January 25, 2016

What is Cupping? A Guatemalan Q-Grader’s Guide


The Sami people have as many as 300 words for snow. Japanese has a word for the storm that can blow cherry blossoms off the trees. Yet for our favorite drink, we just have the one word: coffee.

Coffee is a complex product with many flavor variables; it can taste differently depending on the varietal, the year, the altitude, the picking method, the processing method, the roasting method… To simply label it “coffee” is insufficient.

This makes the attempt to measure and describe different coffees challenging but important. Cupping, as this process is known, analyzes the physical and sensory characteristics of the coffee. This allows us to evaluate attributes, qualities, and defects, making cupping not just a way to discuss different coffees but also a tool for quality control.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Qué es la Cata? La Guía de Un Q-Grader Guatemalteco

Coffee cupping

Always use the same vessels for all the coffees you cup at the same time, to ensure consistency.

Cupping: The Process

There are two styles of cupping: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative cupping: A measurement of the defects, or attributes, that can shape the flavor of coffee.

Quantitative cupping: A measurement of the complexity, or intensity, of the characteristics evaluated. This allows us to categorise the evaluated coffees – in short, to compare them. We can take a range of coffees, such as Guatemalan ones, and define which class they belong to based on their intensity and complexity.

In essence, qualitative cupping reveals the general profile but quantitative cupping classifies the coffee.

See also: Coffee Videos: Do You Know How to Cup Coffee?

Coffee cupping

Cupping different coffees together reveals a lot about individual taste profiles.

Cupping: A Tool for Producers

There’s one other common type of cupping: a technical cupping. This is a very useful piece of information for producers since this cupping measures all the characteristics that could be affected during the wet processing, so as to monitor the causes of the perceived flavors.

Coffee cupping

Make sure to measure your dose before cupping!

A technical cupping measures the following aspects:

  • Green:

Appearance     Drying     Humidity percentage

Size     Smell     Color     Physical defects

  • Roast:

Quality     Homogeneity     Defects

  • Sensory:

Fragrance/Aroma     Cup cleanliness     Sweetness

Acidity     Body     Flavor     

Balance   Finish     Qualities or defects

Cupping for Coffee-Drinkers

While cupping can be a formal evaluation of a coffee’s quality for the sake of quality control, that doesn’t mean it’s the reserve of cupping professionals. Coffee-drinkers can cup purely for the sake of deepening their understanding of coffee – and to gain useful tools for discussing the drink they love so dearly in a meaningful way.

Coffee cupping

Cuppings can provide you with a much better understanding of coffee profiles and the differences between varieties.

Beginners shouldn’t be afraid of jumping in and cupping. Keen to try? Check out our article on the 5 steps to learning how to cup coffee.

Translated by T. Schrock.

Perfect Daily Grind.