Wake up and taste the coffee: coffee cupping, the coffee wheel, and how to taste coffee

With the rise of specialty coffee and key attention to the place of origin and the subtleties and nuance that coffee can bring to the table, it is no wonder that coffee has taken on a role very similar to the way fine wines have been for centuries. These days, it is not unheard of for baristas and amateur coffee lovers alike to brew a few cups, take a big long slurp, consider it for a moment, spit it out, and then write down what they find. Welcome to the world of coffee tasting!

Coffee tasting has developed over the past few years and incorporates a special lexicon and vocabulary of terms as well as special practices and methods on how to explore and adequately appreciate the coffee one is drinking.

One such method happens to be the method of coffee cupping. This method involves pouring hot water directly into a cup with freshly roasted and ground coffee beans in it. Anywhere from 4 to 10 or more different cups, which may display all different beans, may be served at a cupping experience. 3-5 minutes after the hot water is poured, the whole thing is mixed with any foam being removed. As the coffee cools, two spoons are then used. The one spoon is used to pour coffee onto the second spoon. The second spoon is then used to slurp the coffee. The coffee is then usually spat back out once it has been slurped and thoroughly tasted.

Tasting coffee is a skill that one can develop, enhance, train, and strengthen over time. It often involves tasting lots and lots of different fruits and other foods so one can properly and accurately match and compare flavors, hints, notes, levels of acidity, and other characteristics and traits one may encounter with a cup of coffee. And to help baristas and amateurs alike better place and categorize their coffee experiences, there is the handy and colorful coffee flavor wheel.

Developed by the Specialty Coffee Association, this wheel undergoes constant and regular change, development, growth, and nuance. The chart, with its flavor families and smaller subcategories, does more than help one describe their subjective flavor experience in a more objective manner. Still, it also gives the coffee world a collective lingua franca to work off of.

This also allows coffee farmers to produce their coffee in ways that can suit to tastes of a wider market. To be clear, the wheel does not describe the exact flavor of coffee! For example, when one sees flavors like “grapefruit” on the wheel, this does not mean one's coffee will taste exactly like a grapefruit! But it will have a level of acidity, or overall character or texture akin to grapefruit. And if you aren’t sure how your coffee tastes, just look to the epic wheel!

And the best part of it all?

Is that you can try this at home! Though it takes years and many, many cups of coffee to be a superb and barista grade coffee taster, that doesn’t mean you cannot start flexing your tasting muscles now. Cupping especially is a fun way to build tasting skills, or for you and your friends to discuss coffee together. Give cupping a try the next time you get some new specialty coffee beans. Who knows, you may have a real talent for coffee tasting!


  • Bean Box. “How to Taste Coffee Like A Pro: Bean Box.” Bean Box® - Coffee Gifts and Coffee Subscriptions, Bean Box, 11 Mar. 2019, beanbox.com/blog/how-to-taste-coffee-like-a-pro/.
  • “Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel.” Specialty Coffee Association, sca.coffee/research/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel.
  • Inspiration // Jenni Uusilehto, and Jenni Uusilehto. “What Is Coffee Cupping?” Paulig - Barista Institute, www.baristainstitute.com/inspiration/what-coffee-cupping.

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