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by sci.coffee, SCI
Coffee Business

Cupping Protocols with the Farmer in Mind


SCI Cupping Protocols

Samuel Gurel: Welcome to the SCI coffee business podcast, where our goal is not only to help you understand coffee better, but to run a better coffee business and hopefully a more sustainable coffee business.

[00:00:16] This week, SCI is launching their new cupping protocols. These cupping protocols have been in the works for more than a year. So the question is: what is the job of a cupping protocol? Well, when we evaluate coffee samples, if we prepare them differently, then we may be noticing the differences in preparation and not the differences of coffee.

[00:00:42] So the goal of a good cupping protocol is to minimize the amount that you're tasting the differences in roast and preparation and maximize the amount that you can taste the coffee so that you can get the best evaluation possible of that coffee sample. So why new cupping protocols? SCA has long had their cupping protocols and Barista Hustle launched their new cupping protocols and SCI is now launching theirs. And SCA has announced that they are looking at updating their cupping protocols. So there's been a lot of focus on cupping protocols, but why did SCI feel that it needed to have its own cupping protocols? The answer basically comes down to a survey we did where we looked at coffee professionals, specifically those who were high up in the area of coffee. These are instructors at CQIQ greening program, and these are people that teach for SCA and these are the world's leading cuppers. And what we ask them is: "Are you using Agtron 63 for your sample roast preparation?"

[00:01:50] And the answer we got back was not surprising. The answer was no. The answer was no, that's too dark. And we found that to not be necessarily unanimous across the industry, but it's definitely ubiquitous. It's clear that a vast majority of people are roasting lighter than the 63 ground coffee Agtron score.

[00:02:15] So once we decided okay, this is a problem, then the question became, well, how do you solve that problem? How do you find the best roast level for your cupping protocol? And an experiment was developed with which we would take the same coffee and roast it to multiple different levels. We would take one coffee sample and roast it from way too light to way too dark. And then we would evaluate it on the cupping form and see, where do you get the peak aroma, peak sweetness, peak acidity, and the most observable and nameable flavor descriptors? And so when we did this, the results we got back were clear that all coffees have a range with which they can be best evaluated.

[00:03:06] Once we had done this with one coffee, we decided to repeat it with multiple different coffees from different growing regions and different processing methods, roasted on different kinds of machines so that we could understand how these protocols would work with different situations. But in each individual experiment, there was only one coffee that was being evaluated. So the results were that the Agtron 75 minus 10 plus five was really the best Agtron for evaluating specialty coffee.

[00:03:53] Once we had finished looking at the roast levels, we decided that we should also look at ratio and these two are not completely disconnected. If you think about it, as you roast a coffee darker, you lose weight and water and moisture and the coffee actually gets easier to grind and easier to extract. So the darker roast coffee you're going to get for the same amount of weight of coffee, you're going to get more extraction.

[00:04:24] So as you roast samples lighter, you might need more coffee. So our experimental results found this: we ran multiple different experiments, again using different coffees, and what we found was that a cupping ratio of 1-to-17 is really the ideal cupping ratio. That if you go with less coffee, like a 1-to-18, or with more coffee, more than 1-to-16, that the samples were not as easy to evaluate clearly whereas if you got up to 1-to-18, you were getting too watery to really assess the coffees and if you got down to a 1-to-16, you're really getting too strong of a coffee to really get the delicate nuance of coffee. So that's how we came up the 1-to-17 ratio plus or minus one.

[00:05:18] So let's talk about that for a minute. You'll notice that with a lot of protocols, they'll just have one target number. But if you look at any kind of industry standard in any kind of laboratory, there's always a range. Now you may have a target you're trying to hit within that range, which may be the center of the range, or it may not be the center of the range, but there's always a target and a range. All standards should have a range and a target. So that's the unique thing about the SCI standards. We always have a target and a range. So an Agtron target of 75, but a range of 65 to 80. And with the ratios, there's a target of 1-to-17, but because of variations in your scale and water and cup size, you're never going to get exactly, exactly 1-to-17 unless you cut beans in half, right? Because we're using individual whole beans. So, because of that, we have a range from 1-to-16 to 1-to-18. Now that's not used to give people creative liberty to just do, "Oh, like 1-to-16 better [or] I like 1-to-18 better." No, the goal is always to make it as consistent as possible. But you gotta have a clear range with which if you get outside of that, you're now too far from that target to be acceptable.

[00:06:41] These cupping protocols were designed with one thing in mind. The goal of SCI is always to help the coffee industry grow. To help coffee farmers. And we believe this cupping protocol has the potential to yield better results. As we roast coffees lighter, we can discover more of the origins. We can celebrate more what the coffee farmers intended to do with the coffee. Also, one of the things that is changing in the industry is different processing methods like honey processes and natural processes, and all kinds of variations from lactic acid, carbonic maceration, whatever whatever, are being used - and what we found with these experimental processing methods that the lighter roasts are really helping bring out the nuance in those where if they're roasted to an Agtron 63, it's much more difficult to really celebrate what farmers intended to do. So at SCI our goal is always help coffee farmers.

[00:07:40] And so we hope that this tool will be used. And we hope that as the industry progresses that this will be a great tool for the industry. And we'd love your feedback. We'd love you to use this new protocol. See how you like it. I'm sure there's always room for change. We look forward to hearing your great ideas on how we can change and make this better. Thank you so much for listening and we'd love for you to go to SCI.coffee and leave us a question for this podcast. We've already received lots of great questions. We'll start listening to those soon. We would love to hear your questions, especially related to current issues right now that SCI is dealing with, which is the SCI cupping form, the SCI protocol, and also our coffee shop success initiative. Anything to do with any of these, especially any struggles you might be having with your coffee shop, we would love to hear about that. Thank you for listening.


Episode 4

Season 1

by sci.coffee, SCI