The low down on cupping
What is cupping?
If you aren’t familiar with the term then firstly, get your mind out of the gutter! Cupping is the industry-wide term for tasting coffee and the method used to evaluate characteristics of our coffees.
This is the most important part of the process when buying coffee and also for checking consistency and that our roast profiles are in tune with what we want to taste. It is also a great way to train your palate – finding the subtleties and nuances in a coffee can help in other areas – eg wine tasting!
The general gist of cupping procedure involves a process of smelling the fragrance of dry, freshly ground coffee, and then understanding the aroma once water is added. Following on from this you loudly slurp the coffee (the louder the slurp the better - manners go out the window!). We use a special cupping spoon (like a soup spoon) and slurp off the spoon, aerating the coffee around your mouth in a process called retro-inhalation. The goal is to ‘measure’ aspects of the coffees aroma and taste from just after boiling temperature through to cooling. We follow the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Guide on how to do this and to measure the flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, clean cup, uniformity and defects. We measure it by marking each aspect from 1 to 10 and then adding it all up for a total score.
Coffees tend to have characteristic tendencies based on where they are grown: the provenance of the coffee including seasonality, altitude and other growing conditions will affect the outcome of flavour. Kenyan coffees for example have lively, citrus, berry-like or tomato leaf characteristics where as in Guatemala you will find more cocoa/chocolate and nutty notes.
Why we cup coffee
As a roastery it is one of the most important links in the chain on the journey to crafting a great cup of coffee.
Buying Coffee: When we are looking to buy a coffee we roast small samples of a number of coffees and cup them blind. We evaluate the qualities as per the SCAA guidelines to ensure they meet with our criteria of flavour and what attributes of this particular coffee we feel we can bring out in the roasting process. The higher ranked the coffee, the better perceived quality it has. We also want to determine the actual sensory differences between samples: for example, we may have a number of Ethiopian Sidamo coffees to choose from. We also want to determine preferences for products, for example, we ask ourselves if the coffee can hold up on its own or would it be better in a blend? What do our customers want and what characteristics can we bring out in combination with our roast profiles for a clean, sweet cup?
Quality Control: We will always take a small sample of every coffee we roast and cup them. This method of quality control means we can compare roasts for consistency or decide whether we need to tweak a roast profile (or recipe) so justice is done to the coffee bean! We train our palates to look out for defects too!
Palate training: Cupping is a continuous learning process and is used as a tool to describe the flavours of samples. The more you cup the more you can understand your palate and what is happening with the coffee. We want our tastebuds to literally wake up and smell the coffee by being able to dissect what we taste. We use Counter Culture’s Coffee Tasters Flavour wheel which aids us in determining flavour when you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Climpson’s Cupping Club
Every third Wednesday of the month we hold an open cupping for our customers to fine-tune their tasting abilities and begin to decipher what you taste and put it into words. Coffee begins to taste like more than just coffee.
Next event: Wednesday 15 April then Wednesday 20th May.