Passionate, knowledgeable, and a little bit reserved, Patrick Dinkins has been Cameron’s Roastmaster for 8 years.
He’s really our go-to guy for any and all coffee-related questions. For this edition of Ask the Roastmaster, we asked him to explain the process of cupping coffee—something he does as part of his day-to-day role here at Cameron’s.
Q: What is cupping?
A: Basically, cupping coffee is how I evaluate the coffee, whether it be production roasts, pre-shipment and arrival samples of coffee we’ve bought, or to help me develop new blends. Here are the basics of cupping, in layman’s terms.
Q: How do you prepare to cup?
A: Try your best not to eat anything or drink anything potent. You don’t want to already affect your senses before trying coffee. Wearing strong colognes or perfumes will also affect the cupping and your palate.
Q: What do you need?
A: A cupping table is sort of like a huge lazy susan–this allows for you to spin the table and not have to walk around it–the coffee can “spin” to you. You’ll also need cupping glasses, which should be tempered glass or ceramic and identical in volume, dimensions, material, and manufacturer. And your cupping spoon, which is a spoon with a large bowl, like a soup spoon. Preferably it’s silver plated, so that you can’t taste metal–many people can taste stainless steel.
Q: How do you prepare your samples?
A: The beans should be roasted within 24 hrs. of cupping and allowed to rest for at least 6-8 hrs. Samples should be weighed out as whole beans, and the ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water. Coffee samples should be ground immediately prior to cupping, with a grind slightly coarser than you would use for paper drip brewing. You’ll want to make sure to “purge” the grinder before grinding the sample cups, by using beans from each sample that are being evaluated. This way you won’t contaminate your samples with other coffees.
Q: Can you walk us through the process of cupping?
A: First, you smell the ground sample. Then you add water to the coffee sample, the water should be freshly drawn and approximately 200 degrees F. Make sure to let the coffee steep for 4 minutes – and set a timer. You don’t want to drink the coffee before it cools and burn your tongue or mouth, because then your palate will be ruined for the day.
Next, you break the crust of the coffee by lightly pressing with spoon, and get your nose right up to the cup so you can smell the aroma after the coffee is broken. During the break, you shouldn’t move your spoon through the sample more than 3 times. After breaking, remove the rest of the grounds that don’t sink to the bottom of each cup.
Let the samples cool for a little longer, usually 8 to 12 minutes. Then it’s time for tasting the coffee, using a spoon with a large bowl. Fill the bowl of the spoon, and slurp the coffee while aspirating the coffee to coat your entire palate. You can either drink the coffee or spit it out. Rinse your spoon and repeat at next cup…
These are the guidelines, but not the gospel. The biggest thing is that no matter how you cup, doing it the same way each time helps to evaluate, because you’re being consistent. Consistency is key!