OCN Sensory Kits: Guide

A guide to using the OCN Sensory Kits in a CQI / SCAA sensory evaluation cupping

By Silvester Dan Samonte

After years of cupping sessions at origin, cupping labs and making due with what’s best I’m writing a guide to how I would execute tasting the sensory kits best. Cupping is a somewhat standardized form of coffee tasting used by the coffee industry as the basic way to taste. It’s not the absolute best way but gives us a common framework to taste coffees.

A successful cupping is like baking to me. If you stick to some guidelines, prepare everything well and understand your equipment, you can cup consistently.

Here’s a bit of a reminder if you are already cupping. At the end, I have a link of what I would do with three friends joining me on this sensory experience.

  1. Enough to good water to do the cupping. Water planning and heating is the place this all usually goes wrong.
  2. Have people to cup with to discuss.
  3. A grinding process to get all coffees done with in 15 mins.
  4. A way to take notes during your sensory experience. Try our app or your favorite cupping form.
  5. Prepare cups enough for you and your friends to taste.
  6. Here’s an exact way of how I would do it with 3 friends of mine.

The best cuppings start with an environment conducive to cupping. We’re lucky that we have the mountains and trees to cup with up at the farms but city living may prove not as ideal. Tasting can be maximized with the least amount of distractions.

Most people don’t taste coffee for a living so I always look for a quiet place, with good sunlight and enough hot water.

Best case scenario is to use someone’s dining room in the morning or a cupping room with appropriate lighting.

For 3 people I’d use 3 cups that can hold 200ml each. 12 grams of coffee per cup and the remaining amount for cleaning.

So that means 18 cups that are 200ml each. Below are some appropriate cups that we’ve used before. Cupping bowls are a great investment amongst your coffee tasting friends. Maybe you could all chip in and get a set together. Usually, cheap house glasses come in boxes of 6 and cost a few USD each.

18 cups means 4.5 liters of boiling water. A big stainless steel kettle from China should do the trick.

Lastly, and maybe the most important, is a good grinder. If you are using a slower grinder then maybe grind the 3 portions of 12grams together (36 grams total) and weigh afterwards. Good grinders use burrs. I’ve used the Lido 2 hand grinder in a cupping and it’s totally possible. A Baratza Encore will work suitably as well. The better your grinder, the more you can taste. The EK 43 grinder from Malkonig is a popular grinder at cupping labs and anything in its tier would be best. If you see one at your local cafe maybe you can ask them to host the cupping with you?

So below is a step by step guide on how this can be done in sequence:

  1. Prepare materials
    1. 18 cups for coffee material
    2. 5 cups for washing spoons
    3. 4 plastic tumblers or mugs to use as spittoons
    4. 4 cupping spoons of soup spoons
    5. Some towels and/or paper towels
    6. A big water kettle for 4.5 liters of hot water or 3 1.5 liter water boilers
    7. A sensory app / paper / cupping form + pencils (clipboards if you like)
    8. A grinder set and tested for a cupping grind (usually finer than French press and equal to or less than the pour over grind size).
    9. A weighing scale of scooper
    10. A place to cup
    11. Masking tape and markers to label items
    12. Some drinking water and maybe plain crackers of plain bread
    13. A date and time to do the cupping with 3 friends.
    14. A timer. I like two – one to count up at the start and one to count down 4:00 until the break.
    15. Aprons
  2. Review the flow of the cupping.
    1. Have all the materials ready
    2. Ask a friend to be responsible for heating the water when the session starts.
    3. Ask your friends to see who can help. One person can set the cupping area up like below:
    4. Another friend can prepare the samples by weighing out each out and placing it in a cup. Use the last cup to cover the top sample as you stack the glasses. (Note: if your using a slow grinder, grind all 3 samples, 36 grams total and then weigh each cup while the next is grinding.) you can also prepare an additional cup for the cleaning grounds and brew the blend later. I always like using an airtight container to keep as much of it as fresh as possible.
    5. When everyone is ready. start boiling the water and everyone can else can start their task.
    6. You can prepare the spoons, cupping forms and the timers. Usually the grinding and water will be ready about the same time.
    7. The person in charge of the table can bring cups from the grinding area to the cupping table.
    8. Once all beans have been ground you can place them out.
    9. The water will boil and the person can join the smelling of the ground coffee or the dry fragrance.
    10. Have your paper or app ready to take note of things you smell and experience. It may all smell very similar but try to note one or two things that stick out in your mind. Assign people a cup number and they will break that cup. (How to break like a Q grader link)
    11. After everyone gets a smell get the water ready. 4 people should take 3-5 mins. I’d recommend finishing before 5 mins and pouring promptly.

3. On to the cupping itself.

4. Post cupping share with us what you taste in the PLAY page – True Taste.