ve still got that delicious mouthful, pay attention to the following elements of the coffee.

  • Aroma. Take time to smell the coffee, then write down what comes to mind. There are no right or wrong answers, these are all opinions, after all. Be literal, be sentimental, be anything you like—just jot down whatever feels right. Does it smell earthy? Floral? Medicinal? Woody?
  • Taste. Is it acidic? Bitter? Sour? Sweet? Velvety? Note what else you taste too – and this is the fun part. Is it chocolaty? Does it taste like Christmas? Is it nutty? Ashy? Malty? Does it taste like licorice, or does it remind you of walking through the forest? Take your time, and again, write down whatever comes to mind.
  • Body. Is it a full flavor? Bold? Rich? Thin? Bitter? You’re looking to describe how it literally feels in your mouth.

The more you cup, the more tastes and smells you’ll notice. You’re now on your way to becoming a Master Taster – congratulations, and keep slurping!

Caffeination 101: How to Make a Perfect Coffee

Think there’s no such thing as a bad cup of coffee? Didn’t think so. Most of us have swallowed some truly muddy matter in our day. Whether it’s a matter of ratios or the beans you’re buying, there are a few key things to keep in mind as you learn how to make a perfect coffee:

  1. Know your beans: Don’t spend more than you can on the fanciest stuff, but do experiment before you commit.
  2. Stay fresh: Keeping beans fresh—and grinding them when ready, if you can—is the best way to make sure your grind is as flavorful as possible. (For related tips, check out our post on how to store coffee beans)
  3. Water matters: It takes a few extra seconds to use filtered water instead of tap water, but that can make a real difference in flavor.
  4. A measured approach: Some say two tablespoons per six ounces of coffee, others say less—it depends on you. Try a few different ratios, then stick with the one you like best.
  5. Keep it clean: Cleaning your coffee maker may seem like a hassle, but it’s worth it.

Above all, know that the perfect cup of coffee does exist—and you can make it everyday once you’ve got the routine down.

Savvy Consumer Time: How to Buy a Coffee Machine

Presto 02811 12-Cup Stainless Steel Coffee Maker

Presto 02811 12-Cup Stainless Steel Coffee Maker

The coffee-consuming customer is always right—but that’s even truer when they’ve done their homework. That’s because, as you can imagine, not all coffee machines were created equal. Some are fine, some are terrible, and of course, some are very much worthy of your hard-earned money. How to buy a coffee machine you know you can trust to be the good kind? We’ve rounded up a few ways to know it when you see it.

First and foremost, you’ll have to decide on the type of coffee maker you want. Press pots, vacuum makers, and percolators give you a more hands-on feel. The most popular option, though, is the automatic drip coffee maker.

If an automatic drip is what you’re looking for, some features that can make or break a maker are:

  • Timer: Being able to set your brew time the night before is one of the few surefire ways to get the morning started right.
  • Automatic shutoff: This invaluable feature will help prevent those head-smacking moments at the office, or worse, on an airplane, when you wonder if you turned off the coffee pot…
  • Filter: Some prefer paper, others prefer washable, reusable filters. Both have their pros and cons. Paper can remove bitterness, but it’s less eco-friendly, while gold filters can maintain boldness, but require frequent washing. Just think about what will work best for you as you explore the options.
  • Attached grinder: For fresh coffee, grinding is the way to go—but getting a second contraption out can definitely be a hassle. For those interested in grinding their own beans, an attached grinder is the most efficient way to accomplish the task.
  • Pause and pour: Probably the best invention in coffeemaking history, P&P allows you to pour your coffee before it’s all done without sacrificing the whole pot.
  • Carafe: Glass is as good as ever, but thermal coffeemakers are a solid option for people not planning to drink the whole pot in one go. That’s because experts say an insulated carafe better maintains heat without sacrificing flavor than the heated plates that warm glass carafes do.
  • Output: For most of us, a conventionally sized pot will do just fine, but there are most certainly times when a single cup coffee maker or dual coffee pot maker come in handy.
  • Reservoir accessibility: Presumably you’ll want to pour your water in without spilling it everywhere, but not all reservoir lids are as user-friendly as they should be. Make sure the lid opens enough to enable a spill-free operation.
  • Filters: Speaking of water, a chlorine-reducing water filter can help purify your coffee water, which adds to better flavor.
  • Pods: Individual, pre-measured coffee cups are very popular right now. If you know that’s what you want, go for it. If you refer a little flexibility, consider a dual option that can use products such as Keurig cups—but doesn’t have to.

Of course, the best way to do your homework is to actually check out a few well-reviewed options. We’ve checked out several of the latest and greatest in coffeemakers on the market, and here are a few of our current favorites:

We’ve got way more where that came from in terms of coffeemaker recos, so stay tuned for more of the market’s best coffee products!

Nail the Drink: A Foolproof Recipe for Café Latte

Cafe Latte Foam ArtReady to go the DIY route with your latte? We’re with you. There’s just something about the creamy concoction that inspires us all (or at least those of us who are into espresso spiked with steamed milk).

The good news is that making a latte is pretty easy. Though some people may spend years traveling the globe’s cafes in search of the perfect latte, this easy recipe should do the trick for the rest of us:

Foolproof Recipe for Café Latte

Makes 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup brewed espresso
  • 1 cup milk

Directions:

  1. If you have a milk-steaming machine, follow the directions to steam the milk. If not, heat it on the stove over medium, whisking until hot and foamy.
  2. Pour brewed espresso into mug.
  3. Pour steamed milk in, holding back the foam with a spoon. Then gently spoon the foam on top.

It’s as easy as that to enjoy a café-quality latte. Enjoy!