Very good question! We get our Arabica coffee beans from all over the world, but the way we select just the right ones is by the process of “cupping” the coffee beans. Coffee cupping is the process used to evaluate the aroma and taste characteristics of a coffee sample. A distinct method is used when you brew coffee for cupping, and a series of steps after that lead to a complete evaluation of it through the sensations of smell, taste and mouth feel. It’s how coffee roasters ensure that coffee to be purchased is the absolute best.
Sniffing, slurping and spitting may seem rude in some company, but in cupping they’re all necessary and it’s a “take no prisoners” attitude during the process (I’ve done it and it’s actually pretty fun along with being educational). These three Ss are really exaggerated during cupping to make sure the evaluator saturates as many relevant nerve endings as possible with the appropriate stimuli in the specialty coffee (like the sides of the tongue that taste sourness, the tip of the tongue that tastes salt/sweetness, etc.).
The first step in the cupping process is the evaluation of fragrance. You take 7.25 grams of coffee beans, grind them, then put them in a sampling cup (like the cups they serve soup in at a diner). The evaluator sniffs this dry coffee vigorously. Next, the sample is brewed by infusion. You heat water nearly to the boiling point (195 º to 205 ºF) and then pour it directly on the roasted gourmet coffee that is ground and placed in a small bowl. The coffee rises to the surface of the water and forms a crust. The grounds then begin to sink to the bottom of the cup as the coffee steeps. This process goes on for 3 to 5 minutes. The cap (crust) is broken, and the liquid is gently stirred to make sure all the particles sink to the bottom of the cup. The remaining grounds are skimmed off the surface and thrown out. Next the fun begins–refer to How Rude! above. This is where all the senses are invoked to make sure you’re getting what you want. It’s not so much coffee drinking (you spit it out after sniffing and slurping it) but more like fine wine tasting–a big difference being that wine tasting doesn’t require as much work and literally “sounds” a little more refined!