Updated: Apr 12
"Coffee Cupping" or "Coffee Tasting," is the process of evaluating the quality of coffee. This is a professional and important activity carried out by tasting experts, but anyone with basic knowledge of tasting techniques and a passion for exploring coffee flavors can participate.
To ensure objectivity and consistency in the evaluation results, the tasting process must adhere to a standardized system with many factors, from tools, preparation, evaluation practices, scoring, and many other factors.
Since the sensory evaluation process depends on each individual, properly tasting coffee is not an easy task. In today's article, iO Coffee will share some of the most basic information about coffee tasting to help people understand more about this important activity.
The meaning of the tasting process
Coffee cupping. Source: homegroundcoffeeroasters.com
It is believed that "Coffee Cupping" originated in the late 19th century, when traders tasted various types of coffee to decide which ones they wanted to buy and to check for consistency.
In 1999, this method was used in the Cup of Excellence competition, leading the Specialty Coffee Association of America (now the Specialty Coffee Association, SCA) to develop specific guidelines that were widely accepted by the industry.
It can be said that Cupping, or the tasting process, is a representative language that opens up invaluable opportunities for communication throughout the coffee supply chain.
The tasting process is not developed randomly but serves many practical purposes. Among them, it can be mentioned as: evaluating the quality of green beans to support quality control and the selection of suitable green beans, discovering and evaluating products after roasting, creating a environment for exchange, learning and training, and introducing and promoting new products to the community.
Therefore, equipping oneself with tasting skills is essential as it is a prerequisite for all activities in the supply chain. Whether you are a barista and want to adjust your coffee, a roaster and want to improve your roasting profile, or a buyer and want to check the quality of green beans inputs, all require sensory evaluation of taste and rely on the tasting process.
Farmers and coffee producers
It all starts with those who grow and process coffee cherries into green coffee beans. Some coffee producers taste their own coffee to identify issues related to farm or processing quality. For example, if the planting and harvesting methods are not optimized, or if there are inconsistencies in the processing stages, the resulting coffee quality may not meet expectations.
From the tasting results, they will use it as evidence to improve their current methods, thereby enhancing the quality of the coffee produced in each subsequent harvest season. The cupping process also allows these coffee producers to evaluate the quality of each coffee harvest.
This is also where coffee growers can decide to submit their best coffee to participate in national competitions, such as the Cup of Excellence program, a competition that seeks out the best coffee of the country each year. The outstanding coffees that score well in these competitions are often purchased at a high price.
Green coffee buyers
The role of the buyer is to determine which types of coffee to purchase for serving in cafes or roasting facilities. All of this will depend on the intended use and the needs of the business. Here, cupping is used to determine the characteristics of each coffee harvest and understand the potential of each type of coffee.
Green coffee buyers also often cup samples of coffee multiple times to ensure that the quality of the coffee is consistent or does not significantly decrease due to factors such as processing, storage, transportation, and time.
After the green coffee beans have undergone quality control by the green coffee buyer, they will be delivered to the roasting factory. Before officially roasting them for mass production, the roaster usually roasts a sample of coffee and taste tests it to understand its potential. Then, they adjust to exploit the desired characteristics. This process is repeated until the roaster is satisfied with their formula before proceeding to mass production.
Tasting after roasting is also essential - quality control. The roaster does this to ensure that the batches of roasted coffee meet the standard, meet all the desired characteristics previously set, and are ready to be sent to customers.
As you know, coffee beans before being served usually have to go through strict quality control checks to ensure quality.
However, before serving, a barista also needs to know how to properly extract each type of coffee. Therefore, tasting coffee will help them have a deeper understanding of what this coffee can bring. From there, the barista can determine a suitable method to bring out the best flavors.
At the same time, tasting coffee also helps the barista to identify the flavor profile of that coffee, from which they can convey and share with customers in more detail.
The process of a cupping session
At a cupping session, there are usually different samples of coffee. They may come from the same origin but differ in region and processing method, represent different types and processing methods, and may come from different countries.
The process of a tasting session will proceed as follows:
Step 1: Prepare coffee samples in appropriate ratios. There is no limit to the number of samples.
Step 2: Clean the grinder, then grind the samples.
Step 3: Smell the dry aroma and evaluate (lasts no more than 15 minutes).
Step 4: Pour water, smell the wet aroma, and evaluate (lasts from 3-5 minutes).
Step 5: Break the layer of coffee powder on the surface. This is a good time to re-evaluate the wet aroma before moving on to the tasting phase.
Step 6: Scoop out the foam or remaining coffee powder on the surface of the cupping bowl.
Step 7: Taste and evaluate with a scoring sheet (lasts about 30 minutes).
Arabica Cupping Form. Source: Specialty Coffee Association
Note: You should prioritize observing and evaluating the following factors for each temperature stage:
Hot Stage (70°C): Flavor and Aftertaste
Warm Stage (60°C): Acidity + Body + Balance
Cool Stage (40°C): Uniformity + Cleanliness + Sweetness
Improve your tasting ability
Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel. Source: Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)
From the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, you should start by learning to perceive broad and inclusive flavor groups such as Fruity, Floral, Sweet, and then move on to more detailed groups.
The best way to improve is to continue practicing tasting. Over time, your taste sensitivity will gradually increase. You can start by actively slowing down your eating and drinking, and analyzing the flavors of the foods you consume on a daily basis. This will help you develop reflexes for yourself along with a rich flavor system.
In addition, take advantage of opportunities to practice with colleagues and friends. Discussing techniques and sharing opinions with others can help you improve your skills and expand your tasting vocabulary.