A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee Cupping

Cupping (or tasting) coffee is the process coffee professionals use to evaluate the quality and consistency of coffees. Coffees are cupped and graded according to a 100 point system*. Flavor notes are determined referencing a flavor wheel similar to the aroma/flavor wheels used in tasting wines. While the idea of coffee cuppings might feel intimidating, they can be fun and educational for anyone!

What is a coffee cupping and why is it done?

Coffee cupping is an easily repeatable process where coffee is ground into a bowl, hot water is added, and steeped for four minutes. This makes it easy for farmers, importers, and roasters to evaluate a coffee on the same playing field to get the same result and have a common discussion about the coffee.

We cup coffees at Frothy for quality control and to evaluate the coffee. Before the coffee reaches Frothy, it has been cupped by the farmers and importers. Our cupping is our chance to see if the coffee is doing what it’s supposed to do. If not, we’ll make an adjustment to the roast profile.

Is this the best way to enjoy a cup of coffee? No. But it is the best method to evaluate the same coffee in a range of times and places. By limiting the factors to amount and time, cupping gives us common ground for everyone to meet and discuss.

What should we expect while attending a coffee cupping?

Attendees should expect to have fun, be a little over-caffeinated, and try a variety of specialty coffees. The same way you’d attend a wine, beer, or bourbon tasting. As your hosts, our goal is to have fun, share some knowledge, and ultimately help you find what type of coffee you love and where it comes from. We want you to leave feeling more confident about your coffee purchasing decisions. Knowledge is power.

What should we bring to a coffee cupping?

Since you will be relying heavily on your senses of smell and taste, you should bring a clean palate and avoid wearing any heavy scents. We suggest avoiding super spicy foods, or overly sweet treats before you come. Not overwhelming your palate with anything too intense allows you to perceive the flavors better. Other than that, bring yourself, your friends, and an open mind about trying new things.

How do we properly taste and evaluate the coffees?

We evaluate using a multitude of parameters. The first way is smell. We’ll smell the coffee dry, right after its ground. We’ll smell it wet after we pour water overtop, and then we’ll smell it again after we break the crust that forms on top of the bowls.

This may seem like alot of smelling and not much tasting at first, but once the coffee cools down a little bit we’ll taste it and start discussing it based on your flavor memory. We’re trying to guess what this tastes like based on things you’ve had in the past. That may be a certain fruit, chocolate or nut.

Then we evaluate the body. Is it heavy? Is it light? How about the finish? Does it leave a specific aftertaste? Is that something pleasant or not? We also chat about acidity, bitterness, and how all these factors work together to create a balanced cup of coffee.

How should we communicate our thoughts about each coffee? Do we need a knowledge base of specific coffee terms?

Not at all. We encourage you to talk about your experience in your own words. We’ve all experienced different food or drinks, and you’ve probably tasted things that others have not. Your senses are tuned to your memories. So, if something reminds you of your grandma’s banana pudding we’d love to hear that. The goal is to share our thoughts and find a common ground among our flavor recall. We only have one rule, if you call out something “crazy” that no one’s ever had before, you have to bring the item back to us to prove it.

Will we get a tour of your roasting facility?

We don’t allow visitors on the production floor because we are handling food products. However, we do have giant glass windows to see our whole operation. We’re happy to talk you through everything you see.

Is there anything else I should know about these coffee cuppings?

Nope, there’s nothing you can do wrong with drinking coffee! If you find a coffee you want to take home we’ll bag it up fresh and you even get a 15% discount for visiting us.

Ready to attend? Sign up for one of our free weekly public cuppings!

*The 100 point coffee cupping scoring was developed by Specialty Coffee Association and they release a new Coffee Taster’s Flavor wheel periodically.