If you read our post covering specialty grade coffee, you might remember the word “cupper”. A cupper is an employee of the Specialty Coffee Association of America whose job it is to test cups of coffee. You can practice the art of cupping in your own home.

What is “Cupping”?

Have you ever been to a wine tasting? Cupping is similar in the sense that you’re simply tasting the coffee as a way to test it.

Except it’s not so simple.

Coffee, just like wine, has subtle notes and hints of flavors that aren’t always immediately recognizable (even to the well trained palate).

Put simply, “cupping” is a refined method of evaluating various characteristics of a specific coffee bean. The purpose of this process is to gather data that helps label coffees as specialty or otherwise as well as education- each time a cupper tests coffee (sometimes up to 15 cuppers test a single cup of coffee!), new and better understandings of coffee in general come to light.

Why do it?

Cupping is used to identify the various layers of flavors in a coffee, from the most basic to the best hidden. This method particularly helps distinguish which coffee would be best used in blends vs. which is considered specialty coffee.

The method is extremely versatile- there is no right or wrong way to do it per se. It can be utilized to identify coffee from a myriad of different areas involved in coffee production- like farms, individual crops, regions, and countries- as all aspects vary from one to the other. Coffee grown in Costa Rica tastes different than that from Ethiopia or Brazil, right?

How to Cup

As mentioned, there really is not a right or wrong way to “cup”. Make your cupping process your own! That being said, whatever you do, always use the same method each time.

Here is a general outline for the cupping process (using the infusion method):

What you’ll need:

  • Coarsely ground coffee
  • Small bowl
  • Kettle or saucepan
  • Water
  • Spoon
  • Deep spoon/ladle


  1. Place grounds in small bowl.
  2. Pour nearly boiling water over the grounds.
  3. Allow water to imbue grounds for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Break the crust of the bowl.
  5. Stir gently, allowing grinds to sink to the bottom- those left on top should be discarded (use spoons to scrape away). The surface should be clear of grinds before you start sipping.
  6. Fill deep spoon/ladle and bring to your lips. “Inhale” the coffee on the spoon by sucking in your breath very quickly so that the coffee is transported to the roof of your mouth. Roll coffee over your tongue- trying to figure out what flavors you taste- and then let it fall into the back of your mouth. Drinking the coffee in this manner creates a “vapor” that also stimulates the sense of smell when tasting.
  7. Repeat until you detect all the flavors that you can.

Other Coffee Cupping Tips

  • A light roast is best for novice cuppers as it is easier to pick out subtleties in the flavor. Generally, the darker the roast, the more intricate the flavors.
  • It is best to grind your coffee (we suggest hand grinding) and then let it rest for two days.
  • Smelling the coffee during step #4 will help you better define flavors when tasting.