Specialty Coffee Grading and Coffee Cupping
If you’ve read an article about Specialty Coffee, you’ve most likely come across references to coffee grading and a coffee cupping score. But do you know what they mean and their significance to what sets specialty coffee roasts apart from the rest? This guide will walk you through how coffee is graded, the purpose of coffee cupping, how it relates to specialty coffee, and how important cupping and grading standards are to the Nobletree process of crafting award-winning roasts.
How is Coffee Graded?
Coffee beans are graded to judge the relationship between coffee beans with imperfections and the resulting cup of coffee’s quality. Coffee is rated on a scale of one to five based on the number of full defects in the beans. Types of primary defects include:
- Full sour beans that are overly fermented.
- A pod or cherry.
- Sticks found in the batch.
Secondary defects can include parchment, unremoved husk, broken or chipped beans, insect damage, and floaters.
Grade 1: Grade 1 coffee is what is considered Specialty Coffee. To classify as a Grade 1 specialty coffee, both the beans and resulting cup must pass a rigorous review. Specialty coffee beans may only have up to 3 full defects and must be consistent in size during screening. Beans must also distinctively exhibit uniqueness in one or more of the following attributes: taste, acidity, body, or Aroma.
Grade 2: Grade 2 coffee is considered Premium and still uses high-quality coffee beans, with many of the exact requirements as Grade 1, except that up to 8 full defects are permissible.
Grade 3: Grade 3 is classified as exchange grade coffee and results for coffee with 9-23 full defects.
Grade 4: Grade 4 is below standard grade coffee which includes 24-86 defects per 300 grams.
Grade 5: Grade 5 is the lowest quality and is considered off-grade with more than 86 defects.
Now that we know how coffee is graded, we can investigate why coffee is graded and the purpose of cupping.
What is coffee cupping, and why is it important for specialty coffee?
Coffee cupping is the process used by coffee producers, buyers, and Q graders to evaluate coffee aroma and flavor profile. As part of the cupping process, freshly roasted beans are immersed in hot water, ensuring all grounds are fully wet and left to steep for 3-5 minutes. The cup is then stirred, and any foam is removed before cooling. Cupping professionals, or Q graders, review each cup in multiple categories: Fragrance/Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, Balance, Uniformity, Clean Cup, Sweetness, Defects, and Overall.
Each year the Cup of Excellence competition judges thousands of high-quality specialty coffees from around the world. Farmers submit their coffee as part of a pre-selection process before being judged by a national jury, and then an international jury selects the top 30 coffees. In 2020 the Nobletree’ Santa Izabel Reserve’ roast placed #17 overall and #1 for Aroma.
What is a good score when cupping coffee?
Cupping scores are the scores assigned to a cup based on a cupping evaluation of the brew. Coffee that scores 80 points or above is considered specialty coffee, and anything less than 80 points is considered not specialty coffee. For specialty coffees scoring more than 80 points, there are additional levels that continue to differentiate coffees. Coffee that receives a cupping score of 90 or greater is considered truly exceptional.
Shop Coffee with Exceptional Flavor and Taste
As we approach National Coffee Day on September 29, 2021, you should treat yourself to an exceptional Nobletree Specialty Coffee or consider tasting the coffee ranked #1 for Aroma in 2020, the Santa Izabel Reserve. There are only a total of 500 bags available of this special limited roast. You won’t be disappointed in the creamy licorice body of the coffee or the notes of plum, honey, red wine, and sugar cane. Get yours today!