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Slurping in Context: A Look at Intelligentsia’s New Cupping Form

Chris Kornman Intelligentsia coffee cupping

Chris Kornman cupping. Photo by Intelligentsia Coffee. 

Cupping only exists in context. There is the context of the cupper (experience, palate, motive, etc.), but there is also the context of the cupping form. The framework by which coffees are scored, the form naturally changes company to company, cupper to cupper.

Roast Magazine explored various cupping forms — considered alternatives to the SCAA standard form — in a feature called “Points of Taste” last October, where cuppers from companies like Cafe Imports, Metropolis Coffee Company, Toby’s Estate and Counter Culture shared some of their successes and frustrations with developing custom cupping forms.

(related: Introducing Hand Feel, a Mind/Body Approach to Cupping)

Now Intelligentsia Quality Control Manager Chris Kornman sheds some light on the Chicago-based roastery’s simplified cupping form, which he believes results not only in improved sensory and qualitative evaluations, but also a more complete data trail for various QC functions throughout the company’s supply chain. (The form is available as a pdf here.)

(related: The New Cupping Form for Farmers, a Work in Progress)

Here’s Korman on the new cupping form, as recently published on the Intelligentsia blog:

Functionally, our forms are constructed to maximize data capture during cuppings (which, even when performed without a sheet, requires an immense amount of coordination and attention). Sensory evaluation follows the same order as the sheet, so aromatics occur first, followed by a quantitative analysis of sweetness and acidity (the two easiest attributes to evaluate while the coffee is still relatively hot). These first steps are followed by qualitative evaluations of flavor, aftertaste, and complexity. Each of these last three categories is scored on both positive and negative characteristics by the cupper. This is relatively unique attribute of our new cupping form, and a pretty important one: rather than asking the cupper to summarize the score of a flavor in one number, he or she scores the same attribute (e.g., flavor) separately for simultaneous positive (e.g., caramel & cherry) and negative (e.g., bitter & woody) perceptions, resulting in a more holistic record of the experience.

Scoring is performed in 1-point increments, and simple addition/subtraction from a starting number of 80 (the entry level score for a specialty coffee) results in the final score. We’ve found after months of testing that the interaction of positive and negative values allows for both a statistically significant separation between “good” and “exceptional” coffees, and an easily identifiable justification for the final score.

For more on the form, including how it relates to Intelligentsia’s quality monitoring software provided by Cropster and how it creates room for other variable data, check out the full blog post.

(related: The New Taster’s Flavor Wheel: A Recalibration of Coffee Dialogue)