Next week, the A Shot in the Dark 2020 Winner will be announced. Mike MacDonald of Sevenoaks Trading has been instrumental in refining the scoresheet we use in the competition. Everyday he works with the SCA cupping scoresheet which helps coffee professionals in their work with getting you the best coffees. In the following article he breaks down how to use this resource.
The SCA cupping sheet is an effective internationally recognised cupping form used for assessing coffee flavour characteristics and quality.
The digital download for this sheet is available here;
Alternatively, if you’d prefer going digital you could try using the app – Catador on Android and iPhone. The low cost for the app is totally worth it. The app also allows you to easily share your sheets as a pdf.
Also, for protocols relating to the scoresheet and its scoring system have a look here;
I’ll go over each category on the sheet to in an attempt to give a little more perspective, which should only be considered supplementary to the protocols defined by the SCA.
The Aromatic bouquet
What’s interesting to note about aroma is that there are currently over 800 different aromatic compounds found in coffee which significantly contribute towards the overall flavour perception. Realistically though, humans only experience a fraction.
Assessing the bouquet in the beginning will give you an idea of what to expect in the cup. You can use this part of the cupping process to be mindful of any faults and note them down, whether they are green quality or roast related. Likewise, great coffees will inform you of their presence.
Anything noted down for flavour should be from the overall flavour experience including aroma which would be experienced retro nasally (On the nose, in reverse through your olfactory epithelium)
A good way to think about how flavour can be perceived is to consider the 5 basic tastes and their composition in coffee. These would be considered the gustatory attributes (everything experienced in the mouth)
– Caramelized sugars and amino-acid complexes. Experienced on the tip of the tongue.
-Various mineral oxides. Experienced on the anterior sides of the tongue, just above where you perceive sweetness.
-Various non-volatile acids. Experienced on the posterior sides of the tongue, just above where you experience salt.
-Caffeine, Trigonelline, Quinic Acid, Chlorogenic Acid, and Phenolic complexes. Experienced on the back of the tongue.
A Japanese word which literally translates to delicious. Derived predominantly from the amino-acid L-Glutamate
Umami is not typically known and used in flavour modulation musings, but it certainly is present.
For a much deeper dive into all of this I would recommend this book;
Flavour perception is greatly affected by the quality and type of acids inherent in the brew. A coffee with a brighter acidity profile will produce a higher level of distinctive fruit notes.
Common Acids that we look for as defining characteristics in coffee. –
Of course, there are many others which don’t typically get used on the SCA scoresheet, but as a roaster, it might be something you would like to start looking for and training towards identifying, particularly when it comes down to optimising roast profiles.
As an example, an unrefined acidity profile with bitter and metallic notes could represent high levels of chlorogenic acids- something that you can augment in roasting. This is one you might want to look out for when developing a new roast profile or enhancing an already existing one.
Is the aftertaste long and positive- score higher. Short and negative- score lower.
Body is the ‘weight’ of the coffee that can best be sensed by allowing the coffee to rest on the tongue and by rubbing the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Coffee body ranges from thin, to light, to heavy and is a result of the fat content (The lipids inherent in the bean). The viscosity or mouthfeel, however, results from proteins and fibres in the brew. The Mouthfeel can be described as creamy, buttery, smooth. etc. Medium and dark coffee roast styles will have a heavier body than lighter roasted coffees, but conversely will generally have less acidity. Different coffees can have different body characteristics too. The fatty acid composition in coffee likely affects how body is differentiated in this way. Coffees fat composition is actually very similar to butter and cotton seed oil.The enzyme- lingual lipase, that gets secreted in the mouth when we consume fat likely has a role to play in the sensory experience of body in coffee.An easy way to think about this would be to think about the textural quality differences between consuming something cooked in one fat versus another.
Defining body quality can be difficult for some and should be practiced regularly, just as seriously as all the other characteristics in coffee.
Uniformity, Clean cup and Sweetness
You’ll use these sections more so if you’re working with lower quality conventional coffees as it pertains more to adjusting the score based on defect spread. Actually, for the average roaster I wouldn’t fret too much about these sections. Q-Graders, Green buyers and people in similar roles are normally the ones who use these on a daily basis.
Nonetheless, becoming more aware of uniformity is likely the first aspect to be focused on with these three categories. If there is anything different about a cup, mark it down, go back and assess. If you are marking this section down, there is the chance that you’ll have to mark down Clean cup and Sweetness too, but that will depend on the defect that created it.
If you are working with Specialty coffees only- then you won’t be using Uniformity, Clean cup and Sweetness (they’ll have full marks by default).
That being said, you can still buy a great value conventional coffee that hovers around 80 points that will score perfect in these areas too.
How do all the aspects of the flavour profile interact with each other? If anything seems out of balance, this should be scored lower. Reviewing what you scored and noted down in each section will give you a good idea of the balance in the cup.
Consider this section a personal appraisal of the coffee. This should be filled out last, after you’ve assessed all the other attributes. Scanning over what you’ve scored and said about the coffee should play into the scoring of this category. Does this coffee represent its terroir in an excellent fashion? Consider scoring a bit higher, if not, score it a bit lower.
Thanks for reading, we hope you found this information useful, and remember;
Roast, cup and refine.