Andi Trindle Mersch Atlas Coffee Importers Beth Ann Caspersen Business Operations Coffee Quality Institute Columns Craft/Operations cupping Dana Foster Don Holly Dorothea Hescock Equal Exchange FlavorActiv George Howell Industry Jennifer Roberts Johnson and Wales Le Nez du Café Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA news Phil'z Coffee quality control Retail Roast Magazine Roasting sensory analysis Sensory Lexicon Specialty Coffee Association Spencer Turer Susie Spindler Ted Lingle The Basics of Cupping Coffee The Coffee Cuppers Handbook United States World Coffee Research

Ensuring Accuracy and Credibility Through Alignment and CalibrationDaily Coffee News by Roast Magazine

roast magazine cupping

roast magazine cupping

(Editor’s word: This article initially appeared within the January/February 2018 situation of Roast Journal. Pictures by Julia Luckett Images. Hyperlinks have been added for context.)

Cupping is fun! It’s an thrilling strategy of high quality discovery that’s approachable and straightforward to know.

Most coffee professionals have participated in espresso cuppings or a minimum of attempted to smell, slurp, spit and savor. Those who don’t taste coffee as a part of their professional obligations typically aspire to study. Product tasters are envied and admired for his or her seemingly pleasurable jobs and the subtle expertise crucial to complete their work. Cheese, whiskey, ice cream, wine — the record of merchandise that require skilled tasters is infinite.

There’s a mystique that surrounds coffee tasters, particularly their potential — both innate and purchased — to intimately perceive coffee’s sensory attributes and accurately articulate their perceptions. The method is definitely understood and accessible to shoppers, lovers and professionals alike. At its simplest type, anybody can take a sip of coffee and supply an opinion. The complexity of cupping begins with the credibility of the taster and the accepted accuracy of his or her opinion.

The Basics

Whereas learning culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Windfall, Rhode Island, I was taught to think about numerous flavor features of the food and beverage merchandise we evaluated. Flavor refers to the combination of aroma and style. Initial training was carried out on what have been then thought-about the four primary tastes, which have since been expanded to five: candy, salt, bitter, bitter and umami (the taste of glutamates, also known as savory). We have been educated to guage aroma on each meals and beverage merchandise we encountered, together with herbs and spices. As a result of people can detect tens of millions of distinctive aromas, any such training ought to be ongoing for all skilled tasters.

While tasting, college students have been instructed to think about all the perceived attributes. For high quality control and product improvement, we have been educated to think about aroma, texture, firmness, base taste, spice ranges and spice identification, sweetness ranges, salt levels and aftertaste. If we have been evaluating from the buyer perspective, we added visual evaluation, including plate composition, product shade, measurement, shape, peak and inventive high quality of the garnishes. This coaching was essential as sensory evaluation and important analysis of meals products is used extensively throughout the food and beverage business.

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(Left) Regular follow and ongoing training are important to take care of effective cupping expertise. (Right) Preparation have to be rigorously managed and constant.

In relation to the complexities related to the sensory evaluation of espresso, in my judgment there are five disciplines that decide an effective coffee cupper:

  1. The bodily potential to determine flavors (aroma and style) and their intensity
  2. A robust sensory reminiscence to recall flavors, determine profiles and rating persistently
  3. Efficient communication expertise to articulate flavors and other sensory attributes
  4. The power to quantify the standard and intensity of flavors and decide a numerical value on a sensory scale
  5. “Cupper’s Zen,” the power to calmly focus one’s attention on the coffee’s sensory attributes without distraction, prejudice or emotional bias

“I might argue that what you check with as ‘Cupper’s Zen’ is likely one of the most essential expertise to develop as a cupper,” says Dana Foster, a trader at Atlas Espresso Importers in Seattle. “We’ve got relationships that span over a decade. The actual talent lies within the potential to maintain that love separate from what’s revealed on the cupping desk. In the long run, high quality should prevail.”


Aspiring cuppers practice on these disciplines via experiential schooling and classroom packages.

“These are discovered expertise that include apply,” says Foster. “And apply. And much more follow.”

Formative assessments are used to offer ongoing suggestions, just like apprenticeships, working side-by-side with skilled, calibrated cuppers to study the required expertise. Summative assessments are meant to guage the cupper’s instructional progress or professional experience using a longtime set of requirements, and sometimes contain a proper proficiency examination to acquire a license, employment or promotion. Each formative and summative assessments require the power to find out the identical rating and sensory description for the same coffee during totally different cupping periods.

Understanding the difference between cupper alignment and cupper calibration is important for individual expertise assessments in addition to the credibility of a sensory panel. Many individuals incorrectly interchange these phrases and features. Cupper alignment refers back to the similarity of sensory scores and descriptions among cuppers on a panel. Alignment identifies the range between lowest and highest scores, and is greatest used to determine outliers (cuppers whose scores usually are not in step with nearly all of the panel). Alignment is carried out cupper-to-cupper and doesn’t determine the accuracy of sensory scores.

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“Sharing individual results is extremely powerful and benefits everyone in the group,” says Beth Ann Caspersen, coffee quality supervisor at Equal Trade in Massachusetts.

To stop much less experienced cuppers from being influenced by extra senior or skilled panel members — regardless of the order by which scores are reported to the group — scores shouldn’t be changed throughout an alignment discussion.

In contrast to alignment, calibration compares an attribute to a acknowledged commonplace. Initial training on taste requirements is used to realize familiarity with taste perceptions and is the idea for summative assessments. Cuppers align with each other; cuppers calibrate to standards. Examples of standards used for coaching are the essential natural acids found in roasted espresso (acetic, citric, lactic, malic, phosphoric and quinic); herbs, spices, fruits, nuts and greens also could also be used.

Calibration proficiency checks are carried out as blind evaluations using normal flavors which might be out there globally. Instruments for calibration embrace the World Espresso Research (WCR) coffee lexicon, Le Nez du Café espresso aromas and FlavorActiV flavor standards.

When scores and profiles are discussed and in contrast between cuppers on the end of a cupping session, that’s an example of alignment, not calibration.

Widespread Language Points

Espresso is a worldwide product; provide chains are much more refined now than in years previous; and producers, mills and exporters are as interested as roasters and baristas in espresso profiles. Every country, whether producing or consuming, has established expectations and taste preferences based mostly on cultural variations and meals obtainable for reference.

Foods sometimes will not be common in flavor and quality, making calibration with out controlled standards challenging. Taste terroir is the concept of the style of place, particularly the influence of geography, climate and horticulture. The identical food grown in several terroirs won’t have the same flavor. Due to this, phrases generally utilized in consuming nations to explain flavors might be unknown to different stakeholders in the supply chain, or even to cuppers in different consuming nations.

Given this challenge, “shifting towards a universally agreed-upon lexicon that may be taught throughout cultures, like WCR’s sensory lexicon, becomes crucial,” says Andi Trindle Mersch, director of espresso at Philz Espresso in San Francisco.


All sensory scales are arbitrary. Every sensory scale is created based mostly on the private selection or research conclusions of a person, committee or group. Once created, the success of a sensory scale is decided by the variety of individuals or groups who adopt it as an evaluation commonplace.

Probably the most primary coffee scale consists of a three-point score: 1 is beneath high quality, 2 is at quality, and 3 is above high quality. This will likely sound overly simplistic, however a primary scale to determine expectations under, at or above high quality stays an often-used professional device within the business. Conversely, the Specialty Espresso Association (SCA) cupping type is complicated and requires theoretical and practical training to grasp. Many roasting corporations use parts from totally different techniques to satisfy the needs of their companies.

“At Philz Espresso, we rely on a mixture of scoring techniques,” says Trindle Mersch, “like the SCA type and an in-house scale that aligns to specific target profiles for our green bean purchasing.”

Assigning a number to a style perception is just not a simple activity. The first query sometimes is whether the number represents quality or intensity. Next, are the numbers common for all coffees, or related solely to the person expectations of each producing nation, processing sort, species or variety? Lastly, ought to the numbers symbolize the product’s sensory profile or likability? Likability scales, also known as hedonic analysis, are most commonly used for product improvement and shopper insight teams; nevertheless, likability also could also be a part of a buyer’s approval consideration.

A coffee’s sensory profile, likability and stability are all part of the scoring equation at Equal Change, says Caspersen.

“You may cup a sample that is an 83,” she explains. “It has good characteristics, however you don’t actually like the espresso. It’s balanced, candy, clear, uniform and a strong cup of espresso, but you as a buyer don’t like it in your product, so whereas your score might align with the vendor, you don’t prefer it sufficient to buy it.”

Numeric scoring could be so simple as a three-point scale, as beforehand introduced, or as complicated as a 100-point scale or past. It is very important notice that when numeric scoring is delineated to fractions — for example, quarter-points or tenths — the complexity and degree of detail tremendously increases. As the extent of complexity and element will increase, so does the problem of coaching for calibration and alignment. Most people want numeric scales with an odd variety of points so there’s a definitive midpoint.

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The Coffee Enterprises sensory analysis group at work.

“When assigning a rating, it is crucial that each one parties perceive the definitions of the size,” says Dorothea Hescock, senior processing manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA in Virginia. “The scoring system chosen should align with the purpose of the cupping. Scoring completed items might differ from scoring inexperienced coffee for purchase.”

Step one in creating a coffee cupping type is to find out the attributes for analysis. Primary attributes for evaluation have been evident within the first Specialty Coffee Affiliation of America (SCAA, now SCA) cupping type, revealed in The Espresso Cuppers Handbook by Ted Lingle (third edition, 2001). These included fragrance/aroma, acidity, flavor, body, aftertaste and stability. The scores for this kind are based mostly on depth perceptions, not quality. This was a comprehensive revision of The Fundamentals of Cupping Coffee, additionally by Lingle, revealed in 1986 by the Coffee Improvement Group, which merely introduced a chart with six sensory classes — fragrance, aroma, nose, aftertaste, style and physique, in addition to taints and faults — along with predefined attributes for each, all ranked using an depth scale.

Other cupping types have been designed to determine profile attributes using solely a low-, medium- or high- intensity designation, with out calculating a quantitative rating. In 2004, Roast revealed its personal cupping analysis type, which expanded on the SCAA model, and a cupping type that followed the SCAA’s format but added descriptive adjectives for each category. Cup of Excellence developed its personal cupping rating sheet with barely totally different categories, together with aroma, clean cup, sweet, acidity, mouthfeel, taste, aftertaste, stability and general.

The last word objective of any scoring sheet is to seize the intrinsic quality of the espresso precisely and effectively. The cupper should consider sensory perceptions, not the small print of the info assortment type.

The arrival of the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel in 1995 and the revision of the SCAA cupping type in 2003 changed the main target of sensory scoring from depth to quality, and included standards to be recognized for flavor identification. The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel was created by Lingle as a visual illustration of the knowledge revealed in The Espresso Cupper’s Handbook. The revision of the SCAA cupping type was pushed by the Worldwide Coffee Group’s want to promote specialty coffee within the 1990s.

Coffee professionals Susie Spindler, George Howell, Don Holly and Lingle labored to develop a comprehensive cupping type that might be relevant to specialty coffee and resilient enough to continue to be useful over time. The Cup of Excellence cupping type was a result of these early collaborations. The Espresso Quality Institute (CQI) continued to revise and update the device, and following the approval of the SCAA Technical Standards Committee in 2003, it turned the “official” cupping type for Q graders and SCAA training packages.

In 2004, CQI was ready to begin area testing coaching and examinations for the Q program. The Roasters Guild Government Council was the primary group to take the exams, in February of that yr. The Q training program combines calibration to aroma standards and alignment with other professional cuppers relating to scoring and flavor identification. This program was groundbreaking and revolutionary — a worldwide coaching effort to align the farm-to-cup provide chain and all business stakeholders with a standard language and high quality expectation for specialty coffee. The Q program continues right now and is nicely revered for aligning cuppers to a longtime language.

In 2010, CQI and SCAA initiated a evaluate relating to the evaluation and scoring of sweetness in coffee. A lot critical consideration and lots of discussions about this have taken place over the past few years; nevertheless, modifications for sweetness have yet to be permitted. The final revision of the SCAA cupping type occurred in 2011, when the SCAA Technical Requirements Committee confirmed that persevering with to make use of the 10 present sections to guage espresso quality was the suitable strategy for cupping. Additionally confirmed was the scoring for defects, clear cup and uniformity, specifically how defects would negatively have an effect on the final rating. An necessary change to the SCAA cupping type in 2011 was the addition of vertical scales to determine intensity of acidity and physique to help cuppers distinguish the relationship between intensity and quality.

The brand new Espresso Taster’s Flavor Wheel — developed by researchers at the College of California, Davis, and business professionals from SCA using the WCR espresso lexicon — is predicated on educational analysis and sensory science methods. Given this new device, the widespread language for identifying the sensory attributes of coffee has modified, and professional cuppers are working to calibrate to the new requirements.

“This is a vital first step,” says Caspersen, “and as a dwelling doc this will need to change over time to grow to be more international, which in turn will assist to further calibrate cuppers throughout the availability chain.”


Reverting back to my culinary coaching, probably the most environment friendly strategy to describe the importance of preparation is, “Should you prepare dinner it in a different way, it should taste in another way.” On this occasion, cooking refers to both roasting and getting ready the samples to be cupped.

Cupping is a scientific evaluation. As such, great care have to be taken to regulate the processes that develop taste in order to not introduce variables that may affect the result of the evaluation. The results of cupping have monumental financial impression on a espresso’s supply chain. Managing the process to make sure consistency in roasting, grinding and dosing is crucial to the accuracy and credibility of the check results. Further preparation control consists of water high quality, temperature and volume.

Many corporations self-determine their commonplace operating procedures for coffee cupping based mostly on their particular person wants or “high quality character.” When sellers and consumers are in agreement relating to how a coffee is to be evaluated, and both align their processes for uniformity, the outcomes will correlate. Conversely, when consumers and sellers put together and consider their coffees utilizing totally different processes and protocols, the results can’t be correlated and battle might arise in figuring out quality.

Emerging espresso corporations and small-scale operations all through the farm-to-cup provide chain might not have the assets to function a formal high quality control laboratory, as the prices for gear and staffing may be prohibitive. In these situations, the company should recognize the potential variables associated to cupping and think about the variables launched by its own operation in figuring out coffee quality. These corporations ought to coordinate with suppliers and clients to align results and mitigate any inaccurate high quality determinations.

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Whereas scoring sheets differ extensively, the last word aim is to capture the intrinsic high quality of the espresso precisely and persistently.

Emotional Bias

Not a part of the cupping score sheet, emotional bias however has a robust affect on the quality perception of espresso. Familiarity with suppliers or having an affinity for a area or producer can affect a cupper’s perceptions. Experiential information gained during origin excursions, a compelling story relating to the coffee’s provenance, or simply the thrill of touring a coffee-producing country can influence a sensory willpower. Emotional bias will affect purchasing selections; nevertheless, because it’s based mostly on a person’s experiences, it can’t be aligned or calibrated and, as such, is just not included in scoring on cupping types.

“I gained’t make any ultimate purchasing selections until I’ve cupped the lot or tons again on the residence lab with my workforce of certified cuppers, in an effort to rule out the unintentional bias that may happen if you end up cupping with producers on sourcing trips,” says Jennifer Roberts, director of buying and selling at Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle.

Trindle Mersch recommends double-blind cupping each time sensible to remove the potential for emotional bias.

Maintaining expertise and experience is a challenge. Over time, coffee cuppers might develop sensory errors or biases, or permit choice to influence their high quality perceptions. A prime precedence for coffee cuppers is to remain in alignment with other professional cuppers, inside a sensory panel, or even outdoors one’s company.

“Cupping with a panel helps us to stay both aligned and calibrated,” says Roberts. “Common cupping with our shoppers and producer companions can also be a good way to align expectations across the availability chain.”

Errors of magnitude are widespread when cuppers do not often align for numeric scoring; non-perceiver errors occur when a cupper does not perceive an attribute and scores the coffee in another way than different panelists; and incorrect identification errors end result when a cupper does not repeatedly calibrate to taste standards and fails to determine a taste accurately. To take care of expertise and experience, coffee cupping ought to be a daily activity, and will embrace each alignment with other cuppers and calibration to taste requirements.

Espresso cuppers typically have great job satisfaction — but we should never forget the numerous duty inherent in the process.

“Whereas we frequently have a great time in the cupping room, we all the time keep in mind we’ve got a critical job to do,” says Foster. “Professional cupping also comes with great strain, as it’s typically the very last cease within the provide chain.”

Mastering the complexity of cupping requires common coaching to take care of advanced expertise, while making an attempt to not be too apparent about how pleasurable the job actually is.

As Hescock says, “The guts and soul of the coffee business is in the cup!”