The Lab

The Basics: How to Cup Coffee

A RNY ‘Offering’ Cupping

First of all, why cup coffee? Why not just brew it and taste? Cupping is the industry-wide standard from a farm level all the way through consumer focused coffee businesses to taste, compare and define coffees. Cupping is really just a method of brewing, which removes as many variables as possible to ensure a clear comparison of coffees.

To start out with there are a few items that you will need…

Equipment:

· Burr grinder in good working order

· Kettle (any kind will do, just ensure you can heat enough water to fill all the cups at once)

· Scale that measures up to .5g

· Timer

A burr grinder, such as the EK43’s allows for consistent particle size and therefor even extraction.

Supplies:

· At least 1 cupping bowl per coffee or any 7-9oz cup-like vessel (207 ml to 266 ml), ideally with a top diameter of between 3 and 3.5 inches.

· Cups for clearing and rinsing (any cups will do)

· 1 Cupping spoon per person + extras for clearing

· Coffee (it’s good to start with 3-5 different ones)

· Filtered water (more info on appropriate water can be found here.)

· Pencils and clipboards (optional)

· Spittoons (optional)

· Cupping forms (optional – RNY simple cupping form)

A good spoon for cupping has a bowl that allows for a decent sample size of a coffee (1/2oz)

Set-Up:

· Figure Out Your Recipe: Calculate the appropriate water to coffee ratio; 8.25g of coffee per 150ml of water (1:18, or 1:16 once coffee and expansion volume are taken into consideration.) For instance, if your cupping bowl is 230ml you should use 12.5g of coffee.  To measure your cupping bowl size, put the vessel on a scale, tare and fill up with room temperature water.  The grams of water is the same as the amount of milliliters the cup is.

· Weigh the Coffee: Weigh out your coffee to the appropriate amount for the vessel size.  Weigh enough for at least 1 bowl for each coffee.  You can also choose to cup multiple cups of each coffee. This will give you more of an opportunity to taste each coffee, as well as check a coffee’s ‘uniformity.’

· Heat the Water: Begin heating water, heat to 195° F – 205° F.

· Set Up Your Table: Place your samples in order. Ideally, set up the coffees from least intense to most intense. Some guidance for a starting order are Central/South American coffees first, then African, then Asian coffees OR washed coffees, then honeys, then naturals, and lastly wet-hulled. 

· Grind the Coffee: Once the coffees are all weighed, it’s time to starting grinding them.  The grind setting should be similar to what you would use for auto-drip, or like coarse salt. To be most accurate, 75% of the particles should pass through a standard size 20 mesh sieve or be 800-900 microns in size. We highly recommend using a Kruve Sifter for this grinder calibration!

The triangle on the right represents the appropriate grind size.

When grinding always make sure that you purge between samples (a purge is just running a small amount (5+g) of the coffee being used through the grinder prior to grinding the actual sample.  This ensures to purge out any of the previous coffee from the grinder, so as not to impact the next coffee’s flavor/aroma.

Once all the coffees are ground, make sure the table is set up with a rinse cup (ideally 1 rinse cup per sample set,) a timer, spoons, and clearing cups.

Now it’s time to take out your cupping forms or notebook and begin!

Cupping Process:

1. Observe Dry Fragrance: This is completed immediately after grinding. The dry fragrance is what it sounds like.  The smell of the ground coffee prior to any water being added.  To observe this, put your nose as close to the ground coffee as possible.  Ideally, do not pick up the bowl. this is because the smell of any residual handsoap, lotion etc could effect your experience. Take multiple small sniffs of each cup.  This should allow for a more definable aroma experience. 

2. Pour the Water: Once you have completed observing all of the coffees dry fragrances, add the hot water. First, start the timer the moment any water first touches the coffee. Pour vigorously making sure that all of the grounds are thoroughly wet.  Make sure to fill each cup to the very top, so as to keep a consistent coffee to water ratio. Insider tip: If you pour with force near the edge of the cup, then it will form a whirlpool incorporating all the grounds. 

3. Observe the Wet Aroma: This will happen twice.  First prior to 4 minutes, and then again when ‘breaking the crust.’  To do this put your nose almost to the surface of the coffee and once again take multiple sniffs.  Write down any notes on your observations/impressions.

A crust forms on the coffee once the water is added due to the amount of CO2 that was released, if you do not see a crust forming the coffee is potentially roasted too light or too old.

4. Break the Crust: Once your timer has reached 4 minutes, it is time to ‘break’ the coffee crust.  Grab a spoon, once again get your nose really close to the surface of the coffee and push away from your nose 3 times with the spoon in the coffee. The spoon should be at least ¾ submerged and should go in a full front to back motion in the cup.  This will release some effervescence and will give you a clearer impression of the ‘wet aroma.’  Once you have done this, dip your spoon in the rinse cup and write down any updates to your ‘wet aroma’ impression.  Each cup can only be broken once, so as not to over ‘agitate’ any cup.  Between each coffee , the spoon should be dipped in warm water to clean the spoon and avoid one coffee contaminating the next.

5. Clear the Coffee: Once every coffee is broken, the grounds on the surface need to be cleared.  This is done by taking two spoons and ‘scooping’ the grounds from the surface.  Put one spoon in each hand.  Place the bowls of the spoon, facing you, touching each other horizontally at the back of the bowls, slowly pull forward, widening as you pull forward, dredging all of the grounds from the top of the coffee.  Once you have pulled all of the coffee forward in one motion, turn the spoons upwards, as to scoop the grounds up and dispose of them in the spare cup.  This can be done multiple times if needed, so as to leave no grounds on the surface. 

6. Time to Taste/Cup: Once the coffee has cooled enough to taste, which should be after 10 minutes or 160°F (test the temperature first on your lip by using a spoon to scoop up some and resting the liquor gently against your bottom lip. If it is too hot, wait another minute or 2.) To taste the coffee, scoop up a full spoon of coffee and slurp directly from the spoon.  The action of slurping  allows for the coffee to spray over your entire palate, which will allow you to perceive more flavor in the coffee. 

7. Continue Tasting/Cupping: Each cup should be observed at least 3 times.  Once while it is fully hot, once while it is warm, and once while it is at room temperature.  It is important to observe how a coffee changes as it cools.  Does it improve?  Or worsen?  Bitterness is perceived less at hot temperatures so if there is any unpleasant bitterness it will not be apparent at first.

All Done! Provide any feedback you have to your trader or discuss your findings with others!

Some Protocol Notes:

· Step away from the table when taking notes.  This is so that everyone (if there is more than just you!) can have the opportunity to taste each coffee at multiple temperatures.

· If you are spitting out your coffee, make sure to spit out all of the coffees.  When you spit the coffee you will have a different experience than when you swallow them.  To be fair to each coffee, it is best to taste them all using the same method.

· Make sure to rinse your spoon between coffees, to avoid crossover between coffees.

· It is best to have multiple cups of the same coffee. This not only ensures that there is enough coffee for all to taste, but also ensures that if there is something wrong with 1 bean, the entire coffee is not being judged by it.

What should you look for when cupping?

When you are first starting to cup coffee, We suggest just comparing your personal experience with each coffee. Maybe scale the coffees in terms of preference and then consider what it is you like more about one than the other. More information on how to define what you are tasting can be found in an upcoming post on Coffee Tasting Basics.

Finding the appropriate words to convey one’s experience with a coffee is the hardest part for almost all coffee professionals. So be patient with yourself,

Zoey Thorson

Coffee Pro/Veteran Educator. Over 10+ years of teaching a wide variety of coffee disciplines to a diverse student base around the world. Q-Grader and SCA Authorized Specialty Trainer. In 2019 Zoey became the Director of Education for The Lab by Royal NY. Zoey is friendly, approachable and informative with a vast knowledge base...come take a class at The Lab and see for yourself.