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!

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