The Very Simplest Coffee Tasting Basics

I’ve seen lots of little pieces written about ‘how to hold a coffee cupping’ over the past few months, but none are as simple as the step by step instructions provided by Master Coffee Cupper Rich Bertagna from Proctor & Gamble. I’ve simplified them even a bit more so that even the rankest novice can gather friends and hold their own coffee tasting party. Ready? Here we go:

Coffee Tasting Guidelines:

1. Don’t open the coffee until you’re ready to brew for the tasting.
2. Use tap water or distilled water. Don’t use bottled water.
3. Use unbleached coffee filters. Even if you use a gold filter, line it with an unbleached paper filter.
4. Use a clean coffee maker.
5. Avoid smoking, chewing gum, perfume and other fragrances in the coffee tasting environment.

Making the Coffee

For each variety of coffee that you will be tasting:
Measure one tablespoon of coffee per six ounces of water into the filter. As soon as the coffee has finished brewing, removing it from the hot plate and place it on a heat-proof surface to cool. Use a baking thermometer to measure until coffee reaches 150 degrees, the proper temperature for tasting coffee. Pour the coffee into an airpot thermos.

Tasting the Coffee

Use 4 ounce coffee cups or bullion bowls for tasting and provide round soup spoons for each cup. You’ll need one cup per variety of coffee per person, so if you’re tasting four varieties with six guests, you’ll need 24 cups and 24 soup spoons. (These are available at rental places, for the record.)

Pour the coffee into the tasting cups, being sure to pour all the cups to the same level. Each guest should also have a small notepad and pen to make notes.

First, smell the coffee, and write down any aroma notes.

Dip the spoon into the coffee cup and scoop up coffee moving the spoon away from you.
Slurp the coffee into your mouth from the spoon and make any notes about the flavor.
Between cups of coffee, eat an unsalted cracker to cleanse the palate and wash it down with a sip of distilled water.

What You’re Looking For

– Flavor – what does the coffee taste like?
– Strength – how intense is the coffee flavor?
– Body – how thick does the coffee feel on your tongue?
– Acidity – is there a fruity, snappy taste?

Don’t allow discussion of the flavor profiles until everyone is done tasting the coffee so that you don’t influence each others’ judgments.

Have fun! That’s the single most important thing coffee tasting. Remember, taste is an individual preference. Everyone’s opinion of ‘best’ should be respected.