Cupping coffee

Coffee cupping is an essential evaluation method for coffee roasters and speciality coffee shops but also really good fun to try out at home! 

Coffee cupping is a controlled method that allows you to taste coffees by eliminating variables. This means you can evaluate the actual flavours of the coffee and not the effect that the brew method might have had on the beans you are trying out. 

So, why cup coffees?

The main reason we cup coffees is to evaluate the quality of the beans. When a producer would like to export their coffee they will send samples out to potential buyers who will then evaluate the coffee. This evaluation of quality can have a significant effect on the final price. In a roastery environment, coffee shop or at home we can use cupping to evaluate the roast. It's a great way to determine if the roast is too light, too dark or just right. Finally, and this is the fun part, we can simply use it to decide how much we like (or dislike!) a particular coffee!

Cupping coffee at Dormans in Kenya

Above: Cupping coffee at the Dormans lab in Nairobi, Kenya

How to cup coffee:

It's a fairly easy process and you can read about it in depth on the SCA website.

You will need:

  • Bowls or glasses that hold 200-260ml of water. 
  • A set of scales
  • A coffee grinder
  • Cupping spoons (soup spoons work well)
  • Coffee (best to have a few different types, or roasts for comparison)
  • A timer

1) Weigh out coffee beans at a ratio of 8.25 grams per 150ml of water. So if your cups hold 200ml use 11 grams of coffee.

2) Grind the coffee slightly courser than you would for paper filter brewing (a course sand like texture)

3) Boil kettle to a temperature of around 93-95 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer let the kettle boil and want about 30-60 seconds.

4) Pour the water over the coffee making sure to fully saturate the coffee. Use a scale and fill the cup or bowl with the amount of water based on the correct coffee to water ratio. Start your timer.

5) A crust should form on the top of the coffee. Once your timer reaches 4 minutes break the crust using your spoon. It's best to use three movements of the spoon to do this.

6) Skim off any remaining crust.

7) Once your timer reaches 10 minutes you can evaluate the coffee by 'slurping' from your spoon. It's important to 'slurp' in order to aerate the coffee. Most of our flavour perception is based around smell and 'slurping' the coffee will help to make sure you are able to asses properly.

8) Keep tasting as the coffee cools. Professional cuppers will spit the coffee out to avoid over caffeination!

9) When evaluating coffee professionally we use the SCA cupping form. On this form we evaluate dry and wet fragrance, flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, clean cup, uniformity, defects and the overall enjoyment of the coffee.

If you are new to this process the best option is to just note down differences between the coffees. Think about sweetness, acidity, body and try to identify some flavours that might jump out at you. For example, a coffee from Kenya might be bright, juicy with some berry fruit notes. A coffee from Brazil might have rich chocolate and nut flavours with less acidity.

Cupping coffee is a great way to learn more about what you are tasting and to develop your pallet. We hope this short guide has been helpful and for more detailed information please visit the SCA protocols and best practices page.