Posted on October 28, 2015
If you work within the coffee industry, cupping is perhaps the most useful skill you can have. "Cupping" essentially boils down to tasting coffee to determine its quality, and while the practice is subjective and comes down to personal preference, most coffee experts stick to a tried-and-true methodology that is not unlike wine tasting. They take their coffee very seriously, and there are often very specific things they look for in terms of flavor and aroma.
Of course, you don't have to be an expert to cup your coffee. Anybody who loves gourmet coffee from specialty coffee roasters has their own preferences and standards. If you want to become a true coffee connoisseur, here is what you should know about the basics of cupping.
Starting with the Beans
Coffee experts begin cupping their coffee before it is even brewed. The process begins with the beans themselves, often before they're even roasted. Specialty coffee roasters inspect all of their beans closely, and they make sure it is of the highest quality before roasting. After coffee beans are roasted, they will range in color from light to dark brown. Lightly roasted beans will have a lighter color and will make a light-bodied and more acidic cup of coffee, while darker roasts will taste less acidic and more bittersweet.
Fragrance and Aroma
Fragrance and aroma are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things when it comes to cupping. The fragrance of a coffee refers to its scent after it is ground but before it is brewed, while its aroma refers to how it smells when it is wet. Light roasts should have a sweeter fragrance, while darker roasts should have a burnt sugar or toasted nut character.
Testing the aroma of coffee involves adding hot water (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit) to a small amount of the coffee grounds and allowing it to steep for three or four minutes. This allows for the extraction of all of the coffee's flavor compounds. Once the coffee has steeped, break the top layer of the coffee grounds with a spoon and sniff it closely.
Tasting the Coffee
After determining the fragrance and aroma of your coffee, it's finally time to taste it. This is a little different from simply drinking a cup of coffee; it's more akin to wine tasting. Most coffee experts aspirate a small amount of coffee over their tongue to determine its flavor. This part is obviously more subjective since everyone has their own preferences when it comes to coffee, but you should pay attention to the flavor, acidity and aftertaste. You should also look for more subtle flavor notes as well. This will come with time, but you should eventually be able to distinguish different single source coffees from one another before long.
The practice of cupping coffee may sound complicated to those who have never put a lot of thought into their coffee, but it really is a great way to determine the quality of coffee. Even if you don't plan to go into the coffee industry, cupping will at the very least help you decide what kind of coffee you truly enjoy.
Start experiencing all the flavors, aromas and fragrances in each cup by selecting from the single origin coffees and gourmet coffee blends from Fortune’s Gourmet Coffee. Our specialty coffee roasters are dedicated to selecting the best coffees in the world, properly roasting and delivering them straight to your door. Shop Fortune’s selection today and taste for yourself the difference in every cup.