What is coffee cupping and how to do it?

April 01, 2021

Coffee cupping is the name given to coffee tasting, which is done both by professionals and amateurs alike. This practice helps potential buyers get a sense of what kind of coffee they’re buying- but it’s also a very fun activity to do at home, or with a group of people who share a love for coffee. 

Just like with wine tasting, coffee tasting is a very sophisticated activity and there are many rules and special cups and receptacles made specifically for this purpose. In a similar way, we also have a very particular vocabulary which helps the taster convene information about a coffee’s qualities.

How to taste coffee properly

First, we must prepare for cupping.

Cupping is, ironically, not done in coffee cups. It is done using either small bowls or glasses resembling shot glasses, only bigger. Next, we will need something called “spittoons”: the need for these will become obvious in a second. We will also need spoons and note sheets for taking notes of each coffee.

Once the table is ready, the coffee is ground and the water hot, we can begin.


The Aroma

After pouring grounds in our cup, we will proceed to pour water over them - usually only enough to barely submerge the grounds underwater. After the bloom, a crust will form. This is why we need spoons: we will break the crust, which will release a delicious, concentrated aroma.

This process is extremely important, as we have to position ourselves directly over the cup so that all the released aroma can be properly perceived.

Do not be afraid to get in there and sniff. You might want to have a tissue handy; after a while of so much smelling, our noses feel overwhelmed. To cleanse the palate, so to speak, we must blow our nose.


The Flavor

By this point, after breaking the crust, the grounds should have settled in the bottom of the cup. It’s time to taste the coffee.

There are two ways of tasting: you either sip, or you slurp.

A sip is a primer. You must sip and retain said sip in your mouth, feeling what experts call the body: some coffees will feel watery while others can feel rather dense. All these qualities have to be written down.

Then comes the slurp. Slurping is a way to get the coffee to the back of our throats, where we can better taste the coffee. Yes, you read that correctly: in the back of our throats, right in the meeting point between our nose and our mouth, we can perceive flavor better.

This is because our tongue can only perceive about 7 flavors. Our nose, however, is much more refined and is able to perceive hundreds of different smells.

Coffee does contain a lot of caffeine, however. Feel free to use the spittoons to spit the coffee in instead of swallowing. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll end up feeling horrible otherwise because of the caffeine. The focus is tasting, not drinking the coffee!

And now you know how to properly do a cupping. Have fun!

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