The importance of consistent coffee cupping

Alexander Hoyes
November 7, 2022
Importance of consistent coffee cupping

While a coffee bean’s journey begins at origin, from there, many hands contribute to its succession.

Before a coffee lands on the shelves of a coffee shop, it is tested along various “cupping” checkpoints. This testing takes place continuously as the coffee journeys from origin to the importer, and finally, to the roaster.

Of all the terms that regularly appear when dealing with coffee, “cupping” is among the most frequent. 

Used to describe a method of evaluating the characteristics of coffee, it’s a relatively simple technique carried out by professionals and enthusiasts across the entire coffee industry.

Cupping is often leveraged as a way of comparing and contrasting different coffees. However, it is also used to test quality, check for defects, and determine suitability for blends. 

Read on to discover the importance of consistent coffee cupping sessions, and why they should be part of every roaster’s routine.

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An image of a Q grader or cup taster performing a coffee cupping session in an article on the importance of consistent coffee cupping.

What is cupping & why is it done?

Cupping is the standard sensory and tasting evaluation of coffee for quality purposes, and it is used across the industry. 

Notably, cupping can be highly beneficial for all players across the sector, from producers to importers and baristas. 

The method aims to achieve replicability and consistency across all domains, from geography to the different departments within specialty coffee.

Cuppings set the standard for everyone on a global scale to help minimise any discrepancies. 

If one region used a specific brewing method that was not attainable by other regions, the evaluation would not be an appropriate benchmark. 

In order to maintain consistency across the industry, a standard cupping session has specific parameters that must be achieved to be considered “correct”.

The equipment for coffee cuppings is minimal and straightforward – the evaluator only requires a few cups and spoons, along with the coffee, water, and a grinder.

To ensure consistency from cup to cup, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) notes all variables must be controlled. Therefore, it is ideal to follow the 1:6 ratio of grams of coffee to grams of water.

Additionally, the water should be approximately 93°C (199°F) when it is poured on the coffee grinds. 

Using an appropriately sized cup, usually between 207ml and 266ml, allows the user to fill the water to the brim of the cup, allowing for optimal sensory evaluation.

An image of a coffee farmer at origin performing a series of coffee cupping sessions of various coffees in an article on the importance of consistent coffee cupping.

When does cupping happen along the supply chain?

All players along the coffee supply chain can participate in cupping sessions as they are an essential step along the bean’s journey from seed to cup. 

Though cupping is an effective method for everyone in the industry, the purpose behind it may vary depending on where in the supply chain the taster lies.

For instance, farmers at origin often cup coffee to perform a quality check on their crops. As coffee is an agricultural product that is subject to change from season to season, it is imperative for farmers and producers to cup coffee before it is prepared for export. 

It is here that they will assess whether the coffee meets their expectations. If the coffee is considerably poorer in taste than previous harvests, they may not export as much, or they might use the coffee for different purposes.

For importers and coffee professionals who aim to score coffee, a cupping is more than just a quality check – it is a complete sensory evaluation to determine the coffee’s grade.

The more nuanced the coffee, the higher the score. 

This is often assessed by Q graders: certified coffee sensory technicians in the industry who have passed official cupping examinations.

Coffee is evaluated by Q graders based on numerous factors, including acidity, sweetness, balance, uniformity, and overall flavour. 

This score can help roasters identify which coffees will be the most suitable for their clientele.

For roasters, cupping is helpful as a verification checkpoint. As the importer or Q grader will have already scored the coffee, roasters will cup coffee after roasting to verify the quality is relative to the score provided.

An image of specialty coffee cupping session with coffee brewing in white v60 over glass beakers in an article on the importance of consistent coffee cupping.

Why is consistent coffee cupping essential?

The goal of a cupping is to evaluate the quality of the coffee that has been roasted. Therefore, it is important to cup consistently. 

This is especially important for coffee roasters, as they sell the product directly to consumers. 

As the roasting process can lead to variability, maintaining high-quality control on all batches helps ensure consistency from batch to batch.

Any discrepancies should be detected before the coffee is released to consumers, and should be discarded if it significantly deviates from its intended taste. 

Many roasting companies often employ at least one person for quality assurance. Their job is to assess each batch and verify the roast falls within certain parameters on the sensory level. 

This differs from the roaster’s job, as the roaster mainly ensures each batch is roasted effectively and consistently to the company’s standard.

Therefore, this process is two-fold: the roaster roasts the batch, and the cup taster evaluates the batch. 

Relying strictly on the roaster’s ability to correctly profile the coffee may be insufficient. Though the batch may have been profiled in the correct manner, the taste is even more vital.

The cup taster should continue sampling each batch, even if is suspected that the coffee has been roasted to the ideal standard.

Consistent cupping may also help sharpen the cup taster’s ability to detect subtle changes or identify different flavour notes in new coffees. 

This is particularly helpful with a cupping team of at least two or more people. Having a trained cupping team can lead to even more efficient cupping evaluations. 

Essentially, more cup tasters allow for less chance of a bad batch being overlooked. 

More so, additional evaluators can help achieve better results in that one cup taster may pick up on changes in aroma and flavour quicker than others. 

However, it is vital that all members are well-calibrated. Acquiring experienced cup tasters that are trained to the same standard will help maximise quality. 

Furthermore, a larger cupping team can expedite the cupping evaluations, leading to more production.

An image of a coffee roaster packaging roast coffee into unbleached natural kraft paper coffee bags after a coffee cupping session in an article on the importance of consistent coffee cupping.

MTPak Coffee understands the hard work roasters put into cupping and tasting coffee. Like you, our team is dedicated to providing consumers with high-quality, great-tasting coffee.

Our goal is to provide roasters with coffee bags that both reflect the company’s brand identity while also providing a distinguished aesthetic on the shelf. 

We offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that are made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

More so, we give our roasters complete control over the design process by allowing them to build their own coffee bags. Our design team is available to help you create the ideal coffee packaging in addition to ensuring it preserves the freshness and quality of your coffee.

Our innovative digital printing technology allows us to offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.

MTPak Coffee also offers low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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