Cupping is the method professional coffee roasters use to determine whole bean coffee flavor profiles. Use this simple guide to try coffee cupping at home.
Whole bean coffee roasters use a method called cupping to ensure each batch of whole coffee beans has been roasted to meet a pre-determined and desired taste profile.
Similar to wine, different coffees from around the world have different taste characteristics. And also just like wine, how the raw material is treated (in the case of coffee- particularly the roasting process), will also determine its flavor.
Just a few extra seconds in the extreme temperature roasters can alter an entire batch of whole bean coffee to the point of ruin. Roasting therefore is a precise science.
Professional coffee tasters will cup coffee traditionally seated at a round table.
Hot water is poured over a spoon full of roughly ground coffee. It seeps for a few minutes before being lifted to the nose for an aroma test. This is followed by a deep sip, aided by aspiration. The aspiration should make a loud sucking noise. As the air is sucked in it forces the brew to all sections of the mouth including allowing fine droplets to spread up the throat towards the nose.
While the liquid is held in the mouth the cuppers test for the following characteristics:
Cuppers do not generally swallow the coffee, it is deposited into a spittoon.
Between the spitting and the slurping watching a professional cupping can be quite the spectacle!
Cupping at home
To try cupping at home you can either arrange cups and coarse grinds in a traditional method. Or use the following guide to try a simple home-style cupping.
Home-style cupping is a great way to try different coffees over a period of time and learn to differentiate between the various characteristics of different types of roasted whole bean coffee.
You will need:
- French Press coffee plunger;
- 2 types of roasted whole bean coffee, coarsely ground;
- Freshly boiled, preferably bottled, water;
- Notepad and pen.
Choosing the coffee
To start with choose diverse coffees. From different regions of the world and different roasts. One medium roasted and one dark roasted would be good. As you become more proficient at tasting the coffees you can choose similar types because your senses will be more fine-tuned to sensing the fine differences and characteristics.
Prepare one of the coffees according to the plunger directions. For a quick guide follow this link to learn how to prepare french press coffee.
Pour a small amount of prepared coffee into a cup.
Lift the cup up to your nose and hold one hand over your nose inhale the aroma. Close your eyes. What do the fragrance notes remind you of? Coffee has high and low notes that once smelt trigger a reaction in the brain known as ‘taste expectation’.
- Is the aroma earthy, woody, nutty, chocolatey, floral? Make a note of what the coffee smells like.
- Next, if the coffee has cooled suitably you should be able to take a sip of the brew into your mouth. Aspirate at the same time.
- Which means as you take the sip of coffee allow your mouth to draw the coffee up through a big intake of sucked-in air.
- Do not swallow the coffee. Let it swirl in your mouth, let it touch the sides of your tongue and also allow it to just sit still so you can experience and make notes of the following four characteristics.
What are the flavor profiles?
Different roasting methods can bring out different characteristics of the same green bean coffee. Dark roasts draw the natural sugars of the green bean to the surface while medium roasts tend to be more acidic.
- Make a note of the taste characteristics of the coffee.
- Is it smoky, nutty, chocolatey, caramelly, earthy or perhaps spicy?
Tip! Caramelly does not just mean sweetness. Caramelly most often refers to the taste or feeling that is left on your tongue during tasting. It is the feeling of sticky toffee/caramel rather than the taste of caramel.
The body of the coffee is the fullness of the brew.
- Is the coffee a full bodied brew, or medium?
- A good way to work it out is to think of it like other drinks you may have had …sparkling water is lively in the mouth, almost light compared to the denser tap water experience.
Acidity is a tricky category because acidity is commonly perceived as a negative experience. But acidity is never to be confused with incorrectly made coffee that tastes bitter. Acidity is the zing of the coffee and is therefore a prized component of the taste.
- Coffee that lacks any zing is dull and often described as ‘’lifeless”.
- Let the coffee sit on the sides of your tongue. Do you get a tangy feeling? Is it sharp or mild?
The finish is the feeling you have in your mouth immediately after swallowing the coffee.
- Go ahead and can swallow the brew.
- There is usually an aftertaste. But does it linger or vanish quickly?
- Now repeat the whole process with the second type of coffee.
- You may wish to cleanse your palate with a drink of water.
During cupping do not be tempted to sweeten the coffee or add milk as this will completely alter the taste profile. Although after cupping you may wish to add a drop of milk into your cup and taste the result to get a feel for how milk alters and flattens the acidity of freshly brewed coffee (as described above).
You may also find that you will need to take more than one sip to experience and make note of each of the four characteristics. With practice you will however be able to do it all quickly with just one mouthful. Over time follow up by trying different coffees. Compare coffees from similar regions or coffees with similar roasts but from different corners of the world. The possibilities for comparing are endless. And as you become more expert you can also try mixing your own blends.
If you keep a grid list of the characteristics you have discovered you will ultimately work out the types of roasted whole bean coffee that you really like.
This is certainly handy information to have when faced with the confusing task of selecting from so many different types of roasted whole coffee beans at your local coffee emporium.