The Basics of Evaluating Coffee

Evaluating the different components of coffee can be beneficial for a number of reasons. It can help you discover a preferred single origin, understand what you like and don’t like in terms of a coffee’s profile, and it can strengthen your palate. Evaluating coffee is done through a process of adding hot water into a cup or a glass of freshly ground coffee, known as a coffee cupping. In a traditional cupping, you will compare and contrast the qualities of different coffees from different countries or even different regions of the world. While cupping coffee, there are five key elements to consider in every brew, which affect the character of each specific coffee.

Aroma: The mouthwatering scent of brewed coffee. Aroma is an integral part of the coffee experience and is especially apparent when the coffee is first ground, and it sets the stage for the coffee’s flavor. Examples of aromas expressed by coffee include flowers, citrus fruits, caramel, fresh bread, and more. The scent of coffee before brewing is also called its fragrance.

Acidity: The perceived “brightness” of the coffee when tasted. Acidity usually determines the coffee’s overall character: lively, subdued, flat, round, sharp, tart, dry, crisp, and so on. Note that this “acidity” is a quality of the sensory experience—it’s felt on the tongue, not in the stomach.

Body: The weight of the coffee in the mouth, also called mouthfeel. It’s the tactile sensation of fats, oils, and sediment from the coffee suspended in the brewed solution. Coffees may feel heavy, light, buttery, thick, syrupy, watery, winy, and more.

Flavor: Perhaps the most important part of the coffee-tasting experience. Coffee’s flavor is determined by the beans’ organic makeup, nutrients supplied to the beans by the cherries, the caramelization of sugars during roasting, roast levels and more. Specialty coffee has an incredible range of flavors such as; berries, fruits, flowers, chocolate, spices, etc.

Aftertaste: The taste sensation that lingers on the tongue after drinking the coffee, also known as the finish. Coffees with a heavy body tend to have a more pronounced aftertaste. Aftertaste is often described in general terms, like spicy, smoky, woody and so on.

Cupping is something that requires practice, and with time your palate will strengthen. It is a great way to explore what specifically makes coffees unique from others while truly understanding what characteristics in coffee you are especially fond of. Here at Stockton Graham & Co., we hold a cupping each month in our Coffee College, where students will cup with our roastmaster, and will learn how to develop strong palate for hundreds of profiles that coffee can offer. For more information on coffee cupping, give us a call at 800.835.5943.

To see detailed descriptions of our coffees, take a look at the flavor profile panel on our  coffee description page.


Grand Opening at Beyu Caffe in Durham, NC this Sat. @ 10 AM

Stockton Graham & Co. will be holding a cupping this Saturday, January 16th at Beyu Caffe in Durham, NC at 10:00 am in honor of their grand opening! 

We’ll start with a history of coffee and move into cupping Beyu Caffe’s House Blend, hosted by SGC Roastmaster and Green Coffee Buyer Brandon Riggs.

If you’d like to attend, please contact Beyu at (919) 683-1058. They are located across from the Marriott Convention Center and just down from the new Durham Performing Arts Center. We hope to see you there!

Mike Adams
Stockton Graham & Co.

Pics from Royal Bean's One Year Anniversary

Stockton Graham & Co. assisted with a cupping at Royal Bean Coffee House in Raleigh, NC over the weekend to help celebrate their one year anniversary.

SGC was on-hand to help develop a new house blend for Royal Bean through feedback from loyal customers and employees. 

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary! The shop is located on Hillsborough St. in Raleigh, NC across from Meredith College.

The table is set to cup some incredible single-origin varietals.

Royal Bean Customer Event 11.14.09 007

Stockton Graham & Co. Roastmaster Brandon Riggs giving a brief history of coffee.

Royal Bean Customer Event 11.14.09 008

Royal Bean customers and baristas wait to try a few of the single-origin varietals to help create a new house blend.

Royal Bean Customer Event 11.14.09 010

Royal Bean customers picked their favorite varietals and we blended the selections to create a new, unique house blend.

Special thanks to the fine folks at Royal Bean for letting us drop by for the morning and congrats on one great year! Many more!

If you are a Stockton Graham & Co. coffee customer (or would like to be) and you’d be interested in holding a cupping in your cafe,  please contact me at 800.835-5943, ext. 3552.  If you’d be interested in learning to host your own, SGC’s Coffee College offers a “Cupping for Coffee Shop Owners” class. Schedule your spot today!

Mike Adams
Stockton Graham & Co.

Hosting an SGC cupping event

The past few months we at Stockton Graham have done quite a few customer training events, all focused around tasting our coffee varietals.  This weekend we are headed down to Gainesville, Georgia to participate in a customer’s town festival.  We will be dissecting their custom House Blend (which we helped develop), giving away free shots of espresso, and teaching how the home consumer should properly grind and brew coffee. 

We love doing these types of events, so be sure to let us know if you are interested!  It is not only educational for you and your staff, but the customers walk away learning a lot more about the coffee you serve, and they also see your committment to serving great products!

In the next Graham’s Gazette, we’ll show you the steps and give tips on how to run your own cupping. Be sure to check it out!

Brandon Riggs, Roastmaster
Stockton Graham & Co.

October Blend of the Month–Autumn Harvest

Autumn Harvest is one of the earlest blends created for a customer over 10 years ago who wanted to find a fall and winter blend with a crisp acidity and a creamy, velvety body. 

During our blend development process we typically develop several blends for the customer to choose.  Autumn Harvest was a favorite among our staff and when it was not chosen, we decided to make it available to all our customers.  We have featured it several times over the past decade and it has become a popular year-round seller.  This year the Costa Rica and Ethiopia components in this blend gives  it exceptional nuances of dried apricots and a caramel sweetness.

This is an excellent coffee to accompany an Apple Danish, Cinnamon Apple Scones,  Granny Smith Apple Tarts  or buttery shortbread cookies.

If you’re interested in developing a custom house blend for your business, contact SGC at 800.835.5943. Our roasting staff is available to consult with you today!

Autumn Harvest : This blend features traits of fruits from the autumn harvest. When brewed, it expresses a light scent of blueberries and the flavor is reminiscent of dried apricots with chocolate and caramel accents. The velvety body makes for smooth drinking that ends with an aftertaste as crisp as an autumn wind.

 AROMA: light fruit notes
BODY: velvet, smooth
FLAVOR: caramel, chocolate
ACIDITY: crisp
AFTERTASTE: lingering sweetness

*Also available in decaf

Kenya AA Evaluations

We are currently evaluating the best roasting profile for our new crop of Kenya AA. We have done 3 experimental roasts already, and we are trying to determine the perfect balance to bring out the sweet flavor and tangy acidity. Hoping to have it perfected by next week!

We’ll be keeping you updated with notes from our experimental roasts. Want to develop a custom house blend with us? Ask one of our customer care associates for more details. 800.835.5943.

Brandon Riggs, Roastmaster
Stockton Graham & Co.

How to roast coffee: An Interview with our Roastmaster

Ever wanted a custom house blend for your shop? Wonder what happens during the process? Need more background on our Roastmaster for your customers? Stockton Graham & Co. answered these questions from a curious customer and you will find some interesting answers after the jump.

1. What is your definition of craft roasting?
Craft roasting is a combination of art and science.  It is art from the perspective of years of accumulated coffee knowledge and roasting many batches of coffee, and science from keeping up with cutting edge technology in regards to roasting processes, and those outcomes.

 2. What possessed you to become a Roastmaster?
A standard industry definition of roastmaster is still being developed as this is an ever- changing industry based on new knowledge and innovations.  However, it generally means someone who has had hands-on roasting experience, sample roasting, blend development, green sourcing, origin visits and instructing on coffee.  My first coffee boss began to let me cup coffee samples and production lots for quality control purposes and this opened my eyes to all the wonderful flavor, taste and aroma attributes that coffee can embody.  I kept cupping coffees, learning more about the coffee processes and the people responsible for producing the coffees.

The more I learned and experienced, the more I wanted to continue to learn.

3. Any special training needed?
The best training for roasting great coffee, no matter the size of your business, is constant cupping and tasting your coffee.  Once you begin to understand what is happening in the roaster, and begin to understand the modifications you make for different origins, you can start to catalog those results and build upon that knowledge as time goes by.

The coffee industry, Stockton Graham & Co. included, now has a number of groups offering training on cupping, sensory development, roasting processes, green sourcing, etc. Working with your co-workers and peers is an integral part of learning and keeping your skills fresh.

4. As a roastmaster, do you have a number of steps to follow in order to create a great blend? If so, what are those steps?
In creating a blend for someone, you first need to understand what they are looking for in a coffee.  Then you begin to taste different varietals with them that highlight desired traits that are wanted.  After several varietals are selected, you begin to blend several together to see what you can make.  This is where your experience kicks in because over time you begin to understand what works well together, and what doesn’t.  In this industry, you constantly learn something new, so it is important to approach developing a coffee blend with a balance between what you know, and what you can learn.

5. What are the benefits of roasting in small batches?
The main benefit of small batch roasting is that you get to really hone in on each individual coffee varietal, and make it the best it can be.  Even the smallest modifications to a roast profile can dramatically change the flavor of the coffee, so roasting in small batches allows you to give each coffee more focused attention, thus perfection in each roast.

6.  What is the process you use when creating a custom blend for a customer?
Before we start with any roast, we ask questions of the customer and we listen.  We need to know what they like in the coffee, who will be drinking it, when and how it will be prepared and served, etc.  We seek to know what coffees the customer thinks are good and why they liked them, as-well-as coffees they may not have liked as much. After these initial discussions, we usually try several coffees to benchmark the customers’ preferences.  We listen to their feedback and tweak the coffees, roast levels and blending ratios to find the perfect balance, flavors, acidity, body and overall cup appeal for the customer.

7. Do you have any advice for our customers on how to serve and enjoy the best cup of coffee?
In order to enjoy great roasted coffee, you need to start with cold, filtered fresh water. The proper water-to-coffee ratio must be correct, too.  No matter what style of brewer you own, we recommend using two tablespoons of coffee for every six fluid ounces of water.  This will provide the best flavor extraction.  Grind only what you need and keep the rest stored in an airtight, dark, cool location.  Never store coffee in a refrigerator; a pantry is typically the perfect place.

Additionally, coffee is perfect to share with friends and family, to savor and enjoy over conversations.  So do not keep it all to yourself, but invite a friend over or send some as a gift.