"Cupping" Coffee Capsules

Cupping is the universal language for coffee tasting. From roasters making green coffee purchase decisions, to consumers simply deciding which bean they prefer, there’s loads to learn from tasting coffees side-by-side in a controlled setting. Yet, this intense slurp-fest may seem intimidating, especially to those only beginning to get into coffee. Much like how capsules have made Specialty Coffee more accessible, we’ve made a quick capsule cupping guide, adopting the best bits of this industry standard in a manner that is easy to pull off at home! 

What you’ll need:

  • Capsules for comparing (allow for two of each unique capsule)
  • Identical bowls or cups (preferably 5-6oz / 150-180ml)
  • Hot water
  • Spoon
  • An extra heat-proof glass or cup
  • Napkin or paper towels
  • Notebook
  • Timer
  • Scale (optional, but preferred)

Simply pull two shots of the same espresso into each bowl or cup, following the roaster’s intended recipe, if possible. Repeat for each of the other capsules you want to include in the cupping. Set them up on the table from left to right, and label accordingly. Once done, fill each of the cups to the brim with hot water. You may find that the amount of hot water to be added will vary, depending on how long or short the shots of espresso were. What you’ll have at the end is a set of “cupping-strength” coffees, each with the same volume, ready to be tasted!

Fill the extra empty cup with hot water, and place your spoon in it. This will be your rinsing cup. Start the timer and start tasting the coffee from left to right by slurping from your spoon. You may use this coffee flavour wheel from the Specialty Coffee Association as a guide to taste, but even general tasting notes like “sweet” and “fruity” are fine, especially if they matter to you. Remember to rinse your spoon in-between tasting different samples, then dab it dry on the napkin. Take note of the time, and taste again, keeping in mind that additional flavours may reveal themselves as time passes and as the cup cools. Stop tasting when the flavours become flat, or are no longer noteworthy.

(Jotting down what you taste in a notebook or in your phone is helpful for building flavour references)

This exercise will give you a baseline of the flavours of the capsules you have on-hand. Simply repeat the process once you get a new set of capsules. At the very least, you may find that this assessment tool will help you develop your coffee preferences and help with your capsule purchases in the future!

Words by Jon Choi @theheadbean

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