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SCA Paper Questions Roles and Skills Associated with Coffee Cupping

coffee cupping

Two coffee professionals at a coffee cupping in Costa Rica. Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown.

A new white paper from the international Specialty Coffee Association makes the case that professional coffee cuppers have evolved to become critical communicators of value.

The paper further suggests that the core skills associated with cupping should be formally expanded to consider such broader functions within the coffee value chain.

While every organization or individual may approach coffee cupping from a different perspective, the practice might be broadly defined as a methodological sensory evaluation of coffee in professional applications.

Cupping is a common practice among coffee roasters, quality-control professionals, green coffee buyers, importers, exporters, producers and other actors throughout the coffee supply chain who have vested interests in quality and/or consistency.

SCA cupping

SCA cupping “bowls.” Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown.

At next week’s SCA Expo in Portland, Oregon, for example, numerous coffee importing and trade-related organizations have secured positions at a “cupping exchange” program in order to showcase coffees to potential green coffee buyers through the SCA’s existing cupping protocols.

“It is our view that cuppers are highly skilled, not just as ‘tasters’ (although this skill is foundational to the role), but as subject matter experts who may discover, support, ensure, and communicate the quality of coffee while acting as key market linkages within the coffee value chain,” the SCA wrote in the new white paper. “By calling attention to the wide range of roles cuppers currently occupy — and the vast range of relevant supplemental or complementary competencies currently required to fulfill them — our goal is to offer a clear path of professional development for those seeking to work in the specialty coffee sector.”

The paper is part of a broader effort by the SCA to redefine and revise its systemic approaches to coffee evaluation, including a forthcoming new cupping form and protocol that are expected to be introduced to “early adopters” this year. The new white paper is the first output from a cupping task force formed by the group last year that currently includes 40 volunteers.

SCA cupping form

An SCA cupping form in action. Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown.

The group has repeatedly suggested that the new form and protocol will be designed with supply chain inclusivity at the forefront.

“The ability to distinguish between two very similar (but closely related) flavors is absolutely a skill, but it is less impactful than the ability to support a coffee producer in achieving that kind of profile (or finding a buyer seeking it),” the group wrote in its newest paper. “This work requires a commitment to continuous learning about coffee and to ensure their senses are kept sharp.”

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1 Comment

andy carlton

This will end up giving too much power to the cupper. SCA cupping is already far more subjective than its fanatics insist on. And we are talking tens of thousands of dollars per container. There needs to be some limit to the power of a SCA cup score to fix the value of a coffee, or we will be in even more severe trouble than we are.

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