Coffee cupping taste test
Are you brewing coffee at home and having a difficult time getting it to taste right? Does your coffee taste pretty good but you know it can taste great? We can help! We’re breaking down how you can do a side-by-side comparison of your coffee using two different brewing methods at home: cupping vs. pour-over. By doing this tasting exercise, it will be easier to understand what flavors and textures the coffee exhibits, and you’ll know if you are getting everything out of the coffee you are brewing.

Cupping is a method of tasting coffee which is used by many different people within the coffee industry for evaluation purposes. A roaster might use cupping to evaluate a roast profile of a coffee, or a green coffee buyer could cup coffees when visiting a farm in hopes of finding a coffee to add to their menu. By steeping ground coffee in hot water, there is a minimal amount of opportunity for human error as well as no type of filter that could impart flavor or eliminate the coffee oils. A cupping bowl in coffee terminology means a small cup typically in the 200 gram capacity range. These cups are usually made of glass or ceramic, but sometimes synthetic, as is the case with the Barista Hustle Cupping Bowls that are made of polypropylene. A lot of times the bowls used for cuppings are the same small ceramic bowls a cup of soup or chili would be served at a restaurant if that helps.

You can cup coffee with any bowl or cup. The key is maintaining the coffee-to-water ratio. To determine the liquid volume of your desired vessel fill it with water on a scale then divide that weight by 17 to calculate the amount of ground coffee you will want to use.

If we start brewing the cupping bowl first then, by the time we "break the crust" (more on that later) our pour-over should at least be through the final pour and on its last draw down. This approach will also give us the two coffees at a similar temperature when the pour-over is done. I would recommend using the same grind size for both the pour-over and the bowl of coffee. This is not only going to simplify the experience but will also allow for a similar extraction in both.

Step 1: Add medium coarseness ground coffee of 210°F water to the cupping bowl and start a timer. An example of the 1:17 ratio is 12 grams coffee to 200 grams water.

Step 2: Start your pour-over.

  • 20 grams of coffee ground to a medium coarseness
  • Pre-wet filter and dump rinse water
  • Add ground coffee to the filter and “bloom” with 60 grams of 207°F water
  • 4 x pulse pours of 70 grams each for a final weight of 340 grams

Brewing pour-over coffee with Stagg EKGPhotography: @bychloewen

Step 3: When your cupping timer reaches four minutes, you will want to “break the crust.” You can do this by gently skimming the surface of the coffee in the bowl using a spoon. It can be any type of spoon, but I recommend one with a more circular than oval bowl shape. It's a great time to smell the aroma of the coffee as well. The gases that are created during the roasting process suspend some of the ground coffee at the surface. When we skim the surface in a gentle back and forth motion or in a circle, those gases are released and carry the aroma in a very intense way.

Step 4: After breaking the crust, the grounds will fall and you’ll have foam left on the surface. These are lipids which tend to be bitter. Use two spoons to collect and remove that foam.

Breaking the crust during coffee cuppingPhotography: @dayglowcoffee

Step 5: Once the coffee in the cup has cooled (usually somewhere around 10-12 minutes from the beginning of the process), you can begin to taste the cupped coffee. Your pour-over coffee will cool during that time, too. Use a pre-heated coffee cup to keep the pour-over brew warm and close to the temperature of the cupping bowl coffee. 

Step 6: And now for the best part—tasting!

Woman tasting cupped coffee

When looking for any difference between the two brews, consider the body and texture as much as the flavor. Think about the sweetness of both brews—how do they compare? The flavor will be different, and most likely, more noticeably bitter in the cupping bowl. With the paper filter eliminating the oils, the acidity could be easier to notice. I recommend tasting them at a similar temperature to make the comparison easier and the differences will be more readily apparent. To go one step further, try pouring some of the brewed coffee in a similar size/style pre-heated cup and taste that with a spoon, too!

Try this with different coffees and notice the ways that paper filtration changes the brew. You may find that you like some coffees better one way or the other, and it can be fun to change coffee brewing routines for different types of coffee. If you like the cupped coffee way better, try brewing with Prismo or Duo Coffee Steeper instead of a traditional pour-over. Both of those brew methods use immersion brewing with a metal filter. The metal filter will allow the oils to pass through, giving the coffee a similar texture to the cupping experience. The paper filter of the pour-over will eliminate the oils. Most of the time, if it is a coffee that was grown, processed and roasted well, then both will taste great. If the pour-over tastes too sour then try grinding finer the next time, and if it tastes too bitter try grinding courser.

Give this side-by-side tasting a try at home and let us know what you think!