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Lynsey Harley

Lynsey Harley

Founder & CEO

Learn how to taste coffee

Coffee tasting is the process of identifying the characteristics of a particular coffee and you might be surprised by just how many there are!

Coffee buyers perform ‘cuppings’ to evaluate coffees objectively, which is very in-depth and sometimes long process – but the fruits of these labours are definitely in the tasting when the beans finally reach your cup at home or in your local coffee bar The SCAA’s (Specialty Coffee Association of America) scoring system is most commonly used for this evaluation. Coffees are given a maximum overall score out of 100 for things like; aroma, flavour and mouthfeel (texture).  A coffee that achieves a score of 85 or higher is regarded as ‘specialty’ grade. These coffees have no defects and have a very distinctly pleasant flavour profile – at Modern Standard we pride ourselves on roasting speciality beans.

By scoring coffees on; aroma, flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, sweetness, cleanliness, uniformity and balance, the cupping process helps industry professionals select which coffees to buy, and identify different attributes which can be useful for roasters when formulating blends (blends are made up of a combination of roasted beans that compliment each other).

A cupping sample, once the hot water is added to coarsely ground coffee a layer of crust will form on the top.

The cupping process follows quite a strict set procedure: 8.25g of coarsely ground coffee is measured into a shallow cup, specifically designed for cupping (I know right!). 150ml of water heated to 92˚C is added, and left for 4 minutes. Next, a spoon is used to break and remove the ‘crust’, which provides the first opportunity to sample the coffee’s aroma (get your nose right in there and give it three sharp sniffs… just don’t burn yourself!). After a further 6 minutes, the cupper begins to taste the coffee. Different attributes are evaluated at intervals as the coffee cools.

Roast level

This is purely for reference, a further down the scoring sheet when evaluating acidity and body, taking into account the roast level of a coffee is crucial to the context of these scores.

Fragrance and Aroma

Fragrance
The smell of the ground coffee when still dry.
Aroma
The smell of the coffee when infused with hot water.
Specific aromas can be noted under qualities and the intensity fo the dry, break and wet aroma aspects noted on the 5 point vertical scales. The score finally given should reflect the preference of all three aspects of a samples fragrance and aroma.
70˚C: Flavour and Aftertaste
SCA cupping score sheet flavour aftertaste modern standard coffee

Flavour

Flavour represents the coffee’s principal character, the ‘mid range’ notes, in between the first impressions given by the coffee’s first aroma and acidity to its final aftertaste.
It is a combined impression of all the gustatory (taste bud) sensations and retro-nasal aromas that go from the mouth to nose. The score given for flavour should account for the intensity, quality and complexity of its combined taste and aroma, experienced when the coffee is slurped into the mouth vigorously so as to involve the entire palate in the evaluation.

Aftertaste

Aftertaste is defined as the length of positive flavour (taste and aroma) qualities emanating from the back of the palate and remaining after the coffee is expectorated or swallowed. 
If the aftertaste were short or unpleasant, a lower score would be given.

70˚C – 60˚C: Acidity and Body:

SCA cupping score sheet acidity body modern standard coffee

Acidity

Acidity is often described as ‘brightness’ when favourable or ‘sour’ when not.
At its best, acidity contributes to a coffee’s liveliness, sweetness, and fresh fruit character and is almost immediately experienced and evaluated when the coffee is first slurped into the mouth. acidity that is overly intense or dominating may be unpleasant, however, and excessive acidity may not be appropriate to the flavour profile of the sample.
The final score marked on the horizontal tick mark scale should reflect the cuppers perceived quality for acidity relative to the expected flavour profile based on that coffee’s origin characteristics and/or other factors (degree of roast etc).
Coffees expected to be high in acidity, such as a Kenya coffee, or coffees expected to be low in acidity, such as a Sumatra coffee, can receive equally high preference scores although their intensity rankings will be quite different.

Body

The quality of body is based upon the tactile feeling of the liquid in the mouth, especially as perceived between the tongue and roof of the mouth.
Most samples with heavy body may also receive a high score in terms of quality due to presence of brew colloids and sucrose. `some samples with lighter body may also have a pleasant feeling in the mouth.
Coffees expected to be high in body, such as a Sumatra coffee, or coffees expected to be low in body, such as a Mexican coffee, can receive equally high preference scores although, like acidity, their intensity rankings will be quite a lot different.
40˚C: Uniformity, Sweetness and Clean Cup
SCA cupping score sheet uniformity cleanliness sweetness modern standard coffee

Uniformity

Uniformity refers to consistency of a flavour of the different cups of the sample being tasted.
If the cups taste different, the rating of this aspect would not be as high. 2 points are awarded for each cup displaying this attribute, with a maximum of 10 points if all 5 cups are the same.

Sweetness

Sweetness refers to a pleasing fullness of flavour as well as any obvious sweetness and its perception is the result of the presence of certain carbohydrates.
The opposite of sweetness in this context is sour, astringency or ‘green’ flavours. This quality may not be directly perceived as in sucrose-laden products such as soft drinks, but will affect other flavour attributes. 2 points are awarded for each cup displaying this attribute for a maximum score of 10 points.

Clean cup

Clean cup refers to a lack of interfering negative impressions from first ingestion to final aftertaste, a ‘transparency’ of cup.
In evaluating this attribute, notice the total flavour experience from the time of the initial ingestion to final swallowing or expectoration. Any non-coffee like tastes or aromas will disqualify an individual cup. 2 points are awarded for each cup displaying the attribute of Clean Cup.

40˚C: Balance

How all the various aspects of flavour, aftertaste, acidity and body of the sample interact and complement or contrast to each other is what we know is Balance.
if the sample is lacking in certain aroma or taste attributes or if some attributes are overpowering others, then the balance score would be reduced.
The balance score is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Taints and faults

Taints will incur a 2 point deduction, and a full blown fault will incur 4 point deduction.
Taints often appear as just an odd aroma, and nothing develops in the cup, but faults are thing like phenolic, rioy tastes etc.

One coffee can taste dramatically different depending on the processing method (washed, semi-washed or natural).

Washing coffees increases the acidity, whilst semi-washed gives a honeyed sweetness to the coffee. The natural processing method can increase the sweetness, and can also encourage development of more obscure flavour notes including strawberry, blueberry and creamy notes – it sounds a bit mad at first but with the help of the flavour wheel (above) and a lot of tasting these notes really do shine through!

Tasting coffee at home can be really fun; exploring what a coffee can offer in terms of flavour, sweetness and any other attribute is exciting and really opens the doors to the myriad of speciality coffees that are out there. Try coffees processed using different methods, it’s fascinating to see how this can change the taste of the coffee. We like to offer as much information about our coffee as possible and your local speciality coffee shop can offer advice on which coffees are in season. Many will even offer beans for you to experiment with at home.

If you want to learn more about our wide range of speciality coffees, or to share your tasting experience with us you can. Simply leave a comment or get in touch with us directly.

There’s a coffee out there for everyone, enjoy tasting it!

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