Coffee Cupping: How to Taste Coffee Like a Pro

In the world of coffee, no two brews taste the same. Much like wine, coffee has many different varieties and complexities. Flavour, aroma, sweetness, bitterness, acidity and finish – these are just some of the characteristics of coffee that make each cuppa unique and infinitely desirable.

By learning how to do coffee cupping at home, you will better understand the distinctive qualities of each coffee variety. The result? You might just discover a whole new sensory experience.

What is Coffee Cupping?

Coffee cupping is a standard process carried out by producers, roasters and industry professionals to evaluate the quality and consistency of a coffee sample.

When a new batch of coffee beans reaches these experts, they will do a sample roast to assess the individual characteristics of the coffee (such as acidity or body) and its distinct flavour notes.

If you are a home brewer, all you have to do is focus on the taste categories below to excite your senses and taste coffee like a pro.

Getting Started

To ensure that your coffee cupping session is set up perfectly, there are a few essential gadgets you will need and things to take note of.

Use a Reliable Kettle

a De'Longhi gooseneck kettle
A gooseneck kettle gives you greater control of the pouring stream and provides proper extraction. Featuring the De’Longhi Icona Gooseneck Kettle. Photo from De’Longhi.

Choose a quality electric kettle that shuts off automatically as soon as it reaches a boil and doesn’t lose heat too fast.

A gooseneck kettle like this is perfect for bringing out the intricate flavours of your coffee bean.

Fill Your Kettle with Fresh, Cold Water

Only use tap water or filtered water for boiling. These types of water contain lesser unwanted minerals and compounds, and the pH balance is ideal for coffee brewing.

A Weighing Scale

This will be used for weighing the coffee and water used. It is best to use a scale that is accurate down to 0.1g.

A Coffee Bean Grinder

a coffee bean grinder
Invest in a coffee bean grinder so that you can ground your beans on the spot just before brewing. Featuring the De’Longhi Conical Burr Grinder. Photo from De’Longhi.

Having a coffee bean grinder at home is one of the most important gadgets if you appreciate a good cup of coffee. This ensures that your coffee tastes at its best as coffee grounds lose freshness the moment they are ground.

Here are some of the best, technology-driven coffee bean grinders.

At Least Two Samples of Fresh Coffee Beans

The peak freshness of coffee beans lasts only four to five weeks. So if your coffee beans have been sitting on the kitchen top for longer than that, it’s time to purchase a new batch.

For coffee cupping beginners, start with at least two different 20g samples of coffee so that you can easily compare and distinguish their different flavour notes. Use this guide to choose coffee beans based on their coffee label.

Pro tip: For beginners, use samples that are sourced from different countries as the flavours are more distinguishable.

Use these Flavour, Taste, and Aroma Wheels

a person taking notes on paper
Use the flavour, taste, and aroma wheels as a guide when taking down notes of the distinctive flavours. Photo from Sean Benesh.

Have these wheels by your side when coffee cupping. The taste and aroma wheels will be especially useful in refining your perception of taste and broadening the vocabulary you use to describe the coffee.

The Method

Step 1: Grind the Beans

Using a medium-coarse grind setting, grind 9g of each of the coffee samples and put them in separate cups.

Step 2: Smell the Grounds

Open your mouth slightly and take a gentle, yet firm sniff of the dry grounds.

Take down notes of the aroma that you identify. Using the aroma wheel will help you in identifying the specific aromas.

Step 3: Boil Water

It is important to let the water rest for a minute or two to ensure it reaches 90 to 96 degrees Celsius. Using freshly boiled water can cause over-extraction, resulting in a bitter brew.

Step 4: Add the Hot Water

Pour 150 ml (150g) of water into each cup and wait for four minutes. While waiting, use the boiled water to heat up a spoon to use for each cup.

Step 5: Smell the Coffee

After four minutes, a layer of coffee grounds will be floating. Use the back of the spoon to break through the crust.

Inhale through the nose near the surface and note down the new aromas.

Step 6: Remove the Layer of Coffee Grounds

In a circular motion, remove the layer of coffee grounds carefully, ensuring that you don’t stir the coffee.

Allow the coffee to rest for 15 minutes.

Step 7: Taste it!

Take a spoonful of each coffee and allow it to coat your palate. Keep the coffee in your mouth for a few seconds, swirling it around your mouth lightly.

Using the taste wheel, note down the flavours you are tasting. Pay attention to the body of the coffee: is it sour, sweet, bitter, or salty?

Step 8: Repeat and Identify Additional Flavours

Once you have tasted all the cups, repeat the previous step one to two more times. You might notice differences or additional flavour notes.

Practice Makes Perfect

people doing a coffee cupping session
Take part in coffee cupping workshops for a more interactive and educational experience. Photo from René Porter.

Coffee cupping is an intricate and exacting process that requires focus and technique. However, doing it with a few family and friends makes it extra rewarding as you can compare the differing aroma and taste notes that each coffee brings.

Another option is to look around your local area for coffee cupping workshops. Doing a group tasting session led by professionals is a fun way to share ideas and expand your coffee knowledge.

Here’s where to start: Sign up for De’Longhi Rewards for exclusive invitations to coffee workshops, special promotions for partner roasters, and more!