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What is cupping? At its simplest form, which is just coffee steeped in water, it is when an individual assesses, evaluates and compares coffee at the farm level for all its defects an is then rated on a scale of 0-100 for its quality and uniqueness when we look for green beans to purchase. Through this exercise, we at a Ghostbird Coffee Co will then go through a process called roasting profiling, which means we will roast the coffee anywhere up to three (3) times to archive the favours and notes one would associate with when reading the coffee label or otherwise what is known today as the coffee description on a website.
In relation to our coffee cupping kit, what we wish to share with you is the experience of testing a variety of current coffees which we have either improved or an array of new coffees we have yet to release to the public, pretty much a sneak peek into what is to come in the coming days or week from the event date.
Now, after learning what you have learnt thus far, you would ask yourself, why should you cup coffees, especially if its in your own home or if you would attend a physical session in a roastery or if in a cafe? To put it simply,
1. It is a fun weekly activity as well as a way to get involved with your favourite coffee brand and roastery
2. It is also an excellent way to expand and enhance your coffee vocabulary and palette. This is because when one takes part in such activities, one is able to understand the subtle differences in the coffee note. We get to identify and understand what it would mean if a flavour of coffee is either blueberry, or nutty like almonds or spicy like cinnamon or cloves.
3. Network, this is also a great way to meet people who are likeminded. Whether it be individuals who share the same love for coffee or just those who are within the industry who wish to see and explore what new and exciting coffees that is available in the market today.
Now that you you have come to know what cupping is all about, what exactly do you need for this exercise?
1. A clean, well lit and well ventilated environment free from foreign odours which may effect the cupping experience. Otherwise if in a home space set up, a kitchen or dining table is more than sufficient.
2. Freshly roasted beans. All our beans when one purchase this kit will be roasted, rested and then dispatched with the idea of the coffees having reached its peak resting period of 14 days. This is so that when one is to cup along with us, the coffee flavours will be pronounced as so there will be no confusion when tasting the coffees.
3. Filtered water, boiled to 93 degrees Celsius. The reason why we suggest filtered water is so that there will be no foreign minerals which may alter the flavour of the coffees as to all the individuals will be able to taste similar notes together. And why such a temperature is because if it were to be boiling temperature, the coffees will be burnt due to the high degree of. 100 Celsius.
4. Burr Grinders, the reason behind needing one is to ensure your grind is consistent so that when tasting and extracting - there wont be any over or under extraction. However, when purchasing the kit, rest assured as we will have the ability to grind the beans prior to dispatch.
5. Cups! Or vessels, ideally of the same size and weight. This is mainly because when cupping the coffees we would want to maintain close enough consistencies in regards to the amount of water used and the temperature retention of each cup. So when drinking, we can reduce and even better, eliminate the risk of changing and worrying about the multiple factors to the experience. What we would like to emphasise at Ghostbird is to utilise cups with the volume amount of 200ml water for the amount of coffees used per cupping session.
6. Spoons! (At least 2 per person). This is used when one starts the cupping process which we will cover a little bit later.
7. Tasting cups. This is a new addition to the list of items needed as with the risk of cross contamination and hygiene being a valid reason, one would need to sip their coffees from a cup as oppose to a cupping spoon.
8. Scale, this is so the scale is able to accurately measure the amount of coffee and water used during the exercise.
9. Timer, timer so that one is able to steep the coffee for the desired length of time ( i.e - 4 minute )
10. Cupping booklet! - in each of our cupping kit, there lies a cupping booklet for all to take note of the flavours and aromas of each coffee. As each page has been numbered accordingly, the note taking process would then be a smooth and seamless experience to pair the coffee to the page respectively.
How to cup?!
1. Boil your water, by the time the water has reached its boil, the rest of the process would and should be done.
2. Weigh your coffees, it will differ from the various roasters in the market today however here at Ghostbird, we encourage you to use a 12.8g dose of coffee to a 200ml of water volume ( 1: 15.6 Ratio )
3. Grind! - when you grind your coffees we encourage you to purge your grinder with a small amount of coffee as to clear up and residual coffees within the grinder. It is to ensure your cup is not stained or is mixed in with the previous coffees used.
4. Sniff your coffees. - Sniff, take it in and evaluate the aromas that is emitted from the coffees. Half of the time, what one would smell is not necessarily what one would taste, so write it down as a reference when performing this exercise.
5. Pour your water - once your water has been boiled and the coffees have been processed through weighing and grinding, one should then pour your water into the coffee to steep. Remember to make sure your water is at 93 degrees (if possible ) to ensure optimum extraction,
6. Steep - use the timer that has been mentioned on the list of items needed for up to 4 minutes. Alternatively if you do not have a timer, the clock app on your mobile phones is a good enough alternative as well. Do take note though, the moment water has touched the first cup of coffee is the moment your timer starts running. Any later then the coffees will extract at an uneven rate.
7. Break the crust - after the 4 minutes is up, you will use the spoons to then break the crust. You do this as to assess the wet aromas after the steeping process. To break the crust, you partially insert the spoon on the surface of the coffee liquid and you stir or agitate the coffee in a circular motion towards yourself for up to 4 times. For the cupping kit, you will need to perform this motion for a total of 4 times for the coffees respectively. Pro tip, do this in the same order you have poured your water into the coffee grounds.
8. Skim the coffee - after breaking the crust, you will need to use the 2 spoons mentioned to skim off any floating grounds or oils and foam on the surface of the coffee.
9. Taste! - after each of the cups have been skimmed. You may use the spoons or the cupping cup to taste the respective coffees. You may be able to repeat this process after each 4 minute interval as to assess the different temperature the coffees are at. The reason for this is to allow the coffees to cool down and for the subtle flavours to shine at each stage.
10. Lastly, if you’re cupping with others as well as in a class, share your notes! This is so as a group we may be able to assess together what the coffees are like in a not bais manner. As much as it goes against the basic etiquette shared previously, this is more so for after the process as to understand and judge the quality of the coffee as a group.
Evaluating Coffee Flavours
In general, we like to refer to the SCAA Flavour Wheel while we cup. This is a guide so we are able to better understand flavours one may be tasting at that point in time. Sometime the flavours may not be as clear cut as what one think it to be. So with a guide, it will easier to narrow down what one may be tasting.
When using the said flavour wheel, we encourage you to start from the inner wheel to assess which general flavour it would fall under, once you are able identify which group of flavours it is, then would one only look closer to then pin point a specific flavour on the wheel.
In recent times, we have identified that flavour is a very subjective factor. Why this is said is because, depending on where one is from and what their upbringing is like favours will trigger a different memory or impression in one’s upbringing. An example would be a westerner may identify a chocolate note as milk chocolate or dark chocolate however in a local context, it my be closer to Milo instead.
So having said that, there is no real right or wrong when cupping coffee but instead it is a journey of discovery! Trust your palette and senses for coffee is very much a personal and shared journey.
Like a lot of things in life, the things we do will require us to practice for us to be able to master anything. Likewise for coffee cupping, the more we actually taste coffee as oppose to just drinking coffee is when we can identify when one is a bitter cup of if one is simply nuttier or one has a heavy dark chocolate flavour profile.
Eventually, with more practice in tasting coffee, you will be able to enjoy the experience of drinking a whole lot more!