Food & Culture

Learn How to Taste Coffee Like an Expert

Want to really know coffee? Then you’ll need to do a cupping

By Chelsea Lin July 16, 2018


This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the July 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Living in Seattle comes with a few stereotypical expectations, and knowing more about coffee than the average person is one of them. There’s no better way to boost your coffee cred than at a “cupping,” a coffee tasting experience equivalent to wine tasting. 

In advance of CoffeeCon, the consumer craft coffee conference at Fremont Studios set for July 28–29, Seattle Coffee Works co-owner Sebastian Simsch—who holds free public coffee cuppings at his downtown café on Mondays at 3 p.m. (107 Pike St.; 206.340.8867; reserve a spot at [email protected])—offers these tips for how to taste like a pro.

1. Drink water and eat beforehand—but nothing too sweet or salty that will blow out your palate. Leave sense-obliterating items such as perfume and lipstick at home.

2. Observe and smell the grounds. Small cups are lined up and filled with measured grounds of different coffees. This is when you inspect the color and smell of the grounds; catch a whiff and you’ll be able to connect smell and taste.

3. Crack the crust. Each cup is then filled with water and the coffee grounds float to the top, forming a crust to be left undisturbed for three minutes. You then stir three times to release the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee, so you can evaluate it.

4. Taste and take notes. When the brew has cooled to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, tasting begins. Use your spoon to sift out the grounds and sample the liquid—and don’t be afraid to slurp. As you do so, look for a balance of flavor, acidity, body and finish—these are the hallmarks of good coffee. This is when you’ll hear the gurus talk about dry astringency, floral notes and crisp citrus flavors. 

5. It’s ok to spit. Unless you want to be vibrating all day, Simsch says spitting—as in wine tasting—is appropriate.


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