Thrifty Valentine's Day Ideas: Coffee Cupping

by Kim Merrikin, Seattle Goodwill
February 10, 2015

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we take coffee seriously. We like to know where the bean comes from, how it’s been roasted, and how best to brew it. One thing that the coffee pros do to really understand the bean is a coffee cupping—and it’s an excellent way to spend some time with a special someone, or a group, and enjoy the much-loved beverage in a new way.PREPARE
Choose your coffee: The first step to preparing a cupping is to decide on which coffees you want to try—some of my favorite local roasters include VictrolaHerkimer, and Storyville. For best results, buy fresh, whole beans. We recommend having about eight different types of coffee—from a variety of geographic regions.  

Prep the table: Coffee cuppings do require some equipment—but most of it can be found easily and inexpensively at Goodwill. For each type of bean you have, you’ll want a ramekin, and a clear lowball (rocks) glass. You’ll also want a cup and a soup spoon for each guest—and a few extra spoons for skimming. The only coffee equipment needed is a grinder and a kettle. Also set out a mug/glass full of hot water to rinse the spoons between samples.

While you’re setting up, be sure to keep things in sets with the beans—for example, if you have Victrola’s Guatemala Huehuetenango (my all-time favorite), you’ll want to label its ramekin and lowball glass, and keep them grouped together.

Set out the bean:
Pour the bean into the ramekin. Before the cupping begins, invite your guests to smell the unground beans and comment on flavors they experience.

Grind the coffee: Preferably using a burr grinder for a consistent grind—grind all of the coffees to the same degree. Put the grounds into the lowball glasses—and again, invite your guests to smell the grounds—noting the difference between the whole bean aroma and the ground aroma. Brush out your grinder between each bean for the purest sample.The Pour: After your water comes to a boil, wait 20-30 seconds before pouring. Pour slowly, ensuring that all of the grounds are wet. Do not stir! Have your guests smell the brewing coffee again—let it steep for 3-4 minutes.

Break the crust: The final step in prepping the coffee cupping is to break the crust that has developed at the top of the cup. You can show your guests how to do this, and invite them to be part of the experience! Puncture the crust with your spoon, and inhale the aroma! Wait a moment for the grounds to sink, and use the spoon to scoop away any that stays at the surface.

Sip, slurp, dissert: Invite your guests to take a spoonful of each/every coffee, sipping, and slurping it down (much like tasting wine) to enjoy the full breadth of flavors. Between samples, dip the spoon in the mug of hot water to avoid cross-contamination. Discuss the different flavors that emerge, smells, favorites, and not-so-favorites. You might want to have glasses of seltzer water for your guests to cleanse the palate between samples.

Enjoy the time and the process with friends or your significant other (or both)! Slow down, inhale the aromas, discuss the flavor notes—and enjoy one another’s company!

To get a more in-depth description and how-to on coffee cupping, visit They have an awesome and thorough description of the gear and process. 


Kim fancies herself a professional communicator. She has experience in writing, graphic design, and social media, and is always looking to expand her knowledge base into other fields of communication. She loves people, coffee & Seattle (including the rain).

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