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A step by step guide to cupping coffee

‘Coffee’ is not a flavour. There, we said it. There are 20 spokes on the Lincoln & York flavour wheel – and that was us narrowing it down. Butter, honey, berry and tea are just four of them. Each one makes up the personal profile of a coffee bean and what we taste changes throughout the roasting process too.

Coffee has to be sipped, savoured and scrutinised at every stage to fully understand the flavour profile and how it behaves, either on its own or mixed with other origins in blends. That’s where cupping comes in; the act – and art – of tasting and rating coffee.

Cupping means something different to everyone in the coffee chain, from buyer to roaster to QC to barista. Cupping may be used to taste and rate different types of coffee, or different stages of roasting for the same coffee, for instance. Whether you’re cupping in a village in Brazil or our tasting room in Brigg, there is a step by step method to achieve a standardised rating. And, while the flavours can be complex, the system is refreshingly simple.

A sip-by-sip guide

What you’ll need (for five cupping bowls of one coffee bean)

20g of the coffee bean you want to taste (The optimum ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water so this will change depending on the size of your bowl)

300ml (minimum) water

2 x cupping bowls

2 x rinsing cups (with hot water in)

1 x waste cup

2 x cupping spoons

Coffee grinder

Coffee scales

Hot water element

Timer/stop watch

Close-up shot of freshly ground coffee beans being poured from a grinder into a glass carafe.

Step One

Grind the coffee beans in your grinder and split equally between the two ‘cupping bowls’

Top tip:

When grinding beans it’s important to prime your grinder with some of the beans to start with for example if you’re grinding 20g of each coffee bean pull 2g through the grinder in between each different bean (or blend) to make sure that none of the previous flavour  carries over into the next one.

Step Two

Assess the coffee aroma in its dry form

Step Three

Heat some water to approximately 93°Cor 200° F and pour 150ml into each cupping bowl. Start your timer at this point so that you can break the crust

Top tip:

This stage should be done no more than 30 minutes after grinding the coffee.

Step Four

Once  3-5 minutes has elapsed, gently break the crust by pushing the grounds to the back of the bowl and again bend down close to the cupping bowl to assess the coffee aroma again in its wet form as you break the ‘crust’

Top tip:

If you are breaking the crust of more than one bowl at this point make sure you use a different spoon for each or make sure you rinse your spoon thoroughly between each coffee.

Step Five

Remove the grounds from the top of each cupping bowl using two spoons and discard them into the ‘waste bowl’

A man in an apron tasting coffee using a spoon

Step Six

The actual tasting starts at around 10 minutes on the timer (when the liquid is at 71°C)

You may have been raised not to ‘slurp’ your soup, but when it comes to cupping slurping is not only excusable, it is essential. Slurping means that the coffee covers every part of the tongue and you can really taste the different elements (texture, flavour & acidity) of the coffee and its roast level.

This is where you asses the flavour profile of the finished cup, and where at Lincoln and York one of our registered Q graders can give the coffee an individual ‘Q Score’ or assess for quality vs. the agreed specification.

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