Skip to main content

The excellence for serving a specialty coffee begins with its tasting

The following content you are going to read brings some technical details of tasting and evaluating specialty coffees that is technically known as “cupping”.  But also talks about temperature, lighting, environmental comfort, things that seem to be taken out of interior design magazines or something similar, that in reality are as important for the architects as for us, the baristas.  In the title of this article, we highlight that the excellence in the coffee service begins with its tasting.  So, I must mention the fact of this tasting starts before the actual preparation of the beverage.

Factors like climate control where the tasting occurs, the lighting and even the location where one tries and where the coffee will be accommodated has direct interference in the evaluation.  Therefore, it should be considered principally by those who are involved in the preparation and service.  Especially professionals who value the highest levels of excellence in each step of their work.

5 details that occur or pertain to the preparation of coffee for cupping

Aside from preoccupation with external factors other areas that require attention before reaching at what will be, in fact, experiencing a tasting of specialty coffee.  It is necessary to know, for example:

  1. The roasting of the coffee to be evaluated should be most recent and the coffee should be ground immediately before the evaluation.
  2. It is recommended to pre-portion 8.25 grams of coffee (weighed in beans before grinding) for 150 ml of water.
  3. Utensils (including cups) should always be extremely clean
  4. For the infusion, use high quality water without odors, heated to 93°C (199°F)
  5. Infusion time: 3 to 5 minutes.

Attention: Cupping properly requires the knowledge of the standard of evaluation created by the Specialty Coffee Association. We share the link here for the official protocol content developed by the Specialty Association: http://scaa.org/PDF/resources/cupping-protocols.pdf .  We recommend reading it!

Let us go to sensory analysis?

Once we have studied the SCA protocols and pondered criteria and details previously mentioned, lets start the properly done tasting: a sensory analysis.  This without a doubt, the most flavorful part of the entire evaluation of the specialty coffees. It is also the most challenging! In it, each detail of the coffee needs to be critically analyzed:

  • AROMA/FRAGRANCE
  • FLAVOR
  • AFTERTASTE
  • ACIDITY
  • BODY
  • SWEETNESS
  • CLEAN CUP
  • UNIFORMITY
  • BALANCE
  • OVERALL IMPRESSION
  • DEFECTS

Each one of these criteria receives a score during the process of the cupping.  The points vary according to:

6 |6.25 |6.5 |6.75 – GOOD

7 |7.25 |7.5 |7.75 – VERY GOOD

8 |8.25 |8.5 |8.75 – EXCELLENT

9 |9.25 |9.5 |9.75 – EXCEPTIONAL/OUTSTANDING

The aroma/fragrance  is evaluated in two stages:  the ground coffee by itself and after the infusion.  I suggest that you have in hand the flavor wheel that is available on the internet from the Specialty Coffee Association. With the wheel, it is easier to comprehend the different characteristics.

The acidity, body, and balance are evaluated while the beverage is still hot, in which the temperature is between 60°C (140°F) and 70°C (158°F).  For its turn sweetness and uniformity should be evaluated when the coffee is at ambient temperature.

In terms of texture, the coffee can be dense, light, velvety and even viscous. In thinking about uniformity, notice if the flavor and principal characteristics of the beverage remain the same, even on the second or third cup tested.

“Does my opinion not count?

Yes, it does count! And very much. It counts and should be taken into consideration.  There exists a space on the cupping form for your opinion.  But those scores given approval or disapproval of “specialty” coffee are those attributes in the official criteria of cupping.  At the end of the experience, the scores are added up.  From the total we subtract any points given for the question of “defects”.  The final score for a coffee to be considered specialty coffee needs to be 80 points or above.

Can I also leave my opinion?

As a barista, I have the obligation to say: pay attention to the scores, be vigilant to the preparation, consumption and tasting of specialty coffees. Beyond this, dedicate part of your time to research a little more about the history of who plants, harvests, and roasts the beans that you transform to such a magnificent beverage.  Understand the models and production formats and research the reasons why the coffee is considered exceptional, beyond being specialty in the aftermath of your evaluation score.

 

Click here and download our infographic right now and access the information you need to know about cupping and specialty coffee grades. Clicking here, you will find step-by-step instructions for perfect cupping and much more!

 

Anne Valdez is a world-renowned expert in the field of coffee with over 35 years of experience. She has an appreciation and passion for quality coffee and the attention given to coffee in all phases of production, particularly in roasting and brewing. She has been an international cupping judge, a regional barista judge, espresso training station instructor and a craft roasting station instructor. Her travels to origin include twelve different producing countries. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a BS in Business Administration.