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Cupping the same coffee roasted differently

Written by . Published on under the Coffee category.

Three glass cups containing coffee on a white table

Earlier this week, I received a package containing some coffee. Unlike other coffee deliveries I have received, this one contained two bags of the same coffee. But, the end product was not the same. Both coffees had been roasted to different degrees, allowing me to get an insight into how roast influences the taste of a bean. One bean was roasted lighter – more traditional for speciality coffee – and another was labelled “too dark,” meaning it did not meet the roasters’ expectations. But, I did not taste the full impact of the roast on these beans until this weekend.

During the week, I opened both bags to brew on my Kalita Wave, V60, and Aeropress. I enjoyed brewing with each of them although I developed a slight preference for the lighter roasted coffee. I consumed much more of that coffee than the coffee in the other bag labelled “too dark.” My intention was not just to brew these coffees but to cup them side-by-side. This would let me answer the big question on my mind: exactly how does roast affect these coffees?

This morning, I prepared three coffees on my cupping table:

  • Redemption Roasters’ Ecuador
  • Sample A (Lighter)
  • Sample B (Too dark)

I chose to add the Redemption Roaster’s Ecuador coffee as a point of reference. I knew that Sample A and B would be similar so I wanted another coffee that I could go back to as a point of comparison. This is not regular practice on a professional cupping table but I am still refining my tasting skills.

I was able to pick out the Redemption Roasters’ coffee when I was smelling the dry grounds. I had already cupped this coffee before, which has clear notes of honey, and so I knew what to expect. The other two samples were clearly distinctive from the Redemption Roasters coffee. However, they were both similar. I noted down “strawberry ice cream” and “cherry” as aromas for both what I thought were Sample A and B.

The similarities between Sample A and B extended to the evaluation of the wet coffee, when water has been poured over the grounds. Both samples were so similar, but I knew there was a difference. I was almost certain of the Redemption Roasters’ coffee after evaluating the wet aromas.

Next came the tasting, which was where I was able to build a better impression of each coffee. One of the coffees was clear and had a nice finish. It was sweet, although not as sweet as the Redemption Roasters’ coffee, and had notes of cherry and strawberry. The other coffee was sweet and I could taste the cherry notes. This coffee changed quite a bit as it cooled down.

A good coffee should taste good even when it cools down. One of the coffees started to show qualities that I did not like in the coffee. I noticed there was a bit more bitterness than I am accustomed to on the cupping table. I also noticed that this coffee was a bit flatter than the other one, lacking somewhat in flavour. It felt heavier, too; the body was quite different to the other coffee. By the time the coffees reached around room temperature, one of the coffees was so bitter that I decided to stop tasting it altogether. I felt strongly that coffee was the darker roasted coffee.

I cannot say how much darker the other coffee was in terms of roast qualities but I know it was darker. The impact was enough for the coffee to feel a bit empty, quite bitter, and lacking in some of the depth that I got from the other coffee which I presumed to be the lighter roast. Upon revealing which coffee was in each glass, I found I was correct in my identification. The goal was not to identify each coffee: my goal was to see how roast affected the bean.

From this cupping, I am starting to build the view that a darker roast can impart an unpleasant bitterness onto a coffee. I also think a darker roast to the degree Sample B was roasted lacks in some flavour. I am not saying that Sample B was undrinkable; at the start, both of the coffees were so similar I thought I had no hope of distinguishing them. It was only after the coffees cooled down that I noticed one coffee was not holding up as well: Sample B.

I frequently went back to the Redemption Roasters’ coffee. I like to cup three samples because it gives me more opportunities for comparative tasting without making me feel overwhelmed. I was glad I included this coffee because I still learned a bit about it even though my focus was on trying to evaluate the impact of roast. I noticed a nutty quality in the Redemption Roasters’ coffee that I quite liked.

I am happy that I got to try a darker-roasted coffee because I now have one point of reference for how roast can affect a coffee. I am presently basing my views on a sample size of two – a lighter and a darker roast, compared – and so I’d like to try more to build my palate.

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