I have long enjoyed reading reviews of brewed coffee such as those on coffeecuppers.com and sweet marias. I guess that no one will ever be 100% happy with every scoring method, but I find that the standard scoring system used by Tom, Jim and Bob, combined with their comments, is quite informative - I get a pretty good picture of what the coffee is going to taste like.
What's good for cupping or brewed coffee isn't necessarily good for espresso, and I have to say that the scoring system is a case in point. Let me give you a little example; say that we have an absolutely spectacular Kenyan SO (think Mamuto) ... something that scores low to mid nineties with high points for brightness and finish, but relatively low points for body. Then let's say that we have a brilliant El Salvadorean (think Santa Elena or Matalapa) ... something that scores in the mid to high eighties, with lower scores for brightness and finish, but higher scores for body than the Kenyan. I would expect that if you brewed the two as espresso, most people would prefer the El Salvadorean coffee, but as a brewed coffee, little could stand in the way of the Kenyan powerhouse. So I think that it's time that we ditched the idea that you can really use one scoring system for both espresso and brewed coffee. What are your thoughts?
The next problem becomes one of searching for criteria against which to score espresso.
The most well-developed, widespread and famous espresso-specific scoring system that springs to mind is the WBC scoring system. That system has proved to be pretty flexible, in that it doesn't prize one particular characteristic over the other, but instead allows the judge to judge the espresso against the competitor's description. This flexibility is a double-edged sword; its open-endedness makes it suitable for the WBC, but renders it pretty useless as a descriptive score system. If you want to describe espresso, you need something else.
I had a quick look around to see if there was some brilliant, well-established system that I had missed out on. Often, these are all solved problems and it looks like there wasn't such a system, but Mark Prince et. al. had a good go at tackling the problem in battle north america vs italy
. It would be great to hear any comments that people have about Mark's scoring methodology. It is pretty close to the standard brewed coffee evaluation methodology, but transported to the espresso context.
Personally, I thought that the attempt in battle north america was quite a good one, both as a scoring system in itself and as a starting point for a discussion. Here are some things that I'd like to consider:
*Acidity, Sweetness and Body "Balance" - Changing these scores to "balance" scores rather than intensity scores is clever, as it helps to get around the problem of a very acidic coffee scoring highly for it. However, it makes the scores less descriptive. For this reason, I think that it might be worthwhile having some sort of an intensity ranking as well.
*Overall flavour - Perhaps this falls under aroma, or perhaps this is best dealt with by giving comments, but where do you reflect a score for a particular flavour? An example; let's say that we have a blend where some clever roaster has created a very simple blend by combining an espresso-suitable Kenyan with something with a bit of body to make a well-rounded cup. Clearly, you can take account of the acidity level through the "acidity balance" category, but what about the distinctive Kenyan berry quality? Is that factored into overall impression? Why not have some category for flavour balance? Or do people think that this would place "chocolate bar" blends at a disadvantage?
*Barista score - Is this something more appropriately taken into account in the comments or as a separate score? Or is it best taken into account in the overall score? If so, how do you come up with the right weighting of espresso taste scores vs ease of extraction scores?
*Milk score - Again, should this be part of the espresso score, or should it be a separate score? If the latter, what is the appropriate weighting?
I look forward to all of your comments, as this discussion could result in a very productive outcome for all of us.