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What is coffee cupping?

Something's brewing at coffee shops around the country.  And we're not just talking about java.  A special experience once practiced only by coffee connoisseurs ...is now open to your average joe.

It's the latest trend...similar to wine tasting but instead with coffee.  Not only can you sharpen your palette at the get-togethers, drip drinkers say the cuppings are educational, fun, and a way to make new friends, too!

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) says it's a trend that's percolating across the country.  "Coffee cupping is the assessment tool that professional coffee tasters use to determine quality of any particular coffee," said Rick Rinehart with the SCAA.

Now roasters and retailers are opening their private world to the public.  "You are all here for an amazing experience today." Cindy Chang has been a cupping leader for nearly ten years, and says everyone from first time tasters to java junkies are giving it a go.  Damon Brown is one of them.  "It certainly was a new experience for me," he said.  "This is the third time I've been here consecutively."

Each cupping follows a set of industry-wide standards, guidelines that have been in place for centuries.  "Coffee is brewed by putting hot water directly on the pre-measured coffee grounds in the cupping cup," said Chang.  "This provides a kind of apples-to-apples comparison for every coffee that you're going to taste."

Then, each cup of joe is smelled, spooned and sampled in a blind taste test.  Cuppers take note of the various aromas and flavors.  "Most people think coffee is just coffee.  But you can taste a lot of different things."  Chang has heard brew described with words like cookie dough, warm toast and toasted almond.  "Everybody's opinion is more than welcome because taste is subjective and we're learning from everybody else as much as they're learning the process."

But cupping isn't just a chance to sharpen the palette.  "It's a way to highlight the differences in coffees from their regional characteristics, differences in roast styles, " she said.  Not to mention, make new friends.  After getting a taste of the cupping experience, drip drinkers like Damon can't wait to come back for more.   "It's educational and it's fun."

The SCAA says the best way to find a local cupping is to look for a roaster or coffee retailer that brews a great cup of joe. Most of the time, public cuppings are free and take place on a weekly basis.

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