Veneziano Coffee Roasters have regularly hosted public cupping events since the early days. For Veneziano staff, both baristas and roasters, cupping or cup tasting is just a regular part of the job which we do anyway.
For our customers and the public it provides insight into our blend development process, helps them appreciate the many coffee varietals and flavour nuances available and the opportunity to learn something new about specialty coffee.
What’s the big deal about cupping, or cup tasting? And why do roasting companies such as Veneziano constantly subject their staff to cupping sessions?
Basically, it allows the cup taster, or coffee evaluator, to individually assess a coffee (in a single cup funnily enough!) hence ‘cup tasting’ instead of coffee tasting.
The properties under evaluation in a coffee are the aroma and flavour profile. This coffee evaluation process is important for a few reasons; it helps us find any potential defects in coffee, as well as being crucial to the development of coffee blends. The differences between coffees from different growing regions, coffee varietals and even coffee grown on the same farm can be quite negligible so the cupping process allows us to truly compare them.
How is it done?
The protocol of cupping or taste evaluation of coffee typically goes as follows:
- the coffee is freshly roasted (within 24 hours) at a light to medium roast profile and freshly ground (using a clean grinder) to a coarseness suited to drip filter brewing
- the coffee is ground within 15 minutes of water infusion if possible, but no more than 30 minutes covered (this step is important for the aromatic evaluation), at a coffee-to-water ratio of around 8 grams (whole bean weight) to 150 ml of freshly boiled water at a temperature around 95 degrees Celsius and steeped for 3 – 5 minutes; ceramic or glass vessels are ideal
- depending on why we are cupping, we may assess colour of the roast, this is best done comparing them against the same colour background (eg use identical cups)
- assessment of fragrance of the dry coffee grounds is performed first by uncovering a sample of the fresh, dry grounds and sniffing them, followed by aroma evaluation of the wet fragrance, by breaking the crust gently with a spoon whilst inhaling; these steps are important as intensity of aroma reveals freshness whilst the range of aroma notes reveal attributes likely to correlate with the taste
- the next step is to evaluate taste and nose; using a rounded spoon (preferably silver), scoop up the liquid and slurp it in from the front of the mouth ensuring it aspirates across the tongue and fills the mouth; the coffee touches all the tastebuds, allowing you to determine the various flavour components remembering that temperature will affect what you taste, it’s common to taste it two or three times as it begins to cool; in tasting the brew we are evaluating flavour, acidity, body and finish;
flavour: holding the coffee for several seconds will reveal primary and secondary flavours, this refers to the character in the cup such as clean, citrusy, florally, grassy, malty, fruity and so on. Flavour is also detected on the ‘nose’, whilst in the mouth the coffee vapours enter the nasal cavity, revealing notes such as nutty, caramelly, chocolatey, spicy, tobacco, smoky and so on
acidity: a sharp and tangy sensation detected at the tip of the tongue, often described as bright or lively at the high end of the desirable acidity scale and smooth at the low end. In coffee this a sought after quality, with acidity being described as sour when it’s found to be undesirable and a coffee with no acidity can be described as flat
body: this refers to the texture or mouthfeel and relates to the thickness or viscosity of the coffee which is determined by the amount of oils and dissolved solids or dispersion of solids in the coffee; this is best detected by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth; a thin and watery coffee is undesirable; a full bodied coffee is richer in flavour and aroma.
finish: this means the notes detected after consumption; ideally we are seeking any that may linger and leave an enjoyable aftertaste.
- complexity refers to the way the various flavours behave in the taste and aroma, keeping in mind a coffee with a deep complexity can still be balanced
- balance is used to describe how the various attributes of flavour, acidity, body and finish complement or contrast one another, whether something is lacking or overpowering; generally a well balanced coffee can be sensed evenly across the tongue, however sometimes this is not a desirable characteristic in a coffee and a blend may be created that highlights desirable flavours.
Competition-specific cupping protocol
Cup tasting is a triangulation competition where each competitor must evaluate eight rows of three cups of coffee, in eight minutes or less. Two of the cups contain identical coffee and the third one is different.
Each competitor receives identical sets. The objective is to detect the cup that is different of the three, by evaluating the body, acidity, sweetness and flavour. The competitor that identifies the most correct out of eight is the winner. In the event of a tie it is goes to the competitor who finished in the fastest time.
The only form of ‘training’ or experience in order to be successful in a cupping competition is to regularly cup different beans. It is fairly obvious that in order to develop the palate lots of practice is required! In the national Cup Tasting Championship heats, Veneziano Coffee Roasters were represented by Pat Connolly and Craig Simon, with Craig finishing in third place. The guys say, whilst competing, if you are unsure which cup is the odd one out, it is best to move on to a different set and come back to that set later.
As the cups cool it is easier to identify the attributes of the coffee, so leaving it to cool for a minute can definitely help. As roasters, they are regularly cupping different samples and roasts. In doing so, they are continually learning and improving their skills at evaluating different qualities and attributes of many different types of coffees and the effects of different roasting profiles on the flavour in the cup.
If you’re struggling to single out which one is different by flavour then our guys tip that evaluating the acidity is probably the most obvious quality in determining the different cup. Developing the palate to evaluate the coffee is partly natural ability and partly due to training, but cupping regularly is the only way to really fine-tune your ability to pick up the nuances between different coffees in the difficult triangular competition environment.
The entire roasting team and baristas at Veneziano Coffee Roasters cup regularly, on a daily basis whilst roasting, whenever samples arrive, industry events, hosted events on site with key clients and on occasions open to the public.
Click on this link for the competition rules (2014) – held in Melbourne at MICE.
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