We are all familiar with wine tasting. But did you also know that specialty coffee beans can contain a huge range of aromas? These aromas can be determined by many factors, such as the height at which the coffee plant grows, the temperature and the quality of the soil. Everyone has their own preference, which makes assessing the taste of coffee difficult. To objectively assess the quality of a coffee bean, a standardized method has been developed by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). By means of this method, the aromas in the coffee bean are determined and a number is given between 0 and 100. When this coffee is given a number above 80, it can officially be called Specialty Coffee. For example, our India Intense coffee bean has a cupping score of 82.5.
Cupping is also an essential process to improve the quality of the coffee bean. Without properly tasting coffee, it is also not possible to make improvements in the process. During this process not only the aroma is determined, but also aspects such as the taste experience, the acidity, the sweetness, the balance and defects. Cupping has become an essential concept within the specialty coffee sector and ensures that consumers can drink better quality coffee.
There are a lot of rules about cupping coffee. This is mainly done by experts, but you can also try this yourself at home! Can you discover the differences between a supermarket coffee and a specialty coffee?
First make sure you have all the necessary materials at home:
- Coffee bean grinder
- Pen and paper
- Different types of coffee beans (preferably of course K&P specialty coffee beans)
- convex spoon
- coffee cups
- Glass of water or a piece of bread (flavor neutralization)
- Water from a bottle
The aromas are noted at various times during the cupping of the coffee beans. For this it is important to know which aromas there are. There are quite a few of these! The Specialty Coffee Association has designed a tool that can help you with this, namely the flavor wheel. Keep this image handy when you go cupping. The more often you do this, the more flavors you can discover!
The total process consists of 11 steps which are described below.
- Place 12 grams of each type of coffee beans in a separate coffee cup. Note which type is in which cup.
- Grind the contents of the cup and collect it again. Repeat with each type you want to cup, but make sure that no residue from the previously ground coffee ends up with other types. To make sure this goes well, first grind the desired coffee to 'pre-rinse' the coffee grinder, as it were. You collect this separately, but nothing is done with it. Then grind the 12 grams of coffee. Repeat this process for each type of coffee.
- Now it's time to note the first aromas. Smell the cup of ground coffee and note the aromas you smell.
- Bring water to a boil and allow to cool to a temperature between 93°C and 96°C. Place the cup on the scale and pour the water evenly into the coffee. Note how much water you have added and add exactly the same amount of water for each type of coffee.
- Set a timer for 4 minutes and let the coffee brew. A layer of coffee grounds is formed on the surface, which is also called the crust. Use this time to determine and record the aroma. Do not touch the cup, as this may break the crust.
- Then stir the surface 3 times with a spoon. The crust will break and sink to the bottom. Repeat this again with each type of coffee, but make sure you rinse the spoon with warm water between each type. That way the flavors don't mix.
- Bring your nose to the cup and note the aromas. Do you already notice a difference between the noted aromas from step 5? Also write down these differences.
- A foam layer will have formed on the surface. Remove with two spoons and repeat with each type of coffee. Don't forget to rinse the spoons with warm water after each variety so that the flavors don't mix!
- Then we have arrived at the most important part of cupping: tasting the coffee. When the coffee has cooled down, scoop the coffee onto the convex spoon. The convex spoon ensures that you can slurp the coffee better. Why would you want to slurp the coffee? This allows you to take the aromas in your nose, making the flavors come out better and the coffee will spread over your palate. In addition to the aromas of the coffee, notice the feeling it gives on your palate. For example, does it feel oily, dry or creamy? You can use the taste wheel to recognize the aromas. Do you recognize the taste of nuts? Or rather a fruity taste? From the inner ring you can determine more and more specifically which aromas are present. This will of course be difficult the first time, but practice makes perfect! You can already taste all the flavors, only recognizing them is the art. Also note how you experience the coffee. Smooth, grainy, syrupy or refined?
- To best experience all aspects of the coffee, do not swallow the coffee. Recognizable, just like when tasting wine! You do this in a spittoon. Not quite sure about the feel or the aromas yet? Please try again.
- If you want to analyze the next type of coffee, you want to be sure that the taste of the previous one is still in your mouth and has an influence on it. To prevent this, you can drink some water or eat some bread in between. This neutralizes the taste to start fresh again with the next coffee type.
Now that you've gathered all the information about the coffees, it's time to review it. The assessment is based on 11 criteria. The cupping score is determined on the basis of these criteria.
1. The aroma and smell of the freshly ground coffee
During the first steps, the coffee is ground. The smell that comes from this and the smell that arises when the hot water is poured into the coffee are the first criteria to assess the coffee. These scents should not be too different from each other.
2. The total taste experience
This criteria assesses not only the taste, but also the aroma, complexity and intensity of the coffee.
3. The aftertaste
When you swallow or spit out the coffee, some flavors emerge that were not noticeable before. Can you discover even more flavors here?
You would think this is just about the sour notes of the coffee bean. This is not the case. What matters here is the liveliness, the 'sparkle' or the clarity of the coffee. This can often be easily translated into a combination between fruitiness and sweetness. If you roast a coffee bean darker, you usually lose a lot of the acidity.
How does the coffee feel in the mouth? This is also called the body of the coffee. How do you experience it when you slurp it in? As described earlier, this experience is described from the feeling that the coffee brings to both the palate and the tongue. Slowly rub your tongue over your roof of the mouth as you move the coffee through your mouth. Does it feel gritty, oily or watery?
This is a difficult concept to define. An experienced coffee cupper is often needed to determine this. It's all about the right balance between different flavors. One flavor shouldn't seem much more dominant than the other. If a certain flavor is too strongly present or not at all, the score will be lower.
This is a term that indicates the degree of accuracy. Do you always use the same amount of coffee and water? Was the water at the same temperature used for the coffee? Consistency is key!
8. Clean cup
What flavors are present in the coffee? From slurp to aftertaste. What flavors are associated with this bean and does this match what you experience? The more this matches, the higher the score
9. Sweet character
In a perfect espresso, a sweet taste will certainly be present, but not too overpowering. The sweet character is related to the acidity of the coffee.
Which flavors or aspects negatively influence the quality of the coffee? This always weighs heavily in the overall assessment.
The overall rating of a coffee bean is based on the flavor potential of its country of origin. For example, is our Brazilian Berries bean exactly as expected from a country like Brazil? The closer this is to her potential, the higher the score.
After all criteria have been rated with a score between 0 and 10, they are added together. This total score is also called the cupping score. The figure below shows an example of determining the cupping score.
Specialty coffee beans score
This example concerns one of our coffees of the coffee of the month, namely the Costa Rica Arabica. You can see here that the average of two scores has been taken. The particular flavor profile is also shown.
Do you really want to try this yourself? With our sample packs you can really taste the difference between the different types of specialty coffee beans. Try it yourself! What score do you get?