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Observations on cupping at home

Published on under the Coffee category.

A white ramekin in which 15 grams of coffee lie

Earlier this week, I thought to myself it would be nice to do a cupping at home. My last cupping was at the start of October, a guided online session conducted over Zoom. My first attempt at cupping was somewhat flawed, given how many parameters there are involved in cupping, and my lack of equipment at the time. I wanted to take another shot at cupping to: (i) remind myself of the cupping process and; (ii) deepen my understanding of the coffees I have in my cupboard.

I relied on an online guide by Fellow Products to help me get started. Despite having cupped before, I could not remember everything I needed to do. This guide told me to grind 9 grams of coffee and use 150 grams of water per sample. I forgot to adjust my grind size to a coarse (read: French press) grind, and so I had do discard one of my samples. Luckily I remembered to change my grind before grinding the other two samples.

I placed each of the samples in cups. I do not have cupping bowls and so I had to use a range of mugs from the cupboard. It is important in professional cupping to keep the environment as “clean” as possible to eliminate biases. Like how drinking out of ceramic cups feels different to a paper cup, so too do any subtle changes in cups, like their design or size. A mug changes the way we experience coffee. But this was an at-home cupping, a sort of crash course.

Once I had my samples set up, I poured water into each cup, using scales this time to ensure consistency. I did not measure the amount of water I used in my first cupping because I did not have a digital scale with which to measure. Because my samples were all ground very close to when I started cupping, I saw a clear crust on top of the coffee. Today was the first time I have really broken a crust in a cupping. In my first cupping, I had to grind five samples with my hand grinder, not an easy feat. Fresher coffee produces a better crust.

As I was cupping, I was reminded that quite a bit of work goes into cupping at home. In professional environments, it is common for one person or more to set up a cupping so that the cuppers (Q graders, roasters, professional cuppers, the public, etc.) can focus on the tasting. At home, I had to take charge of everything. I kept thinking about how many dishes there would be to do after finishing the cupping. But it was worth it.

I lost track of which sample went into which cup and so I got lost (and I thought I may have ground two samples of the same coffee, which I now think was not the case). I had to rely on my senses and this led to some interesting results. After some tasting, I was able to identify one of the coffees clearly: the Ugandan from Steampunk Coffee. This coffee set itself apart with its tropical fruit flavours. Interestingly, this coffee tasted quite different in cupping versus its taste in my pour-over brewing setup. There are many potential reasons for this, such as the filter paper used. I know is that immersion brewing – of which cupping is a form – and pour-over brewing do yield different results in the cup but I am still learning why.

The other two coffees were harder to detect. I had to taste each coffee multiple times to get a better sense of each sample. I noted distinct aromas and flavours for each coffee, but I started to second-guess myself. One coffee tasted like honey and reminded me of chocolate. Another one was sweet with a lot of fruit. I think, based on this, that the honey-tasting coffee was the Ethiopian Jamila Abakeno coffee from The Good Coffee Cartel and the other was the Ethiopian Adado from the same coffee roaster. Because I lost track of my samples – a result of my not pairing note cards with each coffee – I can only rely on my taste buds. This was exciting because if I knew what each sample was that would have influenced the results of the cupping.

This was a makeshift at-home cupping. In the future, I think I should spend more time planning, preparing note cards for each coffee and thinking through where my equipment should be. I found that I was more efficient at preparing thanks to my electric grinder and scales but improvements could be made. But my intentions were not to mimic what coffee roasters do, and that was my biggest lesson. Cupping is a way to appreciate coffees by removing the factor of a brewing device. Although similar to French press coffee, nobody other than professionals drink a lot of coffee through cupping. I tried to follow the rules but I ended up focusing on what flavours were in the cups rather than all the protocols.

If you have a free afternoon, a few cups, and two or more coffees to brew, try to do your own at-home cupping. Let me know how it goes!

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