Coffee cupping is a method of systematically evaluating a coffee's aroma and taste by using a standardized brewing and tasting method. The tasting method is used to employ the cupper's olfaction, gustation and mouthfeel sensations. .
Preparation of Samples
Coffee to be cupped is brewed by infusion, without the interference or addition of any other agents (i.e. filter paper etc.) that might filter out any flavors or add its own taste (paper) to the coffee. 7.25 grams (the weight of one dime and one nickel) of freshly ground coffee is placed in a small ceramic or glass cup. 150 milliliters (about 5 fluid ounces) of crystal fresh (not distilled) water at near boiling (195 to 205) is poured directly on the grounds. The particles rise to surface and form a crust and as they steep they begin to sink. The process takes 3 to 5 minutes. Break the crust and gently stir to insure all of the grounds are fully moistened and sink to the bottom of the cup. Any grounds that do not sink should be skimmed off .This method is equal to using 1.6 ounces of coffee per 32 ounces or one pound per gallon as recommended by SCAA and other coffee groups. Be sure water that is being used is pure and free of chlorine and other chemicals that might affect flavor. Remember coffee is 99% water!
The actions (sniffing, slurping and swallowing) used in evaluating coffee are greatly exaggerated in order to stimulate as many nerve endings as possible. Coffee cupping consists of six steps to evaluate coffee's fragrance, aroma, taste, nose, aftertaste and body. .
Place freshly ground (dry) coffee sample in cup. Vigorously sniff gases released as carbon dioxide leaves the freshly ruptured bean cells. The character of the fragrance indicates the nature of the taste. Sweet scents indicate acidy tastes, pungent scents indicate sharp tastes. The intensity of the fragrance reveals the freshness of the sample, that is the time between the roast and the grinding of the beans being sampled.
Pour near boiling water over the coffee sample in the cup. Allow coffee to steep for 3 minutes forming a crust on the surface of water. When breaking the crust with your spoon perform long deep sniffing of the gases formed as a result of elevated temperature of the water in contact with the coffee grounds. This measures the full range of aromas from fruity to herbal to nut-like. The range of aromas corresponds to the type of coffee. The intensity of the aromas relates to the freshness of the sample.
Using a rounded soup spoon raise 6 to 8 cc of liquid to just in front of the mouth and forcefully slurp the liquid. By briskly aspiring the coffee in this way it is spread evenly over the entire surface of the tongue. All the 'taste buds' are stimulated at once allowing for a complete sweet, salt, sour and/or bitter model to occur. Because temperature affects how the stimulus is perceived, noting where it is sensed can help reveal its character. For example, because heat decreases the sweetness of sugars, acidy coffees tend to give a tingling sensation first on the tip of the tongue. Hold the coffee in your mouth for 3 to 5 seconds and note the direction and intensity of the taste sensations, ascertain the primary and secondary tastes.
The fourth step is done at the same time as the third. Aspirating the coffee across the tongue also aerates it, turning organic compounds that were in liquid state into a gaseous state because of change in vapor pressure. The forceful sucking action draws these gases into the nasal cavity. The simultaneous sensations of taste and nose gives the sample a unique flavor. In standard roasts the nose tends to favor a sugar-browning by-product (nutty, caramelly, or chocolatly). In dark roast coffee the nose tends to favor a dry-distillation by-product, (turpeny, spicy or carbony.)
After the brewed coffee has been held in the mouth for a few seconds swallow a small portion with a hard pumping of the larynx to force vapors lingering in the back of the palate into the nasal cavity. The flavors may have sweet characteristics reminiscent of chocolate, or may remind you of smoke from a campfire or tobacco. The after taste could also have a pungent spice note such as clove or resinous as pine sap or may be any combination of these flavors.
Finally, probe the liquid to determine its mouthfeel. Gently slide your tongue across the roof of your mouth. The oiliness, or slipperiness, of the sensation indicates the fat content of the brew. The sensation of 'thickness' or viscosity measures the fiber and protein content. These two sensations constitute the coffee's body.