Have you ever compared a dark roast java to a light roasted Ethiopian? The difference is stark. The Ethiopian will be light, citrusy and tea like in mouth feel, while the other will be bold and rich with evident notes of Tabaco, dark chocolate and spice.
Tasting coffee side by side is often referred to as “cupping”… and yes the word is hilarious.
Cupping is mostly used in a production setting where a number of coffees are tasted to approve samples or pre-production roasts. Coffee that’s cupped for production is often brewed straight in the cup, without and filters. 7g-12g of coarsely ground coffee are placed in a cup and hot water is poured directly onto them. This often forms a crust of floating coffee ground on the surface which is “broke” to release much of the most intense aromas and then removed. If no crust forms it’s likely the coffee is not freshly ground and has released all of its gases or has brewed too long.
When cupping in a competition format, the coffees are brewed in large batch formats and decanted into cups. The coffee tends to be slightly less distinct because it’s batch brewed but it also removes many of the other senses you usually use when cupping. There’s no visual inspection, crust or opportunity to smell ect… this is often why roasters find cupping competitions so challenging. Not only are many of your senses redundant but there’s also, noise, pressure and your mind to content with.
Want to start cupping?
Cupping coffee to taste the smallest of differences takes a lot of concentration. This is my recommendations on how to be a really great coffee taster.
• Ideally taste coffee when its luke warm (coffee is most distinct at about 42 degrees C)
• Slurp the coffee into your mouth with vigour (like you would when tasting wine)
• When you slurp in let the liquid hit every area of your tongue.
• At this first stage the main things you will pick up are the taste senses (sweet, sour, bitterness ect…)
• For the second stage I like to move the liquid back and forth in my mouth, almost like I’m chewing it. This helps get a general sense of the flavour (earthy, spicy, fruity ect.)
• For the third stage, I do something that makes me look stupid but I think probably helps pick up the most subtly and something I only picked up from years of doing it. Let the coffee roll off your tongue and out of your mouth into a ‘spit cup’ (like when your mouth is numb in a dentist). Trust me, you may look stupid doing it but if you are looking to improve you cupping skills this will probable make the most difference from taking you from mediocre to awesome.
So many people in the coffee industry think they can taste coffee but that does not make you good a triangulation (the competition format) There are so many minor things that I have only picked up with a frick load of practice that I will talk about in a more advance post.