Why we use the
SCA cupping protocol

As a trading company, we are the graders and gatekeepers for coffee roasters and suppliers. When samples come in, we grade them, cup them, create a profile, check them on food safety parameters, and decide if they are suitable for our customers. We ensure that you, as a coffee roaster, get the coffee that you are looking for.

The SCA cupping protocol and cupping form are essential tools that enable us to find fitting coffees. Many traders, importers, and exporters, however, have devised their own forms and evaluation scales. But at Trabocca, although we always improve our descriptions and our internal and external calibration, our cupping protocol is built on the SCA cupping protocol standard and cupping form. And here’s why.

The SCA cupping
protocol standards

The SCA form is the Specialty coffee industry standard, making it easy to communicate with both roasters and producers. We never have to explain our form or our calibration. And no parties have to ‘learn’ our system to understand our scores and descriptors.

The SCA form is the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) taught form; the form that is used by the Q Arabica Graders. This allows for relatively easy education for our cuppers. Additionally, CQI provides Q grading courses in many coffee-producing countries. If our producers are cupping their own product, it will usually be based on the same form that we use. This makes it much easier to communicate and to give feedback to them.

Another bonus, as our cuppers are led by Q Graders, is calibration between our offices. This has become far easier
since all Q Graders are calibrated to the CQI standard.

How we handle offer, pre-shipment,
and stock samples

To get the best understanding of a specific coffee, we cup one batch up to three times before it reaches your roastery. At first, we receive an offer sample. This sample represents something we could buy. If we find a destination for this coffee, we create a purchasing contract and receive a pre-shipment sample.

The pre-shipment sample is the most representative of the actual coffee that will be loaded onto the container, ready for shipment. We cup the coffee again on arrival, to check if anything bad happened during shipment. You can imagine how many samples we cup on a yearly basis.

Samples cupped per year

2016

Amsterdam: 2143

Minneapolis: 551

Total: 2708

2017

Amsterdam: 1932

Minneapolis: 722

Total: 2671

2018 (up to July)

Amsterdam: 1627

Minneapolis: 568

Total: 2203

How we cup – inside the sample temple

Before roasting, our samples are measured on water activity, density, and moisture level. This is mostly done to make a first quality inspection, and although it influences the way the bean reacts during roasting, the roast profile is not adjusted.

Consistent sample roasting

This is because we always follow the same roast profile as much as possible. As we are trying to determine the actual quality of the bean, and not get the ‘best’ result for the bean, because that could result in a personal preference.

Trying to keep as many factors the same, makes it easier to understand the beans on our cupping table and their quality compared to other beans. (Download our ‘sample roasting protocol’ poster at the bottom of the page).

The beans are roasted the day before the cupping session, to allow the bean to rest after roasting. The next morning the cupping is set up, with five cups per batch, to better detect possible irregularities, faults, and defects. Batches that seem to be under- or overdeveloped are not scored, but rather re-roasted and re-cupped. This is also done with pre-shipment and arrival samples that score very different than expected, to make sure a bad score is based on the coffee,
and not something else.

The cupping ‘recipe’
and guidelines

It is difficult to give an exact cupping recipe because after testing water composition, boiling temperatures (water boils at much lower temperatures in Ethiopia for example), extraction and roast degrees, all our offices have their own best practices cupping ‘recipe’.

These best practices, which differ for each office, work best for their environment but also result in the most similar end result compared to our other locations.

However, generally speaking, all offices follow these guidelines:

  1. Water TDS should be between 100-150
  2. Medium course grind size
  3. Around 13 grams of whole beans to 200 ml
  4. 4-minute steep
  5. Each sample is ‘visited’ a minimum of 3 times
  6. Maximum cupping evaluation time is 40 minutes after the pour

Group evaluation and batch decisions

After the cupping session, all joining cuppers discuss their results together and the coffees – which were cupped blind – are revealed to the group.

At this point, final decisions on what to do with specific batches are made; which roaster would fit this coffee; what feedback do we need to give to the producer; or if the sample needs to be re-cupped.

Find out how we roast our samples

If you want to read more about our sample roasting protocol, then download the ‘sample roasting protocol’ poster.