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The Coffee Cupping Process

Galena Roasters is a small-batch specialty roasting company located in Galena, Illinois. Since 2018, Galena Roasters has been dedicated to bringing its beloved town exceptional coffee through an exceptional experience.

Coffee roasting is a blend of art and science, and one of the most crucial steps in ensuring the perfect cup of coffee is the cupping process. For coffee roasters, cupping is not just a routine quality control measure; it is an exploration and evaluation into the flavors, aromas, and characteristics of their roasted coffees. In this blog post, we will explore the cupping process, the tools involved, and why it is such a vital aspect of the coffee roasting journey.

The Basics of Cupping

Cupping is a standardized method for tasting and evaluating coffee.  Cupping is the way that coffee professionals score coffees, whether using the SCA scoring form or an in-house adopted scoring form. It is also the means by which a myriad of decisions are made along the coffee supply chain from purchasing decisions made by importers and roasters to roast profile decisions and quality control made by roasters.  Cupping is also a great way to taste a number of different coffees at once.

The Tools of the Trade

Cupping requires a specific set of tools and a carefully controlled environment. Here's what you'll need:

  1. Roasted coffee: Choose the roasted coffees that you want to evaluate, ensuring they are freshly roasted and ground to a consistent grind size.

  2. Cups: Use cups or bowls of a uniform size for ease of maintaining the correct coffee to water ratio and ease of executing the cupping process

  3. Water: Clean, filtered water with mineral content not distilled, heated to between 196-205 degrees fahrenheit.  (We use 203 in the roastery.)

  4. Scale: You will need to know your desired water to coffee ratio AND the volume of your cupping bowl or cup.  Use a digital scale to accurately weigh the correct amount of coffee for each bowl or cup. (We use 17 parts water to 1 part ground coffee by weight.)

  5. Grinder: A high-quality grinder with sharp burrs is very important for having as uniform of a grind size as possible.  Too many “boulders” or fines will affect the flavors in the cup.  When we sorted this out early on in the roastery, we kept all variables the same and used varied grind sizes to see which grinder setting gave us the most information.

  6. Spoons: Cupping spoons are specially designed with shallow bowls but adequate volume and are ideal for slurping and assessing the coffee's attributes.

  7. Rinse glasses:  Hot water rinse glasses are essential for rinsing your spoon as you move from coffee to coffee in order to prevent cross contamination of coffees and to keep the spoon warm so that it doesn’t cool the coffee prematurely.

The Cupping Process

  1. Weigh the coffee:  Weigh your roasted coffee beans to your set weight for water to coffee ratio and place into the individual cupping bowls/cups.  

  2. Grind the coffee: Grind the coffee to a medium-coarse consistency, similar to sea salt, to ensure a consistent extraction.

  3. Dry nose: Smell the aroma of each cup of freshly ground coffee. This provides a first impression for each coffee.  Begin taking notes here relative to your goals for the cupping.

  4. Wet the grounds: Pour water heated to your desired temperature over the coffee grounds in each cup. Be sure to fill each cup to the same amount of water to insure your proper ratio.  Allow the coffee to steep for about 4 minutes.

  5. The break: During the first 4 minutes a crust of ground coffee will form on top of the cupping bowl/cup.  With your nose very close to the bowl/cup, break the crust of coffee grounds by gently pushing down with the back of the spoon and taking a deep sniff to assess the wet coffee's aroma.

  6. Skim: After the break some coffee grounds will remain on the surface of the liquid coffee.  Using 2 cupping spoons, skim the floating grounds and remove in preparation for tasting.

  7. Taste the coffee: After approximately 13 minutes the coffee will have cooled enough to taste properly.  Taste each cup, paying attention to factors like acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste. Continue to take notes according to your goal or score each attribute on a standardized cupping form.

  8. Calibrate: Compare your impressions and scores with those of your team, if applicable, to reach a consensus on the coffee's attributes and overall quality.

Why Cupping Matters

  1. Choosing coffees:  Cupping is an effective way to evaluate sample roasts for prospective purchasing.

  2. Quality control: Cupping helps roasters develop the best roast profiles for each coffee.  It also helps in identifying inconsistencies and potential roast faults in their coffees. It can also be used to ensure that each batch maintains the desired flavor profile.

  3. Flavor profiling: Roasters use the cupping process to identify tasting notes and flavor characteristics of their coffee.  Cupping is also a valuable tool for creating unique and exceptional blends.

  4. Consistency: By regularly engaging the cupping process, roasters can develop high standards and maintain consistency across different batches and throughout various roasting profiles.

The cupping process is an essential practice for coffee roasters to maintain quality, consistency, and the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee. It's a ritual that requires attention to detail, precision, and a deep appreciation for the nuances of coffee flavors. By consistently cupping your coffees, you can refine your skills as a roaster and create a memorable coffee experience for your customers.

This blog is part of our series on the Ultimate Guide to Coffee Terminology.

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