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What is Coffee Cupping and How is it Advancing?

Aug 20, 2020 | Blog, Coffee

Coffee cupping as a whole is becoming more and more accessible for the everyday coffee drinker. You can easily order coffee cupping kits online and there are even cupping kits for cold brew available online. However, cupping is also changing for those within the industry as well. From the equipment used to how we record our data, changes are happening.

What is Cupping?

Coffee cupping evaluations started in the 1890’s. Prior to this time most coffee evaluation was visual, and pricing was based upon the size and color of the green coffee beans.

Coffee cupping is a professional skill completed  certified individuals known as “Q Graders”.

A standard coffee cupping procedure involves deeply sniffing the coffee, then loudly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue. The coffee taster attempts to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste. Specifically grading the body, sweetness, acidity, flavor, and aftertaste.

Cupping Changes

Some cupping specifics have changed since the initial evaluation process was put in place. But, interestingly, a good deal of the basic concepts and tools are still in use today.

There was not as much control during industry coffee cupping in the past. Now we have rooms that control air movement, sounds, and odors that can ensure full sensory attention is maintained. Even the water used to brew is controlled with the use of water filtration systems.

Many of the tools on the other hand have not changed. Grinders, scales, and even spoons are still used today. The real difference is that the items we use today are simply much more precise.

And don’t forget the new tools such as organic acid kits to measure/find the common organic acids in coffee. There are currently four acids that are specifically looked at during a cupping: citric, acetic, malic, and phosphoric. However, there is one more, lactic, that can be added on as well.

We also have equipment like roast degree analyzers which enable consistency when cupping particular coffees and helping to find a coffee’s ideal roast level. Back in the beginning roast was even an evaluation category.

A Very Important Advancement

One of the most noticeable advancements in coffee cupping are the forms, grading mats, and aroma and tasting vocabulary posters used to help grade the coffee.

When you are grading a coffee, you will most likely be using the SCA’s Protocols and Cupping Form to guide you and to record your results. You will have studied the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon and the SCA’s Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.

And as with all things related to coffee, there are even advancements happening here. Enter Tastify. Tastify is an app powered by Sustainable Harvest. This app helps a trained cupper evaluate a coffee and share their information with other users both up and down the coffee chain. It also saves a history of cuppings to help recall coffees and profiles that were found to be more desirable.

As you can tell, coffee cupping can be as simple as a quick tasting in a shop or as complex as a scientist working in a lab. But one thing remains true. There will always be room for advancement on how coffee is measured and evaluated.

coffee Cupping