Coffee tasting using the cupping form

Cupping: professional coffee tasting

Before coffee is ever packaged and sold in retail stores and cafes, coffee samples are sorted and tasted by a number of coffee professionals. From buyers, roasters, baristas and many others, coffee is evaluated using a method called cupping.

Cupping is a tasting method in which the quality of coffee is assessed. To guarantee a level playing field and relevance in this examination of coffee samples,precise rules and procedures have been established . To ensure that these methods can be followed not only in a specialized laboratory. Standardised cupping can be carried out, for example, directly at the coffee grower's processing station.

Cupping involves a subjective assessment of the following coffee characteristics: aroma, taste, aftertaste, acidity, body, uniformity, balance, cup clarity, sweetness and the overall sensation of the coffee. In all these important parameters, a cupping form is used to evaluate the coffee, the output of which is the qualitative value of the coffee: the cupping score.

A professional coffee taster can obtain a certificate issued by the Coffee Quality Institute. There is also a world championship in coffee tasting every year . The most common purpose of cupping is to purchase quality coffee. It takes place at the coffee farm, at suppliers, at the roastery and at a good coffee shop.

The most common reasons for cupping coffee

  • to compare differences and similarities and to evaluate the coffee
  • evaluating coffees to determine the sensory profile of a particular type of coffee
  • analysis of coffee samples in order to improve the roasting profile or the coffee preparation method
  • identifying customer preferences
  • customer education and communication
  • marketing and product innovation
  • own sensory training (practice your skills in perceiving coffee flavours, aromas)

SCA Cupping Standards

For cupping we need a sample of the coffee we want to evaluate, roasted ideally within 24 hours before tasting. These freshly roasted beans should then rest for at least 8 hours.

Proper roasting takes between 8-12 minutes and the result must be free of noticeable scorching. The sample of freshly roasted coffee is immediately cooled to approximately room temperature and stored in a dry, cool and dark place in a sealed container to prevent contamination of the coffee.

Essential equipment for professional cupping:

Roasting - preparation Environment Measuring - preparation
Coffee sample from the roaster Good lighting Scale
Grinder Clean environment Tasting jar with lid
Agtron* Tasting Tables Tasting spoons
Calm Hot water device
Comfort temperature Required forms
Avoidance of distractions (telephone, etc.) Writing utensils

*Agtron is used to scale up roasting. The device, using infrared light, measures the degree of roasting.

Coffee preparation procedure for quality assessment

  • Standard cupping containers are bowls or cups made of tempered glass or ceramic with a capacity of 207 - 266 ml.
  • Depending on the size of the bowl, calculate the correct ratio of water to coffee. The optimal ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee (+/- 0.25 grams) per 150 ml of water.
  • This is the weight of whole, not yet ground roasted coffee beans. These are ground just before cupping, no longer than 15 minutes before pouring.
  • Cupping is usually tested with multiple samples. It is important to prepare two batches of coffee for each sample. It is important to ensure that no particles from the previous grind get into the sample being tested, the first batch of coffee is ground and only the second batch is used for the cupping itself.
  • The ground beans are poured with clean, unsoftened water at a temperature of 95°.The moment we start pouring the coffee, we monitor the time. The coffee is left in the bowl for 4 minutes.
  • Then a spoon (a deeper spoon designed for cupping) breaks the crust of ground coffee formed on the surface. This is one of the most beautiful moments of cupping, because it is by breaking the crust that the aroma of the coffee develops.
  • Finally, two cupping spoons are used to pick up the coffee particles from the surface and the coffee in the bowls is ready to be tasted and evaluated.

Cupping scores of the individual coffee parameters

In the cupping form, there are two scales for some areas of the rating. The horizontal scale scores the quality of each coffee attribute, while the vertical scale is used to record the intensity of that sensory component for the evaluator.

  • Aroma is assessed as dry and wet, i.e. the aroma of dry ground coffee and the aroma after pouring water. The dry aroma is assessed by grinding the coffee, when the aromas from the coffee are released in the grinder, and then by smelling the bowl of ground coffee. The wet aroma is most pronounced when breaking the coffee crust.
  • The main character of the coffee, the taste, is one of the first impressions. It is evoked by the aroma of the coffee and lingers in the mouth even after tasting as an aftertaste. The taste score is the result of the sensation of the intensity, quality and complexity of the combination of flavours.
  • Byaftertaste, we mean the length of the positive taste and aroma sensation that lingers in the mouth.
  • Acidity 'brightens' the taste of the coffee. If it is pleasant, it contributes to a feeling of freshness and liveliness. Unpleasant and overly intense acidity can become a dominant part of the coffee tasting experience. It is also assessed whether it reflects the aromatic profile of the sample and the characteristics of its origin.
  • The body quality of the coffee is based on the mouthfeel of the liquid. At the same time, body strength is not necessarily indicative of the degree of quality of the characteristic under examination.
  • The consistency of flavour in different cups, but using the same coffee sample, is called uniformity. Differences in taste reduce the rating. For each consistent cup, 2 points are awarded, up to a maximum of 10 points, for five identical cups.
  • The way all aspects of the coffee work together to produce a satisfying cup is called balance. Its score is reduced if any aspect of the coffee is missing or predominant.
  • Another criterion is the purity of the cup. The sample examined should not contain any distracting or negative impressions. Any cup that is this clean will be awarded 2 points.
  • A score of 2 points is also awarded to any cup that has sweetness. A pleasant sensation of fullness of flavour, the opposite of which may be astringent 'green' taste.
  • A coffee that has lived up to expectations due to its character and its own origin will score highly in the overall sensation assessment.
  • Finally, the coffee's defects are counted in two steps. Firstly, it looks for how many samples have a noticeable but not major unpleasantness in the taste, which tends to be predominantly in the aromatic aspects of the coffee. The taster then focuses on the undesirable flavour, but this must be classified as a fault and described. The first type of defect is assessed with 2 points and the second with 4 points. This rating is multiplied by the number of cups where the defect was found. The result is deducted from the overall cupping score.

You score each coffee on the cupping table between 6-10 points for each coffee parameter evaluated. When you add up the points for the specific parameters evaluated, you will come up with a number probably in the range of 80-95.

Coffees that would be rated below 6 points on a given parameter are not considered to be selective, so the rating scale on this form does not achieve such points. According to the SCA, the threshold for a choice coffee is given by the 80 cupping score. Coffeeswith an overall rating above 95 points are extremely rare.

Scale of points in the coffee quality rating

How to fill in the cupping form?

Establishing a baseline for rating various attributes such as acidity and body can be a bit tricky. It requires tasting a large number of coffees, frequent tastings and consistent use of the form. Always fill out the entire form first, including sample numbers (or the name of the coffees) so you don't confuse the coffees.

Cupping scores for each coffee attribute

Let's now take a closer look at the individual coffee attributes scored. Or rather, how to write down your own impressions of the coffee you taste on the form to get a relevant rating of the coffees you taste. Your cupping score.

1. Roasting level, aroma and coffee flavour

  • First check the roasting of all samples. If they are at the same level and that level is appropriate for the rating, mark the center of the vertical scale.
  • Then check the dry aroma of the coffee. How intense is it, how does it affect you and what specific notes, pleasant or not, do you perceive in it. The vertical scales on the form always indicate intensity. So give a quick dash to indicate how intense the aroma is.
  • After pouring hot water, rate the wet aroma of the coffee. Correctly, you should reveal other aromas. The notes then become more pronounced and you can already smell, for example, strawberries, nuts, chocolate or caramel.
  • Follow the same procedure as for the dry aroma. Use the second horizontal line in the box and the vertical scale on the right. Coffees without distracting aromas, with a variety of different notes and with higher intensity are rated best. For example, a coffee that smells of chocolate and nuts, with a medium intensity, would probably receive a score of 7,25-7,5. Whereas a coffee with notes of berries, flowers and spices with a high intensity would receive 8.5 points or more.
Smell the dry aroma of ground coffee. Learn the differences and evolution of coffee aromas after pouring hot water.

2. Taste and aftertaste of coffee

  • Taste is perceived from the moment you take the coffee intoyour mouth. The smell of the coffee is the trigger and it lingers in your mouth even after you have tasted it. It is all you feel through your nose, on your tongue and on your palate. The taste score is the result of the many pleasant flavour notes of the coffee.
  • The aftertaste is the final reverberation of the coffee. You can describe it as bland, astringent, burnt, mild or sweet, for example. An aftertaste that lingers and is pleasant would be scored highest on the scorecard.

3. Acidity or acidity of the coffee

  • Taste with a cupping spoon in one sip. Acidity is felt most strongly on the back of the tongue. Is the coffee pleasantly acidic or just sour? If you feel intense acidity plus no sweetness, the taste of the coffee would be very unpleasant.
  • When acidity is low, the coffee is bland. The right amount of complex acidity with sweetness leads to the perception of many fruity flavors in coffee andshould be scored highly. The resulting score marked on a horizontal scale should primarily determine the quality of acidity, the variety of organic acids, and also the intensity of the acidity.
  • Theorigin of the coffee and the processing method should also betaken into account here . For example, African coffee would be rewarded slightly less for high acidity. This is because we expect African coffee to have higher acidity than, say, coffee from South or Central America.

4. Body

  • In order for a coffee to score high for body, it must have a relatively heavy body coupled with a pleasant mouthfeel. This sensation is best described if you let the coffee "stand" andrub your tongue against the top palate.
  • More heavily roasted coffees have a heavy body. The heavier and denser the body, the lower the acidity. You can describe the body of a coffee as, for example, full-bodied, weak, rich, and so on.

5. Balance of coffee flavours

  • Evaluates how acidity, flavor, aftertaste and body complement each other. It looks at whether one component overpowers the others.

When the temperature of the coffee falls below 40°C, it is assessed:

Sweetness in the coffee

  • Represents the sweet notes themselves. Is there any sweetness left? If not, tick the appropriate box of the defective cup and deduct 2 points.
  • However, this category has nothing to do with the overall sweetness of the coffee. It only indicates whether a particular cup in the set has zero sweetness.

Cleanliness of the cup

  • Assesses distractions in aroma or flavor that have developed during the tasting.
  • If it contains distractions and negative impressions, the box is checked and the defect is written in the notes and 2 points are deducted from the 10 points.


  • To be assessed if more than one sample of each coffee is prepared. Do all cupstaste the same? If any cup differs, it is marked on the sheet and 2 points are deducted from the total score.
  • If the box is ticked, move on to a clean cup. If nothing is checked, the coffee gets 10 points for that category. Clean cup and sweet would also receive a score of 10.

Overall rating

  • Describes your overall impression of the tasting. The only section of the form where your opinion matters.

Final scoring

  • Poor quality or negative flavours are marked as defects. If the coffee is well processed, it should not have any defects. Identifying any defect in a given coffee will most likely not be considered a selection. Therefore, if you have checked all the boxes in the "clean cup" category , you must deduct points for a defect here.
  • So what should I do if there is more than 1 defect in a given coffee? There are several options. You can either add it up and subtract 6 points from the total score and note why, or you can pick a defect at the defect level and multiply by the number of cups.
  • Once you have entered all your numbers in the small boxes at the top right of each category, add up all your scores and enter that number under the total score. If a cup is defective, deduct points for the error. If there is no defect, you can write 0 in these boxes and add up your final score and enter it in the box on the bottom right.

Suggested tools for cupping coffee evaluation

To explore the flavours and aromas of coffee, scientists and coffee experts have compiled various aids to clarify and make our perception of coffee flavours and aromas clearer. The most widely used tool for defining what we smell in coffee is the Coffee Flavour Circle, which can be downloaded, printed and used to find the right definitions of coffee flavours.

It's a circle diagram showing the most common flavours we can find in coffee. They are in a logical, sequential order and marked with colors that support the perception of these flavors. This flavor wheel published by SCA was created based on the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon and is freely downloadable from their website.

The Sensory Lexicon is a dictionary of the universal language of sensory qualities of coffee and a tool to measure them. It describes the flavours, aromas and textures contained in coffee. These coffee experiences that we perceive come from a set of chemicals determined by the genes of the seed, the terroir, and the overall processing of the coffee from the origin of the fruit to the cup. Because coffee is one of the most chemically complex foods, the sensory lexicon helps us identify and define the flavors when we consume it.