Cupping 101: How We Ensure Quality and Consistency in Every Cup

Ever wondered why you can order a coffee at your favorite shop day in and day out, and enjoy the same great flavor every single time? Working directly with farmers to purchase the best-quality green coffee beans is the first step, but the true secret to quality and consistency is the cupper: a professional coffee taster who obsessively inspects and samples the coffee at each stage of production.

Much like a wine sommelier, a cupper has extensive training in the art of tasting coffee, and can easily identify subtle characteristics among different varietals, roasts and brewing styles. A cupper’s first and most important job, however, is detecting inconsistencies or defects in the look, feel, aroma and flavor of coffee. In the rare case there’s something “off” about the beans, the cupper will catch it early, often before it leaves origin—and always before it reaches the customer.

Our Cuppers

Cupping is a big job, but somebody has to do it. In the case of a large custom roaster like S&D, it’s actually eight somebodies. We are proud to have an in-house team of qualified cuppers, including three licensed Q Graders—the highest level of coffee cupper certification available in the world. Managed by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), the Q Grader certification process requires a cupper to pass 22 sensory tests over the course of four days, and to recertify every three years to maintain his or her status as a Q Grader.

From Crop to Cupper

Crops, in general, are sensitive to environmental factors, and coffee is no exception. Heat, rain, drought and pests can all influence a coffee harvest. Even the way beans are packaged and transported can affect the coffee’s taste, well before it ever reaches the roasting facility. That’s why at S&D, our cuppers thoroughly inspect and taste-test the beans three separate times before we accept any shipment of green coffee. However, that’s just the beginning of our quality-control process.

Our Cupping Process

A great cup of coffee starts with great beans, so at S&D, we first cup coffee right where it’s grown, before releasing it for shipment to the United States. Because we are in constant contact with the farmers and travel to origin monthly, bad batches are few and far between. We have no control over  Mother Nature, though, and at this initial cupping, beans may be rejected for obvious visual defects, as well as unpleasant flavors or textures.

Once the approved coffee arrives in the U.S., our cuppers will inspect and sample beans from the shipment at various stages of transport. At each cupping, S&D cuppers will inspect the green coffee beans by hand for condition, size and moisture content. The coffee is then weighed, roasted according to Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) protocol, weighed again, then ground and brewed with filtered water to assess the smell, texture and taste.

Throughout the roasting process, and again once all the beans in a shipment have been roasted, cuppers will cup even more samples, with a special focus on roast levels and flavor consistency. At this point, they can also finalize tasting notes for single-origin coffees. For custom blends and flavored coffees, our cuppers will continue to taste-test until the recipes are just right.

In the end, all S&D coffee will go through at least six cuppings before it is packaged and sent to the customer—ensuring quality and consistency in every single cup.