‘Coffee’ is not a flavour. There, we said it. There are 20 spokes on the Lincoln & York flavour wheel – and that was us narrowing it down. Butter, honey, berry and tea are just four of them. Each one makes up the personal profile of a coffee bean and what we taste changes throughout the roasting process too.
Coffee has to be sipped, savoured and scrutinised at every stage to fully understand the flavour profile and how it behaves, either on its own or mixed with other origins in blends. That’s where cupping comes in; the act – and art – of tasting and rating coffee.
Cupping means something different to everyone in the coffee chain, from buyer to roaster to QC to barista. Cupping may be used to taste and rate different types of coffee, or different stages of roasting for the same coffee, for instance. Whether you’re cupping in a village in Brazil or our tasting room in Brigg, there is a step by step method to achieve a standardised rating. And, while the flavours can be complex, the system is refreshingly simple …
A sip-by-sip guide
What you’ll need:
(For five cupping bowls of one coffee bean)
20g of the coffee bean you want to taste (The optimum ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water so this will change depending on the size of your bowl)
300ml (minimum) water
2 x cupping bowls
2 x rinsing cups (with hot water in)
1 x waste cup
2 x cupping spoons
Hot water element
What you’ll need to do:
Grind the coffee beans in your grinder and split equally between the two ‘cupping bowls’
When grinding beans it’s important to prime your grinder with some of the beans to start with for example if you’re grinding 20g of each coffee bean pull 2g through the grinder in between each different bean (or blend) to make sure that none of the previous flavour carries over into the next one.
Assess the coffee aroma in its dry form
Heat some water to approximately 93°Cor 200° F and pour 150ml into each cupping bowl. Start your timer at this point so that you can break the crust
This stage should be done no more than 30 minutes after grinding the coffee.
Once 3-5 minutes has elapsed, gently break the crust by pushing the grounds to the back of the bowl and again bend down close to the cupping bowl to assess the coffee aroma again in its wet form as you break the ‘crust’
If you are breaking the crust of more than one bowl at this point make sure you use a different spoon for each or make sure you rinse your spoon thoroughly between each coffee.
Remove the grounds from the top of each cupping bowl using two spoons and discard them into the ‘waste bowl’
The actual tasting starts at around 10 minutes on the timer (when the liquid is at 71°C)
You may have been raised not to ‘slurp’ your soup, but when it comes to cupping slurping is not only excusable, it is essential. Slurping means that the coffee covers every part of the tongue and you can really taste the different elements (texture, flavour & acidity) of the coffee and its roast level.
This is where you asses the flavour profile of the finished cup, and where at Lincoln and York one of our registered Q graders can give the coffee an individual ‘Q Score’ or assess for quality vs. the agreed specification.
All a matter of taste
Even though there’s a standardised process for cupping, each taster’s personal preference and experience will come into play. It’s a blend of objective and subjective, which is what makes it so much fun.
Professional cupping provides a rating that can be used in the industry to help unify the way we understand and explain coffee flavours; on the Lincoln & York flavour wheel, we divide coffee into four categories; sweet, savoury, fruity and floral. These are subdivided into five more characteristics for each flavour, and it helps us to create those secret house blends that we’re famous for.
For coffee enthusiasts and hobbyists though, cupping can really open up the world of coffee and allow you to explore new options for blends and how you take it. There are even cupping competitions for the true aficionados.
For coffee house owners and baristas, it’s a great way to help you understand the coffee you buy and sell. You’ll really get to know the flavour profiles of your house blend – and you could even start to put on cupping events for your customers. We can help with training and advice on this, if you’d like to find out more.
Our coffee team recently tasted and cupped over 70 different coffees and selected four to really showcase the different flavours across the four quarters of the coffee flavour wheel. We'll be sampling these four fantastic coffees at London Coffee Festival from 20-23 April, Come to our stand (HP27) and chat more!