A beginner's guide to cupping coffee: techniques and importance in the industry

A beginner's guide to cupping coffee: techniques and importance in the industry

Key Takeaways

Cupping coffee is a crucial skill for coffee professionals Proper cupping technique ensures consistent evaluation of coffee quality
Various cupping bowls and spoons are available for different purposes Loveramics and Hario make popular cupping equipment
Cupping helps identify flavors like floral, sweet, and nutty notes in coffee Hamlet sells a wide range of cupping supplies for beginners and pros

What is coffee cupping and why is it important?

Coffee cupping is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. It's a vital skill used by coffee professionals to evaluate coffee quality, determine tasting notes, and maintain consistency. Cupping is an important part of the coffee supply chain, from farmers and green coffee buyers to roasters and baristas.

As a beginner learning to cup coffee, having the right equipment is key. Hamlet stocks a variety of cupping supplies, including cupping bowls, cupping spoons, and tasting cups in different styles for evaluating specific coffee characteristics.

Hario coffee cupping bowl and spoon

Cupping equipment for beginners

When you're just starting out with coffee cupping, it's good to have some basic equipment on hand:

  • Cupping bowls or cups, ideally 7-10 oz in size
  • Cupping spoons
  • Timer
  • Gram scale
  • Grinder
  • Kettle
  • Tasting cups or spoons

Hamlet offers some excellent starter sets, like the Hario Kasuya Cupping Bowl that comes with a matching cupping spoon. This simple porcelain bowl is designed by World Brewers Cup winner Tetsu Kasuya.

For tasting, Loveramics makes a great line of 150ml tasting cups in their Brewers series, available in basalt, granite, and carrara colors. With a flared opening to enhance aroma, these are perfect for sampling and appreciating different coffees.

Cupping bowls for evaluating specific coffee qualities

As you progress in your cupping skills, you may want specialty cups designed to highlight particular coffee characteristics. For example:

Hamlet carries the full line of Loveramics tasting cups in their coffee and tea cup collection.

Loveramics brewers tasting cups in multiple colors

Color-changing "smart" cupping bowls

For an even more high-tech approach, consider the Loveramics Modern Colour Changing Cupping Bowls. Using heat-sensitive technology, these 200-220ml bowls actually change color to indicate the temperature of the coffee:

  • White at 95°C
  • Light gray at 70°C
  • Dark gray at 55°C

This takes the guesswork out of finding the right sampling temperature. Check them out as part of Hamlet's cupping bowl collection.

Basic cupping technique

A standard coffee cupping procedure involves the following steps:

  1. Grind coffee samples to a coarse grind
  2. Smell the dry grounds and note aromas
  3. Pour hot water over grounds and let steep
  4. Break the crust after 4 minutes and smell again
  5. Taste the coffee by slurping from a spoon
  6. Spit out the sample and rinse spoon
  7. Repeat tasting as the coffee cools
  8. Take notes on flavors, body, acidity, etc.

Having a consistent process ensures you evaluate each coffee the same way. It allows you to pick up on subtle differences between samples.

Slurping technique

Slurping is an important part of cupping. Taking quick, loud slurps aerates the coffee and spreads it across your palate. This lets you taste the full range of flavors.

It can feel awkward at first, but slurping is a skill every cupper needs to master. Practice taking short, quick slurps from your cupping spoon. Try to spray the coffee across your tongue, almost like a mist.

Identifying tasting notes

With practice, you'll start to pick up on the different tasting notes in each coffee. Some common coffee descriptors include:

  • Floral - jasmine, rose, orange blossom
  • Fruity - berry, citrus, apple, grape
  • Sweet - caramel, honey, toffee, chocolate
  • Nutty - almond, hazelnut, peanut
  • Spice - cinnamon, clove, ginger
  • Savory - herbs, vegetables, mushroom
  • Roast - toast, smoke, burnt, charred

Refer to a coffee tasting wheel to learn more about the different flavor categories. Try to be as specific as possible in describing what you taste.

Why is cupping important for coffee professionals?

Cupping is a crucial skill at every stage of the coffee journey, from farm to cup. Here's why:

  • Farmers cup their coffees to determine which lots to sell or blend
  • Green coffee buyers cup samples before purchasing beans
  • Roasters cup to evaluate roast profiles and maintain quality
  • Baristas and cafes cup their offerings to provide tasting notes

At each step, cupping ensures only the highest quality coffees make it to the final consumer. It also helps maintain consistency from batch to batch.

How cupping impacts coffee pricing

Cupping scores play a big role in determining coffee prices, especially for specialty grade coffees. Coffees that cup at 80 points or above on a 100 point scale are considered specialty.

Higher scoring lots will fetch premium prices. Coffees rated 90+ points are true micro-lots that command top dollar. Cuppers must be well calibrated to give accurate scores.

Budget-minded coffee shops may opt for 80-85 point blends for their house coffees. Roasters will often create a range of offerings at different price tiers based on cupping quality.

Cupping and the evolution of specialty coffee

The rise of specialty coffee in recent decades is directly tied to the growth of cupping as a standardized practice. As consumers developed a taste for higher quality arabica coffees, the industry needed a way to separate commodity coffees from premium ones.

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) developed formal cupping protocols, along with training and certifications for professional cuppers. Today, you'll find Q graders cupping coffees at origin before export and roasters/baristas cupping at cafes - united by a shared language to describe coffee's unique qualities.

Cupping has also helped popularize single origin coffees. As cuppers identified the unique flavors of different growing regions, roasters began offering single origin options to highlight coffees' provenance. Tasting notes and cupping scores became key selling points.

How cupping can improve your coffee experience

Even if you're not a coffee professional, learning basic cupping techniques can enhance your appreciation for specialty coffee. Developing a palate and vocabulary to describe what you taste opens up a whole new dimension of coffee enjoyment.

Next time you make a pour-over or visit your favorite cafe, take a moment to really slow down and observe the coffee's aroma and flavors. See if you can pick up on some of the tasting notes the roaster has described.

You'll start to understand why certain coffees command higher prices, and how factors like variety, processing, and roast level impact the final cup. You may find yourself gravitating towards floral Ethiopians or nutty Brazilians.

Most of all, have fun with it! Taste coffees side-by-side, take notes in a journal, and enjoy the sensory experience. Visit Hamlet's coffee collection to explore a wide range of beans for your own cupping adventures.

Ready to get started with cupping?

Hamlet has you covered with all the cupping supplies you need, from basic kits to specialty evaluation cups. Don't forget to stock up on delicious coffees for tasting too.

With a little practice and the right tools, you'll be well on your way to developing your coffee cupping skills. Who knows, it may even launch you on a new career path in the exciting world of specialty coffee!

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