Any cupping form is nothing more than a tool to help a taster organize their thoughts. That said, you do not need a cupping form to evaluate coffee, and for true beginners, it may be a distraction. In many microroasteries around the world, regular cuppings go on every day, and the professionals will simply debate, contrast and compare the coffees, saving the more formal cuppings for a weekly or monthly ritual (complete with forms).
We have a couple of forms here for you to grab and use.
The Intelligentsia Simplified Form
This first form is a slightly simplified version of the one that we use in our lab at the Intelligentsia Roasting Works. Download it now (PDF, 10kb).
Unlike forms you may have seen elsewhere (such as the Cup of Excellence one, which is extremely complex), this one does not produce a final rating that is the sum of categorical scoring. Instead we employ the Intelligentsia Universal Balance System (so named by a good friend of mine in the coffee trade) where the score is determined non-arithmetically by the cupper so as to be in full harmony with his feelings about the overall quality of the coffee.
With any evaluative cupping that involves scoring, the key is always the relative experience of the cupper and the size of their ‘reference library’. One could say a particular Nicaraguan coffee rates an 8.3 in acidity, but that number means nothing in a vacuum. It only takes on significance in a context where one can compare the relative acidity of many different coffees and over time develop a firm idea about how intense the acidity of any coffee must be to achieve an 8.3. Someone who has purposefully tasted thousands of coffees in a comparative setting will have a big reference library, and can score a new coffee in a way that reflects its relative qualities as compared to those thousands of other ones.
However, this form is easy to use even for the beginning cupper, as the final rating can follow the traditional scholastic grading process where
90-100 = A
80-89 = B
70-79 = C
and so forth. I think it is important to note, though, that one needn’t apply a score at all to understand the coffee. I know cuppers who have been in coffee for 25 years and who really don’t like numerical scoring systems at all. They would argue that such systems reduce a coffee to the sum of its parts and end up missing some of the story along the way.
Whatever your philosophical position, this form is designed to meet your needs just fine.
Using the Intelligentsia Form
The first thing you should note is the aromatic properties of the cup. There is space to jot down impressions as well as a bar to note the intensity of the aroma.
The numbers (5-10) are there for reference purposes to note the overall intensity of, say, the sweetness. We start at five because if it is below five it doesn’t even merit discussion.
There is space next to each category that is intended for descriptors that apply specifically to that quality; for example, you might feel the acidity is particularly fruity, and you may want to distinguish between fruity acidity and a fruity finish or fruit-like sweetness.
Below that is a space for general commentary about the coffee, and a rating box where one can, if desired, assign a score…or a simple smiley face if that is preferred!
Remember, the goal is to understand and remember what it is about the coffee that you like or dislike, so whatever makes sense to you is of course the best way to go about it.
The CoffeeGeek Form
This form was developed by CoffeeGeek for internal cupping tests and evaluations of coffee for the website, but also presents an alternative form for you to use while cupping. Download Now (PDF, 45kb).
The CG Cupping Form is similar to the Intelligentsia form: things like acidity, mouthfeel (body), flavour (sweetness) and aftertaste (finish) are evaluated on both forms. But the CG form is more closely associated with the SCAA’s traditional cupping form, albeit with more emphasis on some elements.
The CG Form is broken down into the following categories, with a score of 5 to 10 applicable for each (5 assumes it is still “specialty coffee” quality, but the lowest of the low. 10s should never be given out except for something that completely blows your mind):
Aroma Comments: At CoffeeGeek, when we evaluate coffees we have a two stage aroma judgment - we evaluate the aroma from the freshly ground coffee, then the aroma again when the crust is broken. There is space for notes, and a scoring box. Don’t put a score down until you’ve broken the crust, but write your notes anytime.
Acidity: Pretty much identical to what was written on the previous page of this guide - when we score this, we score for how much the brightness or acidity is present, and how well it complements the overall cup.
Mouthfeel: This is an evaluation of the body taste of the coffee, how it coats the palate, how it balances, and how it interacts on the four flavor zones of your tongue. If a coffee was deep and rich in the body, and balanced well on the tongue, it may score an 8 or 9.
Flavour: this one is the catch all for all the actual “tastes” the coffee gives us. If the tastes are pleasant and/or directly identifiable, it would score higher. Use the writing space to write down the fleeting flavour notes you may taste.
Aftertaste This is a specific evaluation of how the coffee’s finish is in your mouth. A lingering, pleasant, non bitter and non sour aftertaste that shows even more flavours coming out would score an 8 or 9. Remember, 10s aren’t given out except in very rare circumstances.
Balance, overall notes: At CoffeeGeek, we like to evaluate a coffee as a set of individual components (listed above), but also overall as a coffee beverage. Also, because something like acidity is judged as a scored element, sometimes this may score low (ie, low acidity), but the coffee as a whole is awesome, so the balance and overall notes brings it up if warranted. The “cuppers points” are where you may add or remove as much as five points here.
Final Scoring: again, remember this is subjective. You can either add fifty points to get the overall score, or times everything by two, then add the cuppers’ points to the total. The form chooses the former, but the latter is just as acceptable. Pick one calculation method, then stick with it.
This form is designed to allow you to take a lot of “on the fly” notes as you cup. You can even put tick marks in each writing space to keep track of what you’d like to score each element.