The Art of Cupping

The process of cupping coffee is much like the process of wine tasting.  Professional cuppers do not think of themselves as “drinking” a cup of coffee or even merely tasting it; rather, they experience the coffee on all levels, from the aroma to the feel of the liquid in their mouths.  Cuppers then use a flavor wheel to help chart this multi-layered experience.

There are certain steps one must follow when cupping.  Only black coffee can be properly cupped, of course.  Professional cuppers also slurp their coffee rather than sipping it, swirling it across the surface of their tongues.  The first thing to note is “flaws” in the coffee (these are sour, bitter, or paper/burlap flavors that arise from spoiled beans or poor roasting or storage).  If the coffee is not flawed, the next step is to rate the coffee according to acidity and body.  “Acidity” refers to how “bright” or “alive” the coffee tastes and will be the first impression on the tongue.  The “body” describes the richness and fullness of a coffee, and as the secondary impression, is often referred to as the “finish.”  Cuppers combine these elements in their basic notes, so you commonly hear coffee described as being “heavy with a light acidity” or “light-bodied with high acidity.”

You may not realize how many factors influence the taste of your coffee, especially if you enjoy adding sweeteners, flavors, and creams which may mask subtleties of flavor.  However, the taste of your coffee is affected by everything:  what you’ve already eaten on the given day; your emotional expectations and state of mind; the temperature and water-to-coffee ratio of the brewing; the cleanliness of the water and equipment; any foods you may be pairing with the coffee; and so on….  If you haven’t tried drinking black coffee in a while, why not take a few slurps the next time you brew a pot?  You might be surprised by all the flavors you discover!