Get to Know Your Coffee
If you’re like many coffee drinkers, you probably have an appreciation for different types of coffee beans. You might even know a bit about where your coffee beans come from, how they were roasted, or the manner in which they were grown. Perhaps you have a favorite that you buy whenever you get the chance.
You love coffee, and you know that different beans have different flavors. But how much do you really appreciate the subtleties inherent in each variety at your local coffee shop? Have you really taken the time to explore the differences between coffee beans from Ethiopia and those sourced from Columbia?
Cupping Will Make a Coffee Connoisseur Out of You
Coffee cupping is a process that will help you take your coffee connoisseurship to a whole new level. If you’ve never done a coffee cupping before, don’t worry – we’ll tell you all about it.
Coffee cupping has only recently come into vogue among the general coffee-loving public, but it has actually been around for a long time. It’s been standard industry practice among coffee producers since the late 1800s. They’d use the cupping process to evaluate beans from different growers and decide which ones they wanted to include in their blends.
The Finer Points of Cupping
So how does cupping work? Let’s start with the supplies.
Coffee cuppings require a selection of different coffee beans for comparison purposes. In a professional setting, samples are roasted and ground in a very specific manner. The color of the beans is measured with a gadget called an Angtrong, but if you’re doing a casual cupping with friends, you don’t need to worry too much about that. Just choose a selection of fresh, similarly roasted whole-bean coffees.
When grinding the beans, be sure to clean your grinder between different varieties. You may also want to grind a small quantity of the incoming bean before grinding the actual cupping sample to “cleanse” the grinder when switching varieties. Grind the beans just on the coarse side of medium.
You’ll also need a kettle to boil your water. Timing is important – try to time it so that the water has just come to a boil by the time the beans are ground and ready for infusion.
Cuppings employ special cups called cupping vessels, which are made of ceramic or tempered glass and are usually 8oz in volume with a top diameter of 3 inches. If you’d like, you can order cupping vessels online or purchase them from a local coffee specialty supplier.
For cupping purposes, it’s important to get the ratio of coffee to water correct. Optimally, you’ll want to combine 8.25 grams of beans with 150 ml of purified water, heated to approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t need to measure each time – just do a practice run and remember the water level.
With your beans ground, measured, and distributed into cupping vessels, you’re ready to infuse. Slowly pour the water into each cup, then let it steep undisturbed for 4 minutes or so.
Breaking the Crust
Now we’re ready to break the “crust.” That’s the layer of coffee grounds floating at the top of each sample. This is an important part of the process, and there’s a correct way to do it: with your face close to the surface of each sample, and use a spoon to push the grounds down into the depths of the cup. Inhale that aroma! Is it sweet? Nutty? Spicy? Does it have the aroma of chocolate or fresh-cut grass? Maybe it smells like caramel or jasmine. Take notes on the aroma so you can compare with your fellow cuppers later. Slurp!
If any grounds remain, scoop them out to get ready for the tasting. When tasting each sample, slurp it into your mouth – it’s OK if it’s noisy – the goal is to coat your entire tongue in that (hopefully) delicious coffee. Take some notes on the flavor. It’s common practice to spit your sample out afterwards, but you should at least swallow a little bit to get a sense of the finish.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
Once everyone has had a chance to evaluate each sample, it’s time to get social. Compare notes – did they notice the same things you did? Talk about your favorites. If you did a blind cupping, you might want to see who can guess which coffee is which, just for fun.