Learning to Like Coffee: Coffee Cupping (Tasting) in Colombia

While there are over a dozen coffee tours in Salento (and dozens more elsewhere in the county) to choose from that give you the general information on how coffee is grown, harvested and produced… I wanted to specifically try “Coffee Cupping” (i.e. coffee tasting) because I’ve never liked the taste of coffee but wanted to see what ‘good coffee’ tasted like and how it varied. For this reason (and because Ocaso was close to where we were staying) we chose the “Premium Coffee Tour” from Ocaso. This was 100.000 COP ($29) per person in Jan-2024. 

A note that prices for everything from food to experiences that I read about online often differed by 30%-50% from in-person while visiting Colombia probably due to the inflation of 2022-2023 and what looks like a heavy increase in tourism since Colombia has become safer and more traveled.

Warming up our senses

We started by warming up our senses by tasting pineapple, mango, peanut and chocolate and discussing the words we used to describe these flavors by smell and taste. From here we took out the Le New du Café, 36 vials of concentrated liquid representing 36 distinct aroma profiles found in coffee from potato to vanilla to wet earth to cloves. We smelled eight of these, wrote down what we smelled and then discussed as a group what we thought each was. We used coffee grounds as our neutral aroma between. 

Coffee Flavor Wheel

In cupping, apparently its common to use the “Flavor Wheel” to associate aromas with colors and often “cuppers” will picture a color to help them identify aromas in coffee. Personally, the only color I got was what the liquid in the vial looked like, but I haven’t trained on the wheel. Also, I’m not great at these color wheel representations of things (the Camelot Wheel used for harmonic mixing of music is super complicated to me for example).

Then we discussed how while some aromas are general associated with high quality, it actually has more to do with culture and preferences than anything definitive. For example, “earthy” is often seen as a defect in Colombia but as a positive in Vietnam.


For our cupping we had four different types of coffee from the same plant and roast distinguished by quality and fermentation (read more about fermentation here) and a generic tell for the aroma/taste of the type:

  • Natural – Fruity
  • Lavado – Sweet
  • Honey – Nutty, Carmel
  • Pastilla (Grade 2) – Aroma or fermentation not given

Stages of Cupping

Preparation of Grind

  • Clear the grinder of prior beans with a small portion of sample
  • Perform a medium grind of the sample of beans
  • Split the coffee grounds into two covered glasses

Smelling Grounds Aromas

Dry Grounds
  • Uncover the grounds for a sample
  • Slosh the dry grounds around the bottom of the glass and smell
  • Repeat with second glass
  • Record observations
  • Move onto next sample

Smelling the Extracted Coffee

Wet Grounds
  • Pour in hot water (not boiling water) at 194-199 F into the glass
  • At this point the coffee grounds are floating at the top (called the “crust”)
  • Smell the ‘wet aroma’
  • Move onto next sample

Preparation for Tasting

  • After four minutes of extraction (previously known as steeping to me)
  • Push the crust (the grounds) away from you with a spoon against the glass
  • Slowly move the spoon towards you
  • Again move your spoon forward towards the grounds (do all this while smelling the aroma)
  • The grounds will now sink to the bottom
  • Spoon out the “cream” (bubbles)


  • Take a fresh spoon and spoon coffee from the sample into a shot glass
  • Make an “O” with your mouth and slurp the shot of coffee quickly and then observe the taste/smell
  • Move onto next sample

It reminded me of when I learned how to do wine tasting for the first time and it was really fun. I almost identified all the different fermentation types but mixed up Lavado (which I thought tasted more nutty) and Honey (which I thought tasted more sweet). Pastilla (second grade) was identifiable due to its lack of nearly any flavor aside from what I used to consider as “coffee” but here would be called “burnt”.

Different Extraction Methods

Different Extraction Methods

Since this was part of a tour, we lastly talked about different common extraction methods and how to make coffee with each of them.

  • Italian mocha (which I’ve known as Cuban Coffee in the past)
    • Actually said to preheat the water before putting it on the stove to control water temperature better
    • Use a fine grind
  • French Press
    • 3-5 minutes extraction using course grind
  • V60 Drip Coffee
    • Wet the filter and pour out the water before putting grinds in
    • Pour over a corse to medium grind for 4-7 minutes in a circular motion
  • Chemex Drop Coffee
    • Said to be more delicate than V60 method
    • Same as V60, but use 5-7min
  • Areopress
    • 175 F with 10 second stir and then slow plunge for any grind
  • Japanese Siphon (kinda like an inverted mocha)
    • Use medium to fine grind

Some general rules of thumb:

  • The courser the grind, the longer the extraction
  • The longer the extraction, the more caffeine
  • 8-12g coffee to 100mL water
Japanese Siphon is ready for a pour!