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Is coffee cupping the new wine tasting?

Whilst millennials have been branded as the typical target market for speciality coffee, there is a growing need to focus on the younger Generation Z and what makes them tick. With Gen Z consumers drinking less alcohol than their older generations, wine tasting events could become a thing of the past. This means there’s a void which needs to be filled with other activities that friends and colleagues can enjoy together without the need to drink alcohol. This is where coffee cupping steps into the market.

For those not familiar; coffee cupping is a coffee tasting and evaluation process. Whilst it used to be of interest to just industry professionals, there is a growing target market of consumers that enjoy speciality coffee who are looking to expand their coffee knowledge. Not only does attending cupping nights and coffee tastings help develop and improve your palate, but it’s a great socialising and networking event too.

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A brief introduction into coffee cupping

According to Ted Lingle, senior advisor of the Coffee Quality Institute, coffee cupping is “a method used to systematically evaluate the aroma and taste characteristics of a sample of coffee beans”. The process itself originates from as early as the late 19th Century used for quality control by merchants and auction systems to make buying decisions.

The rise in significance of coffee cupping can be dated back to 1999 when it was used as the method to judge and evaluate different coffees in the Cup of Excellence competitions. Luckily, today all coffee shops have the Speciality Coffee Association Protocol as an industry standard for cupping, so it remains relevant today.

Whilst there is no right or wrong way of cupping, we do advise using the same Speciality Coffee Association methodology to prepare each coffee for evaluation. Variation in the way the coffees are prepared will affect the end taste results. Consistency is key here. We recommend having a variety of sample coffees to give consumers a full range of different tastes to compare and contrast from across the coffee producing world. These samples should be roasted to a light-medium to allow the delicate fruit flavours to come through.

Consumer trends

According to Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends 2018 report, more people find modern life to be hectic and stressful and are therefore focusing on ‘self-care’ whilst developing their own unique definitions of healthy diets. This, combined with younger generations drinking less than their older counterparts, shows the desire for wholesome food and drink events that stray from the usual food markets and wine tasting events.

You only have to look at the most popular beverages every year to realise how dated wine tasting events are becoming. Last year the drink of the year was prosecco and this year it’s gin. Whilst it is negative that Mintel found an alarming rate of consumers finding modern life demanding, the silver lining is that there will always be an appetite for coffee.

So what’s the big deal?

Coffee cupping can help industry experts and customers understand their basic tastes, stripped from any milks, cream or added sweeteners and flavourings. This can help coffee shops understand where different coffees could be mixed into unique blends, that help their cafe stand out from their competitors. Cupping also allows consumers to look at coffee in its basic form and appreciate the finer points and tastes.

From a business standpoint, hosting coffee cupping events will give coffee shops a competitive edge against their local competition and mainstream giants such as Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero who don’t have the autonomy to host such events in their branches past trade hours.

As previously mentioned, organising coffee cupping events allows coffee shops to tap into the lucrative market of consumers that are looking for socialising and entertaining events that do not involve drinking alcohol. By throwing coffee cupping events, you are essentially allowing your customers to taste all the great coffee that your shop has on offer. Not only this, but hosting sessions as such will lead to your coffee shop being more memorable for these consumers, therefore increasing potential customer loyalty.


By Adam Hartshorne, business development manager of commercial coffee supplier, Coffee Central

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