Roasting 101s: Cupping while standing on one leg

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
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#1: Post by another_jim »

There are a lot of web resources for cupping coffee, including one I've written for cupping at home. However, I've noticed no stampede to the cupping table, so I've decided to post a radically simplified, yes or no, cupping instruction:
  • Roast the coffee light, anywhere from first crack end to first pops of the second
  • Brew the coffee and let it cool to room temperature
  • Take a sip
  • The coffee is good if it tastes more sweet than sour and bitter, and there are no off flavors.
How do you use this exalted form of cupping? If the green you ordered doesn't pass this test, chances are it will pretty much suck as an espresso.
Jim Schulman


#2: Post by DigMe »



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#3: Post by hbuchtel »

another_jim wrote:Brew the coffee and let it cool to room temperature
Hi Jim, when you say 'brew' here do mean any particular style of brewing? I wasn't sure if you were leaving it vague to include espresso or something...


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#4: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

This is cupping instruction: Brew means brew, filter or french press, using a light roast, too light for espresso.

You will never be able to consistently blend and roast an espresso worth drinking unless you do light roasts of the constitutent coffees and drink them brewed. The point of this 101 is that sweetness is the first and most important thing to check. This is easiest when the coffee has cooled to room temperature.
Jim Schulman

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#5: Post by hbuchtel »

Got it, thanks.

Well, not a stampede or anything, but I just tried this for the first time :) (roasting today)

I forgot about waiting for it to cool, and the first taste impression was bitter!. That was alarming, but the taste completely changed as time past, and I was relieved to find sweetness after about 10 minutes ;). Do you consider the taste while hot to be indicative of much?

It was interesting to note how strong the roast flavor was. This was my usual 2nd crack for-espresso roast, and there was a charred aspect which I've never tasted in the espresso.


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#6: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

There are arguments on how to weight the taste of coffee hot and cooled off. George Howell is at one extreme, and thinks the flavors of the room temeprature cup are the ones that should count most. He doesn't even score aroma. Others ignore the taste of the cooled cup entirely.

For me, the hot cup's taste has a lot more aromatics and evanescent elements, and this is where I describe the full taste the coffee, and give it the bonus points. But as the cup cools, its overall taste balance becomes much clearer. Also, the real flaws stand out clearly in the cool cup. Finally, the dominant flavor comes to the fore in the cool cup. So for me, the yes or no decisions is made when the cup cools.

Espresso accentuates the balance and the dominant flavors, so the cool cup experience of a light roast is the best clue on how a well executed roast will taste as espresso.
Jim Schulman


#7: Post by pauljolly65 »

hbuchtel wrote:I just tried this for the first time :) (roasting today)

I forgot about waiting for it to cool, and the first taste impression was bitter!.
Hmm...brewing coffee you'd just roasted would (in my experience) come out sour due to the carbonic acid.

Jim, I presume your instructions were for coffee that had rested before brewing. Without that, I don't think one could make much claim about the coffee. I would also say that the parameters for "light roast"
another_jim wrote:anywhere from first crack end to first pops of the second
are mighty broad. Why do you have them as such? All that aside, your points about sweetness and allowing the cup to cool are dead on. I will have to explore this more in future roasts.


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#8: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

Thanks for the question. In this case, precision is not all that important. Some people cup coffee straight out of the roaster, some wait a day. Some stop their cupping roasts in the middle of the first crack, some go as far (in a drum) to where the first has wound down and the second is starting up. If you are comparing and scoring coffees, absolute consistency is really important. But this exercise is just about a yes or no, and the sweetness of a coffees will show up well at any lighter roast.

Coffee tastes sourer as the cup cools (or more precisely, the bitter flavors become less apparent); but if the coffee is good, and particlularly if it's suitable for espresso, it should taste pleasantly sweet as well as acidic, like fruit drinks or wine. If the coffee tastes more sour than sweet, it will probably not work as an SO. If it tastes flat and slightly sweet; it'll work just fine, but more as a blender than an SO.
Jim Schulman

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#9: Post by ChadTheNomad »

Nice and concise instructions. Cupping is one of the more enjoyable aspects of coffee for me, and having been to a few professional cuppings I'm amazed at the efficiency with which they can get through coffees.

For me, breaking the crust is the most enjoyable part. It's like that satisfying crack of the spoon on the creme brulee surface but with the aroma that you might get from the swirling of a good wine.

Also, it's a lot of fun to see how certain coffees transform when they cool. Wet processed coffees are pretty consistent in my experience, but full bodied dry processed coffees go through a wild transformation, sometimes going from a wine-like character to earthy, etc. Delicious. Some coffees even seem almost faulty in the beginning only to mellow out when they slightly cool. I haven't really given this much thought as to why.

On a side note, I use these little Pyrex glasses that I got at Bed Bath and Beyond for brew vessels. They're just the right size, they allow you to get a nice visual of the coffee and the heat retention is enough to get your business done on a small scale.

Thanks for sharing Jim.

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#10: Post by Ozark_61 »

Hey Jim - count me in on the short yellow bus. I just did this tonight for the first time. I cheated a little since the Kaldi's close-by gets their coffee every week... and I could buy a little bits to do cupping. What an interesting experience! My problem is I lack the vocabulary to describe what I was tasting. I found the dry smell was similar to the general taste - not surprising since aroma is largely influenced by receptors in the nose.

Two of the coffees, a Guatemala Finca Providencia and a Sumatra Gayo Mountain had more of a roasted dry fragrance, so weren't too hard to describe, and also had a simple & straightforward taste. The Ethiopia Yirg and Kenya AA Kiandu had a much more fruity character in the dry fragrance and resulted in a much more complex character - but hard to describe.. maybe tart, guava, rubbery (not in a bad way though) - both Africans were similar but different in some way. I would say the Kenya has a little sharper brighter / acidic / fruity taste than the Yirg.

I would say that from the taste side of things, the Kenya and Yirg were very enjoyable, but if espresso is coffee on steroids, then I could see how they would get obnoxious at too high a percentage in a blend. The Sumatra and Guatemala were boring - but had good mouthfeel so I could see how they would add body to the miscela.

Anyways - thanks for the prompting, Jim. I would also highly recommend this to others here if you haven't tried it. I've been home roasting on and off for a couple years now, but find this exercise provides a lot more wisdom for future blending.
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