Cupping: Coffee Exploration and Evaluation

Cupping is a tasting method used as a common language within the coffee community. As we'll see, it allows you to evaluate a series of coffees, but also to learn more about origins, processes and roasting, as well as to develop your palate. Let's take a look at this new approach to coffee.

Cupping: a standardized method

The outward appearance of a coffee, such as its color, uniform size and absence of visible defects, does not guarantee the quality of the bean. Unwanted flavours may be present due to factors such as storage, processing, transport or roasting. The only reliable way to assess a coffee's inner quality is to taste it. However, tasting alone is subjective and can vary according to the recipe used to extract the coffee.

To avoid subjective and divergent assessments, cupping, a standardized method, was introduced and is used worldwide. By following a strict protocol in which each coffee is weighed and extracted in the same way in terms of temperature, ratio and grind, cupping makes it possible to compare coffees, determine their aromatic profiles, detect defects and assess their qualities.

The method as we know it today was developed as early as 1932, then democratized in 1986 by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) [1]. Developments in sensory science (how we perceive aromas and flavours) have led to a better understanding of how we perceive coffee aromas, and to an evolution in cupping methodology and vocabulary [2,3].

Cupping: a grading tool

Cupping is crucial at every stage of the coffee chain, ensuring quality right through to the end consumer. It is of particular importance to growers and importers, helping to improve coffee quality and support growers.

Used by Q-graders, coffee evaluation specialists [4], cupping enables green coffee to be given a score out of 100 [5]. The higher the score, the more exceptional the coffee, enabling the producer to sell it at a higher price. The appellation "specialty" is reserved for coffees with a score of over 80.
Roasters also use cupping to check the quality of the roasting process and select the beans and recipes for their range.

Cupping: a tool for discovery

At home or for connoisseurs, cupping is used as an exploration of the world of coffee, enabling us to compare coffees, identify preferences and develop our palate. It's also a learning method for understanding the characteristics of origins, varieties and processes, and for grasping the impact of roasting temperature or defects on high-quality coffee.

Cupping protocol

There is a specific protocol for Arabica and Robusta coffees. Here, we focus on the SCA protocol for Arabica coffees [6], which recommends setting up in a clean room, without ventilation, with temperature, sound and odor control to avoid any disturbance:
  1. Use two bowls per coffee to detect defects.
  2. Grind 2g of the first coffee to purge the grinder and avoid contamination between coffees. Discard this grind and grind 11g per bowl at a coarse setting (equivalent to sea salt).
  3. Perform an initial dry evaluation of the coffee.
  4. Heat filtered (but not distilled) water to 94°C.
  5. Start the timer and pour 200ml of water into each bowl.
  6. After 4 minutes, break the crust formed on each bowl by making three small spooning movements while assessing the aromas. Rinse the spoon between each bowl.
  7. Use two spoons to clean each cup, removing grains and surface foam. Rinse the spoons between each bowl.
  8. Wait for the coffee to reach 71°C (around 10 to 15 minutes) before tasting [7].
  9. Take a spoonful of coffee from the surface, "slurping" to send the liquid to the back of the tongue [8]. Use the flavor wheel to evaluate and identify aromas [9, 10].
  10. Taste coffee at different times as it cools to assess the evolution of flavors.
  11. Rinse the spoon between each coffee to avoid contamination.
  12. You can spit the coffee out to avoid excessive consumption and saturation of the taste buds [11].

In conclusion, cupping offers an objective, standardized method for assessing coffee quality, from plantation to cup. It is an essential tool for coffee enthusiasts, industry professionals and all those seeking to explore and appreciate the richness of the world's coffees.
Above all, cupping is an opportunity to get together, get to know each other, develop our palates and have fun!


[1] Ted R. Lingle "The Coffee Cupper's Handbook", 1986,

[2] Dr. Mario R. Fernández-Alduenda and Peter Giuliano, "Coffee Sensory and Cupping Handbook", 2021,




[6] SCAA, Cupping Committee, 2005,

[7] F. Brown & K. R. Diller, "Calculating the optimum temperature for serving hot beverages", 2008,

[8] C. Spence, 2016, "Oral referral: On the mislocalization of odours to the mouth",

[9], interactive version

[10] World Coffee Research, 2017,

[11] E. Mardiati, E. Aryati, I. Wiradona, B. Santoso, "The Effect of Black Coffee and Tea Consumption to Saliva Degree of Acidity in Preventing Tooth Decay", 2017,

February 18, 2024 — Marc-Alexandre Emond-Boisjoly

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.