Cupping Coffee

Become a Coffee Snob in 4 Steps: The Basics of Cupping Coffee

Coffee Cupping

Coffee Color, Aroma, and Flavor

Great coffee is about the combination of many factors including the color, the flavor, and the aroma.  But it is not just the final product that is tested.  A truly fine result happens when ALL of the elements are correct from growing to grinding.  We are not only passionate about great coffee, we are obsessed with it.

Cupping coffee is a fine art, but not one that is limited to professionals.  A sensitive palate is developed through experience and experimentation.  One of the best things you can do, simply, is to start cupping different types of coffee to determine the similarities and differences in its flavor, aroma, and quality.  Below are some things that might help you get started.

How to Cup Coffee

Coffee "cupping" is a lot like the process of wine tasting.   You take your time to analyze the coffee you're drinking.   In fact, you probably don't want to think of it as "drinking" your coffee.   Many professional cuppers prefer to think of each sip as a bite.  First, smell the coffee, and then go ahead and slurp it.   You may even want to chew it a bit and let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow.

It goes without saying that you want to start with a well-brewed cup of black coffee. Clearly, you don't want to add milk or sugar as this would detract from and taint the entire process.

Coffee Cupping Flavor Charts

One of the first things to look for is flaws - "off" flavors caused by spoiled beans, poor storage, or poor roasting.  When coffee is “flawed”, you should notice the sour flavor, paper/burlap, or bitterness.

If the coffee is not flawed, then there are two basic positive elements related to properly cup, taste, and evaluate coffee: acidity and body

Acidity is the descriptor of how bright and lively the coffee tastes - basically your first impression.  It is a good quality, not a reference to sourness or bitterness, both of which are bad qualities.

Body refers to the fullness or richness of a coffee. It is the secondary impression, often called the “finish.”  A heavy-bodied coffee will taste full, thick and syrupy, even “chewy” on the tongue, and the impression will be lasting.

Coffee Cupping Aroma Charts

The elements of a coffee are usually a combination of these two categories.  The first evaluation is usually “light”, “medium”, and “heavy".  Therefore, you will commonly hear a coffee being referred to as “heavy-bodied, with medium acidity,” “light-bodied, with good acidity,” etc.

Finally, there are the taste and aroma descriptors.

Coffee Taste & Aroma Flavor Wheels

To the right is a flavor wheel created in 1997 by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the Colombian Coffee Federation, and Jean Lenoir.  It's part of the poster called, "The Coffee Tasters' Flavor Wheel".  It will help you describe the tastes and aromas you experience.  Does the coffee taste sweet, tangy or mild?  Do you taste small hints of chocolate, vanilla, smoke, or cinnamon?  The possibilities are endless.  Of course, if you want more powerful flavor, then can you order flavored coffees.   But these are not the same as a coffee that displays hints of such flavors.

Why not try ordering a handful of non-flavored, trial size coffees, brew them up in a French Press, and have a cupping session yourself!

It's More Than Just Cupping to Us

We inspect everything including the seeds and plants on the farm, the cherries before and after they are picked, the drying and curing process, the packing and shipping, and then repeat the inspections when we receive the shipments.  Quality is our only standard, and we will not compromise.

Inspecting Aromas of Freshly Dried Beans

Start at the Start

Our close analysis of our coffee begins before it ever leaves the farm.  We inspect, smell, and taste every harvest and batch to make sure that it is quality before we even purchase it.  We know that great quality at the start is the only way to get great results.

Coffee Batch for Inspection

Looks Do Matter!

Before we get to the roasting or cupping of coffee, we inspect it at all stages for color, defects, and quality.  Great coffee beans have specific characteristics that we look for and MUST have in order for the batch to continue on.

Coffee Cupping Table

That Wonderful Aroma

The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee can tell a lot about the blend, roast, and overall quality of a coffee.  All of our coffees are inspected repeatedly before, during, and after roasting to make sure that all is right at every step of the way.  If anything seems to be below our standard or out of line, we will pull that batch and find out what is wrong.

Cupping Coffee

Cupping Coffee Taste

Finally, we taste the coffee to get a complete picture of its acidity, body, aroma, feel, flavor, and aftertaste.  These characteristics are added to the other factors when we determine if the coffee is up to our standards.  No coffee gets through production unless it has been tested and tasted by several experienced and qualified members of our Quality Control department.




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