Inside the Peet's Cupping Room
At Peet’s, our coffees go through rigorous quality analysis before they make it into your cup.
Our coffee quality teams of green coffee buyers, roasters, sensory specialists, and other coffee professionals taste samples of every coffee that goes into a Peet’s bag or cup to ensure it meets our standards. We look for new and exciting flavors for our Limited Releases and seasonal blends, and we make sure that old favorites taste the same today as they did when we first crafted them.
Finding consistency in coffee is a challenge because it is a living plant that is always growing, changing, being affected by climate and global affairs. Although it may be a symbol of consistency in our ever-changing lives—the nostalgic aroma, that comforting flavor that is sometimes the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning—coffee is always in flux, turning with the world.
Keeping up with this ever-changing entity requires that we continuously taste and compare. To meet this challenge and determine a coffee’s quality and suitability for our roasts, we use a technique called cupping.
What is Cupping?
Cupping is a process that allows coffee professionals from every corner of the globe to communicate about something as subjective as how coffee tastes. It is the lingua franca of the coffee industry. If we can all agree on how to taste coffee, we have a better chance of aligning on what something tastes like. If a producer were to roast their coffee light and drink it as a pour over, they would have a difficult time finding common ground with the roaster who drinks the same beans roasted dark and brewed in a press pot. It’s the same coffee, but it’s had a different life experience and each will tell a very different story. To make something so subjective into something objective, the variables in the equation are standardized.
Across the world, coffee professionals prepare coffee in the same way to do cupping evaluations
The coffee is weighed or measured and ground directly into glass or ceramic cups. After cuppers smell the dry grounds, water at about 200°F is poured in a circular motion over them, ensuring that they are all uniformly saturated. At this point the coffee begins brewing. The grounds start absorbing the water and bloom up, forming a thick crust at the top of the cup. After approximately four minutes, cuppers take their spoons and break the crust, gently pushing the grounds back into the cup until they settle at the bottom. When the crust is broken, the aroma is released from the coffee, and the cuppers stick their nose right up to the surface to inhale the fragrant steam. At this point, most of the grounds have settled to the bottom, but some lighter particles and a layer of light colored foam will coat the top. Using two spoons, this is carefully skimmed from the top of the coffee, and once sufficiently cooled, the coffee is ready to taste. For cupping, coffee isn’t extracted through a filter or sieved through a press pot. Instead, the grounds remain in the cup while tasting, so all of the oils, acids, and other compounds in the beans are present.
Cuppers are trained to scrutinize how a coffee smells (aroma), its mouthfeel and weight (texture and body), brightness (acidity), flavor, sweetness, and aftertaste. All of these components are based on the composition of the coffee, the compounds in the beans that influence the chemical reactions during brewing to create unique combinations of characteristics like body and acidity. These characteristics can be given a numerical value which, when added up, gives coffee a score. Scores are useful for communicating with other coffee professionals about where a coffee falls on the quality spectrum. But coffee is more than just a number. Cuppers also take into account flavor notes, which are more subjective and nuanced. When a coffee displays many flavors, making your brain jump from pears to dried figs, to red wine and toasted marshmallows, all harmonizing with each other, it’s described as being “complex,” a desirable trait in coffee.
How is Cupping used at Peet’s?
At Peet’s, coffee is cupped many times every day both for green quality, to determine if we should source a coffee, and for roast quality, to design and maintain our craft roasts. Before coffee goes to be hand roasted at our Roastery, it’s evaluated, analyzed, and tasted by our coffee department in our Cupping Lab.
We look at physical qualities like color, size, uniformity, and moisture content, and—of course—taste and smell to make sure it’s Peet’s quality. When cupping to determine a prospective coffee’s suitability, it is roasted as uniformly as possible in small batches on a special roasting machine called a sample roaster. After resting for 24 hours, it is ground and prepared for evaluation. Multiple cups are tasted for each lot to ensure uniformity, and they’re evaluated at different stages during the trip from origin to Peet’s. We try out new coffees to craft unique and exciting roasts, and we keep track of our staple coffees year after year to see how profiles and processing quality change over time. All of this enables us to provide feedback to the farmers and mills we work with so they can know what’s working or what isn’t, and improve their processing and harvesting methods.
Once a coffee has been evaluated for green quality and purchased, it goes to the Peet's Roastery to be roasted and evaluated at our Roastery’s Cupping Room, where we narrow in on flavor profile. The roasting team is dedicated not only to ensuring quality, but to crafting and maintaining Peet’s signature roast profiles. At our Roastery, coffee is tasted continuously as it is roasted—always by hand—to ensure that every bag of Peet’s coffee meets our standards for quality. A cupping is set up every two hours for roasters and sensory specialists to verify the quality of all the coffee moving through the Roastery. This allows us to maintain consistency across profiles, so that Major Dickason’s Blend® tastes today the way it did when it was first roasted 50 years ago.
No matter which Peet’s coffee you’re drinking, its beans have gone on a long journey from cherry to cup, and we’ve been following it every step of the way.
-Author Alysse Wishart is Peet's Cupping Lab Coordinator, Coffee Department