Different from just sitting down to enjoy a cup of coffee at your favorite coffeehouse, coffee cupping is serious business.
Coffee cupping is the process used to define the notes in a particular coffee. Several coffees can be cupped, or tasted, at the same time. Often coffee cupping involves comparing coffees from within a single region, but it can also involve several regions or countries.
This is no easy task. Distinguishing flavors in a cup when you are being impacted by many aromas and fragrances all at once can be overwhelming.
Meeting the standards
The Specialty Coffee Association of America has set specific standards for cupping coffee. Why? So that coffee quality can be determined in a standard way throughout the world. To eliminate variations based on how the coffee was prepared, water and coffee grinds have to be measured just right, the water has to be the right temperature, and it even has to be poured just right. Additionally, the grounds should be left to steep just the right amount of time.
So let’s say you’re going to participate in a coffee cupping in Bogota. You might be surprised by the amount of gadgets the baristas will use. A scale is essential, as well as equipment to heat water. The cups need to be a certain size – between 7 and 9 fluid ounces, with a top diameter between 3 – 3.5 inches. All cups should hold the same amount of coffee, have the same dimensions and be made of the same materials. (The fotos in this article were taken at an informal cupping, where those cup dimensions were not taken into account).
You’ll also be supplied with forms to fill out.
Preparing the coffee
According to the SCAA, coffee should be roasted anywhere from 24 to 8 hours before cupping. The coffee should be ground just before cupping, so that means they’ll probably grind it while you’re watching. The rules about the amount of coffee (by weight) and the grind particle size are specified according to the coffee type and the brewing method.
Water should be at about 200º F (93ºC) when it’s poured over the grinds. The water is poured over the coffee, wetting all the grounds in a uniform way, and is allowed to rest for 3-4 minutes. (Yes, ideal coffee preparation takes time.)
Evaluating the brew
What does it mean to evaluate the brew? The idea is to evaluate the quality of the coffee. Now, this is where experience is important – drawing from past samples, a coffee cupper knows if he’s got a coffee that’s better than others he’s tasted.
Even if you’re not an expert, it’s still vital to record your impressions as you go along, since at the end it can be a mix of flavors and opinion and it can be hard to remember the details. It’s important to notice, identify and be able to describe it all while you’re smelling, slurping and tasting – and write down your impressions to remember it all later. That’s why coffee cuppings are accompanied by forms and pencils.
Coffee is evaluated taking into account many attributes:
- Clean Cup
Each point receives a score from 6.00 (good) to 9.75 (outstanding), going up by .25 increments. Why don’t they start the scale at 0? Well, they do, but since mostly coffee cupping is done to evaluate specialty coffees, the lower end of the scale doesn’t apply.
Next week we’ll go through each of those characteristics that make up the evaluation procedure to see what we’re looking for when we have that cup of coffee in front of us.
Interested in learning more about coffee in Colombia? Join Flavors of Bogota for our Coffee Shop Tour, an exciting look into the history and culture behind the coffee industry in Colombia.