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Cupping Coffee

Cupping coffee within your Roastery or at a client should be a regular occurrence. To maintain and check your consistency and quality standards you need to taste the coffee. It is also important to keep a small retention sample for up to 8 weeks of that particular roast batch as it will give you the ability to check when a client may complain. Cupping is non-negotiable and should be done on a daily basis. Just like a barista should calibrate their espresso machine and grinder so too do the Roaster need to ‘calibrate’ their palate.

Consistency and taste are key to the success of a Roastery. Also, try not to cup alone. It’s great to cup with coffee colleagues and customers. Getting second and third opinions helps you to also hone your tasting skills and keep you at the top of your game. Remember to also use good quality water and not just tap water unless you have a good filtration unit. Do not use distilled or RO water as the water does contain enough elements and minerals to react correctly with the coffee.

The key focuses here would be:

  1. identifying of roast defects
  2. the tools or steps required or needed to help you fix the problems.
  3. cupping and specifically looking at taste balance attributes and how to bring coffees together according to a client’s expectation.

    (this would be a detailed process of flavour vs balance vs finish).

    Each client would have a specific preference of flavour for a desired method of brew. We will help give them a few pointers and how to roast for those things and how to bring the coffees together to achieve the desired result.

    Single origin cupping incorporating blending and then a blended cupping to confirm a combination of flavors brewed together.

Cupping equipment

You don’t need a large cupping setup but rather just be prepared. Having enough to cup three coffees at a time is sufficient but you also need to be prepared if there are at least up to four people. We prefer to keep cupping sessions small and intimate as you will not lose focus and you will keep the cupping session under control. This is what you will need:

  • 10 cupping bowls
  • 6 cupping spoons
  • Clothes or paper towel
  • 6 bean trays
  • Good quality water
  • A large kettle or urn
  • Glasses for rinsing and drinking water
  • A thermometer to check the water temperature (if necessary)
  • A small scale (optional)

Cupping Procedure

These steps below will help you on your cupping journey.

Step 1. Purge your grinder out with a gram or two of the coffee you are going to be using. Weigh 12 grams of the first coffee and grind it to a medium-coarse setting (somewhere between a filter coffee grind and plunger grind). Use the standard 200ml cupping cups. If there are a few of you do at least 3 – 5 cups of each sample.

If you are cupping within your Roastery and you are not looking for uniformity then you can maybe do 1-2 cups per sample to give you enough to last till the end.

Complete all your samples by putting 12g in each cup. Remember to purge your grinder between each variety of coffee you use (as above). Also, guys, label the cups or have fun trying to figure out which one is which thereafter!! Trust us, you want to choose option 1! It’s time to boil the kettle!

Step 2. Smell

Take a good whiff of each coffee sample with your mouth open – this introduces more aromas around your palate.

Step 3. Add your water

Once your kettle has boiled allow the water to drop to between 93-96°C, pour your 200mls of water over each sample of coffee – pour slowly.

Ok … So, we need to wait 4 minutes. In the meantime, place your spoons in a glass with warm water that you will be using to rinse your spoon.

Step 4. Smell it again

After pouring the water on each sample, smell each sample again with your nose just above the cup – if you sniff coffee up your nose, you are too low! Try to note the differences and similarities between the aroma of the dry coffee and the wet coffee. Was there any specific smell you picked up when dry and then when wet? Look at your coffee wheel and see if there are any aromas on the chart you may recognise. Write it down.

Step 5. Breaking the crust

Break the crust away from you (front to back). As you break, inhale deeply, again with your nose just above the cup. What do you smell now? Write it down. Rinse your spoon in the glass of hot water between coffees so you don’t cross-contaminate the samples.

Step 6. Removing the crust

Using two spoons, scoop off the top crust and put into your empty dish/container. Try to remove all of the coffee grounds from the surface so they don’t end up in your mouth.

Again, be sure to rinse the spoons between coffees.

Step 7. Taste the coffee

Take a spoonful of coffee and slurp up vigorously. This aspirates coffee over your palate, helping bring in all of the flavours and aromas. What are you tasting, write it down! Don’t share your thoughts with others until you have all done tasting, you will affect each other’s judgements and decisions. Wait a minute or two between tasting the coffees again. Try this a few times, as the coffee cools it will change. You will find each coffee will be different as it cools down. They may become more interesting and flavourful!

Compare notes and enjoy!

Step 8. Repeat the tasting

Wait a minute or two between tasting the coffees again. Try this a few times, as the coffee cools it will change. You will find each coffee will be different as it cools down. They may become more interesting and flavourful!

Compare notes and enjoy!

Step 9. Try a combination (blending the fun and easy way).

Grab a clean vessel and put a few spoons of each of the different cups and mix it together. This will give you an idea as to which coffees will work well together. Start maybe by blending two or three together and try different ratios. You never know, you might end up creating an amazing blend.

Once you have played around with a few blending combinations write down what you enjoyed about each blend and what you experienced as per above (taste/flavour/balance/finish). Bear in mind what you are developing for espresso, filter, pour-over etc., etc…

You would normally cup within the first 48 hours after roasting but when you want to try out your blend through the method of brew that you choose try to do so from day 4 and onwards. Give the coffee time to degas. With filter, you can try from day 4 to day 7. With pour over the same and with espresso, we find only from day 6 it settles nicely as it can be very harsh tasting espresso in those first few days. It can be very harsh and sharp because of the gases and the elevated temperature and pressure because of extraction.

In conclusion. Make lots of notes and keep record of it… With coffee, the sky is the limit and flavour combinations are endless.

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