“Cupping” is a codified and formal way of evaluating coffee. The official standards available from the Specialty Coffee Association of America make it seem as byzantine as a Catholic mass conducted in Latin and roughly twice as precise as a space shuttle launch. But reduced to a crude stick-person drawing, cupping looks like this:
— You sniff the just-ground coffee in a little tumbler and make notes on a score sheet.
— Hot water is poured over the grounds and allowed to sit for three minutes, then the raft of coffee grounds that floats on the top of the cup (called the “crust”) is broken and stirred into the cup in a prescribed manner. More sniffing and note-making.
— After a few more minutes, once the coffee cools down to hotter than bath water but still cooler than gas-station-coffee temperature, slurping is done with the aid of a spoon. The coffee is to be “aspirated” in the mouth, which means you slurp it in LOUDLY, with air, and swish it about. This looks and sounds stupid, but it does help you more fully taste the coffee. Notes are made, and the coffee is slurped in this fashion up to a couple more times. More notes are made.
The note-making happens on a sheet that prompts you to consider fragrance and aroma and aftertaste and all kinds of different aspects of the coffee. If you attend a coffee cupping organized by a coffee roaster, you will be directed to pay attention to various aspects of the coffee-tasting experience throughout the process. If you are hosting a coffee cupping at home for fun, you know all of this already because you are a huge coffee nerd, and you don’t need me telling you any more about it.