Best Method for Cupping Coffee at Home

How to Cup Coffee at Home

At the heart of any coffee roasting operation is “cupping,” the process of tasting, describing, and scoring coffee. Once upon a time, raw coffee was bought and sold based chiefly on aspects of its visual appearance and the attributes of flavor associated with those visuals. These included size and coloring. In the late 19th century, coffee roasters sought more objective and scientific methods for appraising coffee’s value. Then, as now, the price coffee drinkers are willing to pay is based primarily on how the coffee tastes, not how it looks. Roasters wanted to buy green coffee based on the same criteria by which they would sell it roasted: taste. Roaster/importer Hills Brothers was a pioneer in adopting this approach.

Originally known as “cup testing,” the process was standardized over time, and today coffee cupping looks basically like it did 100 years ago. A significant difference today, especially among specialty coffee roasters, is the purpose of cupping. Specialty coffee roasters don’t use cupping only to evaluate quality and understand how flavor profiles will fit into their mix, they use cupping to determine how they will describe a coffee to their customers. But exploring a coffee’s “flavor profile” and learning to describe what you taste is not just an exercise for coffee roasters. It can be a fun learning experience for coffee lovers too!

Those who earn their living buying green coffee spend years developing their skills around cupping coffee, and it can be a highly technical process. Here, we’re going to cover just the basics for cupping coffee at home.

Professional coffee cuppers have access to fully equipped coffee labs, including “sample roasters” for roasting green coffee and commercial grinders. While you don’t need a coffee roaster, you do need a grinder and it should be a “burr” grinder rather than a “blade” grinder. A blade grinder produces an inconsistent grind and therefore inconsistent brew strength. You might be able to live with this for your morning coffee (something to get you rolling until you reach your favorite coffeehouse where they have … right, a big ‘ol commercial burr grinder). If you’re not looking to level-up to a burr grinder just yet, it is better to purchase ground coffee than it is to use a blade grinder. Better yet, buy coffee at your favorite coffeehouse and have them grind it for you just before you plan to cup the coffee. Here’s your basic equipment list:

  • Grinder Scale with gram setting
  • Bullion Spoons
  • Tea kettle (stovetop or electric)
  • The cupping “vessels”
Your vessel is ceramic or tempered glass that holds 7-9 fluid ounces and are around 3 inches in diameter. They should all be the same. Bullion, or “soup” spoons can be found at restaurant supply stores or ordered online. You can also order spoons designed specifically for cupping coffee.