Chris asks us about what is coffee cupping?
Chris, from the United States, is a wine lover who also enjoys coffee. He is a fan of It is Colombian and contacted us wondereing if there is a way for “tasting coffee”.
Dear Chris, first of all thanks for getting in touch. We are very happy every time we get a question from our readers. In this post I will discuss some glimpses about coffee cupping. I will summarize coffee cupping is the process where a cupper, who can be internationally certificated as a Q-Grader, assess the quality of a coffee. Now it is very important to understand the whole process is about perception and expectation, since the quality of the coffee being assessed is contrasted with the expected one according to the coffee’s profile which is based on its species (robusta or arabica among others), variety (geisha, bourbon, caturra, typica, etc), origin (Colombian), processing (washed, semi-washed, natural), intended use (blend, instant, brewing, etc) and roasting degree. The international standard is the SCA protocol for coffee cupping, though other protocols exist, for instance in Colombia it is approved by ICONTEC (only available in Spanish). The SCA cupping form considers ten different attributes (fragance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, clean cup, uniformity and overall), and it has a numerical scale from 6 to 10 that increases in quarter points.
The final score is determined by the sum of the 10 ratings and discounting for the defects that were founded in the aroma/fragrance and flavor. According to the SCA standards, if the final score is bellow 80, the sample is not considered specialty coffee. Above 80 points are three categories for specialty coffee (very good, excellent and outstanding).
Since the process of coffee cupping is about perceptions, hence it is subjective, ideally the process will consider an odd number of cuppers and the final score comes from a convergence of assessments. Also in order to make the process fair and unbiased, it is common that cuppers are blind tasters, that is the samples are identified by a code, but the tasters only have basic information in advance like the origin of coffee. In addition, considering how complex the process of making coffee is, samples are taken from green beans, roasted by an expert (usually a medium dark roast), grind at a “medium level” and the coffee is plainly brewed in five tasting cups without the use of any brewing method.
When there is a Cup of Excellence contest, coffee cupping is the process used in order to define which are the winners of the contest. Usually any coffee sample that scores above 86 points is considered a winner, thereafter a coffee contests can have many winners, sounds weird right? Afterwards the selected coffees are auctioned and then comes the headlines in the media about which coffee got the highest price. Like in arts, the highest price doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best coffee, just the most expensive.
In a further post I will comment more about coffee contests, winners and auctions.
Thanks for reading this blog and feel free to send us your videos with your questions. We love to hear about you.