How We Cup

Cupping is a method of evaluating a sample of coffee. It is essentially the only tool that we have to determine whether a particular lot of coffee is worth purchasing. This being the case, it is taken very seriously. At Café Imports, we follow the SCAA standard cupping protocols, which can be found on But cupping all coffees the same way misses what coffee is all about . . .

“It’s like trying to score blue cheese on a cheddar form. How are you going to score blue cheese on a cheddar form?

So posed Jason Long the problem facing any cupper with a washed standard and an alternately processed coffee. But Jason, co-owner of Café Imports, was not asking this rhetorically. He wanted an answer and was raising the issue as a project. How could we formally acknowledge that non-washed-process coffees are not defective simply because scoring standards tailored to their washed counterparts tend to define them as such?

"We've now taken the lead in developing distinct standards for the cup scoring of variously processed coffees. Today we use five separate scoring standards in our green cupping: Washed, Natural, Wet Hulled, Brazil, and Decaf. What follows is a description of how these standards came about, the thinking behind them, and how we now use them in our daily analysis of green coffee."


Our Scoring Guides


The roasting of our samples is done on a Probat BRZ 4 sample roaster. We purchased this roaster new in early 2006, replacing our antiquated Jabez Burns, which is still operational in our warehouse. After roasting, we measure the roast level on the Agtron M-Basic II, which we also purchased in early 2006. We felt that these two new pieces of equipment were necessary for being consistent in our roasting and being able to duplicate the desired level day after day.

There are several things that we evaluate when cupping a particular coffee:

  • Fragrance/Aroma; tested in the dry and wet coffee grounds
  • Taste, Aftertaste, Acidity; how lively and bright is the coffee
  • Body; how weighty is the coffee on your palette
  • Sweetness, Balance; does everything work well together
  • Overall impression of the coffee; does it have everything that you expect/is there anything missing?
  • Additionally, we look for flavor defects in the coffee. Defects are negative flavors that take away from the quality of the coffee and can arise at really any point in the coffee cycle: wet processing, milling, while in transit from origin, etc.

All of these categories are represented on our cupping form. The final score that the coffee receives should be between 80 and 100 points; anything below an 80 is rejected.

In the actual cupping session:

  • We first access the coffee grounds dry, then wet,
  • We begin the evaluation of the coffee solution itself about twelve minutes after it has come into contact with water,
  • We generally will taste the coffee solution at three stages during the cooling process, once while quite hot (but not too hot as to burn the palette), once more a few minutes later and, finally, at room temperature. Oftentimes, the flavor of the coffee will change, either slightly or dramatically, from hot to room temperature.

Blind sensory analysis of brewed coffee is called "cupping", and it's vital to ensuring that the coffee we sell meets our quality requirements. We welcome you to experience this fascinating process first-hand. Please contact a salesperson to arrange a time and date to join us. We'll need at least 24 hours notice so we can prepare a table especially for you. We cannot accept walk-in guests.

How we cup in 7 steps

1. Roast and prepare.






2. Sample aroma dry.






3. Let grounds steep.






4. Sample aroma of wet grounds.






5. Slurp. Slurp again.






6. Spit






7. Record.