Thursday, November 27, 2008

What is coffee cupping, anyway?

Costa Rican coffee rocks. It has a soft, pleasant taste without any of the bitter kick of beans from other places. And no moldy yuck after taste that usually comes with a cup of Sumatra. And I'm kind of surprised there are such mixed reviews for both all the time.

Sure, taste and preferences vary, but how can there be so much disagreement on descent coffee? People have mentioned places to me, swearing I'll have the best cup of coffee there ever, and I've ended up shocked and disappointed by what I've been handed.

So, I thought it might be fun to look into coffee tasting or cupping. As a coffee mega fan, I think this is something I would excel at... or at the very least get a kick out of.

And with a working vocab, there's a way to determine when to take recommendations and when to just smile and nod. It's like movie reviews. It's pointless to watch a movie loved by someone whose top ten list doesn't include a single film you like.
pen, write
Here are the results of my surfing.

  • Aroma
  • Acidity
  • Flavor
  • Body
  • Finish
  • Balance
coffee, cupAroma

Beans are coarsely ground (like for a French press) and they're smelled dry. Then water is poured, the coffee is smelled, and rated wet. I love that first moment, just before the first sip.


The idea is to determine if the coffee is tasty or just sour. Incidentally, dark French roast and French roast are the least acidic, then full city. The more acidic are the light and regular roast. The more acidic coffees are often talked about as bright, but personally, I'm all about the French roast.


Coffees are described as rich, complex, or balanced. There's a whole vocabulary that goes with describing flavor, much like wine tasting. Coffee taste is categorized as mellow, smoky, chocolaty, spicy, sweet, dry, sharp, snappy, fruity, mild, nutty, etc. I have to giggle. A lot of these sound like moods to me.


This dimension is about how the coffee feels in your mouth. Is it full or thin and watery? I've seen fat as a descriptor, not one I find appealing. Fat, fluffy towels, yes. Fat coffee, yuck! Thick doesn't sound much better. Just say heavy.


Coffee can leave a fabulous lingering earthy taste or a burnt and sort of bitter taste that has you reaching for the Altoids. That's what finish is about.


A coffee's balance is about the overall impression it leaves. It can be about personal taste, but it's also about how the acidity and sweetness combine.

So there you have it. Grading coffee sounds like a fun pass time. In the end, though, I'm not sure I'd have the patience to literally spoon feed, but it's nice to have an idea of how coffee is talked about. Next time someone offers me a coffee they describe as bright (acidic) with snap (zing... acidic), I'll be sure to say no thanks.


  1. NIce blog about coffee dude. Keep it up.

    My blog:

  2. I learned something today! Thanks!

  3. Cupping, as you seem to interpret it here, is a more modern marketing phenomenon for consumers. Cupping historically has been a means of testing coffee for defects and its potential roast profile before a buyer dropped down bills on a pallet of unroasted green coffee beans that just came out of the shipping container.

    So traditionally, cupping is a lot more like meat inspection than it is like the "nouveau wine tasting" that many in the business are trying to market it as to consumers.

  4. Thanks swag! You know, come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if wine tasting also began as a quality control practice.


Thanks for the comment!


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