Why you should cup your coffee

As a home coffee enthusiast, there are certain endeavors that I view as “reserved” for coffee professionals.

Like grinding through large amounts of beans to dial in espresso in one sitting, traveling to a coffee farm, or using expensive WDT tools like the AutoComb.

I used to view cupping this way but I don’t anymore. And you shouldn’t either.

what is cupping

Cupping is brewing coffee without the brew method impacting the final cup.

If you make a mistake brewing a V60, the cup might taste bad but that doesn’t mean the coffee is bad.

To explain the process simply, grind a few grams of coffee into a small cup or bowl. Then add around 16 times that weight in water (It’s important that you use the same water you brew coffee with.).1

Let the coffee extract for four to five minutes, stir, scrape off some of the crust, and slurp. Drift back and forth between coffees and focus on specific attributes, like acidity, sweetness, and body. You’ll also notice how the flavor changes when the coffee cools.

For exact cupping protocols I recommend you checkout Barista Hustle, the SCA, or a James Hoffman video.

Note: Don’t worry about textbook official protocol when cupping at home. Professionals need to be consistent in how they score a coffee but you don’t. So, don’t worry about scoring the dry aroma a 7.2 or something.

my reservations

Despite feeling like I understood the purpose of cupping, it seemed like a waste of coffee (not to mention precious water). And I felt silly running a cupping with only one participant.2

Why take the time repeatedly purge my grinder, weigh my dose, and brew, only to be rewarded with a few measly slurps. It felt wasteful to “throw away” all of that coffee. And couldn’t I just taste the coffee when I brewed it as pour over?

I understood the steps of how to cup but I didn’t understand the utility or the joy.

the joy of cupping

That all changed after cupping one specific coffee.

First, let me back up and explain how I finally started cupping. Freezing coffee allows me to have more bags of coffee on hand at a time, without worrying that their flavor will diminish. That means instead of drinking one bag at a time, I have options. Like any curious coffee enthusiast, I craved comparison.

I wasn’t going to drink three to four full cups of coffee at once, so it was finally time to try cupping.

I wish I had done this sooner

Sure, it’s a bit of a faff to set up and clean everything but comparative tasting is eye opening.

You can’t effectively compare coffees when you brew them 24 hours apart. But when you taste two coffees side by side you pick out all of the differences, subtle or loud, and establish your preferences.

Another important aspect of cupping is that you notice flavors you might not be getting in your actual brews. Which brings us back to the coffee that convinced me of the virtues of cupping.

peach candy

A while back I was brewing the extended fermentation Hamasho, Ethiopia from Sey. It was an enjoyable, floral coffee but nothing exceptional. The bag promised notes of “peach candy” that I wasn’t getting at all.

Then I cupped it.

And it tasted like Peach Rings, it was delightful, eye opening, and a bit maddening. Why wasn’t I getting those flavors when I brewed it?3 Cupping showed me that there was something special in the coffee I had yet to unlock.

it’s not me, it’s you

On the flip side, cupping can help you determine if you don’t like a coffee.

Every coffee sells you a bold promise with its tasting notes. When I’m not vibing with a cup, my first thought is, “what am I doing wrong?”. And sure, often times I tweak my brew to improve the flavor. But sometimes, I just don’t like the coffee that much. It might be a negative flavor inherent to the bean or maybe that taste profile is just not my jam at the moment.

Not everything in the hobby needs to extract perfection or dial in closer to the endgame. You can donate some coffee simply for the sake of experimentation.

Coffee is complex; learning more about it and discovering what you like (and don’t like) is part of the fun.

  1. Comparing water recipes by cupping the same coffee, changing only the water, is also a fun experiment. ↩︎
  2. If you’re able to wrangle some friends, even better. ↩︎
  3. After resting the coffee longer and pushing my extraction, I did finally taste those notes brewing on the NextLevel Pulsar ↩︎
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