Cupping coffee is the process used by coffee Professionals to determine quality and describe flavor characteristics of a coffee. Cupper's NOTES allow us to comparatively discuss the widely varying characteristics of the coffees we love. The following section attempts to make clear some of the terms you may see used to describe Specialty coffee at your local coffee shop and on Specialty Green coffee websites like ours' here at homeroastcoffee.com.
Specific tastes and flavors mentioned in any Coffee description are based on the taster's experience and impressions at the roast level (generally fairly light unless noted otherwise) and time of cupping. You may not be able to distinctly taste all of the particular flavors mentioned (this comes with practice), but you should be able use the descriptions of each coffee to easily distinguish between them.
Coffee tasting / cupping terms 101
Aroma – Though inherent in the bean, Aroma intensifies as the Roast reaches medium dark, then tapers off to become a singular Roast note. There are two distinct points to note your coffee's aroma: When the beans are just ground (known as Dry aroma) and when just completing the brew (called Wet aroma or at Break).
Flavor / Taste – The variety of discernable tastes, such as chocolate, berry, citrus, caramel, sweet, used in describing coffee. Some become more evident as the coffee cools. Be open minded. Let your coffee roll around your mouth, front, back, and sides.
Body – The substance of a coffee, a sense of heaviness or thickness in your mouth. Sometimes referred to as Mouth Feel.
Acidity – Does not specifically refer to the coffees pH level. Note however that fruit juice and soft drinks are generally far more acidic than coffee. Instead think of coffee with Good acidity as being bright or brisk (perhaps even refreshing) as opposed to bland or flat. Acidity is affected by roasting and will noticeably decrease as coffee reaches the darker roasts.
Finish – The final impression (includes aftertaste) the coffee imparts during or shortly after swallowing. Considered good if; sweet, clean, and reminiscent of the coffee's flavors.
Characteristics associated with the Coffee Bean
Balance – No single characteristic or taste overpowers the others. The acidity of a coffee is balanced by its sweetness, too much or too little of either is undesirable.
Clean – Ability to taste the fruit itself with little interference from its processing. Wet processed coffees generally present cleaner profiles than Dry process coffees
Complexity – Ability to clearly identify numerous different tastes and sensations.
Earthy – Processing of the beans may include drying on the ground which imparts an earthy sometimes mushroom or malty taste to the beans. Most evident in Indonesian coffees (Sumatra Mandheling), when balanced by good acidity, heavy Body and sweetness, the earthy element can be a pleasant part of an exceptional coffee.
Fruity – Can come naturally from the coffee or as a result of the processing.
Sweetness – Sweetness is very important in balancing acidity and smoothing the Finish of any great coffee.
Characteristics associated with Roasting
Bittersweet – A result of the roast, associated with dark roasts having caramelized the sugars in the bean to the point of producing a Bittersweet taste that overpowers or replaces the delicate flavors of the bean.
Bready or Baked – A roast taste that results when the beans are roasted, at too low a temperature, over too much time, or not cooled to room temperature expediently.
Quick cupping primer: Try it at Home
Cupping – Tasting and recording process carried out in a specific and repeatable manner.