It’s time to get closer to your coffee. And the best way to do that is to have a crack at coffee cupping.

The reasons for coffee cupping are all about evaluating the flavour profiles of each coffee on offer. Think of it like wine tasting for coffee. Cuppers look for the quality of beans and assess for defects that might spoil the cup; they check the roast to make sure it benefits the bean; and they evaluate how the coffee is ageing to make sure it’s at its optimum, rather than too fresh or faded.

At Market Lane they cup almost everyday in the lab-like room at their Prahran Market premises – and luckily, we’re all invited to come along.

There’s no decaf, no skim milk and no hot chocolate on offer here, just the best quality, small-batch roasted beans. The ethos here: choose one thing and do it well. To that end Market Lane opens their coffee cupping doors to anyone interested in knowing how it’s done and their cupping for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival was a perfect place to start.

The cupping process has developed over time, but it’s now standardised around the world: 12 grams of medium-grind coffee to 160 millilitres of almost boiling water, steeped for four minutes. It’s a three-step process that involves the dry grounds, the first whiff of the steeped coffee and then a tasting. The first time you do it, it feels a little like a science experiment.

So how exactly does it work?

It starts with a cup of the dry coffee grounds. Dusty and pungent it’s hard not to get coffee across the bridge of your nose as you delve in for a good whiff, looking to pick out any fragrances that hit you. Are there blossoms? Is that a hint of Jasmine? Maybe it smells nutty or woody.

Then the water is added, wetting all the grounds with a good stir before letting it rest, steeping for four minutes. This allows the gases and oils to be released from the coffee, where they are trapped under the crust of grounds formed on the surface.

The crust is then cracked with a spoon and pushed back quickly to release the first and most potent waft of the coffee’s aroma. Inhaling deeply, the cuppers make note of caramel, earth, chocolate or cherry sensations (to name a few), using charts with identifiable scents to help identify that tantalising note that somehow defies description.

Finally the crust of grounds is skimmed cleanly off the surface, leaving just the liquid for tasting. At this point, the aromas have already predominantly given away the flavours. Tasting the coffee helps to clarify this but also assesses the coffee’s mouth-feel as well as its body and acidity levels. Descriptions such as ‘bright’ and ‘clean’ help to identify coffees with good mouth-feel and positive acid levels.

You’ll never learn everything from one session alone, but getting started and developing your palate is certainly a lot of fun. And with professionals willingly on hand to help, you’ll be calling a cup ‘smoky’, ‘grassy’ or ‘sharp’ in no time.

Public Cupping at Market Lane: Tues, Thurs, Fri & Sat. Cupping at 11am. Free, no booking necessary.


Where: Market Lane, Shop 13 Prahran Market, South Yarra

Contact: (03) 9804 7434