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Cupping Coffee
By: Saro Calewarts
For:
Fresh Cup Magazine April 2000 Pages 30-32


A coffee cupping requires more focus and sensory engagement than informally tasting several coffees. The following cupping technique is a simple tried and true method for tasting coffee. It will make it easy for you to smell and taste all that a coffee has to offer and to describe what you experience.

Getting Started

Before you start, assemble the following items: freshly roasted whole-bean coffees, filtered water and a means of boiling it, a standard coffee measure or tablespoon, a cup for each coffee you will taste (they should all be the same size), a soup or bouillon spoon for each cupper, a glass of water, an empty mug, and paper and pens for recording tasting notes.

A good tasting cup is a heat-tempered, seven-ounce "rocks" glass, usually available at your local restaurant and bar supply store. If possible, avoid wearing per-fume or scented lotions of any kind, as they usually compete with or taint the coffee. When you are ready to begin, add one standard coffee measure (two tablespoons) of freshly ground coffee to each tasting cup. Grind the coffee to a medium grind, as you would for French press or gold filter brewing methods.

Evaluating "Dry" Aroma

Evaluating aromatics is essential to tasting coffee. Begin by smelling the ground coffee. Lightly swirl the grounds in the tasting cup to help release the aromatics.

Lift the cup to your nose with your hands, cupping the rim and covering your nose a bit. Close your eyes, open your mouth slightly and inhale deeply. Closing your eyes helps to focus solely on your sense of

smell, and opening your mouth allows more aromatics to reach your olfactory receptors. When you inhale, do so with gusto, breathing in as many of the aro-matics as possible. Allow the coffee's aroma to dominate your senses, and focus on finding descriptive associations. Write down your comments and associations.

Remember that everyone experiences aromas and tastes uniquely, so there are no right or wrong descriptive terms, but there are some common associations. Coffee can smell berry-like, nutty, spicy, smoky, chocolaty, floral, citrusy, and the list goes on. Since coffee contains over 800 aromatic chemical components, you will probably identify at least a few.

Evaluating "Wet" Aroma

It is important to evaluate the aromatics of the coffee both as dry grounds and after water has been added. Each method will reveal a different layer, giving you a more complete sensory picture of the coffee.

Fill each tasting cup with six ounces (3/4 cup) of boiling water. Normally, water for brewing should be just under a boil, but for evaluation purposes boiling water extracts all the qualities coffee has to offer, good and bad. This is important, as a cupper needs to be able to identify both the positive and possible negative traits of the coffee. You will notice a "crust" of grounds form on the surface of the coffee. Let it sit three to five minutes.

Next, break the entire surface of the crust with a spoon while putting your nose right over the cup and deeply inhal-ing the aromas as they are released. Stir the grounds a bit to help them settle. Repeat this for all the coffees, rinsing your spoon in the glass 0f water between each cup to prevent contamination.

Most of the grounds will sink to the bottom of the cup, but a few will remain on the surface, suspended in a caramel -colored foam resembling espresso crema. Use your spoon to skim this foam off the surface of the coffee, dumping it in the

empty mug. Remove as much of the foam as possible, as it contains many of the coffee oils that could coat your palate, making it difficult to taste each coffee clearly. Repeat this for each coffee, rinsing your spoon between each cup.

Evaluating Taste

Finally, it's time to taste the coffee. After skimming the foam, let the coffee cool to a drinkable temperature (but it should still be warm). This is a good time to continue discussing the coffee's aromatics by sharing or writing down associations. Always cup coffee black, as milk will alter the coffee's true flavor. If you desire, you can try the coffee with milk after fully evaluating it black.

Take a modest spoonful of coffee and slurp it quickly and sharply. You should make a loud slurping sound if you are doing it correctly. The act of sharply slurping aerates the coffee into a fine mist over your entire palate and into your olfactory nerves. This allows you to taste the coffee with all of your taste buds and olfactory receptors.

In essence, it gives you a more complete sensory picture of the coffee, instead of just tasting it in a few localized areas on your palate. It will take a little practice to feel comfortable with the technique, but if your slurp is dainty or quiet, you aren't doing it properly. Swirl the coffee around your mouth. Focus on the flavors and sensations in your mouth. Below are descriptions of acidity, body and flavor, the three major

Acidity: All coffee has a degree of acidity as a flavor component, but it has nothing to do with pH level. Coffee without acidity would be like champagne without bubbles; it simply wouldn't be the bever-age we know and love. Acidity is perceived on your palate as a tart flavor sensation - think citrus fruit. Coffees with pronounced acidity can be described as bright, snappy, crisp, or wine-like.

Body: This is the mouth-feel, or the perceived weight 0f the coffee on your palate. To determine body, roll the coffee around in your mouth and focus on how it feels. Think of the difference between skim milk, whole milk and cream. Body is commonly described as heavy, medium or light.

Flavor: This is the combined effect of acidity, body and aroma plus an evaluation of the four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The Japanese add a fifth basic taste, umami a savory, broth-like flavor found in meats and mushrooms, which are flavors frequently found in coffee. Terms like richness, complexity and balance describe a coffee's overall effect. Richness describes an interesting, satisfying fullness. Complexity is a flavor that possesses many dis-tinct qualities simultaneously (i.e. full body, wine-like acidity and a bright finish). Balance applies to a coffee with equal intensities of aroma, acidity and body.

Finally, don't forget to have fun and be adventurous.

 

 

 

 

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