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The most important measure of coffee quality is flavour. For that reason, coffees are assessed for taste at every stage of their journey, most importantly when the coffee is graded in the country of origin and when it is sold in the importing country. The main aim in cup tasting or “cupping” is to evaluate the coffee objectively and to create a flavour profile based on an established terminology. The basic attributes evaluated are: aroma, flavour, body and acidity.
Once the beans have been assessed for their overall visual quality, they are roasted in a small laboratory roaster, immediately ground and infused in boiling water, the temperature of which is carefully controlled. The cupper noses the brew to experience its aroma, an integral step in the evaluation of the coffee's quality. After letting the coffee rest for several minutes, the cupper “breaks the crust” by pushing aside the grounds at the top of the cup. Again the coffee is nosed before the tasting begins.
To taste the coffee, the cupper "slurps" a spoonful with a quick inhalation. The objective is to spray the coffee evenly over the cupper's taste buds, and then weigh it before spitting it out. Samples from a variety of batches and different beans are tasted daily. Coffees are not only analyzed this way for their inherent characteristics and flaws, but also for the purpose of blending different beans or determining the proper roast. An expert cupper can taste hundreds of samples of coffee a day and still taste the subtle differences between them.