How can you tell my coffee tastes like a pineapple and not just...coffee?

“I really started to get interested into specialty coffee when I discovered cupping”, Charlotte once said.

But what is it exactly?

The development of specialty coffee* paved the way for a new tasting universe : coffee cupping, as complex and fascinating as wine or whisky tasting. For those who are still skeptical about it, you should know that coffee emits a combination of 1000 different volatile compounds… So when your roaster tells you that his coffee reveals notes of leather and dark chocolate with a hint of coriander, he’s not high, he really knows what he’s talking about!

The first tool that will help you learn how to cup coffee is the Flavor Wheel.

The Flavor Wheel lists the most common flavors you may find in a cup of coffee. Most professional cup tasters use it to identify quickly the flavors while tasting, thanks to the colors.

The second most useful tool is the Nez du Café: a box containing samples of flavors like butter, clove-like, pipe tobacco, apricot that will help you train your nose.

Nez du Café - Editions Jean Lenoir

Cupping is an amazing experience that consists in evaluating the organoleptic characteristics of a coffee. Almost all your senses are implied! Taste (to determine the balance between sweetness, bitterness and acidity), smell (to identify flavors), touch (because you need to qualify the mouthfeel and body of the coffee), and sight (to evaluate the color of the beverage and its transparency).

Concretely, cupping consists in loudly sipping a small quantity of coffee (with the typical “slurp” noise) in order to spray droplets of coffee in your mouth and make the volatiles go up into your retronasal cavities. The idea is to identify the flavors (also called aromas) of the coffee.

Then cupping appeals to your creativity and sensory memory. It is a kind of meditation exercise. You concentrate on the flavors you perceive and try to see what it reminds you without self-censorship. If it reminds you of your grandma’s cake, it may be because the coffee you’re cupping has flavors of orange peel or zest of lemon…

To know more about cupping, you can read:

  • this article from Los Tostados (written in French)

  • this article from Perfect Daily Grind.

Cheers!


* What is specialty coffee? Roughly speaking, specialty coffee is high quality coffee having very few defects, produced with care from the cherry to the roasted bean, and recognized for its flavor qualities. But be careful, specialty coffee does not systematically mean that the coffee is hand produced or hand roasted, that it is organic or that the farmers are decently paid... Be curious and ask your roaster!