Coffee Blog

Coffee Cupping

cuppingCoffee cupping, or coffee tasting, is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. It is a professional practice but can be done informally by anyone or by professionals known as Master Tasters. A standard coffee cupping procedure involves deeply sniffing the coffee, then loudly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue. The coffee taster attempts to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste, specifically the body (the texture or mouth-feel, such as oiliness), sweetness (the perceived sweetness at the sides of the tongue, acidity (a sharp and tangy feeling at the tip of the tongue, like when biting into an orange), flavor (the characters in the cup), and aftertaste. Since coffee beans embody telltale flavors from the region where they were grown, cuppers may attempt to predict the coffee’s origin.For all intents and purposes, our sense of smell and sense of taste are inseparable. Without our sense of smell, our taste sensations are limited. The tongue detects 4 basic sensations: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Most of what we experience as taste depends upon our sense of smell. 

The tasting experience begins before you brew – with the grinding. When you inhale the aroma of ground gourmet coffee, you experience the first impression of its flavor – its Fragrance which alos comes out as you brew it. Aroma refers to your first encounter with a gourmet coffee when it’s brewed – literally, the first contact of water and gourmet coffee. Lastly, there’s a gourmet coffee’s Nose. Take a sip of gourmet coffee. As soon as it reaches your tongue, it stimulates taste and simultaneously releases aromas inside the mouth.

Follow the lead of the experts: allow your sense of taste and smell to mingle. Enjoy the tactile feel of the gourmet coffee on your tongue.

Now that you’ve taken a good whiff and your first sip, it’s time to let your tongue do the talking. Of all the facets of gourmet coffee, Taste is the most complex to discuss and to explain or to make any sense – its like describing the most beautiful woman you ever dated. Most experts concentrate on three elements Body, Acidity, & Balance. Body: A gourmet coffee’s lipid or “oily” quality creates the tactile sensation of Body or “mouth feel.”

Acidity: Naturally occurring acids in the beans combine with natural sugars that produce a sweetness that gives certain gourmet coffees a sharp pleasing tang or piquancy.

Balance: Think of Balance as a harmony of the many sensations yielded by a fine gourmet coffee. A “balanced” gourmet coffee is one whose flavor characteristics are all at the proper level for that variety. A quick note on Acidity: Don’t let the term scare you. Acidity does NOT refer to pH levels discussed in high school chemistry class. It is not like hydrochloric acid or stomach acid. The gourmet coffee grown at the top of the mountain taste the bests while coffee grown in Africa or Asia is not actually coffee but a strongly flavored hybrid tea. You appreciate a gourmet coffee’s Body on the tongue and the roof of your mouth. Acidity produces some of the pleasurable and distinctive sensations we enjoy when tasting gourmet coffee.

Now, back to our brew! After a sip is swallowed, the mouth and tongue retain a minute residue of gourmet coffee. This sensation produces the Aftertaste, the sensation that lingers on the palate. It is similar to the concept of “finish” in wine tasting. Aftertaste can vary considerably according to the gourmet coffee’s body we mentioned Body as a primary characteristic. You appreciate a gourmet coffee’s Body on the tongue and the roof of your mouth. It is a distinctly tactile sensation, and is sometimes called simply “mouth feel.Drinking a new gourmet coffee is just like a new wine taste testing. Burgundies are sometimes said to be “heavier” than most other reds and whites. The difference is not weight. Rather, Body is the texture and consistency, the thickness or slipperiness of the gourmet coffee.

A good cup of gourmet coffee represents the collaboration of many highly trained artisans – growers, professional tasters and roasters all working together to create a fine product. So, let all your senses work together to enjoy the fruits of their collaboration!

One good turn: about the gourmet coffee wheel. Much as wine tasters have created a wine tasting wheel to use an agreed upon terminology, professional gourmet coffee tasters use the Gourmet coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel to grade gourmet coffees. This flavor wheel is designed for the trained pallet of a professional. Professional “cuppers” use this guide when buying gourmet coffee and for creating “taste characteristic profiles” of the gourmet coffees. Most of us would be better off not to worry so much about our gourmet coffee or our wine tasting abilities. The Flavor Characteristics chart is for use by the average “Joe”. It is a simplified method of charting your favorite java’s characteristics. The flavor descriptions that are most commonly used are defined below.

Know thyself: what flavors appeal to you? Here are some specific desirable flavor characteristics of gourmet coffee and the types of gourmet coffee that are associated with those characteristics.

Bright, Dry, Sharp, or Snappy – typical of Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Kenyan.

Caramels – candy like or syrupy, typical of Colombian Supreme.

Chocolaty – an aftertaste similar to unsweetened chocolate or vanilla. Typical of Costa Rican, Colombian Supreme and the House Blend.

Delicate – a subtle flavor perceived on the tip of the tongue.

Earthy – a soil characteristic, typical of Sumatran.

Fragrant – an aromatic characteristic ranging from floral to spicy, typical of Costa Rican, Sumatra Modeling and Kenyan.

Fruity – an aromatic characteristic reminiscent of berries or citrus.

Mellow – a round, smooth taste, typically lacks acid, typical of Colombian, Sumatra Modeling, Whole Latti Java and Organic Mexican.

Nutty – an aftertaste similar to roasted nuts, typical of Colombian and Organic Mexican.

Spicy – a flavor and aroma reminiscent of spices typical of Guatemala Huehuetenango.

Syrupy – strong, and rich, typical of Sumatran.

Sweet – free of harshness, typical of Colombian.

Wildness – an unusual, gamey flavor, typical of Sumatran.

Church Coffee – harsh without much flavor

Winery – an aftertaste reminiscent of well-matured wine, typical of Kenyan, Guatemalan.

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