We all love coffee, but how many of us can say we really know our coffee? There’s a lot of different flavors within a cup of coffee, and there’s a lot you can tell about the origin of the coffee, but it can also be a great laugh to have a cupping session with your friends – even if you do get some of it wrong. You don’t have to be experts to enjoy a few different flavors of coffee, so here’s a guide to coffee cupping if you’ve never done it before.
Many coffee cuppers use labels on the bottom of the coffee cups, but the point is that you don’t influence how you’re going to interpret the taste of the coffee beforehand. It might be that you just like the name of a particular brand or have an emotional attachment with its color scheme, but it can mess with your ability to judge it on its own merits. This is also why it’s a good idea to make notes privately at first, though the discussion is of course part of the fun. It’s best to let each taster form their opinion before you begin the discussion because you want as many wild ideas as you can get – it would be boring if everybody agreed on the tastes or if people were worried about being laughed at for suggesting an unusual taste association. Get your ideas on paper before you start to compare them and shed light on each other’s experiences of the flavors.
Preparing the Cup
Professional cuppers are quite specific with the preparation of the coffee, but this isn’t something you need to be too pedantic about if it’s the first time you’ve done it. It’s suggested that you use twelve grams of coffee to six ounces of water, and that the water is heated to 202F. However, why not speed things up by using a high quality bean to cup coffee machine so you can do this at the office? This could be a great way to spend a long lunch or an early finish. Just make sure you remove traces of the coffees you’ve already cupped so that the flavors don’t affect the later cups.
The Taste Itself
The flavor of a cup contains a lot of information. One thing that you should have a go at trying to interpret is the origin of the coffee. Each coffee growing region has its own flavor because of the chemical makeup of the soil, but also because of the crops that are likely to be grown alongside the beans. You can recognize African coffee by the fruity, citrusy or wine-like taste, coffee grown in the Americas tends to be nutty and slightly acidic, and coffee grown in Asia or the Pacific tends to contain a slightly herbal or spicy flavor – but you should also try to work out if the coffee your drinking is a blend of any two (or even all three) locations. To help you learn about the coffee you’re drinking and the flavors you’re tasting, make sure you have a taste chart with you for the cupping session.