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Ask An Expert: What Is Coffee Cupping?

How do we ensure our coffee is fresh and flavorful every time? It all comes down to quality and consistency — and part of our quality control process is cupping! From bean to brew, every batch of coffee goes through a cupping process to make sure it meets specialty standards.

Here’s what our roasting partner, Colin Seeley, shared about the process.

Colin Seeley, Ironside Coffee Roaster

Thanks for helping us learn more about the cupping process, Colin! Let’s start with the basics: What is coffee cupping?
No problem! Coffee cupping is a fast and uniform method of tasting many coffees so that people all along the supply chain can easily determine the quality and flavor profile of a coffee. There’s a standard cupping method that has been set by the Specialty Coffee Association to ensure everyone is speaking the same language.

Why is it important to cup coffee?
Coffee is cupped several times along its journey from crop to cup. It’s a way for buyers to set a price for a certain coffee and it’s an important tool for roasters to ensure consistency from batch to batch.

How do you cup coffee?
Cupping is essentially making a coffee “tea”. Boiling water is poured directly over coffee grounds in a special cup and steeped for four minutes. A crust will form that is scraped off with a “cupping spoon”. Once the coffee cools, it is slurped loudly and salubriously from the spoon. Notes are taken on the various flavors, aromas, etc.

Has your experience with cupping changed over the years?
Cupping as a tool for roasters is a bit different than cupping to make purchasing decisions. Over the years, I’ve developed a slightly faster method to assess batch quality in a production setting.

Do you have a favorite Our Gorongosa coffee blend?
I’d have to say that Speak for the Trees has become my favorite. I don’t always like darker roasts, but this one is full-bodied, syrupy smooth, and has a perfect blend of sweet and smoky notes. It’s everything you wish a delicious-smelling cigar would actually taste like.

SCAA Coffee Flavor Wheel

Tasting Coffee

When tasting coffee, there are several things to consider:

  • Flavor: What flavors come to mind when you smell and taste the coffee? Take a peek at the SCA Flavor Wheel (above) to give you an idea of the range of flavors you might experience.
  • Acidity: How bright or crisp is the coffee? Does it taste juicy and tart, or is it more mellow and muted?
  • Sweetness: Do you detect any sweet notes like fruit, honey, or caramel?
  • Body: What is its mouthfeel? Does it feel light like skim milk or heavy like cream?
  • Finish: What is the aftertaste? How long does it last?

Coffee cupping breaking the crust

How To Cup Coffee At Home

Ready to put your coffee cupping to the test? Follow these steps to practice cupping from the comfort of your own home (using your favorite Our Gorongosa coffee blend(s), of course!):

You will need:

  • A kettle
  • Clean, filtered water
  • 5oz cup(s) of a similar size and weight. You’ll need one cup per coffee sample (we recommend labeling each cup so you can keep track).
  • Spoon(s) — again, one per sample. If you don’t have a cupping spoon, a soup spoon will work just fine!
  • A timer
  • A coffee grinder — it’s always best to use freshly-ground coffee
  • Coffee. We recommend our Gorongosa Trio so you can taste the differences between our light, medium, and dark roasts.
  • A pen and paper to take notes

Step 1: Smell Dry Coffee

  1. Measure 8.25g (around 1 tbsp) of each coffee sample.
  2. Grind each sample using a medium-coarse setting.
  3. Pour coffee grounds into their designated cup(s).
  4. Take a deep whiff of each sample. What aromas do you pick up? Expert Tip: Breathe through both nose and mouth while you smell to deliver more of the coffee’s aroma to your palate.

Step 2: Smell Wet Coffee

  1. Heat water to 200°F. Pour 150 ml into each sample cup.
  2. Set your time for four minutes. You’ll start to notice a crust forming on the surface of each cup.
  3. Break the crust by using your spoon to push it to the sides of the cup.
  4. Put your nose near the surface of the coffee, and inhale. What aromas do you pick up this time? Are they the same or different from the dry sample?

Step 3: Sip Brewed Coffee

  1. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the crust along with any grounds, oil, or foam that has risen to the surface.
  3. Take a spoonful of each sample and slurp — quickly and loudly. This will help aerate the coffee so you experience its full flavor and aroma.
  4. Keep the coffee in your mouth for a moment, moving it around to coat your palate. What do you notice about its body and flavor?
  5. Swallow or spit out the coffee. Is there anything you notice about its aftertaste?

We’d love to hear about your experience cupping coffee! Head over to our Instagram page to share with us.

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