We often wonder why there is not as much decorum around ordering a cup of coffee in a restaurant as there is when ordering wine. We imagine the waiter arriving with a tray and pouring just enough coffee in the cup for one of the dining guests to taste and give their approval.
Wouldn’t that be an awesome ritual and a delicious and serene way to bring a pause to the end of a meal? We think so, and we invite you and anyone running a restaurant to consider adding a bit of cupping fanfare the next time you serve coffee. And let us know how it turns out.
Here are a few tips for holding your own, simple and original cupping ceremony. You may never drink coffee the same way again after this. And that is a good thing.
What you’ll need
- At least 3 tasters or dinner guests, to make the discussion interesting. You can be one of the 3.
- At least 3 whole-bean coffees, but within a same theme: 3 blends, 3 single origin or 3 organics. Coffee Samplers are excellent for cupping as each pouch contains enough coffee for a 12-cup pot. Measure out what you need and freeze the rest. Better yet, send your guests home with it.
- 3 cups for every guest and small cards or post-it notes identifying them by number 1, 2 and 3. Match each coffee to a number on a piece of paper for easy reference. Some people like to make it formal, with note pads and precise attributes to consider. We like the open-ended discussion approach. Try both.
- 3 spoons for every guest.
- 3 small notepads, if you wish.
- A pitcher of fresh water and a glass for each guest.
- A coffee grinder. You want to grind just before brewing for utmost flavor. A burr grinder is best, as it produces a consistent grind. But any grinder will do. We’re just having fun here!
- 3 small 4-cup pots of coffee. Identical brewing methods are best and you can always use a bigger pot and adapt quantities. If you’re going to make this a ritual gathering (and don’t be surprised if you feel intensely inspired to do so), you can get inexpensive pour-over coffee pots and filters at a discount store or online.
- A large kettle.
- An afternoon or evening to share and savor.
You’ll want the coffees you select to be of identical roasts. Medium roast coffees, also known as city roast, are best. They have more nuanced flavors and deeper aromas to experience.
When to Grind and Brew
You won’t brew all three pots at once. We recommend having three, so you can begin each brew with a clean pot and won’t have to spend time cleaning pots between brews. You’ll be more present to your guests and to the moment this way.
As a rule, grind just before brewing and brew just before serving. There is a more elaborate technique and approach for professional cupping, but you are perfectly entitled to your own simplified and festive version. Note that part of the conventional process involves assessing the aroma of the grounds too, and this can be a very pleasant first step indeed.
And Now, To Cupping…
Serve one coffee at a time. Invite your guests to examine the coffee’s color and aroma and to freely express emerging sensations on the spur of the moment. Allow time to taste, first with small sips in the spoon. Savor, contemplate and discuss.
The time it takes to brew the next pot is perfect for conversation and for a few sips of water to prepare the palate for the next cup.
Good Questions to Ask
Make it personal. Coffee is personal, after all and your cupping is meant to be playful. You are not testing the coffee, you are tasting it as a sensual experience to inspire conversation and share a memorable moment with friends.
- Which one has the most pleasant taste?
- Which one has the most pleasant aroma?
- Which one brings back fond memories? Please do tell!
- Which one is the sweetest?
- Can you notice any undertones? Fruit? Citrus? Floral? Chocolate? Earthy? Nutty? Vanilla? Spices?
- Which one feels more like a breakfast coffee to you? After-dinner?
- Which one would you serve if you were asked to make coffee for an important historical figure, and who might that be?
- Pick a favorite. You’re making a movie inspired by that coffee. Is it a romance, drama, comedy, documentary, mystery or sci fi? Why?
Send your friends home with the remaining, unground beans. And don’t forget to plan the next coffee cupping party. Perhaps you can take turns picking the coffees and hosting.
We raise our cup to you!
Our Favorite Samplers for Cupping