• The cup or liquor

    The cup remains the most important determinant of a coffee's usefulness and value. All exporters grade coffee visually, by size and defect count, but not all cup test. Only the cup can reveal a coffee's true value, however, and exporters who cannot taste cannot bargain as equals with importers and roasters who always taste.

    Taste is a highly subjective matter and different tasters or liquorers will have different opinions on the quality, appeal and value of a particular cup or liquor. There are no international cupping standards and nor is the terminology standardized. This adds to the subjectivity. Coffee tasting and wine tasting are comparable: both are done to determine quality, usefulness and price.

    See 12.09.01 and 12.10 for a glossaries that review some of the descriptive terms generally used in the coffee industry. As a rule of thumb, cup characteristics can be loosely characterized in the following ways:

    Robustas. Mostly supplied as unwashed, sun-dried or naturals. Taste varies from neutral to coarse with strong robusta flavour. Neutral coffees are preferred for blending whereas those with strong robusta flavour are particularly suitable for soluble coffee. Well-prepared pulped and washed robustas are appreciated for their good body and neutral taste and the absence of off-flavours.

    Washed arabicas. The most appreciated are those with a well-balanced (rounded) cup where good acidity and body, together with some flavour or aroma, complement each other. Marks for acidity range from pronounced through good, fair and slight to lacking; for body from heavy through good, medium and light to lacking; and for flavour from excellent through good, some and slight to lacking.

    Unwashed arabicas or naturals. This group (mainly Brazils, Ecuadors and sun-dried Ethiopians) tends to have less well balanced body and acidity. Ecuadors are often fruity and occasionally sourish. Brazils frequently have a harsh or Rio taste, especially coffees grown in certain zones of the states of Espirito Santo, São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. Unwashed Brazils that are free from Rio or Rio taint are known as soft or strictly soft and command a premium over hard or Rioish and Rio-type coffees.

    Pulped Brazils. This is a relatively new form of coffee from Brazil in which the cherry is pulped immediately after harvesting and is then sun-dried, so without fermentation or washing as in the normal wet process. Such coffees tend to combine good body with a sweeter cup than is found in traditional Brazils that are dried in the cherry. These coffees are making inroads into the traditional market for secondary mild arabicas.
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