The Art of Coffee Cupping: Mastering the Best Cupping Process

Discover the secret to unlocking the true flavors and complexities of coffee with the best coffee cupping process. In this article, we delve into the art and science of cupping, a method that is essential to the industry and revered by coffee connoisseurs worldwide. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned coffee enthusiast, join us as we explore the fundamentals, step-by-step process, and techniques to improve your cupping skills. Get ready to elevate your coffee experience to new heights and taste the essence of every bean.

Cupping: A Crucial Practice in the Coffee Industry

Cupping serves as an important method for analyzing the quality and characteristics of a coffee sample. It allows for the evaluation of overall quality, as well as individual traits such as acidity, body, and specific flavor notes. According to Chris, cupping is not the only way to taste coffee, but it is an efficient method for comparing different coffees side by side.

During a cupping session, various samples are typically included. These samples may come from the same origin but different farms, or they may represent different varieties and processing methods. They could even be from different countries. This diversity is valuable for those interested in buying or selling coffee, as well as those looking to expand their knowledge and experience.

While cupping originally aimed to identify and eliminate defects in coffee samples, the specialty coffee industry has adopted it as a means of describing the flavors of a coffee. Cupping is thought to have originated in the late 1800s, when merchants would taste a variety of coffees to determine which ones to buy and ensure consistency. It was later used in Cup of Excellence competitions, leading to the creation of cupping guidelines by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (now the Specialty Coffee Association) in 1999.

Today, the coffee industry continues to use cuppings for assessing characteristics, making purchasing decisions, and ensuring consistency. It provides a standardized methodology and language that can be universally understood. This facilitates effective communication among supply chain partners, including farmers, exporters, roasters, and baristas. Ultimately, cupping contributes to better quality and value.

However, cupping is not limited to purchasing decisions and quality control. It can also be utilized to determine ideal roast profiles and brewing methods. By dissecting and analyzing taste elements such as sweetness, acidity, and aftertaste, as well as more intricate flavor notes, cupping offers insight into how to best showcase a coffee's qualities in different production and brewing styles.

Getting Started with Coffee Cupping: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before diving into the tutorial, it's important to understand that cupping is an essential part of the quality control process for your cup of coffee. Industry professionals analyze coffee at various stages of the supply chain to ensure its excellence. They are able to deconstruct coffee aromas and flavors to a remarkable degree, creating a deep, rich, and complex beverage.

At its core, cupping is a method for tasting, evaluating, and comparing the flavor, quality, and potential of different coffees. While there are many variations and opinions on cupping, it should be approached as a fun and specific process, whether done at home or by professionals. The key is consistency, rather than adhering to a specific method. By finding a method that works and sticking to it, you can create a better cup of coffee at home.

To begin, set up and organize all necessary equipment. This will ensure a smooth and enjoyable cupping experience. Weigh out the coffee using a ratio of 8.25 grams per 150 ml of water, as suggested by the Specialty Coffee Association. Grind the coffee to a medium-coarse consistency using a burr grinder. Priming the grinder with a small batch of coffee before grinding the actual samples will ensure freshness and remove any residual grounds.

Next, use good water that is well-filtered, but not distilled, as distilled water can affect the coffee's extraction. Consider using a product like Third Wave Water for optimal mineral balance. When cupping with others, take note of any obvious flavor notes that stand out to everyone. However, also make an effort to discover subtle flavors that may be hiding in the background. Take your time to smell and taste the coffee in different ways, evaluating the dry and wet aromas, as well as various taste elements such as body, acidity, depth/complexity, and finish.

To aid in the cupping process, consider using a coffee tasting notes template or a coffee flavor wheel. These tools can help you stay focused and provide a framework for describing the flavors you experience. However, for beginners, it is more important to focus on personal observations rather than relying solely on these tools.

The actual cupping process involves following a specific sequence of steps. Begin by setting up a blind tasting to eliminate bias. Number each coffee and conceal their identities to ensure an unbiased evaluation. Evaluate the dry coffee aromas by smelling the freshly ground coffee and noting your observations. Start brewing by pouring hot water over the coffee grounds and allowing them to brew for four minutes. During this time, a crust will form on the surface of the coffee. Break the crust by swiping a spoon across the surface, releasing the aromas. Remove any remaining foam from the surface of the coffee, and taste the coffee by slurping it and allowing it to cover your entire palate. Take note of the various taste elements and observe any changes as the coffee cools.

Repeat the tasting process for each coffee, rinsing your spoon in warm water between tastings to avoid cross-contamination. Appreciate the nuances of each coffee and compare their flavors, body, mouthfeel, and other characteristics. Cupping is an opportunity to expand your understanding of coffee and its complexities.

Finally, remember that coffee cupping is a subjective experience, and there are no right or wrong answers. Trust your own senses and enjoy the journey of discovering and appreciating the intricacies of different coffees.

The Coffee Cupping Method

Cupping is a fun and relaxed process, but there are certain steps that should be followed in order and in a timely manner to ensure the best results. Take your time and work through the process in order. We've also created a video guide for your reference. You can find it below:

Step #1. Set Up

Place a bowl on the table for each coffee you'll be cupping. Label each bowl with a name that doesn't reveal the actual names or origins of the beans, as this might bias your judgments. Place your spoon(s) in a tall glass nearby. Whether you prefer an electronic or old school pen and paper approach, get your coffee tasting notes station ready.

Step #2. Heat the Water

Fill your kettle up with plenty of water. You'll need 150 mL (.63 cups) of water per coffee. Let the boiled water sit for about 60 seconds before adding it to the coffee. If you have a thermometer, try to keep the water temperature between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step #3. Prepare the Coffee Beans

While the water is boiling, weigh out each type of coffee bean into two portions: a 4-gram "priming" batch and an 8.25-gram sample. Each coffee bean should have two piles.

Step #4. Prime and Grind your Coffee Samples

Take the 4-gram pile of coffee and prime your grinder with it. Set aside those grounds, and then run the 8.25-gram sample through the grinder. The sample should be ground immediately prior to cupping, no more than 15 minutes before adding water. If this is not possible, cover the samples and infuse them with water within 30 minutes after grinding. Place the second batch of ground coffee beans back in its bowl.

Step #5. Smell the Grounds

This step involves the dry aroma of the coffee. Open your mouth and take a gentle, yet firm sniff of each coffee sample, breathing through both your mouth and nose. Get close to fully immerse yourself in the smell. Take notes of any scents you detect, using unconventional words if necessary. Write down any memories or associations the smell may evoke.

Step #6. Add the Hot Water

Add 150 grams (just shy of ⅔ cup) of hot water to the coffee grounds in each bowl. Pour hot water into a tall glass as well.

Step #7. Smell it Again

After adding water to all the grounds, smell each coffee sample again. Get close to the bowl, open your mouth, and take a deep inhale. Make note of any differences in aroma compared to the dry aroma.

Step #8. Break the "Crust" and Smell... Again!

Three to four minutes after adding water, a layer of floating grounds and bubbles called the "crust" will form on top of the bowl. Use two warmed cupping spoons to break the crust by pushing the floating grounds to the sides. Take a deep breath and smell the aroma after breaking the crust. This aroma is the closest indication of the taste of the coffee. Repeat this step and take notes for each sample.

Step #9. Taste the Coffee!

This is the moment of truth! Use a clean spoon to scoop a spoonful of coffee from the center of the bowl. Avoid getting any grounds with it. Sip the coffee, allowing it to reach all parts of your mouth. Hold it for a moment, moving it around, and then either swallow or spit it out. Pay attention to the flavor and body of the coffee. Take detailed notes throughout the cupping process.

Debriefing from Your Cupping!

If you performed the cupping with friends, compare your notes before looking up the official flavor profile of each coffee. Consider hosting a coffee tasting party if the cupping went well. You can also search for local coffee cupping events or online cupping sessions to further your experience. Discussing your individual experiences with a larger group can enhance the debriefing process and provide a well-rounded perspective on each coffee sample.

Green Coffee Grading Protocols

The Grading Green Coffee protocol is based on the SCA Green Arabica Coffee Classification System (GACCS) version Spring 2000 and the SCA Defect Handbook dated April 2, 2004. The Defect Handbook provides definitions of defects for the SCA GACCS. Any coffee imperfection not found in the Defect Handbook is not considered a defect for evaluation purposes.

Grading Principles

- The SCA GACCS establishes the conversion or equivalent of single defects to full defects.

- The number of full defects is calculated based on a 350-gram sample of green coffee.

- Bean imperfections must match the specific characteristics and criteria described in the Defect Handbook to be considered a defect.

- A full defect can be a Category 1 (primary) or a Category 2 (secondary) defect.

- Specialty Grade samples must have zero Category 1 defects and no more than five Category 2 defects.

- A full defect comprises one or more single defects, with each defect detailed in the SCA Defect Handbook.

- Full defects are counted as integers, rounding down instead of up.

- If multiple defects are observed in a coffee bean, only the defect with the greatest impact on cup quality is counted.

- The SCA GACCS defines only two grades of coffee: Specialty Grade and Premium Grade. Other grades are categorized as "Not classified by SCA GACCS."

- If multiple beans constitute a full defect (e.g., 5 broken beans = 1 full defect), the conversion of single defects to full defects must be shown.

- Beans are considered partially or fully sour only if the orange/red color has penetrated the body of the bean, not just the silverskin. Beans are deemed immature if the silverskin is still firmly attached, which can be determined by scratching with a fingernail or rubbing on a rough surface.

Green Grading Form

- The form can be downloaded from the SCA store or accessed for free by SCA members.

- Each grader (primary grader and verification grader) must provide their name, date, and sample identification code on the form.

- The grade of the coffee must be clearly specified on the form, indicating either Specialty Grade or Below Specialty Grade.

- The calculation of individual defects to full defect equivalents must be shown.

- All final results are based on a 350-gram sample.

- The total number of Category 1 and Category 2 defects should be summarized and recorded on the grading form.

- The grade of the sample is determined by evaluating the total number and type of defects, with the result appearing in the GRADE box.

- Color evaluation is required, with Blue-Green, Bluish-Green, and Green being acceptable colors for Specialty Grade.

- The sample must have no foreign odors to qualify as Specialty Grade.

Evaluating Flavor

We use the SCAA Flavor Wheel during cupping sessions. The wheel categorizes flavors into general, umbrella, and specific descriptions. Start from the middle and work outward, focusing on fruity notes first and then narrowing down to specific fruits. This approach helps build vocabulary and train the palate without feeling overwhelmed. Take detailed notes throughout the cupping process and don't hesitate to compare notes with others.

Protocols & Best Practices

A protocol is a specific process recommended by the SCA Standards Committee and Professional Development Department. It is a qualifiable recommended process that the committee has agreed upon and may include individual standards.

Basic Etiquette

- Minimize distractions during cupping.

- Avoid strong odors from perfumes, aftershaves, lotions, body odor, cigarette smoke, etc.

- Don't cup immediately after eating, drinking, or brushing teeth/chewing gum.

- Cup in the morning when your senses are most alert, preferably 2-3 hours after waking up.

- Refrain from talking during cupping to avoid influencing others.

- Be consistent with your cupping technique for reliable results.


8.25g of coffee to 150 mL of water

Grind the coffee slightly coarser than for a paper filter, similar to a Chemex grind.

How to Avoid Common Errors

Cupping may seem daunting at first, but it's a relatively simple process. Along with familiarizing yourself with the protocols and evaluation sheet, keep these tips in mind:

- Avoid discussing flavor and aroma notes during cupping to prevent influencing others' evaluations. Save the discussion for afterward.

- If you regularly taste multiple coffee samples, consider spitting out the cupping samples to prevent excessive caffeine intake and palate alteration.

- Don't get overwhelmed by the methodology and vocabulary of cupping. Start by being consistent and describing samples using your own frame of reference. Over time, you'll become more familiar with the methods and common notes.

- Remember that cupping involves an unfiltered look at the coffee's sensory experience. The absence of filters allows for a comprehensive evaluation of flavors, tones, and mouthfeel.

How Coffee Cupping Is Different Than Tasting

Coffee cupping involves brewing small amounts of coarsely ground coffee in a cup or bowl using hot water, without filters or fancy devices. This method allows for trying a variety of coffees without brewing large quantities, provides a full sensory experience by not holding back flavors, acids, or oils with filters, and allows for observing how a coffee changes over time. Though it may sound strange to not use filters, it's safe and uncommon to accidentally slurp coffee grounds.

How to Improve Your Cupping Skills

The best way to improve your cupping skills is through practice, preferably with others. Cupping with others allows for observation and repetition, which can be as valuable as reading articles or watching instructional videos. Additionally, understanding yourself is crucial. Factors such as fatigue, recent tongue burns, or naturally sensitive palates can affect objectivity. Study sensory lexicons and flavor wheels to enhance your vocabulary and knowledge. Lastly, treat every meal and drink as an opportunity to practice tasting and identifying different flavors. Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek assistance when necessary. With consistency and continuous learning, cupping mastery can be achieved.

Separation of Coffee Products

The practice of separating coffee products is highly regarded by the SCAA in the manufacturing process. It is essential for ensuring the quality control and development of coffee products while preventing any form of product contamination. The separation extends to both roasted and raw (green) coffee products. Additionally, there should be a distinct separation between organic and non-organic coffee products.

Functional Details

To achieve this separation, the following areas should incorporate mechanisms:

  • Warehouse Storage
  • Storage bins
  • Re-work bins
  • Sample trays

In conclusion, the coffee cupping process is not only an industry essential but also a fascinating journey of discovering the true flavors and qualities of coffee. By following the fundamental steps and considering the best practices, one can enhance their cupping skills and fully appreciate the nuances of different coffee varieties. With its own set of protocols and etiquette, cupping sets itself apart from mere tasting, allowing coffee professionals and enthusiasts to delve deeper into the art of evaluating and grading coffee. So, whether you are an aspiring coffee connoisseur or a seasoned industry expert, honing your cupping skills will undoubtedly elevate your coffee experience and open doors to a world of exquisite flavors and aromas.

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