July 31, 2020

Responsible Coffee Cupping During Covid-19

Professionals cup coffee to observe the quality, aroma, and flavours of a coffee. Cupping is typically carried out in groups, generally to foster discussion and comparison between individual testers or graders.

The measures that many countries have put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus have made organising cupping sessions more difficult than ever. However, with some careful modifications and tweaks to your cupping protocol, you will be able to carry out sessions responsibly.

Read on to discover how you can change your coffee cupping sessions to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Catar Café de Manera Responsable Durante la Covid-19

SCA Covid-19 Cupping Protocols

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) released a modified cupping protocol in March. You can find it here.

To avoid contamination, the SCA recommends using individual cupping spoons and shot glasses. It also recommends the use of a single sample cup, specifying that each participant should spoon some coffee into their shot glass. They should then drink from the shot glass to ensure the spoon does not touch their mouths. This process can be carried out at a distance from others, as long as each participant walks up to the sample cup in a set order.

The modified protocol also recommends disinfecting the cupping room and its surfaces between sessions, and offering batch brewing as a safer alternative. It’s also important to note that the SCA anticipates that the protocol will evolve “as [it] continues to collaborate with health and sensory experts and receive feedback from [the] community.”

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Practical Advice For Responsible Cupping

For advice on cupping responsibly during the coronavirus, I spoke to Shaun Aupiais, Trainer at the Red Band Barista Academy in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Shaun has created a protocol that can be used by professionals as well as anyone wanting to cup coffee at home. 

Shaun launched his “Clever Covid Coffee Cupping” protocol on July 23 at Truth Coffee in Cape Town, South Africa. He says: “I noticed that coffee shops were battling to cup coffee properly as Covid-19 made it nearly impossible. 

“I started this project around nine months ago but have spent the last three months perfecting the method. I cupped side by side with cupping bowls and a Clever Dripper, comparing each step and working on the timing until I achieved a consistent result.” 

The Clever Dripper is a hybrid pour over device that combines full immersion and drip brewing. It is fitted with a valve that opens and closes the bottom of the dripper, allowing you to brew coffee for as long as you like before allowing it to drip through.

“I think, for each and every one of us, brewing coffee at home boils down to two things: convenience and consistency. There are so many factors that play a massive role in achieving these two things,” says Shaun. The method, he says, allows for a consistent brew while allowing participants to avoid cross-contamination and remain distanced from one another.

Shaun says: “This method is about ease of use. It allows you to enjoy a cupping session with clients, colleagues, or friends without anyone feeling uncomfortable. For me, safety is key.” Here’s what he recommends for a home cupping session for five to seven people.

  • 30g ground coffee per brew 
  • 500g water per brew
  • A pour over/full immersion hybrid brewer (like the Clever Dripper)
  • A 600ml server
  • A cupping spoon, rinsing water, and serviette
  • One glass of drinking water per person
  • One serving cup per person

Shaun’s recipe is simple:

  1. Place the filter paper in the device, pre-wetting it thoroughly with hot water.
  2. Place the device onto the server to warm it by draining excess hot water from the filter paper. After the server has been warmed, toss the excess water out.
  3. Add 30g of coffee into the dripper, ensuring the grounds are level.
  4. Add 500g of water to the brew and allow to steep for four minutes.
  5. Break the crust, allowing everyone to smell the aroma. 
  6. After 5 minutes, place the dripper onto the server and allow the coffee to filter through. The coffee should filter through in 1-1:30 minutes.
  7. Refer to the grind size, age, and volume of the coffee, as this will have some impact on the outcome.
  8. Serve and evaluate the coffee as per modified SCA protocols.

With Shaun’s method, the Clever Dripper serves as the single sample cup as mentioned in the SCA cupping protocols. The valve allows the dripper to stay sealed while everyone smells the aroma of the coffee at a distance from one another. The coffee can then be poured into separate serving cups to avoid cross-contamination, and cupped as normal.

Shaun recommends using one dripper for each different coffee that participants are cupping, with separate serving cups to ensure that the flavours remain distinct. He used the Clever Dripper as his brewer of choice, describing it as a “versatile method”. Any brewing device of your choice will do, however, as long as you can produce consistent results.

Shaun believes cupping is vital for the success of any roastery, and says that this method will help during the pandemic. “Quality control ensures consistency and quality. You can follow this process whether you’re checking your coffee after roasting, cupping a new coffee with a client, creating a blend, or even just general quality control.” 

By following the modified SCA guidelines with any kind of brewing method that can ensure a consistent, repeatable result, you will be able to cup coffee in a responsible way. Remember to keep social distancing regulations in mind and you’ll be able to conduct regular cupping sessions while remaining safe.

Enjoyed this? Then Read A Beginner’s Guide to Cupping Coffee & Improving Your Palate

Photo credits: Devon Barker

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