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The mystery of cupping

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  • The mystery of cupping

    Loving my coffee, but I have hit a wall. I now roast at home with a coretto setup, I have a cafe so barista techniques are pretty good. Having bought lotsa green beans from CS, I would love to know how to improve my cupping...whats the best way to cup? How do you come out with "butter" "berries" etc when tasting?

    I have just purchased a vacuum brewer to clarify the coffee a little more...but past that point Im stuck

    Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    Re: The mystery of cupping

    Hi Jatzntan, it takes time to develop your palate, I started attending cupping sessions run by one of the specialty roasters in my area and learnt a lot from those sessions. Also roasting my own beans has helped me in distinguishing the different characteristics.
    I can now distinguish acidity, body, fruit, citrus, chocolate/cocoa, caramel, nut, earthyness, wood etc, Ive just scratched the surface and have a long way to go but thats all part of the joy of being a coffeesnob.
    I usually do a long black and taste it as it cools, or a plunger as a means of testing and appraising my roasts.
    If you want to taste berries/fruit roast some Harar to just on second crack.
    I just roasted some Indian and it smells like nuts when I ran it through the grinder.


    • #3
      Re: The mystery of cupping

      Hi Jatzntan,

      Cupping is a term that is banded about a lot, but we have to be clear about what it means. Technically, cupping is a quality control process whereby coffee is steeped in hot water, slurped with a spoon as it cools and evaluated against specific criteria in order to provide feedback for purchasing or roasting decisions. Consistency is an important thing that you look for in such an exercise, so you really need to have at least five bowl of each coffee on the table. That said, simply following the cupping brewing and slupring process with only one bowl of coffee at whatever roast level is a fun and easy way to get going, and this is certainly what many people mean by cupping in Australia. Brewing coffee with a syphon is not cupping; it is simply drinking coffee ... and theres nothing wrong with that!

      Basically, the way to learn how to cup and to describe coffees is to simply do as much of it as you can. Its difficult to learn if you only cup one thing at a time; you will learn much more quickly if you cup comparatively, starting by comparing coffees that are very different. Its also a good idea to cup in a group of people to share notes, but dont say anything until after all is said and done. To eliminate preconceptions, the coffee should be cupped blind, meaning that the identity of each coffee should only be revealed to the cuppers at the end of the session. To start off with, for example, you might put a stereotypical indonesian coffee like a kuda mas against a stereotypical kenyan coffee. The indonesian coffee will be higher in body and earthier, whilst the kenyan coffee will be much brighter (more acidic). You can then move to progressively harder combinations. Learning to identify defects requires some exposure to them ... and, frankly, if you just want to drink coffee at home, ignorance might be bliss!

      As for descriptors, I have to say that Im a bit of a cynic. I have only ever tasted a handful of coffees for which descriptors of more than a few words long make sense and none of those coffees were coffees that were commonly or readily available in the retail coffee market in Australia. Most coffees are best described in terms of attributes like body, acidity, bitterness and sweetness, followed by one or two words that actually nail the dominant characteristics. I kind of feel that describing coffees has turned into a nuclear arms race in the aim has become to come up with the longest and most obscure list of flavour descriptors. This is a very dangerous trend for the coffee industry; the idea that coffee is not all a commodity that tastes the same is a new one for many consumers and these people will naturally be disappointed when they pay a premium for coffee that fails to live up to overly fanciful descriptions. The skill in describing coffee is in actually coming up with a description that matches what people experience when they drink the coffee, which is a fiendishly difficult task, seeing as people seem to experience the taste of the same compounds differently. Again, the only way to do it is through experience.

      The thing to do is to roast up a bunch of different greens to a fairly light roast, let them sit for half a day, then have at it. There are a million how tos on cupping around the internet, so I wont go over that here. The important thing is that the coffee should be roasted quite light; much lighter than you would roast for espresso ... off the top of my head, and not being a roaster, I would guess that you should never go further than half way between first and second crack and all of the coffee should be roasted to the same level. The taste will be different than what you will get through your espresso machine; much more acidity is required in the roast, for example. You can cup to examine the difference of many different variables; for example, you might want to cup a bunch of different roasts of the same origin. You should also cup coffee roasted by other people, ideally at about the same level. You can cup espresso roasts, but you will be looking for different things than for a cupping roast. As a general rule, if the coffee is more bitter than it is sweet, that coffee or roast isnt great.

      Hope that helps,



      • #4
        Re: The mystery of cupping

        Cheers Luca !


        • #5
          Re: The mystery of cupping

          Luca, arent you over in the US at the moment?! Great dedication to the CS community champ.


          • #6
            Re: The mystery of cupping

            Fantastic responses! I appreciate the time taken to write them. I will try what you have said. I have about 6 different greens from all over the place at home, so tasting coffees next to each other will be quite an eye opener.

            Thanks again!