Slurp and Sniff…. tools of the trade for a “cupper”

Slurp and Sniff…. tools of the trade for a “cupper”

May 10, 2016, 7:43:20 PM Life and Styles

Pro coffee tasters use their taste and olfactory receptors in surprising ways!

Most of us have been taught it’s impolite or even crude to slurp but for a coffee tasting professional or “cupper” it’s a critical technique for analyzing all of the flavor characteristics of coffee. Slurping mixes the coffee with air and helps disperse it around the inside of the mouth. This vigorous sucking motion also called “aspiration” sprays coffee evenly across the palate and tongue. Flavor, body and acidity are evaluated as well as the “nose” or “bouquet” of the coffee as vapors and gasses are released in the mouth.


What’s the difference between coffee fragrance and aroma?


That’s where the cuppers’ highly sensitive sniffer comes into play. Coffee fragrance refers to the smell created by volatile organic compounds released from coffee beans during the grinding process. Aromatic compounds are then inhaled through the nose where they come into contact with smell receptors in the nasal membranes. Normally about 2 tablespoons are ground with a special grinder and placed in a small cup for fragrance evaluation. Aroma differs from fragrance in that it refers to the smell of ground coffee beans after coming into contact with hot water. It’s a bit more complicated since it can be perceived by receptor cells inside the mouth as well as the nasal mucosa.




The ultimate goal of “cupping” is to evaluate the nuances of premium coffee and to give helpful feedback to the coffee roaster. A cupper needs to differentiate a coffees taste or flavor from its acidity, aroma and body. Sweetness, bitterness, aftertaste and finish are evaluated as well.


A “well-balanced” brew is ultimately the most desirable. This means is that no one particular flavor characteristic dominates or overwhelms the others.


Primary coffee flavor descriptions include complex (multi-flavored), rich (full bodied) and bitter. Others like winey, soury, mellow, acidy, bland and sharp are also common.


Distinguishing all of the subtle and complex flavor and aroma profiles of coffee may take a highly skilled palate but most of us can recognize a good cup of coffee just by our level of enjoyment and satisfaction.


You don’t have to be a cupper to recognize a cup of coffee that’s just…..meh!


One of the biggest reasons you might be underwhelmed by the taste and aroma of your coffee has more to do with water than coffee beans. If reverse osmosis purified or distilled water is used for brewing it will not fully extract flavor and aroma compounds from the beans. Some perceive this as a “flat” taste or rather uninteresting and unsatisfying. The reason for this is simple. Reverse osmosis and distilled water have had natural minerals removed. Minerals like magnesium and calcium have what some experts call a “sticky” quality. That is to say that flavor and aroma molecules and compounds in coffee beans are more likely to stick to these minerals and transfer to the water. This phenomenon greatly enhances the extraction process. The more flavor and aroma molecules that are transferred to water in the brewing process the richer, more full-flavored and aromatic the result will be.


That’s why professional cuppers insist upon carbon filtered tap water to fully appreciate the subtlety, complexity and intoxicating aroma of a premium roast.

Published by Bill Hoover

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