Just like fine wines, gourmet coffee has its own specific types of guidelines that help us rate its quality. These guidelines outline a process called coffee cupping and it is coffee’s equivalent to wine tasting. This process is used for the buying and blending different coffees, so when it occurs it is a ceremony where the guidelines are followed closely and seriously. Having a general idea how this process works is not only a good way to get to know the coffee that you are drinking, but it is another way to impress your friends and put you on your way to becoming a genuine coffee snob.
There are six steps in the coffee cupping process; fragrance, aroma, taste, nose, aftertaste, and body. Each plays a big part in your overall understanding of the coffee you are drinking. The first step, fragrance, occurs directly after the coffee beans are ground. When sniffing the ground beans, you can get a good idea as to the nature of the taste. Usually; sweet smells indicate acidity and more pungent smells indicate sharpness. The second step, aroma, occurs with a long, deep sniff after boiling water is added to the grounds.
During the coffee cupping ceremony the rules of etiquette are somewhat bent. It is correct and acceptable to slurp your coffee; in fact, the processes of sipping, slurping and swallowing are amplified and exaggerated for a good purpose. When taking a giant, slurp of your coffee, you are exposing more nerve endings to the stimuli of the coffee, giving you a more complete idea of the complexities of the brew. This is especially present in the third step where you taste the coffee with a silver spoon which is used because it rapidly dissipates heat. As you taste the coffee you can address the fourth step, nose; meaning the vapors that are given off by the coffee while it is in your mouth; then when you swallow you can assess the aftertaste.
The last step in this process is body, or mouthfeel. The oiliness of the coffee measures the fat content and the thickness of the brew measures the protein, together these qualities make up the body of the coffee.
Though there is a lot more to the actual coffee cupping ceremony used for buying and blending, having a general idea of the steps will develop your palette and you will gain a broader understanding of different roasts and origins. So start slurping and get personal with your cup of coffee, you’re well on your way to becoming a coffee snob.