Mastering the Art of Coffee Evaluation: Unveiling the Secrets Behind the Best Aroma

Are you tired of settling for mediocre coffee? Do you long for that invigorating burst of aroma and flavor to awaken your senses each morning? Look no further, because we're about to unveil the secret behind the best coffee aroma evaluation. In this article, we'll take you on a journey through the fascinating world of coffee grading, preparation, and sensory evaluation. Get ready to discover the tools, steps, and techniques that will elevate your coffee experience to a whole new level. Brace yourself for a tantalizing exploration of the big picture behind the perfect cup of joe.

Coffee Grading System

The grading system for specialty roasted coffee is based on a cupping evaluation that uses a scoring system from 0 to 100. It is generally expected that specialty coffee will score a minimum of 80 points, and scoring less than 8 in any category indicates negative traits, while scoring less than 7.5 in any category will disqualify a coffee. The grading process follows the 4 steps outlined by SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America):

Step #1 - Fragrance/Aroma

  • This step evaluates the coffee's fragrance and aroma through a wet/dry evaluation. The evaluation is done within 15 minutes of grinding the coffee and again when breaking the crust.

Step #2 - Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, and Balance

  • This step evaluates the flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, and balance of the coffee. The evaluation is done after the cup has cooled to 160F/71C or after 8-10 minutes.

Step #3 - Sweetness, Uniformity, and Cleanliness

  • This step evaluates the sweetness, uniformity, and cleanliness of the coffee. The evaluation is done as the cup reaches room temperature below 100F/37C.

Step #4 - Scoring

  • After all the samples have been evaluated, the scores are tallied up to determine the total score.

The total score determines the quality classification of the coffee:

  • 90-100 = Outstanding - Specialty
  • 85-99.99 = Excellent - Specialty
  • 80-84.99 = Very Good - Specialty
  • < 80.0 = Below Specialty Quality - Not Specialty

A detailed version of the cupping protocol can be found at

The Espresso lab Roastery likes listening to the music during their QC procedures.The Espresso lab Roastery enjoys listening to music during their quality control procedures.

The Big Picture

Cupping coffee is a method of evaluating coffee quality using taste and olfactory senses. It follows a consistent methodology that allows professionals and enthusiasts to communicate about coffee nuance accurately.

There are three key maxims to keep in mind when evaluating coffee: Cup, Compare, and Compose.

First, make sure to cup coffee regularly to hone your tasting skills. Even people with varying physiological differences can become competent coffee tasters with practice.

Second, compare the coffee you're evaluating with other coffees. Evaluating in a comparative context helps you identify specific aromas, tastes, and characteristics that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Third, compose your notes and reflections and keep records of your evaluations. Writing down your impressions forces you to articulate your senses into words and scores. Going back to these notes will help you remember and gain a deeper understanding of the coffees.


How Many Cups

Depending on the size and purpose of the cupping, it is recommended to prepare 2-3 cups per coffee sample. Have cups of clean hot water available for rinsing between each cup, as well as clean cloths, paper towels, and spit cups.


To follow the standard cupping protocol, weigh out 11.5g of roasted whole bean coffee sample in each cupping cup. Adjust the amount slightly based on the type of roaster used. It is recommended to use a refractometer such as VST or Atago and aim for an extraction yield of 18%-22%. Using 200g cupping cups is preferred.


Grind the coffee no more than 15 minutes before starting the cupping. Set up the cupping table, weigh the coffees, and then begin grinding. Clean the grinder between each different type of coffee to avoid contamination.

SCAA recommends grinding the coffee slightly coarser than typically used for paper filter drip brewing. 70% to 75% of the coffee particles should pass through a U.S. Standard size 20 mesh sieve.

Dry Aroma

While the guests do a dry sensory analysis of the coffee samples and make notes, begin preparing the water. Use freshly drawn, odor-free water with a pH between 7.0 and 7.4 and a buffer level no higher than 70 ppm. Heat the water to approximately 200F/93C.

Pour & Time

Each cupping glass should hold 200g of water. Start your stopwatch and begin pouring until the lip of the glass or use a scale for accuracy. Wait for 4 minutes before breaking the crust.

Cupping of arrival samples at Nordic Approachh.Cupping of arrival samples at Nordic Approachh.

After the 4 minutes is up, take a cupping spoon and gently break the crust of grounds that is floating on the top of each cup. Position your nose close to the spoon entry point and smell the aroma as it escapes the crust. Do this for each sample, rinsing the spoon in hot water between each one. Clean the cup by skimming any remaining grounds off the surface.

Wait for the coffee to cool for a few minutes before tasting. During this time, you can briefly discuss the producer or origin with the guests without giving away specific information about the cup. Maintain good hygiene by cleaning the spoon between each sample. Note that there may be adjustments to cupping rules due to COVID-19. Learn more at

Now You Can Talk

Record your data, score the coffee, and once everyone is done, have a good discussion! Approach cupping with humility and openness for learning. It is a time for making important decisions, reflecting, discussing, and evaluating. Whether you're with a calibrated team or a mixed crowd, everyone's opinions and perspectives should be valued and appreciated.

Morten and Kaya from Nordic approach cupping together and sharing thoughts about the samples.Morten and Kaya from Nordic approach cupping together and sharing thoughts about the samples.

The Tools

The essential tools used by professionals for cupping include:

  • Cupping bowl or glass that holds between 7 and 9 fl ounces (207ml to 266ml)
  • Cupping spoon
  • Scale to measure 8.25g of coffee per cup
  • Grinder capable of consistent grind (burr grinder)
  • Color metering device (Agtron or comparable)
  • Timer
  • Hot water, forms, and pencils

These tools are used to ensure uniformity and control all variables except for the coffee itself. However, you can also cup coffee at home without all these tools. Simply focus on roasting consistently and aiming for a fairly light roast to preserve the coffee's characteristics.

The Steps


The steps outlined below are suitable for semi-casual, home cupping, and serve most non-professional purposes. For professional cupping, refer to the SCA standards.

Roast your samples to a light roast, with a roast cycle between 8-12 minutes. Aim for an Agtron color of 63.0 on the "Gourmet" scale.

Use glasses or cups that are all the same size and weigh out whole beans into each one according to the measurements mentioned above. Prepare at least 2 cups for each coffee sample.

Begin heating the water to 200℉.

Grind the coffee to a medium grind size. Rinse the grinder by passing several beans of the same coffee through it, then discard them. This avoids any potential contamination.

Once all the coffee is ground, you can start assessing your coffees.

The Cupping

In this overview, we will provide basic steps for evaluating coffees. More detailed information can be found in other posts.

With clean hands, sniff each bowl of ground coffee, inhaling deeply. This is called the Dry Fragrance. Note any differences you detect and try to describe them.

Start a timer for 4 minutes and pour the heated water into each cup, ensuring all the coffee grounds are wet. Use another cup of hot water for rinsing the spoon during tasting. Leave the brewing coffees undisturbed during the 4 minutes.

After 4 minutes, break the crust of grounds on the top of each cup using a spoon. Position your nose close to the spoon entry point and take in the coffee aroma as it escapes the crust. Rinse the spoon in hot water between samples. This is the coffee Aroma.

After breaking the crusts, skim any remaining grounds from the top of each sample and discard them. Let the coffee cool for a few minutes before tasting.

When the coffee reaches a safe temperature, take a cupping spoon and dip it into one cup at a time, avoiding disturbing the grounds below. Vigorously slurp the coffee into your mouth, spraying it throughout your mouth to experience different tastes and aromas. Swirl the coffee in your mouth and then spit it out into an empty cup.

Move from one sample to the next, rinsing the spoon in between. Note the differences in characteristics between the coffees.

Compose your initial tasting notes. It is recommended to taste the coffee again when it has cooled down for further evaluation.

Evaluating the Taste

Use the Official SCA Cupping Form as a guide for evaluating the taste of the coffees. Consider the balance of basic tastes (sweet, bitter, sour) and specific aroma and flavor notes. Look for nuances and use descriptive terms to characterize the flavor. Take note of the aftertaste or finish, which should be pleasing and sweet-toned.

The overall rating of the coffee is a subjective assessment based on the sensory profile in the categories of aroma, acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste. Ratings range from 50 to 100 and are interpreted as follows:

  • 95-100: Exceptional
  • 90-94: Very Good to Outstanding
  • 85-89: Good
  • 80-84: Fair
  • Below 80: Below Specialty Quality

Using a cupping form helps you develop skills in detecting different attributes and building a vocabulary to describe the coffee drinking experience.

Sensory Evaluation of Coffee — Cupping Part I

There are various categories for evaluating coffee quality, and in this section, we focus on the sensory evaluation of brewed coffee known as "cupping." Our goal is to make this practice approachable for anyone and encourage it as a valuable learning tool.

My Cupping Routine

Cupping Room

Ensure that the cupping space is clean and free from distractions. You can have mood music playing during the setup and introduction, but once the cupping starts, silence is preferable.


Gather cupping table, cupping spoons, trays, cupping numbers, scale, grinder, kettles, cupping cups, timer, and cloths.


Invite colleagues, guests, buyers, and friends to participate in the cupping. Notify cuppers when you're about to grind the coffee. You can create a cupping session on an online platform like Cropster and invite guests. Provide SCAA cupping sheets or blank paper and pens for note-taking and scoring.

Cupping session with friends and colleagues.Cupping session with friends and colleagues.


  • Use coffee samples that have been roasted within 24 hours of cupping.
  • Follow the Golden Cup Standards with a ratio of 11.5g of coffee per 200ml of water.

Arrange your coffee table setup from least acidic to most acidic, and further sub-categorize by washed, honey, and natural processing methods. To maintain objectivity, conduct blind cuppings by associating numbers with each coffee and hiding the labels until the end of the cupping.

For purchasing and quality control purposes, have the remainder of the roast and greens readily available in a tray in case clients want to inspect them.


The aroma of the coffee when first smelled is an important factor. It introduces various nuances of acidity, taste, and flavor. Pay attention to sweet and bitter tones, fruit, floral, and herbal notes in the aroma.


Acidity is a crucial element that brings vibrancy and liveliness to coffee. It should not be sour, excessively drying, or astringent. Instead, it is a sweetly tart characteristic that enhances the coffee's range and dimension. Acidity can be crisp, rich, tart yet sweet, or vibrant in the background. Darker roasts tend to have less overt acidity.


Body and mouthfeel describe the weight and texture of the coffee. It can be light and delicate, heavy and resonant, or thin and disappointing. In terms of texture, it can be silky, plush, syrupy, lean, or thin.

Flavor and Aftertaste

Flavor and aftertaste encompass everything apart from aroma, acidity, and body. Evaluate the balance of sweet, bitter, and sour tastes, as well as specific flavor notes. This includes floral, sweetness nuances, aromatic wood, and different types of fruit. The flavor can also be described as balanced, deep, delicate, and more. Aftertaste refers to the lingering sensations after swallowing the coffee, and it should ideally be sweet-toned rather than excessively bitter or drying.

Overall Coffee Rating

The overall rating of a coffee ranges from 50 to 100 and reflects the reviewer's subjective assessment of its sensory profile. It combines the scores for aroma, acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste. The interpretations of overall ratings are as follows:

90-94Very Good to Outstanding

Using a cupping form helps develop the ability to detect different attributes and build a descriptive vocabulary for describing the coffee experience.

Understanding Coffee Evaluations

When assessing coffee, professionals, including Coffee Review, use the standard descriptive categories of aroma, acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste. Some evaluation systems may have more categories, but we prefer the traditional set of five. It's important to note that just because a characteristic like sweetness isn't listed as a separate category, it doesn't mean it's not considered. Sweetness is evaluated in relation to acidity, flavor, and aftertaste. A sweet-toned acidity or aftertaste is more highly valued than a dry or sour one.

We rate each category on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), taking into account both the intensity and the pleasing quality. The overall ratings, ranging from 50 to 100, provide a summary of the reviewed coffees.

The degree of roast significantly impacts the flavor of the coffee. We measure the roast level of each coffee using a spectrophotometer called an Agtron, which provides quantitative descriptive terms. If you want to learn more about roast color and Agtron numbers, you can visit this link.

In conclusion, evaluating coffee aroma is a crucial part of the sensory experience that determines the overall quality of the brew. From understanding the coffee grading system to the step-by-step process of cupping, it is clear that assessing coffee aroma requires both skill and knowledge. With the right tools and a dedicated routine, one can delve into the complexities of acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste to assign an overall coffee rating. So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee, take a moment to appreciate the intricacies of its aroma, allowing it to transport you to a world of rich and aromatic delights.

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