Last Updated on May 18, 2022 by John Moretti
If you are interested in coffee and the culture surrounding coffee, or if you find yourself getting really into specialty coffee, you may have encountered the phrase “cupping” and wondered what it means in the context of coffee? Cupping is surprisingly important in the world of coffee, and if you want to find out more about it, you have found the right place.
Cupping in coffee is the process of tasting a variety of coffee brewed in a clean and precise manner in order to identify the particular characteristics and flavors of the coffee. Cupping is used at every tier of the value chain to maintain quality, check roast success, and communicate flavors.
Cupping is used in the coffee industry at almost every level, especially regarding specialty coffee, but understanding why it is so important can be difficult. Let’s explore the practice of cupping coffee to learn why this process is so critical to the modern coffee industry and what it means for the everyday coffee drinker.
What Is Coffee Cupping?
If you are unfamiliar with the term, coffee cupping may sound strange and unnecessary. However, coffee cupping is among the most essential practices in the coffee industry and affects every aspect of the coffee value chain, from the producer to the consumer.
Coffee cupping is the process of comparing multiple types of coffee, usually a minimum of three coffee varieties, in order to compare them against one another to highlight and discover the unique characteristics and flavor notes of each type of coffee.
The process of cupping coffee involves grinding and brewing a variety of freshly roasted coffee beans into small cupping bowls or vessels without any form of filtration and tasting each coffee variety directly from the vessel. Tastings occur at different temperature ranges, and each coffee is tasted against and directly compared to every other coffee variety in the tasting.
Tasting a wide variety of coffee is the best way to identify sublet and unique coffee flavors and characteristics to determine the quality, tasting notes, and particular aspects of coffee beans.
The person tasting the coffee beans during the cupping process keeps track of the individual characteristics of each coffee variety by using tasting score sheets that enable the taster to carefully note everything that they experience in each coffee.
Every aspect of the coffee is recorded, including all flavor notes, texture, mouthfeel, body, aroma, and aftertaste. The process of cupping is vital for testing the quality of coffee and highlighting the individual flavors of coffee, as they are very difficult to determine without a comparison.
The premise of coffee cupping is comparative tasting, and without this involved process, there would be no reliable way to identify the individual characteristics and quality of particular coffees.
When Is Coffee Cupping Done?
Cupping is a process of comparative tasting that is performed at almost every level of the coffee supply chain. Different levels of the coffee supply chain will use cupping as means of identifying certain aspects of the coffee, ensuring that a certain level of quality is maintained, and even checking the success of a coffee roast.
Coffee cupping is used in the industry in many different ways. For example, coffee buyers will cup brewed coffee when they visit specific coffee origins, farms, and growers when searching for coffee beans that they may want to buy to sell.
Coffee importers will also cup coffee to check the coffee quality and to ensure that the coffee that is shipped to them is the same coffee and the same quality that they tasted in their pre-purchase sample. This typically applies to importers that purchase coffee beans from multiple origins and producers.
Roasters are known to cup coffee to identify which roasting processes are successful and to make sure that the quality of the roasting process that they use is producing good coffee beans for brewing.
Cupping is even done on a small scale by owners and baristas of cafés and coffee shops in order to decide which coffee varieties they want to place on their menu. This is very common among coffee shops and cafés that specialize in specialty coffee.
From these examples, it is plain to see that cupping is an important aspect and process in the coffee industry at every level, and skilled coffee tasters that perform coffee cupping along the way are the heroes that ensure that the everyday coffee drinker receives high-quality coffee that they expect, and are not subjected to inferior coffee beans.
How Does Cupping Affect The Everyday Coffee Drinker?
We have explored the role of cupping along with the main supply levels of coffee, but does cupping at these levels really have a big impact on the way the normal person drinks and experiences coffee?
The truth is that coffee cupping is the main form of quality control and coffee characteristic identification in the coffee industry. Without the process of comparative coffee cupping, it would be very difficult to identify the unique attributes of any coffee variety.
This means that without coffee cupping, it would be impossible to inform the person who may buy or drink a particular coffee of any of its particular flavors and characteristics. This would mean that any person buying a bag of coffee for brewing at home would have no way of telling what the coffee is like before brewing it, which may lead to a person accidentally buying a brewing coffee that they do not enjoy at all.
This experience would then reflect badly on the brand, and that person would be less likely to ever buy coffee from that producer, or even that origin again, based solely on one experience.
A lack of coffee cupping would also remove quality control in the industry. This means that it would be practically impossible to know the quality of coffee, and therefore it would be impossible to value coffee. This means that every coffee shop would sell coffee, not knowing if it tastes good or is of high quality or not, and there would be no price variation in coffee.
Every coffee would be sold at the same price, meaning that poor quality coffee would be as expensive as high-quality coffee. All of these factors would have a knock-on effect that would have a major impact on the coffee industry as a whole, and no everyday coffee drinker would have any control over the coffee that they purchase or brew.
Without coffee cupping, the everyday coffee drinker would struggle to find any coffee that they enjoy, which would ruin the experience entirely.
At the end of it all, cupping in coffee is an important aspect of tasting, comparing, identifying, and evaluating coffee while maintaining standards of quality across the entire industry. Without cupping, the coffee industry would be what we know it to be today.
To discover the value of cupping for yourself, get together a small sample of various coffee beans and brew them all in a cupping format. Taste them comparatively with a critical palate, and you will quickly identify the various flavors and qualities of the coffee that you taste.