Cupping Or The Art Of Coffee Tasting

Cupping Or The Art Of Coffee Tasting

I cup, you cup, he cup. Okay, according to the Bescherelle it does not really combine. However, you are sure to have heard that in the mouth of a good coffee buddy. But what is a cupping?

Under this sexy anglicism hiding is actually the main method of tasting coffees. Responding to a precise and detailed protocol by the Specialty Coffee Association, an association that promotes specialty coffee in the world, cupping is the essential way for green coffee buyers and roasters to evaluate with the utmost precision the quality and aromatic profile of a coffee. Each coffee has its own identity which is the result of a multitude of factors: variety, region, altitude, climate, nature of the soil, fermentation method, roasting profile ect. Composed of several stages, the cupping allows to discover the personality of a coffee, both its olfactory properties that taste. But if the cupping seems to be something reserved for the pros, it is not the case: this practice is accessible to all and is even a great way to work your palate and discover the great aromatic diversity that exists between coffees.

Cupping is an art, or almost. To discover and appreciate a coffee at its fair value, it is necessary to respect some basic rules. If you wish to make a cupping at home, you will need: a bowl of cupping or a glass of about 20cl, a cupping spoon (4-5ml) or a round spoon, d a scale, a mill and a chronometer. 
Let's go :

  • First, roughly mold 12g of coffee in a cupping bowl or a glass
  • Smell the freshly ground coffee: this stage is called the "  dry nose  ". It helps to identify the aromas that emerge from coffee and must be carried out immediately because of the volatility of the aromas. You can lightly tap the cup if you wish. What do you feel? Floral, herbaceous or rather spicy notes? Note everything, there is no wrong answer. It can even be memories, like a Proust madeleine.
  • Pour 94 degrees water over the entire grind and up to the edge of the bowl or glass. A crust will then form on the surface. This is normal, and forget your aversion to the word "crust", we will use it more than once in this article.
  • Let infuse 4 minutes .
  • Once 4 minutes have elapsed, break the crust with the back of the spoon by "pushing" it three times towards the bottom of the bowl or glass and place your nose just above to inspire the gases released by the grind.
  • Part of the crust will then fall to the bottom of the bowl, remove the moss and excess grind remained on the surface and smell again: this is the stage of the "  wet nose  ". Which flavors do you identify? The same as during the dry stage or new ones?
  • Now wait 6 to 8 minutes for the coffee to cool down and "open": too hot, you will not be able to detect its aromatic profile again (and you could burn your tongue with the name!)
  • After this moment of patience, the tasting can then start: fill your coffee spoon and suck it strongly in order to diffuse aromatic molecules throughout the palate and taste buds. To avoid an excess of caffeine, do not hesitate to spit in a cup, or so on the ground but we advise you, you could slip.
  • Make at least 3 passes to "cupper" at different temperatures (a few minutes of patience between each pass is enough). Cafes often reveal new facets of their personality when they warm up and some may even be very nice when they are almost cold. You can now compare your feelings with dry nose, wet nose and tasting. Do not worry if you do not always find a match, there are not always. Coffee remains a living product that can sometimes be full of surprises.

We just saw the methodology pure and hard to achieve a cupping but all that does not tell us how to really meet the coffee that comes to us, discover it, describe it, analyze it briefly, know it. Coffee is a rich and complex product offering over 800 different aromatic compounds. Here is a short guide to learn how to describe your coffee during a cupping.

The aromas
The aromas are the perfumes identified with dry nose and wet nose. They are derived from terms of everyday life such as fruits, flowers, food and so on. The Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Research also updated in 2016 a rich tool of qualifiers to describe the aromas and flavors of coffee: the Coffee Tasters Flavor Wheel , called in French the "wheel of flavors", iconic resource and recognized in the world of coffee. 

Cupping Or The Art Of Coffee Tasting

The flavours
Once the aromas are determined, one can begin to taste and identify the flavors present in the coffee. We also speak of "flavor", namely the synergy between the aromas and flavors of coffee. The idea here is to measure the levels of acidity , bitterness and sweetness and to associate them with concrete terms. It is also the harmonious combination of these three flavors that contributes to obtaining a balanced cup . This balance depends on the types of coffee (regions, nature of the soil ...) but also methods of treatment (washed, nature, honey) and roasting selected. The acidityis often associated with the term "bright" and contributes to the vitality, sweetness and fresh fruit notes of a coffee. 

One can for example find notes of citrus, apple or red fruits referring to a positive acidity which gives all its character to the coffee in question, without it taking precedence over the rest and turns to the sour. Bitterness is also positive when it refers to notes of cocoa or grapefruit, for example. As for the sweetness , it is for example characteristic of so-called natural coffees (but not that), offering notes of sweet and matured fruits typical of this method of fermentation. Again, the wheel of flavors is useful to put in words what you detect in a cup.

The body
The body refers to the tactile sensation in the mouth, the texture that the coffee leaves on the palate and on the tongue. Is it a rather creamy, viscous, light, syrupy texture? Are you facing a juicy coffee, with a texture close to that of a tea? Or, on the contrary, in front of a silky coffee, with a velvety and generous body? For example, a Sumatra coffee will usually offer a thick texture, a certain consistency when an Ethiopian coffee will rather leave a feeling of lightness in the mouth. 

The final
This term refers to the persistence of coffee in the mouth, the after taste that remains on the palate and tongue once the coffee swallowed (or spit). Indeed, the coffee remains on the taste buds with the oils it contains and depending on the coffee, the final can be powerful as delicate, lasting many minutes as disappear almost instantly.

The Specialty Coffee Association has developed an evaluation grid to determine if a specialty coffee can be said. Evaluated first visually according to different criteria, importers of green coffees and Q graders then evaluate the taste qualities of coffees through cupping.

Cupping Or The Art Of Coffee Tasting

The rating system is as follows:
  • 90-100: Outstanding - Specialty
  • 85-89.99: Excellent - Specialty
  • 80-84.99: Very good - Specialty
  • <80.0: Below Specialty Quality - Not Specialty

At Belleville, for example, we only buy coffee rated at least 84/100. That being said, if ratings remain quality indicators, do not be overly concerned about them. Because what really matters is the pleasure you will feel when you sip your mug of good sock juice. 

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