Cupping: The Art of Coffee Tasting

Much like wine enthusiasts tour vineyards and taste varieties of wine, coffee aficionados engage in the process of coffee cupping to examine the full spectrum of a roast’s flavor profile. Coffee cupping can be used to ensure consistency across one blend or to compare different blends.

At H.C. Valentine, we use coffee cupping to determine the key flavors and undertones of the coffee when blending our specialty roasts. Specialty coffee lovers can cup their brews at home using the same method as professional coffee roasters.

You will need cupping bowls (or uniformly shaped mugs with a wide mouth), cupping spoon, freshly roasted H.C. Valentine coffee beans, coffee grinder, kettle, scale and a timer.

To begin, measure out the coffee beans into individual cupping bowls or mugs. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends 8.25 grams of beans per 150 mL of water. Once your beans are measured, grind the coffee to be slightly coarser than the typical particle size for auto drip brewing.

Your first evaluation of the coffee is its dry fragrance. Shake the grounds to fully release the aroma. Bring the beans close to your nose, inhale deeply and take note of what you both like and dislike for each blend. You can either score each brew or take mental note of your preferences.

After the dry test, fill each cupping bowl to the rim with hot water to begin the evaluation of the wet aroma. As you begin pouring, be sure to start a timer that will determine the appropriate time for each step in the cupping process. At the two-minute mark, it is time for the first assessment of the wet aroma. Notice any differences from the dry aromas or new flavors that have emerged.

As the coffee brews, a crust will form at the top of each sample. When your timer reaches four minutes, take your cupping spoon and break that crust to begin extracting the cup. The proper technique is to circulate your spoon three times and allow the foam to run down the back of the spoon while gently sniffing.

Once the coffee has reached a drinkable temperature, use a spoon to remove the remaining crust, foam and any remaining grounds. The full taste of the coffee will emerge as it cools, as it allows flavors to fully develop.

For the final step in the brewing process, take your cupping spoon, scoop some of the brew and slurp it into your mouth, allowing the beverage to cover as much of your palate as possible. As you taste, take the flavor, acidity, body and after taste of each sample into account. Notice any particular flavors, the weight of the coffee, as well as any lingering tastes. A balanced acidity will encourage salivation.

The key to cupping coffee is in the consistency of the process. Controlling the variables allows you to examine the brew for its unique attributes. Whether you are choosing between a single-origin varietal and a variety of blends, or fully examining the flavors in your favorite blend, coffee cupping opens the senses to taste all elements of your brew.