I decided to write a little bit about more complex topics, and I will be marking them as ADVANCED.
It won’t be a surprise if I say that cupping coffee is my favourite part of the whole process. The best way to evaluate the taste, appreciate the variety of flavours coffees can provide, enjoy the nuances – cupping coffee is a meditation put into practice. Just you and the coffees, having a conversation.
Today Sustainable Coffee Institute released a new cupping protocol, and it is nice to take a look at it, and see what are the changes suggested by them.
And, I almost forgot, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the cupping form by SCI.
I really like Sustainable Coffee Institute, their goals and politics, they are focusing on something that I think is well worth our attention – how to make the coffee industry sustainable, at all levels, and to bring out attention to the producers.
But now – to the topic itself.
Why do we need cupping protocols?
Why do we need them? If we can just grind the coffee, pour the water and slurp?
Well, not really.
At least if you want to be precise with what you are evaluating, you can’t simply go with the flow. Why not? Because if you want to taste the differences between the coffees, and not between brewing ratios and methods of preparation you need to prepare your samples accordingly.
If you make one sample at the ratio 1:16 and another one at the ratio 1:18 , which means, for example, that for the first sample you used 15 grams of coffee and 240 grams of water, and for the second one – 15 grams of coffee and 270 grams of water – well, it will influence how you will evaluate the samples. But you are not evaluating the coffee anymore – you grade the way you prepared it.
Cupping protocols give you guidelines to follow, to make the process less problematic and make sure the results are closer to the reality.
Why do we need one more cupping protocol?
There are plenty of them, really. Why do we need one more?
Roasters have their own inner protocols and forms (check out mine here), CQI and SCA promote and update their own, Barista Hustle launched its own…
After studying the SCI cupping protocol, and listening to their podcast, I took out for myself what are the new ideas they are introducing, and what were the problems they were addressing, elaborating a new cupping protocol.
We are roasting lighter now. And while SCA recommends us to use Agtron 63.0, the majority of the specialty coffee roasters roast lighter these days. So 63 doesn’t really reflect the reality of the specialty coffee we are drinking.
SCI suggests a range from 75, +5\-10 , slightly lighter. And they don’t only suggest a target and a range, when SCA gives you only a specific target, SCI made a research that actually says that specialty coffee tastes better at that range. (Do you agree?)
The second adaptation is tightly connected to the roast color – it is brewing ratio.
Why tightly connected?
Coffees that are roasted darker are easier to extract, so you actually need to use less coffee when cupping. When to achieve the same TDS with lighter roasted coffees, you need another brew ratio.
SCA brew ratio for cupping is 8,25 grams of coffee to 150ml of water, which is roughly 1:18.18 For every gram of coffee you need 18,18 ml of water.
SCI suggests a target ratio to be 1:17, and a range 1:16 – 1:18.
Which gives us these numbers:
SCA – 8.25 grams of coffee – 149,985 ml of water
SCI – 8.25 grams of coffee – 140,25 grams of water.
Here I have my questions that I will ask out loud. SCI suggests that we need less water, around 10 grams less in an example that I am using here. Or, imagining that I am using my cupping glasses the numbers will be:
SCA – 15 grams of coffee – 272,7 ml of water
SCI – 15 grams of coffee – 255 grams of water.
What does it reflect for me? I have my doubts here.
First of all, I have a thing that I really don’t like underdeveloped and undeextraxted coffees, and using less water for the same amount of coffee can be a way to mitigate and hide underdevelopment, in my experience.
There can be another way of thinking.
Either SCI suggests that the majority of roasters (that they tried) have nailed the art of roasting lighter and still developing the coffees well. That’s why you need less water, because coffees are willingly giving out their taste.
Or we are actually looking for acidity more than sweetness now, our paradigm changed (not sure about it).
So.. Here is something to think about, bring my questions to the cupping table, and find out.
P.S. And yes – always cup using the cupping form, if you are serious about training and understanding coffee better. Cupping form helps you to organize your sensory experience, focus your attention, and lead you through the cupping session giving you actual results. Don’t rely only on your memory or your brain, if you are cupping with a certain goal.