Cuppings & Tastings: FAQ

Coffee Tasting FAQ:

-I see several cafes in the area offer tastings. What do they entail?

Generally cafes offer coffee tastings just to give people an opportunity to taste coffee from different regions and to introduce new coffees. We have found that tasting sessions vary greatly depending on who attends! At some they are short and sweet, with the host talking a bit about the background of the coffee and offering the prepared samples, encouraging participants to try the coffees several times as they cool down. At others the participants are more curious, and the discussion gets deeper into the different tasting notes, origins, and so forth. Typically tastings last from 30 minutes to an hour.

Lots of chatter at this Madcap tasting

-What is a cupping?

Cupping is a way to evaluate coffee using the following parameters: fragrance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, uniformity, cleanliness; it is also a time to note defects. In these ten categories, a score of 1-10 is assigned (although more commonly, a score from 6 – 9.75 is assigned in quarterly increments). The scores are then added to assign a final score.

In cupping, taste is just one step of many. The evaluation occurs at all stages, from smelling dry beans, to wet grounds, to eventually tasting, and evaluating the taste and mouthfeel at different levels. In cuppings the temperature of the water (and its cooling) is monitored carefully to discover different highlights of the coffee.

-Who cups?

Roasters use this method to evaluate their coffee beans. We’ve mentioned previously, for example, that Grace Street Coffee cups their coffees on average six times when they receive a new bean variety. At Qualia they cup their coffees about two-dozen times a month to ensure the best beans for their customers. Some cafes offer public cuppings to their customers, like Swing’s and Vigilante (and in the near future, Grace St. Coffee).

-Why would I go to a cupping?

First, they are a great way to taste different coffees. Just like at tastings, the person running the event may ask participants to share what they think of the coffee, what they taste, and which one they prefer. It also offers a more in-depth discussion of the process that cafes use to select their coffees. Cuppings are a great way for coffee shops to share this process with the public.

Photo Feb 05, 10 19 58 AM (1)
Public Cupping at Swing’s

Additionally, some cafes are just excited to share coffee knowledge in a fun way. When Grace St. Coffee starts to offer public cuppings it will mostly be the same bean, roasted six different ways.

Same bean, six different roasts, at Grace St Coffee

-What’s the relation between specialty coffee and cuppings?

We recently did a post on new coffee coming from Myanmar, and this being significant because their coffee is just now being discovered by the coffee industry outside Asia. We mentioned that as luck would have it, it’s considered specialty coffee – what does that mean? Although there is not necessarily a formal definition of specialty coffee, it is widely recognized that any coffee scoring above 80 on a cupping is considered specialty. If you really want to geek out, have a look at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s guidelines for cupping here, and see how you get to 80. So it is important for specialty coffee producers to cup their beans to ensure they meet the mark!

-Where can I go to a tasting/cupping in the area?

Madcap Coffee
718 7th St NW,
Washington, DC, 20001
(888) 866-9091
Tastings at 10 AM Fridays
Free, but must RSVP

Vigilante Coffee
4327 Gallatin Street    
Hyattsville, Maryland 20781
(301) 200-3110
Cuppings 1 PM Fridays
Free but register at

Swing’s Coffee
501 East Monroe Ave
Alexandria, VA 22301
Cuppings MOST Fridays at 10 AM
Free but check schedule at

The Wydown
1924 14th St NW,
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 507-8411
Tastings/Cuppings 1:30 PM Fridays
Free, casual, just stop by

Qualia Coffee
3917 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20011
(202) 248-6423
Tastings 2nd and 4th Sundays, 2PM
Free, just stop in

Counter Culture Training Center
1840 Columbia Rd NW, Suite 203
Washington, DC 20009
Tastings/Cuppings at 10 AM Fridays
Free, more info at

{Grace Street Coffee}
{3210 Grace St NW}
{Washington, DC 20007}
{Will start offering public cuppings in September}

Additionally, Vigilante, Counter Culture, and Peregrine also offer more extensive classes about coffee/espresso/brewing methods/latte art, some of which include a cupping. Find out more about them on their social media!

Have you been to any DC area cuppings or tastings? Let us know if we missed any!

Stay grounded,




7 thoughts on “Cuppings & Tastings: FAQ

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