"Cupping" coffee is different from "tasting" coffee. It's how the professional coffee buyers select and compare coffees and, like professional wine tasting, the process is much messier than a consumer-level tasting. To get the full effect of a coffee's aromas and flavors, "cuppers" sniff, slurp, and swish the coffee around in their mouths, swallow a tiny bit to evaluate the aftertaste, then spit the rest out. The spitting keeps coffee cuppers' caffeine buzz to a minimum (no matter how much you love coffee, drinking it as a job could make you pretty jittery after a while).
Consumers generally prefer coffee tastings rather than cuppings, but if you want to try a coffee cupping, here's how:

  1. Prepare one 6-ounce cup of thick glass or porcelain for each type of coffee you will cup. Cups are usually arranged around the edge of a table.
  2. Grind the coffee beans to the consistency of coarse cornmeal, and place 8 grams of freshly ground coffee in each cup. (You can also place a tray of the corresponding types of whole coffee beans in front of each cup so the cuppers can look at the beans while tasting the brew.)
  3. Deeply sniff the ground coffee. The character of the fragrance indicates the nature of the taste: Sweet scents lead to acid tastes, pungent to sharp tastes. The intensity of the fragrance reveals the freshness of the coffee (the time elapsed between roasting and grinding).
  4. Heat filtered water to just below boiling (195-205 degrees Fahrenheit), and pour 5 ounces of heated water into each cup.
  5. Let steep about three minutes. The ground coffee will float up and form a crust on the surface.
  6. Break the crust with a spoon, stir the coffee, and sniff the aroma, noting whether it's fruity, herbal, nutty, etc. Most of the grounds will sink to the bottom as you stir the coffee.
  7. Skim off any remaining coffee particles from the surface of the coffee.
  8. Using a round spoon (preferably silver-plated to dissipate the heat), raise a spoonful of coffee to your mouth and slurp it up with plenty of air. This causes some of the liquid to change into a gas that reaches the olfactory receptors, enriching your sense of taste.
  9. Vigorously roll the coffee around in your mouth, making sure the coffee reaches all parts of your tongue. This ensures that the tongue's sensory receptors for sweet, salty, bitter and sour tastes all come into contact with the coffee.
  10. Keep the coffee in your mouth for three to five seconds. Note the intensity of flavor on different parts of your tongue and whether the flavors change as the coffee cools slightly in your mouth.
  11. Swallow a small amount of coffee and spit out the rest. Note the aftertaste that lingers on the palate, which may be reminiscent of chocolate, tobacco smoke, spicy like cloves, or resinous like pine sap.
  12. To assess the body of the coffee, slide your tongue around the roof of your mouth and note the sensations of thickness and richness the coffee produces.

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