Coffee Cupping Notes: Learn to distinguish between coffee characteristics

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As a follow up to our coffee cupping guide, here's a handy guide for taking cupping notes — which, for the novice cupper, can sometimes seem like five ways to say the same thing.

These coffee cupping tips can help you sort out dry grounds from wet, and distinguishing aspects of acidity, body, flavor and finish.


Fragrance of dry coffee grounds

Do they smell fresh? Stale? Over roasted? Under roasted? This is a great place to find out, before water is added to the mix.


Sweet   Spicy

Roasty   Nutty

Malty    Carbony

Stale     Fresh


Fragrance of Wet Grounds

When the grounds are wet, they emit aroma. Water mixing with the coffee and oxygen produce a more intense smell than with the dry grounds.


Smooth   Fresh

Lively     Creamy




Acidity can be a desirable attribute in coffee (when it’s lively and fresh), or an unwelcome o­ne (when it’s sour). But make no mistake: coffee devoid of acidity is flat an lifeless. Yet coffee with too much or the wrong type of acidity can be hard to swallow. If the acidity is unpleasant, pleasant, fresh, sour, or what have you – jot it down in your cupping notes.


Nippy     Neutral

Soft       Tangy

Tart       Rough

Mild       Delicate

Smooth   Winey



This is a description of the richness and fullness of the feel of the coffee in your mouth.


Full   Rich

Fat    Thin



This is the fun part. Is there chocolate? Fruit? How much depth do the flavors have?


Fruity        Winey

Buttery      Caramel

Chocolate  Blackcurrant

Woody       Grassy

Honey        Liquorice

Malty         Nutty

Spicy (and what kind of spice?)



After you’ve swallowed or spit out the coffee, what are you left with? Aftertaste is an important part of the cup. It’s what lingers, what you remember about the coffee.


Sweet   Smooth

Sour      Full

Bitter    Silky

Sharp    Burnt