Smell the grounds for the “fragrance” of the coffee and write down any observations.
Add the hot water (not boiling) to all of the cups, including those with grounds in, those with spoons in and those for rinsing spoons between cupping.
Smell this first aroma and note the observations.
Breaking the Crust
After 1-2 minutes, break the surface crust that has formed in the cups, with the spoon. The technique for this involves getting your nose nice and close to the cup and inhaling as you push though the crust with the spoon. This way you get a big, aromatic hit. Stirring a little during the breaking will allow the grounds to sink and for all the coffee to be covered with water.
Observations regarding the aroma can be further developed at this point.
All samples should be evaluated in this way, rinsing the spoon in hot water between each sample so as to not cross contaminate. Any floating grounds can then be scooped out and be discarded. The lighter the roast, the denser the coffee and therefore more grounds will sink.
It is then time to evaluate the flavour, if the liquid is at a suitable temperature (i.e. not too hot).
Gather a sample with the spoon and slurp, drawing in air at the same time. The idea is to coat the whole of the mouth, and individual senses, with the oxygenated coffee. Further air may be sucked through the teeth and the coffee swished about to coax out any stubborn characteristics.
Note down your thoughts on key characteristics such as:
Fragrance and aroma
Basically, what the coffee smells like or reminds you of. This might be when the coffee has been freshly ground (fragrance), when water has been added to the ground coffee (aroma), or when actually tasting it. When tasting the coffee, it helps to get more air into it to release more of the trapped aromas (hence the slurping from a spoon).
Body and mouth-feel
How the coffee feels in your mouth when tasting it, and how viscous it is – this can range from thin and watery to full and creamy. A light bodied coffee can be as good as a full bodied coffee, but would need other positive attributes to stop it tasting too flabby, watery and dull. Rounded, or smooth textures can be good, but astringency is not.
This is a judgment of how ripe the coffee cherries were when picking, and how carefully selected they were during the harvest – ripe coffee tastes sweeter and gives the flavours more of a boost. Unripe coffee tastes undeveloped and sometimes “green” like chewing on stalks. However, too much sweetness can be cloying without some acidity to balance it out.
This is a much harder term to describe, but generally means how well the coffee is able to demonstrate its positive characteristics. Does it taste perceptibly “clean”?
Often a difficult taste to describe, some coffees benefit from low acidity (especially if being used for espresso) whereas higher acidity is often a very positive feature. Acidity goes really well with sweetness (like wine, sweetness without acidity tastes dull but too much acidity without sweetness tastes metallic and aggressive). Either way, acidity can be positive or negative - too much sourness or tartness is definitely not good, and poorer coffee tends to go sour when it cools.
This is all about how the coffee “tastes” in the mouth when being analysed or drunk – a combination of taste (the four tastes that our taste-buds perceive which are sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness) and aromas. Is it complex, strong, pleasant, etc? A touch of bitterness can be nice, but becomes harsh in higher levels. A saltier tasting coffee tends to feel rough on the tongue.
After tasting the coffee, what is the lasting impression that it gives? Can you still taste the coffee, are its aromas still persisting and is it leaving a positive or negative flavour? It could have a pleasant, lingering finish or a mellow, immediate finish. Hopefully, the coffee won’t leave a cloying, starchy or bitter aftertaste.
This is the key to a great coffee, when all of the positive aspects of the coffee come together as one. A coffee might have brilliant acidity, but if it overpowers every other characteristic then it isn’t necessarily a “balanced” coffee. A balanced coffee is where all the attributes seem to sit together well, and satisfyingly.
This is just as important, if not more so, than anything else – do you personally like the coffee or not?
The final stage involves reviewing what you’ve tasted, and how each coffee sample compared.
This would also be a good time to reveal each coffee and cross-reference the details with the tasting notes and coffee samples in the centre of the table.
- Note the fragrance of the grounds
- Note the aroma upon initial brewing
- Note the aroma upon breaking the crust
- Taste each of the cups
- Re-taste at cooler temperatures
- Observe the green and roasted beans
- Refer to the labelling information