Coffee Cupping Buzzwords and What They Mean

If you find yourself at the prestigious Kona Coffee Cupping Contest or similar events, you may at first be confused by all the terms thrown around. What, exactly, does “wet aroma” mean, and why is high acidity good for some coffees but not others? Read up on our handy list of coffee cupping definitions, and arrive at your next coffee cupping event sounding like a pro.

 

The terms used to describe coffee properties must have a standard definition. Otherwise, terms like “bright” or “bold” can mean different things, and the objectivity would be lost.

 

Fragrance:

Defined as the smell of the ground coffee when still dry. Sometimes called “dry aroma.” It’s the first step in a coffee evaluation.

 

Aroma:

The smell of the coffee when infused with hot water. It is evaluated by sniffing the aromas released while breaking the crust, and while the coffee steeps. Both fragrance and aroma are graded on the quality and intensity of the smell.

 

Flavor:

The coffee's “principal character,” the flavors you pick up on in between the first impression of the coffee’s aroma, to its final aftertaste. Cuppers evaluate flavor by “aspirating,” or vigorously slurping, in order to involve their entire palate. Flavor is generally evaluated for its intensity, quality and complexity.

 

Aftertaste:

The flavor, feeling and aroma left after the coffee is swallowed (or in some cases expectorated). The coffee scores lower if the aftertaste is short or unpleasant.

 

Acidity:

Sometimes called "brightness." Acidity is that bright, wake-you-up quality embodied by coffee. “Liveliness,” “sweetness” and “fruity” are all acidic characters.

 

Body:

The feeling (not taste) of the liquid in the mouth. Coffees with a full, pleasant body tend to score higher.

 

Balance:

How the coffee’s flavor, aftertaste, acidity and body complement one other. Aspects that would affect a coffee’s balance include any underlying sweetness, and flavor consistency from first sip through the aftertaste.

 

Overall:

The holistic score that encompasses all previous evaluations, as well as the coffee’s overall impression. This is the final step during a cupping evaluation.

 

Defects:

Any attributes that detract from the quality of the coffee. Defects are broken down into “taints,” favors that slightly detract from the coffee’s quality, and “faults,” more severe defects that often disqualify the coffee.

 

For those interested in more detail we highly recommend reading the SCAA definitions section of their policies and procedures manual.

 

Have another cup of coffee while contemplating all this!

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