What Is Coffee Cupping

We have all heard of food tasters, wine enthusiasts, and even cigar aficionados. We’ve all read book reviews and movie reviews, read food blogs, and so forth. But what about coffee? Are their professionals and hobbyists who analyze our favorite caffeinated beverage? You bet there is! In this blog post, we are going to look into the unique world of coffee cuppers and the sacred art of coffee tasting through the eyes of a pro.

What is Coffee Cupping

Contrary to how the name sounds, coffee cupping is not the art of pouring coffee into a cup! Rather, coffee cupping (also known as coffee tasting) is the art of defining the taste and aroma of freshly brewed coffee. When done by a professional, the coffee cupper is usually referred to as a “Master Taster” and usually serves to evaluate coffee for any defections or irregularities. Master Tasters also use coffee cupping techniques when creating new coffee blends.

From a hobbyist perspective, coffee cupping is more about the experience – enjoying and identifying the aroma and taste or flavor profile of different coffee blends from different regions around the world.

Coffee cupping is also a great social activity – coffee tasting parties are a great way to discover new blends and share your favorites with friends and loved ones.

When tasting, the coffee imbiber seeks to measure key aspects of the brew, including
the acidity, aftertaste, body, flavor, and sweetness. To do this, the coffee cupper must perform some necessary coffee table and coffee sample “preparations”, including which might include setting up a table with several (or more) cups of coffee, water, cupping spoons, and something to document the details of each cup. In addition to the preparation, a coffee taster will usually employ one of several techniques to actually “taste” the coffee (we’ll be writing a future article on common coffee tasting techniques in the near future).

Common Coffee Cupping Terminology

Before we delve deeper into the realm and “science” behind cupping, it is important to understand a few common phrases and terms. Below is a brief list of some things you may hear other “cuppers” say:

Breaking the Crust

The act of placing the cap grounds on the top of a cup once the coffee is brewed and breaking them apart.

Acidity

Often described as the tart, yet sweet taste left at the back of your palate and underneath the tongue after you drink coffee.

Cupping Spoon

A round spoon roughly the size of a soup spoon that you use while sampling coffee.

Body

Body describes the way coffee feels on your tongue, including the level of graininess, oiliness, or wateriness.

Finish

Used to describe the flavors or tastes in the aftertaste.

Flavor

The type of taste profile (whether it is bitter, salty, sour, or sweet) and a description of how it actually tastes.

Slurp and Spit

Sometimes at a tasting there will be too many coffees for one man to consume. In these cases, cuppers will use the slurp and spit method, whereby they “slurp” coffee from a spoon to taste it, then spit it back out, ensuring they are able to try all of the different coffees.

Transparency

How well defined a particular coffee’s flavor is or how easy it is to define the flavors.