Cupping Coffee From A-Z

Coffee “cupping” is a standardized way of evaluating the quality and characteristics of a particular coffee. In our cupping lab we’re able to evaluate all of our coffees to ensure they taste as they should and that our production roasts are consistently amazing. Coffees are mixed and slurped out of bowls in an unfiltered process. We use an official form to write our notes and give the coffee a score out of 100. Numerous categories are represented on the form - from body and acidity to sweetness and consistency. Here are some of the important terms we use when cupping coffee:

A is for... Acidity: One of the main categories on the SCA cupping form. A pleasant acidity is something we seek out when cupping coffee. Acidity adds to the complexity of the cup- complimenting sweetness.

B is for... Body: Another main category on the cupping form, body describes the heaviness or mouthfeel of the coffee. Certain coffees are expected to be thinner and others “rounder” or heavier bodied. Think about comparing skim milk to whole milk to cream. How do each feel different?

C is for... Clean Cup: On the cupping form we specifically take points away for any known defects. If we taste a cup that is sour or potato-like, points will be removed for each individual cup that has an “off” flavor.

D is for... Defect: Physical defects can be identified when looking at the green coffee, but some can be tasted during a cupping. Even one defective bean can change the flavor of an entire cup. Defects can include sour beans, floaters, or immature beans.

E is for... Excellent: Scores given between 8.0-8.75 classify the coffee as being “excellent." Most specialty coffees range in this score.

F is for... Fragrance: Before water is added in a cupping, evaluators sniff the freshly ground dry coffee to evaluate the “fragrance.” A note is made on the form and this helps in giving the first score.

G is for... Group: Coffees are tasted in groups of 5. For each coffee being tasted, 5 cups of the SAME coffee are prepared. This helps to evaluate uniformity, as in, do all cups in the group taste the same?

H is for... Hot: Samples are brewed with hot water, but the cupping is conducted while coffee cools to lower temperatures. As the coffee cools over time, different characteristics can become more noticeable.

I is for... Identify: In addition to checking for quality, we cup coffee to try to identify different flavor notes. We use these notes to decide how to describe our coffees on their bags. Lemon zest, toasted almonds, bittersweet chocolate - these are all flavors we may notice during a cupping.

J is for... Juicy: A coffee can have a “juicy” quality when it is high in sugars and balanced acidity. Brightness can add to a coffee's flavor and make fruit notes take on “juicy” characteristics.

K is for... Kiwi: Tropical fruit flavors can be used to describe coffee. Kiwi, lychee, tamarind, papaya, and passion fruit can be picked up in certain cups depending on where they’re from and how they’re processed.

L is for... Lemon: Another fruit flavor in the citrus family, we pick up an amazing lemon quality in our Ethiopian Sidamo Korate.

M is for.... M: The 5 cups are arranged in an “M” shape with cups 1,3 & 5 at the bottom and 2 & 4 at the top. These are tasted in order.

N is for... Notes: Notes are written along the bottom of the form and help expand on the scoring. Notes give specific indications of flavor notes, mouth feel descriptors, and defect information.

O is for... Overall Score: After each category is given a score and notes have been taken, the evaluator gives an overall score, taking into consideration all aspects of the cup.

P is for... Pour: Water must be poured over the coffee grounds quickly and evenly so each cup has the exact same amount of water. After the water is poured we brew the cups for 4 minutes before evaluating.

Q is for... Q-grader: Q-graders are trained and licensed coffee cuppers who are calibrated so that they can all evaluate coffee to the same standards. Q-graders from all over the world should be able to give coffees almost the same - if not exactly the same - scores based on 100.

R is for... Roast Level: The first box on the evaluation form looks for roast level. Ideally all samples would be the same but any differences would be indicated here.

S is for... Sweetness: We look for overall sweetness in a cup of coffee, but we also look at how defects effect sweetness. If a defect or off flavor in a cup is present, does it completely overpower the sweetness? If yes, we take points away.

T is for... Timer: A timer is an important tool in the coffee cupping. We want everything to be consistent so we set a timer for the brew as well as a timer when cooling the coffees down. We always taste the coffees multiple times during cooling.

U is for... Uniformity: All 5 cups should taste the same. If they do not, points are taken away for each different cup.

V is for... Vegetal: Some coffees may have a vegetal quality. Usually this comes from coffees that have not fully developed and can take on astringent or savory qualities.

W is for... Woody: There is a range of wood-like flavors that can be picked up - from oak barrel, to cedar, to papery/cardboard.

X is for... X: Cuppers use an X to indicate a coffee’s level and intensity of dry/wet aroma, acidity and body.

Y is for.... You: Your opinion matters - there’s no right or wrong way to taste coffee. What is great is that everybody has different experiences and preferences. Coffee cupping should be fun and collaborative without fear that you’ll “get it wrong.” All opinions are welcome.

Z is for... Zero: Theoretically, the range of scores go from zero to 100, but to be a specialty coffee, a total score must be above 80. Scores of 95 and above are rare!

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