Cupping is the process of analyzing different coffees by inspecting the beans, grind, aroma and flavor. It is an important way to measure the quality of coffee. This process allows someone to note the differences between coffees from different countries, regions, farms, roasts, lots, etc.
Passport Coffee & Tea uses the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) cupping method which is the universal industry standard. We do this to ensure that the coffee we import matches the samples we try, and to maintain our strict quality control standards between roasts. By using a uniform and easily-repeatable method, we can eliminate any outstanding variables that can alter how we perceive a coffee versus its true nature.
Discovering differences in tastes is something individuals can start to learn by comparing different coffees. Keeping an open mind with an inquisitive, and reflective approach one can learn to identify the most essential flavor traits of coffees from different origins. Noting the differences in quality, taste, acidity, body and mouth-feel between different coffees this method looks at many variables in a controlled scientific manner.
Cupping uses the following cupping tools :
- Kettle (Gooseneck is preferred)
- Digital scale (Accurate to 0.1 of a gram)
- Grinder that doesn’t hold back any old grinds after grinding (This avoids cross-contaminating coffee samples)
- 250mL cupping cups, several for each coffee sample (Small ceramic bowls or heat-safe glasses can be used)
- Several small samples of different coffees (We recommend 40g of each type)
- Cupping spoons (Made for tasting the right amount of coffee )
- Spare glasses of clean water (We recommend a few to clean the spoons between different stages)
- Trays of each coffee (Two trays per coffee for 350g of both green and roasted beans)
Notes: Allowing the fresh roasted coffee to sit for a day will yield a more accurate flavor, as coffee that is too fresh can change in flavor and not de-gas properly.
A certified Q Grader is an individual who is credentialed by the CQI to grade and score coffees utilizing standards developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
The Q Grader Exam is not a course for inexperienced or new cuppers; it is an advanced level course. The course for becoming a Q Arabica Grader prepares participants for for the 22 tests they must pass to become a certified Q Grader. The tests relate to an individual’s ability to accurately and consistently cup and grade coffee according to SCAA cupping and grading standards and protocols, including a thorough understanding of the SCAA cupping form.
Overview of the Cupping Process:
During the cupping process uniformity is key if you want to be able to compare coffees. Here are some on the key things that individuals look at during cupping.
- Bean Inspection: Trays of green and roasted coffee beans are inspected for defects.
- Fragrance: Coffee is ground and weighed. 12g of each coffee using a grinder that grinds through all the beans, leaving no particulate behind. The grind is medium grind similar to the pour-over brewing method. Cuppers smell the dry grounds. Defects maybe be noted at this point.
- Aroma: Brewing the 12g of grinds in each cup with 200ml of water (195-205 °F) and allowing them to steep for 4 minutes. Each coffee sample is often brewed several times to give a more accurate sampling. Brewing the coffee gives an aroma that is different that the fragrance.
- Breaking the Crust: Individuals place their nose close to the surface of each cup and use a cupping spoon to break the crust. Inhaling through their nose they note the different aromas that are observed. This stage of observation is very revealing as the aromatic profile of the coffee shows what the coffee has to offer.
- Skim & Slurp – Flavor: Each coffee is allow to cool to an optimum temperature for tasting, without letting them cool too much and changing the flavor drastically. The surface of the coffee is skimmed to remove any remaining grounds. Slurping a small amount of coffee into your mouth allowing the coffee to vaporizes it on roof of mouth. This activates sense of smell involved with taste. Next the coffee falls onto tongue allowing for different flavors to be tasted. The sensory spots are used by moving the coffee around over the tongue. The coffee is then spit out after tasting.
When cupping coffee, individuals need to be sensitive to what you are smelling and tasting. The SCAA has created the flavor wheel above to organize and classify the flavor profile characteristics of coffee, and it is a universally accepted resource that can be used while cupping.
The cupping form is a record used to note the attributes such as fragrance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, uniformity, clean cup, sweetness, defects, and an overall rating. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends these standards for cupping coffee. These guidelines will ensure the ability to most accurately assess the quality of the coffee. This scoring system provides a common language for discussing coffee quality throughout the coffee chain from producers to buyers.