Features 2 minutes 13 October 2017

Guide To Coffee Cupping

Let The Coffee Academics founder Jennifer Liu show you how to taste-test a cup of coffee professionally.

Ask the Expert coffee

Coffee cupping is the professional practice for tasting and observing the aromas and flavours of brewed coffee. Just like wine, a barista can judge a coffee by defined parameters like aroma, acidity and aftertaste. "In the world of fine coffee, the beans carry the terroir of the place where they are from and the farmers' work, so the process of coffee cupping is sacred to really appreciate its provenance," says Jennifer Liu, the founder of The Coffee Academics. "Coffee cupping is to coffee what formal tea ceremonies and rituals are to tea appreciation in Chinese or Japanese tradition."

Globalisation has also widened Jennifer's choices when it comes to selecting coffee beans. She says: "When I first joined the industry, we relied on a fixed supplier, but now, we get access to more and more coffee suppliers and even working directly with the coffee farmers."

Jennifer believes in going to the source of her coffee to understand the farming practices and living conditions of the coffee growers. "We want to live together with these farmers for while, in their homes and understand their lives. On one occasion, we went to Banda Aceh in Indonesia to learn how these farmers were rebuilding their lives after the tsunami. For me, coffee is not just coffee, but the social significance behind it as well."

Watch as Jennifer demonstrates the three simple steps to coffee cupping.
The preparation behind coffee cupping

Coffee cupping is usually done in the morning, as Jennifer explains: "It is understood that after 12pm, your palate is too warm to be tasting coffee properly." On top of that, spicy or strongly flavoured foods are to be avoided about 4 hours before the cupping session to keep the palate clean and sensitive.

She also shared that in the international competitive coffee circle, professional baristas usually take it a lot further, avoiding spicy food and keeping fit through regular exercise to maintain the intergrity of their sense of taste.

Each coffee cupping session is usually attended by about six people who do not speak to one another throughout the process, experiencing and interacting with the coffee individually. Afterwards, they discuss their scores and tasting experiences.
Step One: Brewing coffee

In the world of professional coffee cupping, even the water used to brew coffee is carefully considered. Jennifer uses BWT, a special water from Germany that contains magnesium which enhances the coffee's aroma.

Because the coffee grounds are expensive and delicate, the boiled water is addded carefully into the cup in a circular motion and not poured in forcefully.
Step Two: Removing the crema

After the water is poured into the cup, the grounds are left to steep for about 10 minutes so the sediments settle to the bottom while the crema floats on top. The crema is then removed with two spoons.
Step Three: Smell

The next step is to smell the basic aroma of the coffee. Jennifer explains: "This is the first step in understanding what is good coffee. Through your nose."
Step Four: Slurp

At this step, you are slurping the coffee to see how it interacts with your nose while it is inside your mouth, observing to see if it has a clean palate and well-balanced characteristics. "From that, we produce the coffee through a Chemex, which is a hand pour method, or through the espresso machine where we can make lattes and cappuccinos," says Jennifer.

To her, each cup of coffee is a personal preference. "Before, the older generation liked coffee that was stronger and not so acidic, but now, people seem to prefer a cleaner palate. Different places also have different coffee cultures. For example, the Vietnamese drink theirs with condensed milk."

As part of Robert Parker Wine Advocate's GastroMonth, The Coffee Academics will be curating a unique experiential coffee workshop on 5 November 2017 where attendees will get an exclusive taste of the world’s best – and most expensive – cup of coffee, a naturally processed Geisha from Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama. For more details and to register, click here.

This article was written by Tang Jie and translated by Rachel Tan. Click here to read the original version of the story.


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