The Process of Coffee Cupping

You may have heard of the term cupping if you are involved in the coffee world or happen to be trying out lots of specialty coffee. Unfortunately, like much of the terminology belonging to the modern coffee industry, this one can seem pretty obtuse if no one has explained it to you yet. “Cupping?” You might be saying. “Isn’t that what we do whenever we make coffee- brew it, and put it into a cup?” Well, actually, cupping refers to a pretty specific process of brewing, tasting, and establishing the qualities of different batches of beans when they’re freshly roasted. The cupping process almost always follows some pretty strict parameters to ensure consistency and a sort of “intellectual honesty” when it comes to tasting the beans and evaluating those tastes.

The definition of a coffee cupping is this: it is a (usually professionally) conducted procedure of brewing and then observing and evaluating coffee- mostly with an eye to smell, texture, and- of course- taste. Here are the aspects of a professional-grade coffee cupping that are so stringent and effective:
First, the beans must be freshly roasted. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (also known as the SCAA– and pretty much the go-to source for any coffee information or specifications you may need), the bean sample should be roasted within 24 hours of the cupping. This is especially tricky because coffee beans need time to rest after they’re roasted- and the SCAA says 8 hours of resting, at least.

Once you’ve got your freshly-roasted (and freshly rested!) beans, you can start getting the coffee ready to taste. CuppingAchilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Cupping-2a according to standards requires strict measurements of coffee to water ratios- 8.25 grams of coffee per 125 mL of water, according to the SCAA. You should weigh the beans before grinding them, not after. And speaking of grinding- there are regulations around when that can happen, too. Your coffee sample should be ground as close to brewing as possible, and absolutely no more than 15 minutes before.

Instead of using a typical brew method (like a Pour Over, or a French press) for the coffee that will be evaluated during a cupping, the hot water is poured directly over the grounds. Because of this, a few minutes need to pass between pouring and when the coffee is ready to taste- otherwise you’ll just be drinking coffee particles. Three to five minutes is recommended in order for the grounds to settle appropriately.

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Coffee-Flavor-WheelNow the tasting and evaluation can actually begin! For a professional cupping, there will usually be a long form that is filled out to help those present go down the list of qualities that the coffee has or lacks- these are qualities like aroma, body, acidity, balance, sweetness, uniformity, and aftertaste, among many others. Basically, any aspect of the coffee that can be judged is examined on its own, and then used together to create a holistic evaluation of the coffee (and to frequently give it a score). This score, made up of the judgments reached during the cupping, help to determine whether you’re getting a specialty cup of coffee or not, and what words will be used to describe it when it is passed on to buyers across the country.

Perfect the Pour Over Coffee Process

The Stages of Pour Over Coffee

The preparation of pour over coffee has experienced a real renaissance in recent years. Some of this might be attributed to the rise of Third Wave Coffee – the growing emphasis on single-origin cups of coffee, as well as the increased awareness of the complexity of flavor found within a bean. Pour over-brewed coffee is an excellent way to experience the diversity of flavor profiles found in a variety of beans and roasts. The following is a guide to the different stages of the pour over brewing process.

Stage One: Beans and the Grind

To begin your pour over coffee, you’ll need to be equipped with the necessary supplies. First, you’re going to need fresh roasted beans. Since pour over is a great way to experience the flavors found in the bean and its roast, you’ll want to buy coffee roasted within a week or two from a local roaster. Why spend the time on the pour over if the bean isn’t worthy of the investment? You will find most Third-Wave coffee shops that do their own roasting sell beans in increments of 8, 12 and/or 14oz.

You want to grind your coffee immediately before you brew – the fresher, the better. The coarseness of the grind is very important. If you are making a 12oz. cup of coffee you want the complete pour to take about 3 minutes. Too course and your cup will finish pouring within a minute, too fine and you will be staring at your cup of coffee for 5 minutes before it is ready. Make sure you measure out the amount of whole beans before you – usually, between 23 and 27 grams of coffee per 12 oz. of water is a good rule of thumb.

Stage Two: Water Temperature and the Kettle

One important piece of equipment that is often overlooked by at-home brewers is a kettle that makes pouring easy. Purchase either a conventional kettle or an electric kettle with a gooseneck, not a spout. When you pour the water over the beans, you’ll want a lot of control over the amount of water in the pour and where you pour it. A traditional spout just won’t afford you that control, and you’ll end up with a subpar cup of coffee. An electric kettle is convenient because you can monitor the temperature of your water – ideally around 204 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before you place the coffee in the filter, wet the filter with hot water by pouring just enough to saturate the paper. This will help you prevent the paper taste of the filter from detracting from the coffee flavors.

Stage Three: The Initial Pour – Saturating the Coffee Grounds

For the initial pour, you want to pour between 60 and 75 grams of water over your coffee. Saturate the entire surface of the grounds, and watch as the coffee bubbles and moves – this is called the “bloom,” when carbon dioxide is released from the grounds as the coffee begins to be extracted from the beans.

Roast-Coach-Pour-Over-Coffee-Espresso-Bar-San-Diego Stage Four: Continuing the Pour

After the coffee has bloomed, but before the bloom has collapsed, pour another hundred grams of water into the grinds. Pour slowly, in a spiral motion, moving from the center of the grinds to the outside, and back. Watch carefully while you’re doing this – you want to make sure that all of the grounds are saturated. It might take you a couple tries to really perfect your timing on this, but no worries! Brewing a good cup of coffee takes practice, just like anything else.

Stage Four: The Finished Cup

Just one more pour to go! Once your second pour has almost drained, go ahead and carefully pour once more – again, a spiral pattern is optimal. Pour until you’ve reached around 350 grams (12oz.) total for your cup of coffee, and wait until it has completely drained. Take a few sips before adding any cream or sugar and start to familiarize yourself with the unique flavors of each cup and enjoy one of the purest forms of coffee preparation, pour over coffee.

What’s the Difference Between Direct Trade and Fair Trade Coffee?

If you’ve frequented any third-wave coffee shops lately, chances are you’ve heard more than a little talk of where the coffee comes from- third-wave coffee shops make it a point to know where the coffee comes from, what type of bean it is, and tend to forgo blends in favor of a single-origin cup of coffee (single-origin, here, means exactly what it sounds like it means: coffee that comes from only one place or batch).

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Colombian-CoffeeIn these discussions about the agricultural and geographic origins of your cup of joe, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard the term direct trade. To the uninitiated, the term seems unnecessarily obvious, or obfuscating- isn’t all trade direct? What, precisely, would indirect trade mean?

Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade

Direct trade coffee, as a term and as a practice, has gradually developed as an alternative to the concept of fair trade coffee. Fair trade took off in the latter half of the twentieth century, as a way for people producing commodities like coffee, tea, or even craftwork to market and sell their products to places like the United States and Europe- and to make a reasonable living wage doing it. Fair trade, which became an official certification, focuses on poverty alleviation and sustainable development in the areas in which these commodities are produced. For coffee specifically, fair trade has traditionally utilized the establishment of coffee cooperatives (co-ops) in which a number of growers come together to sell and make decisions for their communities at large. When you purchase a bag of fair trade-certified coffee, you can reasonably assume that the people who produced that coffee received reasonable remuneration for that coffee.

So why move to a direct trade model at all? While fair trade coffee does accomplish a more ethical system of buying and selling coffee, direct trading offers a few things to coffee merchants that simple fair trade does not. First, when coffee shops talk about coffee that is direct trade, it frequently means that the owners or purveyors of that shop communicate and buy directly from the growers of the coffee- cutting out the marketplace middlemen and importers/exporters that are typically a feature of fair trade coffee. Buying directly from coffee growers has a lot of benefits- it means that the buyers can truly ensure that a fair price is paid for the product, and if a long-term relationship is built between a coffee farm or co-op and a coffee shop owner, the two can collaborate around the growing process, roasting process, and taste of the bean. Coffee roasters can give feedback to the grower about bean quality, who can alter things for the next batch of coffee to produce a healthier bean and ultimately, a better cup of coffee. Coffee growers can also receive support for expansion or improvements from a particular buyer once a relationship has been established.

An increasingly globalized world often brings the potential for exploitation and vast economic inequality – direct trade coffee has so far bucked this trend. When coffee growers and coffee roasters/purveyors are able to directly collaborate, it can mean improved quality of life for the growers, and better coffee for the roasters.