Coffee cupping, also known as, coffee tasting, is a professional practice in the coffee industries used to observe the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. With a longer brew time, cupping allows you to detect some subtler flavors and aromas that are harder to pinpoint at higher temperatures. Although it is a professional practice, it can be done informally by anyone who are then referred to as “Q-graders”.
A standard coffee cupping procedure involves deeply sniffing the coffee, inhaling the aroma, and then loudly slurping the coffee so that it travels to the back where the throat and tongue meet. This allows for all of the taste buds to be coated evenly in order for the entirety of the flavor to be tasted. In order to properly taste the coffee, the taster must attempt to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste, specifically the body: texture, sweetness, flavor and aftertaste.
Coffee Aroma – The Bold & Beautiful
Nutty aromas are more common that are roasted lighter and tend to resemble roasted nuts, hence the reference to nuttiness. Other aromas that result from this process in the beans or fresh coffee grounds can have cocoa, barley, malt, or even pastry-like aromas which directly correlate to the sweetness of that cup. There are around 18 distinct aromas that “graders” can come across when tasting coffee samples. It is important to note the distinctive reasons of what each aroma means. There can be good and bad reasons for why the coffee has the aroma that it does. Some examples of good and bad aromas include:
Coffee Aromas – Ashy
This aroma is said to be similar to that of an ashtray, the smell of smokers’ fingers or the smell that occurs after cleaning a fireplace. This descriptor is used by tasters to indicate the degree of roast.
Coffee Aromas – Burnt/Smokey
Described as similar to the scent of burnt food. Another example of this type of aroma could be compared to smoke produced when burning wood. It is frequently used to indicate the degree of roast which is a common aroma for tasters using dark-roasted or oven-roasted coffees.
Coffee Aromas – Rancid/Rotten
Rancid aroma is often an indicator of fat oxidation mainly refers to rancid nuts. Tasters should be warned not to use these terms to describe coffee that has strong notes but no signs of deterioration.
Coffee Flavors – Chocolate-like
This term is used to describe highly aromatic coffees which produce large amounts of volatiles. It is reminiscent of the flavor and scent of cocoa powder and chocolate.
Coffee Flavors – Caramel
This aroma bears heavy resemblance to the flavor and smell produced when caramelizing sugar without burning it. This aroma occurs when the sugars in the coffee are broken down by the heat from roasting.
Coffee Flavors – Taste Acidity
A basic taste characterized by the solution of an organic acid. A desirable sharp and pleasing taste particularly strong with certain origins as opposed to an over-fermented sour taste.
Coffee Flavors – Bitterness
A primary taste characterized by the solution of caffeine, quinine and certain other alkaloids. This taste is considered desirable up to a certain level and is affected by the degree of roast brewing procedures.
Coffee Flavors – Sweetness
This is a basic taste descriptor characterized by solutions of sucrose or fructose which are commonly associated with sweet aroma descriptors such as fruity, chocolate and caramel. It is generally used for describing coffees which are free from off-flavors.
Coffee Flavors – Saltiness
A primary taste characterized by a solution of sodium chloride or other salts. Will leave an interesting but refined aftertaste.
Coffee Flavors – Sourness
This basic taste descriptor refers to an excessively sharp, biting and unpleasant flavor (such as vinegar or acetic acid). It is sometimes associated with the aroma of fermented coffee. Tasters should be cautious not to confuse this term with acidity which is generally considered a pleasant and desirable taste in coffee.
Mouthfeel – Texture
This attribute descriptor is used to describe the physical properties of the beverage. A strong but pleasant full mouthfeel characteristic as opposed to being thin.
To an amateur coffee taster, it can be compared to drinking milk. A heavy body is comparable to whole milk whereas a light body can be compared to skim milk. The astringent attribute is characteristic of an after-taste sensation consistent with a dry feeling in the mouth, undesirable in coffee.