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Coffee cupping, or coffee tasting, is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. It is a professional practice that can be done by professionals known as "Q Graders". The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), organizes an annual contest called Cup of Excellence (COE) in coffee-producing countries, gathering an internationally renowned jury of coffee experts who, for days on hand, cup different cafes from local manufacturers and evaluates them up to 100 points. Specialty coffee is this which has received more than 84 points. A standard coffee cupping procedure involves deeply sniffing the coffee, then loudly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue. The coffee taster attempts to measure aspects of the coffee's taste, specifically the body (the texture or mouthfeel, such as oiliness), sweetness, acidity (a sharp and tangy feeling, like when biting into an orange), flavor (the characters in the cup), and aftertaste. Since coffee beans embody telltale flavors from the region where they were grown, cuppers may attempt to identify the coffee's origin.


The term ”Specialty Coffee“ is used for the first time from Erna Knutsen in 1974 in “Tea & Coffee Trade Journal”. Knutsen uses this term, to define the coffee beans with the best flavor, grown in a special microclimate. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the coffees with higher evaluation than 80+ pts on the contest “Cup Of Excellence”, are the ones that are a true “specialty coffee”. They are grown in a special and ideal climate environment and therefore they distinguish with the lack of defects in the production and their exclusive taste and aroma. These unique characteristics are a result also of the special components in the soil, which is used for growing the specialty coffee. The segment of Specialty coffee is the most progressive one in the Industry of Coffee nowadays. In the USA, for example, the market of a Specialty Coffee has grown from 1% to 20% for the last 25 years. To promote and regulate the industry, producers, roasters, traders and retailers have established Specialty Associations, mainly in the countries that produce and consume coffee.


“Cup of Excellence” is an organization, based on a group of enlightened connoisseurs of coffee, who collaborate with international and non-governmental organizations who stay for the idea, that a competition from this rank and an online auction would be effective way to show the farmers that their work is appreciated and their effort is worthy. Because of the many countries-producers that have joined the program, there is an exchange of useful knowledge and as a result, they all grow into a big family under the head of the “Cup of Excellence”. “Cup of Excellence” is the most significant prize in the world of the coffee producers. It is awarded after a rigorous competition, and the aim of which is to select the best of the best coffee, produced in the respective country through the year. The coffees are judged by the coffee specialists from the concerned country, that the competition is held in.


Elevation has a direct impact on the size, shape, and taste of the coffee you are about to consume. To quickly summarize, arabica generally likes higher altitudes of 1,800 to 6,300’ with cooler climates, while robusta varieties prefer a lower elevation of 600 to 2,400’ with warmer climates. Within those ranges, the elevation profoundly impacts the coffee. Elevation impacts the physical aspect of the coffee bean. The next time you get your hands on a bag of green coffee (coffee that isn’t roasted), take a very close look at the beans. Are they small and densely formed? Is the fissure line closed, opened, straight or zig-zagged? What color are they—jade, light green or blue? All of these characteristics are affected by the elevation at which the coffee is grown. The most sought after coffee beans are strictly hard beans (4,500’ elevation and up). These are very dense, caused partly by the slow growth that occurs in a high-altitude environment. They should have a closed fissure line that might be zig-zagged or slightly skewed. On the other hand, lower elevation coffee beans will generally be less dense, with a semi-open fissure. There will be some variation in color as the variety of coffee and beneficiary process used impacts the color. The same coffee from the same farm can have a different color in its green form if processed differently: a honey process versus a full wash. With that said, the bean density will probably be the best signal for determining the altitude of the coffee.
Every time you hear about coffee you find an explanation where coffee is divided into two types: Robusta and Arabica. In fact, the first coffee species cultivated (back in Ethiopia, coffee birthplace), was Arabica.Variety: This rank of taxa delineates differences between plants that are smaller than in subspecies but larger than forms. A variety retains most of the characteristics of the species but differs in some way. Cultivar: Any variety produced by horticultural or agricultural techniques and not normally found in natural populations; a cultivated variety. Most of the varieties we know in specialty coffee are really cultivars. Bourbon and Typica are some of the most widely known cultivars. Hybrid: Hybrids are created by crosses between two different species or two different forms of the same species. Hybrids may occur through natural or selective breeding. For example, Mundo Novo is a hybrid of Typica and Bourbon. They are indicated in botanical terminology by a multiplication sign between the two parents.
The country and region a coffee originates from is often the most defining characteristic by which a roasted specialty coffee is labeled. Specialty coffees that are not a blend (called single origin) often distinguish themselves by the country they are from and a regional or trade name to specify where in that country the coffee was grown.
Central America and Mexico
Coffees from Central America and Mexico are often mild and fragrant, with subtle complexities. They are moderately acidic and have a medium body. The majority of the coffees are wet-processed. These coffees are approachable and popular coffees that seldom have overpoweringly bold or intense flavors. They are typically easy drinkers that the average consumer can relate to and appreciate.
South America
South American coffee is mainly broken down into two overwhelmingly dominate countries: Brazil and Colombia. Between the two countries, they make up around 43% of the entire world coffee market. These two countries have two totally different coffee profiles. The Colombian coffee has more in common with its Central American neighbors than Brazil. They are often mild, wet-processed, and approachable. The vast Brazilian landscape contains many different varietals and grades of coffee. The most famous are dry-processed Santos of the Bourbon varietal. There are also the iodine tasting Rios (not recommended) and other dry processed and pulped natural estate coffees (there are a few wet-processed as well).
East Africa and Yemen
Coffees from East Africa and Yemen are characterized by winey and fruity acidity, medium body, and a fragrant floral aroma. Most of the quality coffee that comes from this area are wet-processed with the exception of Yemen and the Harrar region of Ethiopia. Yemen and Harrar coffees are naturally processed and can be quite delicious, dry and fruity with a sweet, full body. A lot of the coffees that come out of East Africa and Yemen are organic by default. The farmers either can’t afford chemicals or do not use them because of traditional growing practices. Seldom are these coffees “certified organic” because they do not go through the certification process.
Coffees from Rwanda are usually well-balanced with high acidity. They have diverse flavor and leave you with a clean and sweet aftertaste.
Kenyan coffees have a distinct character and excellent high acidity. You can find their taste very bold, sometimes juicy, sometimes winey, with notes of blackcurrant, hibiscus, grapefruit, and raisins.
Coffees from Burundi have a clean, delicate flavor with a rich body and acidity. What is predominant is the sweet berry tastes, floral notes, and berry-like aromas.
Coffees from Indonesia are usually intense, sometimes wild with notes of spices, pepper, and herbs; they are usually with an earthy taste. They have heavy body and are low in acidity. You can find mellow fruit notes of dates, prunes, and plums.