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What is cupping and how do we do it?

by Dom Majdandzic 31 Dec 2017
Whether you’re casually tasting or professionally evaluating, cupping coffee is the most rewarding coffee experience you can have. Really! Over many years in the coffee industry, my peers and I all agree that the best coffee we have tasted and our best coffee experiences, have been on the cupping table. Cupping coffee is an interesting and important part of the specialty coffee culture, and a lot of you have asked us about it. So we’ve made it into a What Would Dom Do episode with detailed show notes. In this episode we're joined by our friend Ollie at Condesa Co. Lab and together we walk you through how we do it. Below the video we’ve included detailed show notes and photos, so you can sit back and watch the episode without having to take notes. Everything you need to know is written down, so sit back, relax and enjoy the show!


Show notes

The brewing ratio

In this example we use a ratio of 10g of ground coffee to 180g of water.
  • This works out to be 5.6g of coffee to 100g water
  • The aim is to be as close to the standard brewing ratio of 6g of coffee to 100g of water
  • Hence, you could brew 12:200, it all depends on the cup size. Don't get sidetracked by this, just measure approximate volume of cup, subtract about 20ml to allow for coffee and the coffee bloom, then calculate a 5.5 to 6.5g/100g ratio and you're good to go.

Set up

  • 1 cup per coffee is the minimum you will need, to get a broader scope of the quality of a coffee up to 5 cups of that one coffee is needed
  • Spoons for tasting, preferably a soup style spoon
  • Glasses for washing spoons between sips
  • A timer is essential
  • You will also need a few spare cups for clearing the coffee crust and a spit cup per person is also useful if you don’t want to drink all that coffee.
  • And finally you will need to boil enough water for all cups. Boiling water is not great for coffee, so if you have a programmable kettle, 98 degrees C is great. But don't worry about this too much for cupping. People often stress over using boiling water for coffee brewing when in fact for pour over style brewing and cupping it's not so impactful as heat loss is rapidly occurring.

The process

Weigh and grind the coffee

  • Weigh whole beans individually into each cup, then grind the coffee, one cup at a time.
  • For accurate assessment (especially in large cuppings), it’s important to ensure every cup is exactly the same. You need to keep your cups organized and in order, so find a system and stick to it.
  • Use a pour over v60 grind size, commonly medium to coarse.

Assess dry aroma

  • Note down intensity of aroma, delicate nuance in aroma, length of aroma and character.

Add water

  • Start the timer, place the cup with ground coffee on the scale, tare (zero scale), and pour the hot water into the cups to arrive at your desired volume (see above for ratios).

Assess wet aroma

  • An underutilized step is to once again assess aroma between pouring and breaking the crust.
  • At this stage the quality of the roast becomes evident.

Break the crust

  • At 4 mins on the timer use a spoon to break the surface of the coffee and assess aroma once more.
  • At this stage I reassess my aroma scores, bringing some up and some down.
  • It’s a good time to really get intuitive with a coffee and see how the coffee is developing.
  • The best coffees smell great when dry and wet, also taste great when hot, warm and cold.
Note: Always clean your spoon in hot water between cups to avoid cross contamination of flavour.

Remove the coffee crust

  • After the break is done and our aroma scores are adjusted grab a second tasting spoon and using both like tongs gather and remove any remaining coffee grounds, crema or flecks.
  • This will make it nice for tasting.

Start tasting

  • At 10 minutes start tasting. For many this may be a little hot so please be careful, but it is an important step as acids perceive differently at different temperatures and you need data for comparison.
  • The idea of the slurp is to introduce air and coffee together onto the tongue and up into our nose or olfactory. You may have noticed the same is done with wine tasting.
  • My tip for aeration is to stand up straight, look ahead, pucker your lips like a fish, raise the spoon to your mouth and inhale slowly. Start slowly as sucking coffee too fast down your throat is not great. As you become more comfortable try to aerate more vigorously for a greater sensory experience.

My system of tasting is as follows

I do 3 passes over all coffees 1. First pass assess and score and write down any descriptive information for:
  • initial taste, any first flavours of the coffee
  • Aftertaste, the lingering finish of the coffee, can be good can be bad
  • Acidity, the quality and the amount
2. Second pass I assess the coffee for:
  • Body, tactile mouthfeel
  • The balance (or evenness) of the coffee
  • The overall score is my experience of the coffee, if I like it, it gets a higher score.

3. And finally on my 3rd pass I merely write down flavour notes I have missed and calibrate by adjusting scores to reflect my overall experience of each coffee.

The coffees we tasted at our Condessa cupping with Oliver

A. Nicaragua Maracaturra, Natural, Buenos Aires

  • Caramel
  • Molasses
  • Roasty on wet aroma
  • Honey
  • Zesty and complex

B. Ethiopia Alona Mill, Washed, Yirgacheffe Grade 1

  • Long perfume, floral aroma
  • 2 phases in aroma
  • Oatmeal wet aroma
  • Lemon Sherbet

C: Kenya Karimikui, Washed, Kirinyaga

  • Tomato, capsicum, pungent and intense
  • Caramel aroma
  • Tomato wet aroma
  • Quinic fruit, Gin and Tonic
  • Cocao, Cola
  • Phosphoric acidity
  • Orange and tangerine

D: Ethiopia Moplacco, Natural, Guji

  • Simple aroma
  • Strawberries and chocolate
  • Lingering strawberry aroma
  • Depth of palate and body
  • Exceptionally clean and high grade of processing
I hope those of you who are keen to do this, do it, as without a doubt it helps develop sense of taste and is the most intimate coffee experience you can have. Be it cupping on the farm at origin, in a coffee roastery, or in your kitchen at home, there is something very special about tasting coffee from a bowl, with no filter, from a simple spoon. Keep it special Dom

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