Tips for analyzing coffee taste
INVESTMENT IN THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT:
A decent Burr grinder with low grind retention. The top of the line is a Mahlkonig EK-43 but a Baratza will also do the trick. Other options are Bunns. What you want is consistency of grinds and control.
Cupping cups (at least 25).
We recommend you have pourover equipment--a Kalita Wave, Bee House, Hario V60, the corresponding filters, and a pourover kettle with an integrated thermometer that tells you the correct temperature of water to use when brewing. Reusable metal filters tend to let too much water escape without touching the coffee, but nylon reusable filters are OK. Many prefer paper filters though.
We recommend a laser thermometer but it's not required
A precise gram scale that measures fractions of a gram
Disclaimer: If you haven't sample or production roasted the coffee well, the cupping will not be pretty. See our learn page on sample roasting for some tips. We suggest you do both a cupping and a pourover of each coffee since your customers will enjoy your coffee brewed, not cupped, every morning.
Grind size: Adjust your grinder so that 70-75 percent of the grinds pass through a 20 mesh sieve. Can't get a precise, calibrated sieve? If your coffee is tasting too muddy, your grind may be too fine (it shouldn't be an espresso grind). If your coffee is tasting too watery, you may be grinding too course. We like a grind similar to one you'd use for a pourover but we tend to like it slightly on the finer side, just not espresso-level fine).
Cupping ratio: 8 grams of coffee for every 150 ml water (our cupping cups take 11.6 grams of coffee).
Fragrance: When your coffee is ground and in the cup, smell it and note what you smell. If you smell absolutely nothing, your grind may be too coarse.
Pour: Fill your cupping cups to the top with water that is just off a boil but not literally still boiling. Don't spill. For cupping, it's better to use a typical tea kettle or electric kettle so lots of water flows in quickly at first, wetting all the grinds during the first part of the pour.
Aroma: Start smelling your coffee 30 seconds after the pour until 4 minutes go by and write down what you smell.
Aroma on break: 4 minutes after pouring, push the grinds back and forth on the surface ("breaking") with a cupping spoon while holding your nose very close to the grinds, almost touching the surface with your nose the entire time (real close). Write down your aroma results.
Skim: Once you've smelled the aroma, lock the tips of two spoons together and move them across the surface of the cup to remove all grinds.
Taste: After about 10 minutes (not earlier or you'll burn your tongue and lose your sense of taste), taste the coffee with your tasting spoon by slurping it in a way that sprays it all over the inside of your mouth. Repeat every 5 minutes until about 25 minutes have passed. Write down your notes on taste, acidity, body, and balance, noting how each feature changes over time. It's common for a coffee that's too hot to not have reached its full potential until it's a more comfortable sipping temperature, which is how your customers will try it (sipping temperature). Try it totally cold as well and consider whether it's a good candidate for flash brew or cold brew.
Make a pourover too!
Cupping vs brewing: Cupping is an industry standard way to replicate the same taste in different locations (though roasting variations will drastically affect taste) and to detect defects, but it not an accurate depiction of what customers will experience. Your customers will not cup your coffee--they will brew it! Shouldn't you?
Brew! Sometimes the cupping will taste better than a brew; other times the brew will taste better than the cupping. Often each will emphasize different attributes of the coffee. You should start by at least making a pourover (our preferred option) and should also have other devices on hand (batch brew or percolator, Aeropress, several kinds of pourovers (see above), etc) so that you can have the same experience as your customers.
Pourover instructions: You'll need a digital scale, grinder, a pourover device (such as a Kalita Wave, Beehouse, Hario V60, Chemex) and filter for it, a mug or "range server" (the vessel that will catch the coffee), a pourover gooseneck kettle, a way to heat water to 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 degrees Celsius), filtered water, and a timer.
Determine how many milliliters of water you would like to brew into coffee. A nice number is 350 milliliters, but it's fine if you want to make more or less than that (Note that 1 ML water = 1 gram of water).
(water) / (15.45, a "magic number") = (grams of coffee you'll need).
Heat your water to 205 degees, or slightly more since it will cool quite quickly. If you don't have a thermometer, bring it to a boil and then let it sit a minute before pouring.
Rinse your paper pourover filter with hot filtered water right in its pourover device. This will both heat everything up and get rid of papery taste.
Grind your coffee so that it is about the consistency of table salt. If it is too coarse it could taste too acidic, and if it is as fine as flour it will take forever to pour and taste muddy.
After discarding any water in your range server (vessel that will hold the coffee), put the grinds in the now-damp filter.
Put your pourover device with coffee grinds in it and receiving vessel all on top of a digital scale and set the "tare" to zero.
Pour roughly 35 grams or so of water evenly in a circle to wet the grinds and stop.
Wait about 30 seconds to allow the grinds to absorb water evenly (this is so you can have an even extraction later) (note some baristas like to mix the grinds around with a spoon at this point but there's not yet an industry standard)
Continue pouring water in concentric circles so that all grinds are hit evenly with water. Space out your pours so that you do at least 4 or 5 (with pauses in between) until you reach the amount of coffee you decided (earlier) to brew.
Serve, but wait until the coffee is sipping temperature. If it burns your lip it's still too hot.
If your pourover takes more than 5 minutes, you probably need a slightly more coarse grind. If it takes less than 4 minutes, you probably need a finer grind.
Common mistakes to avoid
Burning a roast: Too often someone analyzing roasted samples of our coffees will burn a roast or over-develop it (much more than a minute-and-a-half of time between first crack and finishing the roast--note that we develop it for about a minute and 7 seconds or so depending on the coffee--see sample roasting tips section).
Baking a roast: When a coffee is roasted at too low a temperature for too long, it can get baked. This zaps it of all enzymatics (flavorful cupping notes) and makes it taste very bland. Sometimes people will both bake it and also over-roast it, which makes it not only bland but also taste like burnt toast. See sample roasting tips section.
Coarse grind: If your grind is too coarse, it will make it harder to measure fragrance and it may cause your coffee to under-extract, making it either overly acidic, thin, or both. A coarse grind may also remove some wonderful tasting notes such as fruits.
Pourover: If it takes you only 3 minutes to make a pourover, your grind is too coarse--make it finer. If it takes you 6 or more minutes, your grind is too fine--make it coarser. Also make sure your water is hot enough, but not boiling.