Coffee Cupping. Are We Doing Our Part?

Do you ever find yourself looking at coffee scores and feeling lost as to where they came from?Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 10.10.02 PM Perhaps you have cupped an 87 point coffee but you can’t seem to find out how they ever came to that conclusion.

How much time are we spending at our shops with our employees or customers cupping and evaluating coffees?    

How can we assure accurate cupping scores?
Can we be that consistent and calibrated to each other?
How can we assure our cupping scores are valid?

Well unless you cup frequently. We’re talking like 3 times a week, there is a very good chance that your cupping scores are not going to be all that valid.

 There are 3 things to work on to get your sensory skill set sharpened;

1) Ability.
2) Repeatability.
3) Calibration.

Ability.
Can you be at least 85% accurate on a triangulation test? To practice or test yourself, select 4 similar coffees and have a friend set up a triangulation table with 6 stations of 3 cups.  Two cups in each set should be the same coffee. Go around and do your cupping and see how you fair.

Repeatability.
Like a thermometer, can you read accurate results consistently?
A good test for this is to blindly cup the same roast sample twice in the same day and compare notes. It is expected that your total point score with the blind same day cupping shouldn’t vary more than 1.5 points, and our descriptors should be fairly similar as well.

You could then go through the same triangulation process as in the “ability” section and see if you get consistent readings from the same coffees.
This is a great way to reassure accuracy between your cuppings.

Calibration.
How do we assure that what I’m cupping and scoring a coffee is going to be similar to the café down the street or a city over?

After a cupper can prove that they are consistent, a calibrated cupper can be defined as one who has the repeated ability to match the results of an established group of cuppers. So how close is close enough? Every cupper should be within one or two point maximum deviation. It is suggested that you calibrate to the coffee roaster. If you are going to become a coffee buyer, they are after all the ones that are going to be purchasing from you, if they like the coffees your selling. If you work at a café they are the ones you trust with the purchasing decisions and roast profiles they decide to go with.

Professional cuppers should be cupping at least 3 times a week to keep their skills up. Much like practicing a musical instrument, you lose your touch after two weeks. You might not have forgotten the notes, but it takes a bit longer for your fingers to get into position.

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