How to Perform a Coffee Cupping at Home
Coffee cupping at home using direction taken from the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) cupping guidelines.
Coffee cupping can be best understood as a standardized procedure for testing coffee and its various properties. The texture, the sweetness, the acidity, the flavor, and the aftertaste all are the aspects of the coffee explored through cupping.
Coffee enthusiasts can perform coffee cupping at home easily. The process enables them to explore their taste in coffee and to be more cognizant of the various qualities of it as well.
Cupping coffee involves the use of very few non-technical tools and some very simple steps.
In this article we will cover how to perform coffee cupping at home using direction taken from the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) cupping guidelines. The SCA is a trade association responsible for setting many standards within the overall coffee industry. One of these standards happens to be a specific cupping protocol which is what we will be using.
Equipment Used in Cupping
The tools needed for cupping are few and very simple to use. The following are the details.
- Coffee Grinder.
- Used for grinding the coffee into the desired size.
- Bean Tray.
- Cupping works best when at least 3 different types of coffees are available, and the flavor of each is explored. A bean tray can hold coffees of various types.
- Cupping bowls;
- The container required for making the coffee in, should have lids.
- Ensure that you keep at least 5 cupping bowls for each type of coffee you are going to work with. In situations where one cup may have a defect or is made from a bad bean, the other cups act as a control, maintaining the sample uniformity.
- The material of the cups should be tempered glass or ceramic as both of these provide thermal stability that is essential during the cupping procedure.
- Ensure that all cupping bowls are identical, can hold 207 grams to 266 grams of water (7 to 9 oz), and have a top diameter of 3 to 3.5 inches (76 - 89 mm).
- Cupping Spoons.
- Used for breaking and tasting the coffee. They are special spoons designed with a deeper bowl.
- Used to correctly weight the proportion of coffee grinds needed.
- Water boiler or kettle.
- Used for heating the water to the desired temperature.
- Forms and other paperwork.
- Used for the evaluation of the coffee after cupping procedures.
Moreover, apart from these tools, you must also ensure that the environment where the cupping procedure takes place has some important features such as:
- Adequate lighting, the room should not be devoid of bright light.
- No interfering fragrances, the room should have no aroma that may mask the aroma of the coffee.
- Cupping tables, the room should have clean and smooth-surfaced tables.
- Noiselessness, the room should be quiet.
- Comfortable temperature, the room should be at a temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold.
A Coffee Cupping Sequence
Cupping coffee is not as intricate and difficult as some might feel. It involves a few easy steps that are followed by an extensive evaluation of the coffee sample. Below are the steps you need to follow for cupping coffee.
1. Measure Everything
Start by measuring the coffee that needs to be ground and placed in each of the cupping bowls.
To create the perfect Golden Cup, you will need 8.25 grams of coffee, measured as whole beans, to every 150 grams of water you use. The Golden Cup Standard refers to coffee that has a TDS of 11.5 to 13.5 grams per liter or an extraction yield of 18-22%.
Grind the beans to medium-coarse sand-like texture.
Please ensure that the grinder is clean before each grind. This eliminates the chances of cross-contamination of the different types of coffee and also makes certain that the quantity of each sample is not reduced.
Smell the dry grounds and take note – this will be used during evaluation. Use a lid to cover the cup immediately.
2. Prepare the Water
Heat the water to approximately 200 F or 93 C. The water best for cupping should have a TDS level of 125-175 ppm. We cover preparing fantastic water for brewing fantastic coffee in our Building Water for Coffee Brewing article.
Once heated, pour the water directly into the cupping bowls and ensure that all coffee grounds are soaked.
Let the soaked grounds rest for at least 3 minutes, but not longer than 5 minutes.
Evaluation is the most crucial part of cupping coffee. Here, the cupper uses his perception of quality and evaluates the coffee differently based on its various properties and assigns a score to it. Evaluation of the coffee should be as objective as possible.
The evaluation process requires you to score your coffee and mark them on a Cupping Form.
What is a Cupping Form?
The cupping form is developed by the SCA and describes the global standard for cupping coffee. One of the first things that you mention on a cupping form is your name, the date, and the sample number you will be cupping. It is a 16-point scale with numeric values from 6 to 9 and quarter-point increments.
The following is the description of the scores on the cupping form.
- Point 6 - 6.75 = “Good”
- Point 7 - 7.75 = “Very Good”
- Point 8 - 8.75 = “Excellent”
- Point 9 - 9.75 = “Outstanding”
However, there are numerous altered versions of it as well. The form is entirely numerical. It focuses on producing statistical quantitative data. It targets “specialty” coffee and thus produces scores falling in the 80-95 point range or 6-10 for individual scoring. “Specialty” coffee is coffee that has the best flavors produced in specialty microclimates.
Scores on this Cupping Form pertain to the Fragrance/Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, Balance, Uniformity, Clean Cup, Sweetness, and Defects of the coffee sample. It also contains an Overall score. The total scores of each section should be mentioned inside the small box on the top right. The scores given to each attribute are summed up whereas the scores obtained due to the defects are subtracted at the end of the evaluation. The form also contains an area for notes. Here, the cupper mentions details about the coffee that cannot be mentioned in the Cupping form such as the Aroma Bouquet and details about flavor or acidity. You can refer to the picture of a sample cupping form provided below.
Stepping Through an Evaluation
The cupping evaluation process covers a number of different attributes and below is an in-order expansion of each attribute and how to evaluate it.
- The dry fragrance is the first to be evaluated. This takes place through sniffing the coffee 15 minutes after the beans are ground.
- The wet evaluation takes place 3-5 minutes after the infusion with water. This happens when the crust is broken with the help of cupping spoons by stirring three times.
How would you evaluate this?
- Mark the score of the dry fragrance on the first vertical scale on the cupping form, indicating the intensity.
- Similarly, score the wet fragrance on the vertical scale to the right.
- The collective score of the Fragrance/Aroma takes into account both these evaluations reflecting the scores of the intensity of the dry coffee and the wet coffee. A medium intense coffee fragrance such as that of chocolate may obtain a score of 7.5, whereas, a highly intense aroma will score around 8.5 or above.
2. Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, and Balance
- After the sample has reached a temperature of 160 F or 71 C, the flavor and aftertaste are rated. The flavor of the coffee describes how well the sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent tastes integrate into the coffee. You will do this evaluation by slurping the coffee samples using cupping spoons so that the coffee spreads to the majority of your mouth and palate.
- The evaluation of the aftertaste takes place next. The aftertaste refers to the taste left behind after swallowing the coffee. A good aftertaste is one that feels sweet and lasts long.
- As the sample further cools down to approximately 140 F or 60 C, the acidity, body, and balance are scored. You will assess the acidity by evaluating how well it balances out the sweetness of the coffee and whether the acidity is of a tangy or refined type. Acidity in the coffee without any sweetness would not obtain a high score.
- Evaluation of the body of the coffee is next. It describes how the coffee tastes in your mouth, how “heavy” it feels, and whether it tastes dense or grainy.
- Lastly, you will assess the balance, which is how well the different flavors in the coffee blend together. The score for the balance is given after considering all the previous aspects.
How would you evaluate this?
- For scoring the flavor on the scales present on the Cupping form, a score of 8.5 and above would represent an excellent coffee flavor. While evaluating the flavor, keep in mind how this score reflects your entire flavor experience. You can add more detail about the flavors you taste in the Notes section.
- Evaluating the aftertaste refers to the lingering of the positive flavor qualities of the coffee. If the aftertaste is short or unpleasant, a lower score would be allotted such as a 6 or 6.5.
- The first evaluation of the acidity is given on the vertical scale indicating a high or low intensity. The final score on the horizontal scale should take into account the quality of the acidity, the different types of acids tasted, and lastly the intensity of the acidity. To achieve a high overall score the coffee must be both acidic and pleasant in its balance.
- The evaluation of the heaviness of the coffee is next. It is first rated on the vertical scale and then the final score is given where both the heaviness and the pleasant mouthfeel are considered.
- You will evaluate the balance of the coffee next. A high score of balance would be obtained by coffee that is both pleasant and complex in its flavor such as a 7.75-8.5. A score in the middle, for example, 7.5-7.75, would be given to a coffee that has mild malic and citric acidity. If the coffee is not very pleasant and also has a tea-like body, it will most likely obtain a lower score such as a 7.25-7.5.
3. Sweetness, Uniformity, and Cleanliness
- After the temperature of the coffee reaches room temperature (below 100 F or 37 C), you will evaluate the sweetness, uniformity, and cleanliness.
How would you evaluate this?
- For uniformity, you analyze each cup and if you find a cup that tastes different from the remaining cups, you mark the corresponding box. Each box is worth 2 points with the whole section containing 10 points. The scores of the marked boxes are subtracted from 10 points to obtain a score for the uniformity.
- For the “cleanliness” of the coffee, you will try to identify the defect that is causing one cup to taste different in the uniformity section. If you are successful in pinpointing the reason behind why one of the cups taste different, you will check the box of the same cup in the Clean Cup section. 2 points for each marked box will be deducted from the total score of the section.
- The sweetness section is scored the same way as the Uniformity and Clean Cup section. In this, if the known defect recognized in the Clean Cup section leaves behind zero sweetness, then the relevant box is marked. You will find the final score of the section by subtracting 2 points for each marked box from 10 points.
4. Overall Score
In this section, you will score subjectively. If you believe that the cup of coffee was up to the mark and approve of the quality, then you will give it a high score such as an 8.5 or above.
The evaluation of the coffee comes to an end when the temperature reaches 70 F or 21 C. To find the final score, you will subtract the negative scores of the defects from this total score.
The Defects are either a “taint” or a “fault”. The taint defect is a mild off-flavor that doesn’t leave the coffee unpalatable, whereas, the fault defect reflects an overwhelming off-flavor that leaves the coffee unpalatable. Each taint is worth 2 points each whereas, each fault is worth 4 points each. These are multiplied with the number of cups each defect was found in to receive a defect score.
“Specialty Grade” and “Premium Grade” are the only two grades of coffee that the SCA Green Arabica Coffee Classification System (GACCS) recognizes. The following classification evaluates the final score in terms of the grades of coffee.
- 90-100 - Outstanding - Specialty
- 85-99.99 - Excellent - Specialty
- 80-84.99 - Very Good - Specialty
- < 80.0 - Below Specialty Quality - Not Specialty
This cupping tutorial should have you on your way with a standardized way of evaluating different coffee beans, roasts and roasters. If you throw away all of the scoring and nuances of evaluation, you’re basically left with an end goal of deploying consistent and objective rankings for desirable attributes.
A home brewer can take this a step further and come up with their own set of favorable attributes. There’s no reason the score has to be numerical – it could simply be a list of check boxes, or specific flavor profiles, etc. The most important thing is that you enjoy drinking coffee.