Drinking coffee with a friend has always been a great way to socialize and catch up.
Next time you invite a friend or group of friends over for coffee, why not try something different? We are of course referring to hosting a coffee tasting ceremony or event.
These friendly gatherings are essentially a way to get out of your coffee comfort zone and try new flavors or with friends.
Similar to wine tasting, farmers, consumers, and roasters use coffee tasting (sometimes referred to as cupping) to grade flavors and quality.
However, coffee lovers and enthusiasts can use coffee tasting to socialize with friends, while discovering, learning, and appreciating new coffee flavors and aromas with your friends.
This is a great way to expand your palette, expand your horizon and knowledge, and develop a further appreciation for coffee. There is something amazing that happens when we are just saying what we are thinking and feeling out loud, and in a coffee tasting event, this can be a lot of fun.
In this article, I will be breaking down the process and how you can host a coffee tasting event for yourself and close friends. It's not difficult, and you may find the process to be deeply rewarding.
How Coffee Cupping is Different Than Tasting
While it may appear to be similar, coffee tasting and cupping are actually two different types of events.
Cuppings are so much more than just brewing a few different pots of coffee and tasting them. For coffee cupping, we skip the use of a fancy machine or coffee maker and instead opt for a more traditional approach.
For cuppings, you will be using a cup or bowl to brew smaller amounts of coffee, as well as hot water and coarsely ground coffee.
It's so simple, and that is all that is required; often referred to as immersion brewing.
There are a few reasons that we do it this way. For instance:
- This method keeps us from getting too much caffeine in our system and eliminates a lot of waste as it relates to brewing too many pots of coffee.
- Because we eliminate the use of filters, we are able to get the full robust flavor of the coffee
- Most of the coffee ground is left during the brewing and cupping process; meaning we get to experience how the flavors change with longer brewing times.
Although this may sound odd to some, as we do not separate the coffee grounds completely from the water with the use of a filter, there is nothing to be afraid of and you won't have too many coffee grounds during your cupping event.
While the French press and other methods of brewing are great ways to enjoy coffee, you will experience different aromas, sensations, and feelings in your mouth than during a cupping event.
The basic principle for coffee cupping is to get a feel for how the coffee tastes, smells and feels without the use of a filter.
The immersion way of brewing coffee is the most consistent way to experience this, as everyone in the world can try this method at home without any type of equipment or tools necessary.
Taking these into consideration, I hope you can understand how coffee cupping is the easiest and most effective way to get a feel for different types of coffee.
What you Need to Get Started
As always, you will want to start with fresh ground coffee; coffee that is not fresh will not have as much of a robust flavor and will be rather bland.
Fresh coffee is just so much better, especially considering the purpose of this social gathering will be to experiment and broaden your coffee horizons. As relates to the water that you use, avoid tap water at all costs.
You will want to use either spring or bottled water; if you don't like the taste of the water by itself, more likely than not you won't care for it in your coffee either.
Additionally, you will want to heat up some water and set it aside in order to rinse your spoons in between tastings; also, crisp cold water is a great palette cleanser so you will want to have some of that on hand as well.
For a cupping event, you will want to have several 4-6 oz bowls or cups; this allows you to perform the cupping event without brewing too much excess coffee.
A good rule of thumb is to have a spoon for each person invited, as well as a way to time how long each coffee has been brewing. Lastly, you will want to have scoring sheets that you can give to your guests in order to take notes on during the cupping event.
While any paper and pen will do, you will want to have one that is specific for this event.
A general process should be in order for the coffee cupping event to be a success.
You will want to have a blind set up, evaluation of the dry and wet coffee, the flavors, feel of the coffee, acid content, sweetness, and finally the aftertaste. For a further in-depth explanation of this process, we have a lot of resources that we encourage you to take advantage of.
Now we can go ahead and dive in deeper into this process, and the individual steps that are involved.
The Blind Setup
Start by numbering each different coffee that is involved in the cupping event; using what is referred to as an identity sheet, write the corresponding number with the name of the coffee.
On the bottom of your cups or bowls, write the corresponding numbers for each coffee; it is important to keep track of the coffees as you are grinding them. An easy way to do this is by placing the grounds into the right coffee vessel after the grinding process.
You will also want to make sure that you have hidden the identity sheet for your purposes only.
While this step is optional, this will make the experience more fun for your guests by eliminating any type of biases or keep everyone on a level playing field as relates to predicting what coffee will taste like.
Dry Coffee AromasAs you can imagine, this step involves taking in the aromas of ground coffee. Breathe in deeply and really get a feel for the specific smells, how they affect you, and what you expect the coffee will taste like. This is a small yet important part of the coffee cupping process.
To start brewing the coffee, take water that has almost reached a boiling point (around 205 degrees), filling the cup or bowl that the coffee is in. Keep in mind that you want the coffee vessels to be only 4-6 oz.
Begin a timer, and let the coffee brew for four minutes. It is important to let the coffee brew without interrupting it during this process. You will want the grounds to form a sort of crust at the surface of the coffee; this locks in the aromas.
Wet Coffee Aromas
After four minutes have passed, you can not penetrate this coffee "crust". This is done by taking a spoon and slowly receding the coffee grounds; during this process, breathe in deeply and get a feel for the wet coffee aroma.
Keeping in mind how the dry coffee aromas were, do this step once or twice more and really focus on how the aromas are different than before; log what your experience is during this step.
After stirring the coffee, let the ground settle to the bottom and skim the surface of the coffee to remove the grounds that are not drifting to the bottom.
Taking your spoon, fitt it with a small amount of coffee; during this part, you will want to try to get the full amount on your taste buds in order to get the full effect. What did you experience during this tasting? Take note of the following:
- Acid content
If you are having difficulties describing what you are experiencing, allow your mind to take over with an educated guess.
You would be surprised how well this works. This will also help you learn and grow your tasting palette. While optional, it may be a good idea to keep what you are experiencing to yourself, as this will make all opinions for the room original.
In between coffee tastings, make sure to rinse your spoon off in water; this will keep the coffees from contaminating each other.
After you have tasted and recorded all of the coffee, go back and taste them again; this will be interesting to see how brewing time has altered the flavor and robustness.
When the room has finished the tasting process, you can confer your thoughts with others in a sort of forum.
Discuss the Coffee
During this last phase of the coffee cupping event, take turns talking about the different coffees that were tasted and experienced. What were the smells and how did they vary between coffee?
Did anyone else experience the same type of undertones and aftertaste of a specific coffee? During this phase, as the host you will want to make sure that those who are more reserved are offering their opinions as well; simply ask them what they thought.
There is no right or wrong answer here, and having a different opinion or experience is key to learning as a group for future cupping events. That is how our palettes grow, and how we develop the skills to really taste the varients between coffees.
When you have shared your opinions on the various coffee, use the identity sheet, and inform the room all about each specific coffee. Good key points being where the coffee originated, who roasted them, and what the flavor notes are.
Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of coffee tasting is to see who was closest to describing the coffee as relates to the flavor notes.
This will give an idea of who has the most refined palette and can be a great starting point for the next cupping event.