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How to Cup Coffee


  1. The first thing a professional cupper will do is inspect the green (unroasted) beans, noting the color, shape, size, cleanliness, fragility, and density. Often the cupper is secretly comparing the beans to others he has seen in the past.
  2. Next the samples are roasted. This is the step where you can set up for a testing at home. The roasted beans are examined once again. How does their color compare? Are there "quakers" or "stinkers" that are discolored? This can indicate a blighted or underdeveloped bean.
  3. The coffees are ground to a standard fineness, and a small, uniform amount is placed in china cups (exactly 10 grams, which is approximately the weight of a nickel). Weight is more important than volume, because different coffees have different densities. However, for simplicity's sake, use a level teaspoonful of each of your sample coffees in each cup. Be sure to keep the samples in the same order for everyone tasting. Pour boiling water over the coffee, filling each cup to the brim.
  4. Examine each cup. Observe how the grounds rise to the top, forming a froth-like crust. It is now time to test the "wet-smell" of the coffee. Bend and place your nose close to the surface of the cup, and using a spoon, break the crust of the coffee. Use a gentle back and forth motion to waft the aromatic steam toward your nose. How does the aroma vary from cup to cup? A professional cupper can determine the origin of a particular coffee in part from its aromatic profile.
  5. Allow the coffee to cool a bit, before beginning to taste the coffee samples. Sampling coffee that is too hot can scald your taste buds, and inhibit the ability to accurately taste. Be sure to have a cup of warm water on hand, to rinse the spoon out between samples. While an actual cupper would spit out the samples to avoid becoming bloated with coffee as the day progresses; it may be more enjoyable for you and your friends to actually drink the brewed beverages.
    The coffees will be tasted in the order in which they were brewed. Take up about one half a teaspoonful, and slurp it vigorously into your mouth, spraying the various "taste zones". By spraying the coffee in this manner, all regions of the tongue are affected, and the aroma reaches the nasal passages. Only in this manner can the full structure of fragrance and flavor be assessed. As you move from sample to sample, slurp once to remove the taste of the previous cup, then again to actually assess the flavor.
    As the coffee cools, repeat the tasting, to see how the flavor profile changes.
  6. As you cup the coffees, take notes on your impressions. Use specific terms, such as "spicy", "nutty", or "winey", and avoid "fluffy" terms like "great"! Compare notes with your friends. Pay special attention to the acidity (or snap) of the coffee, the body of the coffee as it washes over your palate, and the overall flavor of the coffee. You will find that relatively small differences between coffees are more noticeable with a direct comparison. Not only will you feel more capable of determining a good coffee, but you will be able to isolate your favorite coffee.
  7. After all of the coffees have been compared, brew up a pot of your universal favorite, and enjoy dessert!