Coffee Cupping at Home: How to Identify Tasting Notes

Coffee Cupping (or tasting) at home is easy to do and a lot of fun.   When on the lookout for specialty coffee, it’s common to see tasting notes like “floral” or “citrus” written on the bag. But when you go to try the coffee yourself, and all you taste is coffee, it can be discouraging. It can make you feel like you’re just not naturally inclined to picking up flavour notes.   What we want to show you, is how you can identify tasting notes in your favorite coffee. 

Coffee cupping

The truth is, tasting coffee is a skill that you acquire over time, and it requires you to develop a flavour palette. As a beginner, the best way to do this is a coffee cupping session at home.

But don’t worry–this isn’t a test. You don’t need to pull out an official coffee cupping score sheet and mathematically evaluate each coffee. Coffee cupping at home is meant to be fun, and it’s a great place to start when it comes to identifying tasting notes. 

Before we show you how to do a cupping session, we’ll answer some common questions. We’ll go over the flavour categories that you’re assessing, the list of tools you’ll need, and the type of coffee to use. 

Coffee cupping

What is coffee cupping?

Coffee cupping is when you brew several different coffees at once and taste them all separately, recording your findings. The brewing is done quite simply by pouring hot water directly over the grounds in a cup. The coffee is sipped with a cupping spoon to assess flavour. 

Coffee cupping is an industry practise normally conducted by coffee importers to gauge coffee quality. Each coffee receives a score out of 100. By definition, specialty coffee is coffee that receives at least 80 points out of 100. 

Cupping is also done by roasters as a form of quality control, or by coffee shops when they’re choosing coffees to put on their menu.

Our previous blog about coffee cupping is based around the SCAA cupping form, but this guide will teach you how to do it at home. While you’ll be focusing on identifying flavours, you won’t need the SCAA sheet (phew!). 

Coffee cupping table

What’s the point of coffee cupping at home?

Cupping at home lets you try a whole variety of coffees at once. Trying them out side-by-side gives you a reference point, helping you spot the differences between them. This will help you develop your flavour palette.

Though there are many other factors determining flavour, every coffee origin has its own characteristic flavour notes. Trying out single origin coffees from different regions is a great place to start when identifying flavour notes. 

Coffee cupping is also fun for budding coffee enthusiasts. It’s especially fun to do with a small group of friends. Because you need a few different varieties of coffee to do a home cupping session, you can send your friends home with the leftover coffee that didn’t get brewed. 

Coffee aroma

What am I looking for when cupping coffee?

When doing your coffee cupping session, you’ll want to record your findings on a sheet of paper. Let’s say you want to try 4 coffees. Make 4 columns on your sheet of paper. Write the name or origin of the coffee, and a line for the following categories. 

Coffee aroma

What if I don’t have words to describe the coffee?

When you’re stumped for words, you can always consult this interactive flavour wheel. It’s not cheating to read up on all the ways a coffee can taste. Rather, it gives you a vocabulary to describe what a coffee reminds you of. It’ll help you in the future when you encounter challenging coffees. 

Coffee cupping tools

What do I need for coffee cupping at home?

Here’s the list of supplies and ingredients you’ll need for a successful home coffee cupping session.

Coffee cupping

What coffee should I use?

For coffee cupping at home, we recommend trying at least 4 types of coffee with different flavour notes. Great options include Ethiopia Guji Uraga, Bolivia Buena Vista, Kenya Kiambu AA, and Costa Rica El Poeta.

What ratio is best for coffee cupping?

For coffee cupping, you’ll want a weaker ratio than a pour over. The pour over ratio is 1:16, but you’ll want a 1:17 ratio (1 part coffee, 17 parts water). So, if you’re using 12 grams of coffee, you’ll need 200 mL of water. Weaker ratios help you identify tasting notes better. 

Coffee tasting

Ready to start cupping coffee? Let’s go!

How to cup coffee at home

  1. Measure out 12 grams each of the different types of coffee. Be careful to purge the grinder between varieties to avoid mixing coffees. Place the grounds into 4 separate bowls. 
  2. Smell the dry grounds, and record your findings.
  3. Pour hot water (30-60 seconds off the boil) directly up to the top of the bowls, making sure to saturate all the grounds. Set a timer for 4 minutes, and let the bowls sit.
  4. After 4 minutes, the grounds will have floated to the top. Smell the wet aroma, and record your findings. 
  5. Break the crust by using a spoon to stir the grounds and let them sink to the bottom. This stops the brewing process. Use two spoons to catch the remaining grounds floating on top, and rinse your spoons. After you’ve broken the crust, the coffee will still be very hot. Wait an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Once it’s cooled to the point of being drinkable, grab your sheet of paper and pencil, and it’s time to start evaluating the coffee. Take a spoonful of the coffee, and audibly slurp it to spray it across your mouth. This helps you assess all aspects of the flavour. 
  7. Write your findings under each heading: flavour, cleanliness, aftertaste, acidity, body, and sweetness. Do this for each type of coffee until you’re done. Coffee tasting

    Not your average cup of joe

    Congratulations on your first coffee cupping! We hope you found the experience fun. You may have liked some of the coffees more than others, and you may have even disliked some of them. This is all normal–everyone has their own personal taste. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what flavours you like best.

    Cupping coffee at home is simply an exercise of curiosity. Developing your flavour palette takes time, and you have to drink many coffees before you start to notice patterns. Once you’re familiar with tasting notes, you’ll enjoy coffee so much more going forward. Rather than treating coffee like a caffeine fix, you’ll start to treat it with a sense of wonder. 

    We hope your coffee cupping journey brings you joy and intellectual stimulation. May your cup runneth over!

    Want to learn more about the ins and outs of specialty coffee? Check out our article on how to read a coffee label like a pro!



 



Cupping Coffee: A step by step guide

There is so much that goes into roasting that perfect cup of coffee, including a process known as cupping. This is a regular practice done at the roastery to ensure quality and flavour are to complete perfection. When you buy our beans or taste our coffee, we want to ensure that what you are getting is the best. Here is a step by step process known as cupping as completed by our roasters David Schindel and Meghan Gould.

Step 1: Weigh and grind your coffee samples. The ideal ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water.

Step 2: Evaluate dry fragrance by smelling the dry grounds within 15 minutes of grinding your coffee.

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Step 3: Infuse dry grounds with hot water (200° F (93° C)) filling all the way to the brim of the cup. Let it sit for 4 minutes leaving the crust unbroken.

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Step 4: After the 4 minutes is up break the crust by stirring three times allowing the foam to fall off the back of the spoon while gently smelling the back of the spoon.

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Step 5: Evaluate wet aroma/fragrance of the coffee samples on your SCAA scoring sheet

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Step 6: Before tasting the coffee clear off the remaining wet coffee grinds floating on top of the samples in one swift motion using two cupping spoons.

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Step 7: When the samples have cooled for about 10 minutes you can begin your flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body and balance evaluation.

When tasting: the coffee should be aspirated into the mouth so that it covers as much area as possible, making a very audible slurping noise. Flavour and after taste are then rated.

As the coffee continues to cool the acidity, body, balance are then rated. Lastly, the sweetness, uniformity and clean cup should be evaluated before your samples reach room temperature.

Step 8: Add all your scores on your evaluation sheets and you’re done! Based on your scores you can now determine the best coffee suited for your coffee shop.

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Coffee & Wine Comparison - Part 1

Let me preface this post by saying that I am by no means an expert on wine and I do not know everything about coffee.  What I can lay claim to is that I have a love for both.

When I first started in the coffee industry 6 years ago I had an appreciation for and found enjoyment in coffee, but I had a definite lack of understanding and knowledge.  As I’ve grown within the industry, my knowledge, understanding, passion and respect for coffee has continued to grow.  I don’t expect this to ever stop.  Through this process, I also discovered wine.  This too I had an appreciation for but was admittedly very ignorant as to regional variations, varietal variations, terroir variations, etc…  I’ve found that interestingly in both instances these variables can have a profound impact on the characteristics of the beverage you choose.  Ultimately for me, it came down to and education in how my palette works.  This brings me to my first discovery of the cross-over between these two wonderful beverages.

The flavor-wheels of coffee & wine:

Coffee and Wine flavour wheels

Starting in the middle of each of these we work our way to the outside in order to establish a definition of what on earth we have in our mouth.  While many of the names differ, the use and understanding of them is the same.  Ultimately it’s the similarities that drew my attention.

Another interesting social observation I’ve made is that during the time we’ve seen the uprising of the so-called “3rd wave” of coffee, with its high end, made to order coffee bars serving, fantastic coffee prepared by baristas who know and understand exactly what they are serving, how it should be served, and why it’s served that way, there has been a marked increase in the number of  “Boutique” wine shops, I’ve noticed a shift in inventory of larger big box liquor stores to carry an ever increasing inventory of fine wines, and the opening of dedicated wine bars.  I find the similar evolution astounding.

The more I think about this the more I appreciate the similarities.  Coffee is impacted by climate, so is wine. Coffee is impacted by terroir, so is wine. Coffee is impacted by processing, so is wine.  You can only drink soo much wine before you don’t feel well, we all know that it’s the same with coffee.  These are emotional drinks, they can elicit fond memories, they can bring joy, and they can quite literally alter your mood.

The only real and unfortunate difference I can find is that coffee is for the impatient…  Coffee needs to be enjoyed now.  Wine on the other hand can be for the patient.  It can have a shelf life.

What is the point of this post?  I have no idea.  It’s just something I find fascinating and is a great topic to ponder over a great cup of coffee, or glass of wine…  This being said, I’ve now decided that this will be followed up with a subsequent post discussing a little more about regionality and how we fall in love…

Written by Joel May of Fratello Coffee Roasters

Sumatran / Indonesian Public Coffee Cupping

Good day all you coffee lovers.   I'd like to invite you to come to Fratello Coffee this Thursday at 2:30 for another free public cupping.  This week we will be sampling 16 different Sumatran & Indonesian coffee.  Each of these are from different cooperatives, each processed differently and each to deliver a different profile in the cup.

Sumatrans are typically known for their Earthy flavor profiles and often described as woody, dirty and inconsistent in their roasting profile.  Our goal is to bring you a coffee which still offers these classic cup characteristics, at the same time as bringing something much cleaner, sweeter and syrupy to the table.

What we'll be tasting is:

We hope that you can make it to this event.  This will be a fun and casual atmosphere to taste some of the nicest coffees available from these regions.

Fratello Coffee in the News!

Fratello Coffee was on TV last week as Channel 10 News Shaw Magazine wanted to have a short interview to discuss coffee cupping.   More and more people in Calgary (and other cities obviously) are starting to hear about what us roasters do on a daily basis.

It is hard to describe coffee cupping in a 3-4 min video, but I think that Lisa from Shaw Magazine did a great job putting this video together.

To view this video click: Shaw Magazine

If you would like to talk more about coffee cupping, and if you and your friends would like to potentially do a coffee cupping evening please contact Russ by putting a response on this post.

Russ

Consistency in roasting - Continual Improvement

Many coffee roasters, ourselves included, pride themselves with the consistency of their roasting team.  This is unfortunately hard to measure unless you are always drinking the same coffees from the same roasters.  If not, you're left to simply believe what your coffee roaster tells you....that they are indeed consistent.  At Fratello this isn't 'just talk', its something we are constantly improving, and constantly testing.

Probat coffee roaster

We begin in the coffee lab with the sourcing and cupping of fresh coffees received direct from Origin.  Often this is after we've traveled to Origin and worked directly with the farmers.   These coffees are then analyzed using the Cup of Excellence cupping strategies/methods.  This helps guide us to the right region, cooperative and farm we want to work with in a particular country.   Each sample is cupped a minimum of 4 times before moving on to the final round of cupping.  (more…)

Coffee Cupping for beginners

I have been doing some research and have found that there is not a lot of information available for coffee consumers who are interested in learning the skill of tasting coffee properly, or cupping as its called in the coffee industry.  Cupping is a daily task which most roasters and green coffee buyers do on a regular basis.  This is a SKILL, and a skill that you can learn how to do over time.  You must teach your pallet how to do this properly, and through following some of these steps we have out lined, you can begin to learn.

Coffee lovers will agree that coffees by the same name are not all alike.  Coffee "cupping", or comparing coffees is not only a lot of fun for the consumer, but also imperative to coffee shop owners who are committed to offering their customers the best coffee.

Good coffee is worth discovering:

Ground rules for coffee cupping:

The real art of cupping comes with the descriptive terms used when explaining the different geographical regions being tasted.    (more…)