What is Coffee Cupping?
Cup tasting (a.k.a cupping) is the process of objectively assessing the quality of coffee samples. If you’ve seen anyone with what looks like a soup spoon, slurping loudly at a table full of coffees, they’ll have been cupping!
Coffees are scored according to Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) protocol using this sheet, and the resulting total gives us an indication of the quality of the coffee – anything scoring 80+ being classed as specialty grade. This protocol gives us a shared language to use when talking to each other about coffee.
There are a few reasons why we’d set up a cupping table, starting with quality control…
QC takes up a huge chunk of a coffee roaster’s life – we cup coffees at least once a day at The Granary, for various reasons. Once a week, we’ll take a sample of each of the coffees we roast, and lay them all out on the table. This allows us to assess which coffees are tasting great, and which we need to focus our attention on. We always cup our coffees blind, so it also gives us a chance to test ourselves, and try and guess which coffee is which!
We also will cup samples extensively whenever a new coffee lands. The profiling process is key to making sure that the coffees we send out are as good as we can get them, and we cup at every stage to ensure we’re on the right track.
The first cupping happens when we roast samples on our sample roaster: we roast to a few different profiles, and then get together to discuss which works best for the coffee we’re working with. This then allows our roasters to make a plan for how to translate the sample roast profile into a profile on our big roaster.
This same process then happens again with our first test batches, before we settle on a profile that we think ‘behaves well’ on the roaster. This also gives us an opportunity to cup for another reason – picking out tasting notes! It’s important that what we put on our labels represents how the coffee tastes, and cupping regularly helps us to hone our palates.
Sourcing New Coffees
Finding new coffees to add to our offerings is always exciting: we’re fortunate enough to have great relationships with various importers, and a couple of producers who we can work with more directly. The job of a green buyer (in our case, Dave Burton), is to sift through dozens of samples of green coffee, roast them, and cup them to determine their quality (and decide whether or not they are a good fit for Rounton Coffee). Dave also holds a Q Grader certificate, which basically means that his palate is up there with the best in the world, and he really knows his stuff when it comes to the quality of coffee.
Dave and the team will regularly cup samples from around the world, and will plan months in advance to make sure that we have a great range of coffees in stock as the seasons change.
We drink a lot of coffee because we love it. Cupping serves some serious purposes, and we couldn’t function without it. That being said, we’ll often just put together a table of delicious coffees so that we can drink them because they’re nice!
We want to share the joy we find in cupping coffees, and have recently started a monthly public cupping session at our Bedford Street shop in Middlesbrough. Keep an eye out on our social media accounts for the details of the next event. We’ve had some great feedback so far, and as we learn more about coffee, we’re excited to share that knowledge with anyone who will listen.