Author: David Kelley
Learning to cup coffee at home can vastly expand your knowledge and experience
If you’re a coffee enthusiast, or you’re just beginning to discover the complex, fascinating world of specialty coffee, cupping is an essential activity. This process enables you to truly appreciate the subtle nuances of different coffee varietals, growing regions, roasting processes, and more.
In this article, you’ll learn what coffee cupping is, why people do it, what you need to have available for a cupping, and step-by-step instructions to enjoy your first cupping right in the comfort of your own home. You’ll also discover what you should be looking for throughout your cupping, and how you can use the experience to more fully enjoy coffee in the future.
What is coffee cupping?
Cupping coffee at home starts with exploring the subtle and amazing aromas of each cup
Simply put, coffee cupping is the systematic process of grinding, brewing, and tasting different types of coffee side by side. Anyone can do it!
Coffee cupping is a process that allows you to fully experience the sensory qualities of several types of coffee side-by-side. By comparing and contrasting the flavors, aromas, bodies, and other attributes of different types of coffee, you can refine your ability to notice and appreciate each coffee’s unique qualities.
The same method you are about to learn is used throughout the supply chain to assess, score, and categorize the coffee that ends up in your cup. Green (unroasted) coffee suppliers and buyers, coffee roasters, baristas, retail buyers, and many more rely on cupping to provide customers with the highest-quality, most enjoyable coffee possible.
Why do coffee cupping at home?
As you practice cupping, you’ll find yourself able to pick up on subtle nuances in flavor, viscosity, aroma, color, and many other attributes. These nuances are often lost on typical consumers, whose taste buds have become accustomed to the stale, lifeless coffee found on supermarket shelves.
Coffee cupping at home gives you the ability to truly focus on each coffee, free from the distractions of a public coffee shop or roastery. When you practice cupping at home, you also avoid any potentially leading remarks from others, like, “That will probably taste like dark chocolate to you.”
What should you focus on during a coffee cupping?
Before you plan and start buying items for your first coffee cupping at home, it’s critical to understand what you should be focusing on when assessing different types of coffee during a tasting. Here are the main aspects of coffee to pay attention to:
Aroma/fragrance - you’ll undoubtedly notice the aroma of coffee long before you taste it. In fact, it’s often one of the most alluring aspects of freshly-brewed coffee - many people who don’t even drink coffee at all say they enjoy the aroma.
Proper and consistent technique is key to getting the most out of a home coffee cupping experience
Notice how the aroma changes from dry ground, to wet-ground, to fully brewed. You’ll likely notice a strong burst of fragrance right after grinding the beans - at this stage, it’s easy to notice chocolate, berry, raisin, and other strong notes.
Compare this to the fragrance unlocked when the hot water hits the coffee grounds. What new aromas do you notice? Do the same when you taste the coffee - what changes as you sip?
Taste: As noted earlier, slurping brings out the taste in coffee, providing you with a burst of flavors that intermingle, fade in and out, and sometimes elude description. You can use a pre-made taster’s chart to help you identify elusive flavors and fine-tune your ability to appreciate their nuances.
Keep in mind that it’s not about “right” or “wrong.” It’s about fully experiencing all the flavors in your cup so you can understand what you like and don’t like.
Aftertaste: After you swallow a spoonful of coffee, you’ll likely notice that the flavors change, fade, or intensify. What changes do you notice? Do you find the aftertaste enjoyable or unpleasant?
Acidity: This can be a more difficult aspect of coffee to assess, because acidity can impart both pleasant and unpleasant flavors to your coffee. Coffee with balanced acidity exhibits a fresh, crisp flavor that isn’t overwhelming. Too much acidity can create an unpleasant, citrus-like “bite;” too little acidity can leave coffee tasting flat.
Body: Think of this as the “texture” or “viscosity” of coffee. A coffee with little body can taste weak and flat, even if it’s a dark roast. Some coffee drinkers prefer lighter-bodied coffees, while others prefer “heavier” full-bodied coffees with more substantial mouthfeel.
Sweetness: It’s unlikely that you’ll notice sugary-sweet notes in any of the coffees you taste. Many coffees, though, offer notes of berries, plums, caramel, and other scents our brains interpret as “sweet.”
Of course, you may notice other attributes during your cupping. Be sure to document them, and your reactions, for future cuppings.
What items do you need?
Now that you know what to pay attention to, you’ll need to gather a small list of items.
Fortunately, you don’t need expensive or hard-to-find equipment to enjoy coffee cupping at home, any time you want. All of the items you need are inexpensive, and can be easily purchased from online or brick-and-mortar retailers:
- Three different types of freshly roasted, whole coffee beans - “types” could be blends, single-origins (e.g., Guatemala, Ethiopia, Brazil), roast levels, flavors, etc. You’ll want to have at least 20 grams (about 0.7 ounces) of each type of coffee.
- A coffee grinder - these range from inexpensive manual grinders and electric blade-type units to costlier burr grinders.
- A stovetop, hot plate, or other appliance capable of heating 900g (30.43 ounces) of water to boil.
- A kitchen scale - you’ll use this to weigh portions of coffee before grinding.
- A countdown timer - you probably have one on your smartphone.
- Cupping bowls - at least six cupping bowls with 160-200ml (5.4 - 6.75 ounce) capacity. You may want to buy extra cups to fill with hot water for rinsing spoons.
- Cupping spoons - at least three cupping spoons.
- Glass/cup of filtered drinking water - this allows you to cleanse your palette when switching from one coffee to another during cupping.
- Notebook and pen (or phone app) to record observations. Of course, here at Two Bit Rush Coffee Roasters we suggest the Goldleaf "Coffee Journal" which has great tips for experiencing your cupping as well as detailed pages where you can record your notes and thoughts. You can find this amazing little notebook for sale here.
How to enjoy coffee cupping at home
Now that you’ve gathered all the items you need to enjoy your own coffee cupping, it’s time to get started.
Remember that coffee cupping is an experience, not a task. Although professionals hone and maintain their skills by cupping practically every day, it’s never something they rush through.
Enjoying a coffee cupping experience or party at home with friends and family can be a wonderful and educational experience
The point is to open you to a new world of sensory experience and enable you to master that world for yourself, the way a concert violinist masters the notes he plays.
Be sure to allow 30-45 minutes for your coffee cupping experience. This will give you plenty of time to let everything around you dissolve and focus your attention solely on the coffees you’re sampling.
Here is the process:
Step 1: Heat at least 900g of filtered water to a boil. Remove from heat.
Step 2: Measure out 20g of each type of whole bean coffee using your kitchen scale. Separate each 20g portion in a separate cupping bowl.
Step 3: Place the beans from one cup into the grinder. Select the “coarse” setting, if your grinder lets you choose your grind level.
Grind the beans until they are about as coarse as sea salt, then divide the ground coffee into two cupping bowls, so that each contains 10g of coffee.
Unplug and wipe out the grinder, then repeat this process for each coffee type.
Step 4: Pour 150g (about 5 ounces) into each cupping bowl. As you do, put your nose 3-4 inches from each cup and inhale the aroma released by the wet coffee grounds.
Step 5: Wait four minutes (the second-hardest part). Then, use cupping spoons to “break the crust” by pushing the grounds to the back of each cup. Be sure to rinse spoons between each use to avoid mixing grounds in your cupping bowls.
Step 6: Use two cupping spoons to scoop the grounds and foam from the surface of the coffee liquid in each cup. Discard the grounds and rinse the spoons.
Step 7: Wait at least 13 minutes to allow the coffee in each cup to cool to the proper temperature for tasting. (Yes, this is the actual hardest part.)
Step 8: Use a cupping spoon to bring a spoonful of one type of coffee to the edge of the cup. Slurp the coffee, allowing it to touch the entire top surface of your tongue. Slurping helps unlock the flavors, aromas, and other subtleties of each coffee.
Repeat the process with the second cup of the same type of coffee. This lets you verify or re-assess what you experienced from the first cup. You won’t have to wonder, “Was I really tasting plum, or was I imagining it?”
Step 9: Write down the type of coffee you just tasted, when you tasted it, and what you experienced. Did you notice any difference between the two cups containing the same coffee? What flavors and aromas did you notice? Was there an “aftertaste?”
Step 10: Sip filtered water to cleanse your palette and get ready to experience the next type of coffee.
Repeat steps 6-10 for each type of coffee, taking your time to fully experience and evaluate each type, and to record your observations.
That’s it. You’re ready to taste coffee like the professionals do! Now go try your first coffee cupping at home and find out how satisfyingly complex coffee can truly be.
Be sure to shop Two Bit Rush Coffee Roasters' coffees. We offer a selection of single origin coffees, curated blends, and flavored coffees. Roasted daily and delivered fresh.