January 27, 2020

How to Roast For Cupping Purposes


Roasting coffee for clients and customers requires you to manage variables like time and temperature to create a unique profile. Roasting for cupping purposes works a little differently. The goal of roasting for cupping is quality control. You want to ensure that each batch you roast is of a certain quality, according to its objective cupping score. 

As you’re roasting with a specific outcome in mind, you’ll need to follow certain protocols to make sure your results are as accurate and replicable as possible. Here’s why this matters, and how you can improve how you do it.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Tostar Café Para la Cata

A cupping table at Três Marias Coffee Company. Credit: Carolina Gutierrez

The Importance of Accuracy

Cupping is often used to form the basis for several important business decisions that are made along the coffee supply chain. It can be used to compare different lots, spot green and roast defects, and even make purchasing decisions. It can also measure sensory aspects, such as acidity, finish, and sweetness, to name a few.

Accuracy and consistency is crucial to get it right and produce trustworthy results. A failure to do this can result in unreliable data being produced, and as your goal is to evaluate the coffee and not the variables in the brewing process that can impact it, you need to ensure that those variables are standardized.

The Specialty Coffee Association, or SCA, has set the coffee industry’s cupping standards to ensure that there’s an accurate baseline for coffee tasting and grading coffee. These protocols are used across the industry to ensure the cupping process is objective and will impact how a coffee is roasted, prepared, tasted, and graded. 

To find out how this applies to roasters, I spoke to Carolina Gutierrez, who is a Q Grader and Production Development Manager for Três Marias Coffee Company in Dubai. The company sources green beans, while also helping other businesses to source, package, and roast green beans. 

She says “The SCA has published protocols for sample roasting to ensure we keep the process of standardization the same way. As sample roasters, we must expose the coffee for observation, so all the faults and flaws will be noticed in case there are any.”

For roasters paying a premium for a high scoring coffee, consistent cupping scores could be used to validate a purchase decision, and can also demonstrate that the producers they’re buying from deserve a fair price for their crop.

I also spoke to Ronald Alvarado of Beneficio Santa Rosa in Honduras, which is a specialty coffee processing company and host sponsor of 2020’s Producer & Roaster Forum. He says that it’s important to be attached to the protocol, be consistent in the results obtained from the tastings, and in the same way, always efficiently comply with the client’s quality requirements.

Many variables that must be taken into account when cupping coffee for roasting purposes. Here are a few of them worth noting.

You may also like How To Ensure Consistency When Cupping Coffee

Bean cupping samples on a table at Três Marias Coffee Company. Credit: Carolina Gutierrez

Roast Time

It’s standard practice for a roast to take up to 16 minutes to complete. In Scott Rao’s book, The Coffee Roaster’s Companion, he recommends that for optimal bean development, you should never take a roast past 16 minutes to avoid baked and flat flavors. However, for cupping purposes, SCA regulations recommend a roast take between 8 and 12 minutes. 

Roasting a coffee for cupping purposes will require you roast it in a way that best highlights its best features in terms of aroma, flavor, body, and acidity. It’s recommended that you finish between 90 seconds and two minutes after its first crack. Even if you usually proceed to second crack, you should finish sooner if you’re aiming to evaluate green coffee quality.

This shorter roast time ensures that adequate power is applied to the beans, stimulating a strong rolling first crack that doesn’t take the roast too deep. This will ensure a well-developed medium roast. 

A cupping table at Três Marias Coffee Company. Credit: Carolina Gutierrez

Roast Level

When it comes to roast level, what one roaster considers to be a medium roast, another might consider to be a dark roast. This is why roast names vary significantly and are often relative to the roaster’s style and preferences.

As roasting for cupping requires standardized results, a roast colour analyzer can take the guesswork out of roast depth and help you to grade the roasted beans. This device uses near infrared light to analyze a roasted bean’s color, giving it a number based on the results. 

Many analyzers are available, and each will have different requirements. For example, when using the Agtron Commercial Model, measurement must take place between 30 minutes to four hours after roasting, and the coffee must meet a measurement of 48.0 +/-1.

Roasters should aim for a medium light roast. A lighter roast could yield grassy, peanut-like flavors, and a darker one can produce smokey, charred flavors from the roasting process itself. 

This score will ensure that the truest bean flavor is represented in cupping. Ronald tells me that determining quality using a medium roast allows “the bean to show fragrance and flavor characteristics that can only be perceived [through] caramelization”.

Three producers cup coffee at Beneficio Santa Rosa in Honduras. Credit: Ronald Alvarado

Watch Out For…

After roasting, a bean will continue to develop its flavor for several days. during which several chemical changes continue to happen inside the bean, along with carbon dioxide degassing.

The SCA takes this into account in cupping, by providing that it should take place between 8 to 24 hours after roasting.

To prevent oxygen and UV light from degrading your beans after they’ve been dropped, make sure they’re immediately stored in an airtight, opaque container with an off-gassing valve during the required waiting period.

Defects present in green beans as well as those that develop during roasting will also impact the coffee’s flavor and roast cupping score. According to Sam Kayser, who owns the specialty coffee roasting company Lone Oak Coffee Co. in the USA, several mistakes could be made during roasting that would impact a cupping’s outcome.

He says that “in my experience, some common mistakes could be tipping, scorching, baking, [and] underdevelopment. Those are specific to the actual roasting process… The coffee itself will taste ‘off’ if any of these have occurred. Ashy, burnt, woody, green, or grassy flavors would be apparent if such a mistake were to be made.”

By inspecting your beans before and after roasting them, you’ll ensure that only ones that are free from primary and secondary defects will be used, which will in turn result in you cupping the coffee in its truest form, for a fair and accurate score.

A producer breaks the crust on a cupping sample at Beneficio Santa Rosa in Honduras. Credit: Ronald Alvarado

Use this information to avoid the costly, and time-consuming process of roasting over and over again to find a profile suitable for cupping. 

Follow the industry standards for roasting, and ensure you are giving the beans a fair and accurate tasting. 

Honour the farmers who have worked so hard, and respect the beans with a genuine representation of their quality.

Enjoyed this? Then Read RoR, Bean Temperature, & More: How to Use Common Roast Data

Written by Lon Ford. Feature photo caption: A roaster operates a machine at Beneficio Santa Rosa in Honduras. Feature photo credit: Ronald Alvarado

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