Cupping Savors the Flavor, Quality of the Coffee
Coffee cuppers take their time with each sip from the cup, letting the flavors spread throughout their palates while they take apart the various components of the coffee.
Shey’re considered experts in the coffee world and train their senses to be able to determine whether a coffee is sweet, acidic or overpowering in its aroma. Some attend competitions and judge coffee entrees.
“To have great coffee, you have to cup your coffee,” said Jodi Dowell, an assistant at Boot Coffee Consulting and Training in California. “It allows us to really analyze the bean. It’s very similar to wine tasting.”
It even has a unique protocol that cuppers follow. “You go around and you have a spoon and you slurp like you’re a five-year old,” she said.
Boot Coffee hosts courses including cupping, blending and roasting courses. The founder of the company, Willem Boot, also acts as a consultant in several countries. The company provides cupping services for producers and roasters.
When cupping, the cupper will smell the coffee, break the crust to release the aroma and allow the liquid to spread over their entire mouth to ensure they cover their taste buds with coffee.
The cuppers can note differences in the sweetness like the berry taste of some East African coffee, Dowell said.
“Those really come through in the very beginning,” she said. Because some of the students might initially feel intimidated with the process of cupping, the Boot Coffee classes start by tasting fruit or chocolates so that the cupping students can practice describing components. For instance, they might bring in different types of apples and the students will point out which ones are sweeter or more acidic.
“That just kind of gives us a point of reference and allows us to kind of set up those perimeters,” Dowell said. “You kind of have to build a vocabulary for it.”
On its Web site, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) states the six characteristics that a cupper assesses.
These characteristics start with the fragrance that the beans have after they are ground
The aroma of the ground beans after steeping in water
The taste of the coffee
The smell of the coffee during tasting
How the coffee feels while being tasted
And the aftertaste
The association also has a specific set of rules for labs for its cupping judge course including the dimensions of the cupping room as well as the lighting, and equipment used in the room.
They require there to be no odors, noise or distractions in the cupping room. They even spell out the dimensions of the cupping room and how many cuppers will sit at each table.
Temperature control is another regulation set for the labs. While some might consider these regulations to be for the comfort of the cupper, they also help ensure the integrity of the cupping results as is the case with temperature control regulations.
“It is important that the air movement is not so strong that will disturb the smelling of the aroma during cupping or the act of smelling during other exercises,” the SCAA states in its lab certification procedures.