20 Feb 2014

Tutorial: Cupping

Cupping, a method used in the coffee industry to taste and classify coffee, to determine the quality and thus worth. As you can imagine it can be difficult to, within an entire (international) industry, to put a certain classification on taste. However, there are many different industries in which this is necessary, basically in the entire food and beverage industry.
In order to step away from personal opinions it is important to create a protocol. How do we taste and how do we classify quality and price?

For coffee, the most commonly used method is the cupping method set up by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). Where the coffee is roasted light to medium, coarsely ground and brewed without a filter with a coffee to water ratio of 8,25 grams per 150mL, brewing for 3 to 4 minutes.
The coffee is then scored on fragrance, aroma, acidity, body, flavour, sweetness, clean cup, balance and aftertaste. Finally, an overall rating is given.You can read more on the cupping protocol and the meaning of the variables following the link above. To download a good cupping score form, take a look at the Cup of Excellence website.

So how do you set up your own cupping? We will skip to the actual cupping, for coffee you can either roast your own, or use light to medium pre roasted coffee.

What will you need?
- precision scale
- clean and odourless water (I use filtered water)
- kettle
- grinder
- cupping bowls (make sure you have at least two bowls per coffee you want to taste, SCAA says 5)
- bowls of water to rinse
- cupping spoons
- timer
- optional: spitting bowl
- coffee (duh)

step 1

weigh out your coffee. I use a simple 25cc Duralex glass as a cupping bowl, and so I weigh out 13 grams of coffee per cup.

step 2

bring water to boil. You do not want to use scorching hot water, so while the water boils and cools off again for about 1 minute, grind your coffee. If you have a kettle where you can pre set the wanted temperature, even better. Usually around 93 degrees Celsius is used.

step 3
Grind your coffee, officially just a little coarser than paper filter grind. Which is somewhere between caster sugar and course sea salt. I prefer a grind just a little coarser than that, namely a grind that could be used for a metal filter. (Unsure about your grind sizes in general, read my blog on different grind sizes for different methods).

step 5
Put your ground coffee in your cupping bowls. As I said, make sure you have multiple bowls per coffee you want to try, to test uniformity. Especially if you are testing a new green coffee. If you buy pre roasted coffee, and you trust the roasting company has tested the uniformity for you, you can be a little more lenient on this rule.

step 6
Smell your ground coffee, while still dry. This can give an indication of taste. Although you will see that it is very hard to make a good guess if the coffee is very new to you.

step 7
Pour the coffee, not too fast and not to slow. As the water hits the first cupping bowl, start your timer. Also fill a rinsing bowl with warm water. The rinsing bowl is used to rinse your spoons after tasting.

step 8
Smell your coffee wet, has the aroma changed?

step 9 
You will see a crust developing on top of your cupping bowls. After 4 minutes, break the crusts. Important; run your cupping spoon through the surface of the cupping bowl, only disturbing the crust, and not the ground coffee on the bottom. Make sure you stir the same in every single cup. And make sure you smell again! As you break the crust a volcano of aroma will rise up. Make sure your nostrils sniff this up by hanging just above the coffee. A last note: a crust can only be broken once.

step 10
There are still a few pieces of ground coffee floating on the top. This is not something you want in your
mouth, soooo spoon these out.

step 11
If the coffee as cooled enough, a burnt tong gets you nowhere, taste! Tasting can only be done slurpingly off of a spoon. The spoon ensures
you do not disturb the coffee extracts by picking up the cup. The slurping puts oxygen into your coffee, bringing out the flavours and sprays the coffee over your entire pallet. Plus, really, especially cupping with other coffee peeps, it gives you credit. Like you know what you are talking about. So start practising...

After every spoonful, rinse your spoon before you go to your next coffee bowl. Make sure you go back and forth, so it becomes easier to compare. Also, go back again after the coffee has cooled, because the flavour will most probably have changed completely. Does it still taste balanced? Then you've got a good cup on your hands. Enjoy!

It's the sound of cupping...

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