Assessing a quality coffee with cupping – let’s taste together

I maestri della tostatura media

We often talk about quality coffee: an overused word that has lost some of its meaning because of this, after all, what does quality really mean?

The textbook definition for quality coffee is “a coffee that has no flaws.”

This, in a very simple way, means that the raw beans should be nice and round, whole, and without color defects, and that in the cup the coffee should have no unpleasant aromas or odors.

Unpleasant smells can be, for example, smell of burnt, ash, jute, wet wood or soil, grass, rubber, and many others.

These defects are contributed to the coffee either by the environment in which the coffee berries grow, or by the bad processing of raw beans, or even by incorrect and excessive roasting.

In contrast, the positive aromas you can find in your cup as you drink your coffee can be scents of fresh fruit or nuts, spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cumin, and so on, licorice, malt, flowers, chocolate, caramel, honey and citrus, and more.

Having thus established the definition of quality coffee, let us now go on to find out how it is evaluated.

It is important to emphasize that the “quality” of a coffee is not established by subjective opinions of personal pleasure, but is defined on the basis of objective, pre-established, internationally valid criteria.

In addition, the fineness test of a coffee is carried out by experienced coffee professionals who are authorized to determine the sensory profile of the cup being examined.

The protocol used for the most was launched by SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), which involves tasting the coffees in Cupping mode, i.e., with the coffee brewed.

This protocol offers as a set of guidelines for obtaining a measurable, internationally valid, and unambiguous assessment of the coffee being tasted.

Without going into too much detail about the whole specific procedure involved in Cupping, however, I can tell you:

  • Requires a suitable environment with optimal conditions of air, light, humidity, distractions and temperature
  • multiple samples of each coffee are needed to be tasted to check that they are all homogeneous, usually 5 are used
  • specific tasting cups and instruments are used
  • Specific times from when the coffee is roasted to when it is tasted
  • certain steps from aroma, taste, and aftertaste evaluation to sample homogeneity and cup cleanliness

As the various steps are completed, the official SCA tasting sheet is compiled.

Characteristics to consider are: fragrance/aroma, aroma, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, uniformity, cleanliness in the cup, sweetness, and overall result.

Each criterion is associated with a numerical score that starts from 0, if of very poor workmanship, to 10, a symbol of very high quality of the feature under consideration.

Overall, to begin to determine a good coffee, it must score at least a 6 on all characteristics. In fact 6 means it is “good,” 7 means it is “very good,” 8 is “excellent,” and 9 and 10 are “outstanding.”

At the end, all the scores obtained are added up and then any defects found during the tasting are subtracted.

If at the end of all this process the coffee scores 70 points it can be called a good quality coffee. If, on the other hand, it reaches at least above 80 points, the coffee is certified as Specialty coffee, that is, a coffee with such unique and special characteristics that it deserves special recognition.

All this claptrap about cupping is useful to make the point that it is not enough to write quality coffee on the package sold to make the coffee contained inside actually good. There is a long process to go through and certifications to fill out.

It is important to emphasize again that these are not assessments made on personal pleasure, but objective, measurable, and well-determined criteria are preestablished by which a professional and internationally valid analysis can be made.

That said, we understood together when a coffee is worthy of being called “quality”!

However, a really good and exceptional raw material is not enough to make the coffee sold by the roaster a Specialty coffee…because a roaster can ruin everything with even a few extra seconds of roasting.

That is why we at Ernani are proud to have such an experienced, passionate, meticulous, and raw material-conscious chief roaster. It is because of him that our quality raw coffees are enhanced to the fullest by the roast profile given to them.

Thanks to our medium roast we can thus amplify and make you taste even better every aroma in our coffees, making them intense and complex, creamy and never overly bitter.

Now it’s your turn to try our coffees and tell us what you think! Your opinion is important to us, and we hope we can improve more and more based on your advice as well!

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover


Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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