Have you ever tried coffee “cupping”? It’s similar to the idea of a wine-tasting but involves observing the aroma, taste and other characteristics of a particular coffee or varieties of coffee. Professionals use this method to determine things like the quality of the coffee or the best way to roast that bean.

Even though cupping is a process used by the pros, you can cup coffee in your own home. How many times have you grabbed that morning travel mug and rushed out the door, never really stopping to smell the roses taste what you’re actually drinking? Cupping gives you a chance to do just that. And of course, everything – including cupping – is better with friends. Next time you’re looking for something to do, have some friends over and host a coffee cupping. You’ll learn a lot, enjoy coffee together and likely get a good laugh as you slurp and spit (yup, it’s true).

How to Host a Coffee Cupping

What you’ll need:

  • At least two varieties (for comparison) of freshly roasted coffee (ideally roasted in the last couple days)
  • Filtered water
  • Timer or clock
  • 5 oz glasses (or close to that size).You’ll need at least 1 glass for each kind of coffee. If you have a lot of people cupping with you, have 2-3 glasses for each type of coffee you’re cupping.
  • Extra cups or mugs for rinsing
  • Gram scale (ideally) or teaspoon
  • Spoons (at least 1 per person)
  • Grinder
  • Water heating device
  • Pencil and paper to take notes on your observations of the coffee


Setting Up

1. Start heating up your water. You’ll need enough water to fill all of your 5 oz glasses.

2.  Measure 8 grams (or 2 teaspoons) of whole bean coffee in each of your 5 oz glasses. Make sure to mark which variety of coffee is in which glass. You can also cup “blind” meaning that you don’t know which coffee is which. To do this, just turn your labels over so you can’t see them during the cupping but you’ll be able to identify the coffees at the end.

3.  Grind each coffee very coarsely and put the 8 ounces of grounds back into the correct glasses.

Fragrance 

4.  Smell each of the cups of ground coffee. Really sniff and inhale that scent. Gently tap the sides of the glass to move the grounds around and release more of the fragrance.

Aroma

5.  Take your water, heated to just below a boil and pour it over the grounds until each glass is full (about 150 mL of water). Let the coffee steep for 4 minutes.

6.  While your coffee is steeping, make sure your extra mugs or cups are filled with water for rinsing.

7.  After your coffee has steeped, observe the aroma of the coffee. Take the outside of your spoon and push the coffee grounds sitting on top of the water towards the back of the cup. As you push the coffee grounds away, the aroma of the coffee will be released. This is called “breaking the crust”. After you break the crust, put your nose as close to the coffee as possible (getting grounds on your nose is perfectly acceptable) and sniff.

8.  Make sure to rinse your spoon before placing it in a new variety of coffee so that the flavors don’t get muddled.

9.  After breaking the crust and observing the aroma of all of your coffees, scoop out the grounds sitting on top of the water.  Discard the grounds.

Taste

10.  Now we’ll get to tasting. Here’s where it gets really fun. Take a spoonful of coffee and slurp that good stuff up. Yup, really slurp it. You want to try to get the coffee to hit all parts of your mouth, because it’ll taste different in the back of your mouth than on the tip of your tongue.  Taste each variety of coffee, rinsing your spoon in between varieties.  If you don’t want all the caffeine, grab an empty glass to spit the coffee into. Yup, just slurp and spit – and don’t be shy about it.

11.  If you’d like, you can record your observations during this process. Click here for an example of a simplified cupping form you can use to take notes. If you’re cupping with friends, compare results. You may find similarities, but you may also have tasted things a little differently than someone else. Everyone’s taste buds are different – just have fun with it and enjoy trying all the different kinds of coffee!

If you want to know how the pros cup coffee, check out these instructions from the Specialty Coffee Association of America website.