The Art of Coffee Cupping

Most of us drink coffee on a daily basis. It is a ritual, our engine starter in the morning, and a delightful experience for our tastebuds. At the same time, most consumers are no coffee connoisseurs, so when asked to describe the taste of their lovely morning companion, they can’t quite get their mind around how to precisely describe it. That is why the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) developed a standardized language for tasting coffee.

At KaBu & Co we host bi-weekly cupping sessions, in order to taste and rate samples of new farms we work with. We perform the coffee tasting not only to ensure quality but to provide adequate information to our buyers all over the world. A direct trade approach lives on trust, which is why the entire process is so vital for us a company connecting farmers to buyers.

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It is, however, also way fun and an awesome way to develop sensory skills you didn’t even know existed! In this article, I will share more about my coffee tasting session at Yudhan’s coffee lab here in Bali. Besides owning a roastery and a coffee shop, he is judging for contests held by the Specialty Coffee Association Indonesia. Yudhan is a humble man who devoted his life to coffees so that you guys get the best tasting stuff!

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A total of six trained professionals conducted this cupping session. In total the team tested 9 samples from farmers in Bali, Kintamani and and Sulawesi, Toraja.

We started by telling the group about our farmers, the processes, and special characteristics. One farmer, Ketut Jati from Kintamani, supports over 200 farmers in his community, by employing entire families and paying up to three times the market price for their red coffee cherries. Stories like these do not influence taste, but coffee is an industry that is based on relationships, even more so in direct trade relationships.

After the initial introduction, the first three samples were grounded. At this point, it is worth mentioning that only freshly roasted coffee should be used to perform a coffee tasting. We roasted the coffee two days before so the aromas had enough time to settle.

Armed with the SCA cupping sheet and a sharped pencil the group began to test for fragrance. Can you tell how much coffee I had in the pictures? I’m sure you can tell :)

Unlike the rest of the exercise, this part only involves your nose. The coffee will present different subtleties when dry and when wet. Before we added hot water to the coffee grounds, the team took a few good whiffs. We call this the fragrance. Trying to smell the different nuances before even tasting it, is very challenging at the start but very important to detect defects early and provide an overall expectation for the sample. After the coffee smell cleared our nostrils and awoke our craving for more, the three samples were brewed with the coffee water ratio of 8.25 grams to 150ml.

The quality of the coffee sample and its taste profile is analyzed according to the following characteristics:

  • Fragrance / Aroma — How did the coffee smell? Any notable difference between dry fragrance and wet aroma?

  • Flavor — Simply, how does it taste? What does it taste like? Do you pick up any kind of fruitiness, nuttiness, earthiness?

  • Aftertaste — What elements of the aroma and flavors are left behind towards the back of your palate?

  • Acidity — Often described as brightness. Is it bright and sharp? Is it sour? Is it dull and flat?

  • Body — This refers to the tactile feeling of the coffee on your palate. We like to use the analogy of comparing skim milk to whole milk.

  • Balance — Is there one note or characteristic that dominates or are do the notes compliment each other?

  • Sweetness — Is the coffee sweet? Is it bitter? Any astringency or grassiness?

  • Cleanliness — Does the taste dissipate quickly after you swallow? Does it linger on your palate?

After the cupping the team sat together and discussed the individual impressions. It was immensely interesting to hear the opinion of other cuppers and their results. In the end, we enjoyed homemade snacks and talked about the future of coffee, trade, and the challenges farmers face on a daily basis. It is always so enriching to talk to people that care about the industry the same way we at KaBu & Co do.

In the next blog post, I will go into more details about how the cupping is carried out in detail and if you can achieve the same results at home.

 

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