Cupping Coffee - Coffee Tasting Cups

Interpreting the differences between coffees is best done by cupping each of your coffees. This is simply a tasting process. It is said that coffee has up to eight hundred different flavor characteristics, compared to around four hundred in red wine. The combinations of growing region and the roasting process add to the taste dimensions.

The main characteristics are:

  • Fragrance - The smell of the ground coffee
  • Aroma - The smell of the brewed coffee
  • Body - The impression of weight and texture of the coffee in your mouth
  • Mellow - A balanced flavor and aroma
  • Rich - Not just body and aroma, but also a satisfying buttery sense
  • Acidity - A lively sensation or verve, as contrasted with a flat sensation

You can add floral, tart, sweet, sour, mild, woody, wild and many other characteristics that experts can distinguish to detail the differences between coffees. Mastering these differences will take you time and experience, and perhaps the guidance of a coffee connoisseur.

Roasting tends to reduce the impact of regional growing characteristics through the heating process, so mild roasts are often preferable to search for a larger number of the characteristics derived from the origins of the coffee.

To cup the coffee, coarsely grind about a quarter ounce of roasted beans and place them in your tasting cup. Test the fragrance. Add around 5 ounces of water at just below boiling point and brew for a few minutes. Using a spoon to break the cover of grounds, test the aroma. Slurp some of the coffee from the spoon, so that air and liquid meet all over your tongue to enhance your ability to sense the taste. The front of your tongue is more sensitive to specific flavors, while the back picks up acidity and bitterness better. Any stale tastes will likely be noticed first by the sides of your tongue. Savour and roll the coffee in your mouth then spit it out.

You may have a line up of coffees in a number of cups. You should carefully record your impressions as you go down your line of tasting cups, trying to make sure each cup is tasted at about the same temperature and brewing time for consistency. If more than one person is joining in the tasting, it is useful to compare notes as you go, and discuss the different characteristics each person is noticing so that others can look for them as well.

With your notes from your cupping exercise you are in a stronger position to compare characteristics and decide on the characteristics that you like. You can then explore what blends could bring out the complementary strengths and offset the weaknesses that you have found in each coffee.