Think wine experts are the only ones who sniff and sip? Well, slurp this.
Cupping is the equivalent of wine tasting in the coffee world. According to "The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting and Drinking, with Recipes" (Ten Speed, 229 pages, $24.99), roasters spend a lot of time practicing this evaluative exercise as well.
They sniff, sip and slurp -- yes, with no shame -- to assess and select coffees from samples they receive from brokers and growers. In fact, co-author and Blue Bottle founder James Freeman says after you've been cupping for a while, you develop a sensitivity to the tiniest differences between samples of coffee, even between batches of the same coffee roasted the same way on different days or by different people. Was it particularly humid that day? Did the coffee bags sit on the landing dock too long? All of this can affect flavor and aroma.
The language they use is similar to wine or chocolate descriptors, and fall into general categories, like trees (cedar, pine, holly), flowers (rose, lilac, jasmine), spices (ginger, coriander, vanilla), and nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts). Here are Freeman's tips for cupping at home.