Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Coffee Cupping (Abridged) pt 3

Hey again! I’m so glad you’re back to learn more about cupping!
Last time we talked about what you’ll see at a set up cupping! You got to the cupping room and saw the table, and I gave you a detailed explanation of what everything is!


First Step: Aromatic Perception

Now that you’re here, we will all walk around the table and do a “sniff test.” (Okay, it’s not really called a sniff test). But you are going to smell the coffee! There is a right way to do this! You’re going to stick your face right in that cup and take three or four quick whiffs in through your nose. Think about how your dog smells dirty shoes, that’s what you’re going for. Thankfully, freshly ground coffee smells a LOT better than gym shoes… Now that you’ve smelled the coffee take some notes! What does it smell like? Does it remind you of anything?*

Once we’ve all smelled the coffees, I will pour the water into the samples. Then we allow the samples to brew for 4 minutes. During this time you will do a second smell evaluation! You smell in the same way as before, but this time being really careful not to burn your nose on the 200-degree water. More note-taking! Does it smell different than it did when it was dry?

Next Up: Break & Clean

Now, my favorite part! The break. When the water was poured into the coffee a neat “crust” of grounds and gases formed at the top of the cup. Breaking this crust is essential because the gases that are trapped there will be released. There is a method to breaking the crust. Hold your spoon perpendicular to the table (check out your upside down reflection!) and push it gently across the grounds three times.You’re going to put your face near the sample AGAIN and smell. The gases that are released might have a different aroma than what you’ve experienced before, so this is a very cool step. Once a sample is broken, you can’t get it back. So you want to take advantage of this time to smell those gases.

Now we clean off the tops of the coffees, so we don’t have to chew on grounds! This is done by skimming the top of the sample with two spoons. Here we try not to get too much coffee skimmed off, but we want to get all the grounds out.

Very important: Make sure you rinse your spoon between samples when you break and when you clean to avoid cross-contaminating the samples.

Now, after all that work! We finally get some coffee!

Now that the coffee is cleaned it’s time to taste! Grab a spoon, cause this is where the real fun begins! Remember, you are going to taste each sample of each coffee. So, if you don’t want to drink that much caffeine; maybe because you’ve already had a few cups(….guilty!), you can grab a spit cup.

To taste, you’re going to simply dip your spoon into the sample just so the bowl of the spoon fills up. Now, bring the sample to your mouth. Instead of just tipping the sample in, you are going to participate in the age-old coffee tradition called the slurp. Throw all table manners your mama taught you out the window! (Sorry, mom!) You WANT to slurp coffee while tasting it for a few reasons.
First, it cools down the coffee a tiny bit as it comes into your mouth.
Second, the slurp ensures that the coffee hits all parts of your palette at the same time so you can taste it best.
Finally, the slurp aerates the coffee! Much like fine wine, coffee must be aerated to “wake up” the best possible flavors in the coffee.*



After you’ve tasted the sample, take notes! (Is this starting to feel like high school yet?) Write down anything that comes to mind, even if it seems weird at first. Is it acidic? Does it have a heavy mouthfeel? Is there an aftertaste? What does it taste like?

Usually, in a cupping, you do more than one pass at each coffee. As the coffee cools, you will be able to evaluate different things in the taste. The second (or third, or fourth) pass will allow you to really evaluate what the coffee tastes like. Does it taste like lemons? Berries? Chocolate? This will become easier to distinguish as the coffee cools.

Last Step: it’s time to talk about what we tasted.

Now that we’ve all tasted the coffees several times, we’re going to talk about what we’ve tasted! This is a significant step in the process. We want to compare notes to calibrate our tastes to each other, basically, just to make sure we’re all tasting the same thing. That being said, taste cannot be wrong. You cannot be tasting something incorrect in a sample, but when talking about what we’re tasting, we can get really specific and also come up with better words to describe what we’re tasting. We also try to use the most attractive words so it’ll be easier to sell people on a coffee (for example, instead of saying “this tastes like dirt!” we might say “this has an earthy taste”).

So that’s it!! You now have a fundamental resource and guide to cupping. Since you’ve spent so much time reading these posts, I really hope you will come to one of our in-store cuppings! The best way to get good at cupping, like any skill, is to practice, practice, practice!

What do you think? Are you ready to put your new found knowledge to the test? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the experience of cupping! If you need a refresher, you can read part 1 and part 2 of this series!

Keep an eye on our Instagram @black_river_roasters to find out when our next cupping will be!

*Keep an eye out for future posts about these topics; note-taking during cupping, aroma evaluation of coffee, and coffee tasting notes

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