How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

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How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby luca on Sat May 31, 2008 10:04 pm

Hi all,

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.

Cheers,

Luca
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby seankohmescher on Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:59 am

The problem with all this scoring, especially competition espresso scoring, is that it is based on a standard.

Great for competition, but it does not tell you whether you will like it or not.
The standard being balanced and trying to have a single-origin or blend be within the confines of what the judge wants. A lot of us create blends that we like and we think the judges will like also, based on the score sheet.

I have had a lot of single-origin espressos that has had me licking the cup dry, but they would never score well by a judge: imbalanced, extremely bright, and nothing but fruit and beauty.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby phaelon56 on Fri Jun 27, 2008 11:57 am

Subjective taste being what it is.... it's a slippery slope to establish a set of standards for scoring espresso but I agree that it would be beneficial. And I think it's both unreasonable and unrealistic to lump the performance of espresso in a milk based drink in with how it performs as a straight shot.

I'd rather see the following - WTC I know but since we're just hypothesizing here goes....

First - Single origins and espresso blends should be evaluated independently of one another in two separate categories.

Second - each of those categories should have three subcategories

- Straight shot
- Short milk drinks (e.g. machiatto and 5 oz cappa)
- Tall milk drinks (e.g. 8 oz to 12 oz latte with a double or triple shot)

I already see some of this being done in an anecdotal way in some blogs (Chris Tacy in particular has done bits and pieces of this on godshot in recent weeks). But it would be nice to see it codified in some way so there could be a common language of sorts.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby Brent on Sun Jun 29, 2008 3:09 pm

There are various responses springing to mind on this (subjective topic)...

Espresso - I agree that the traditional scoring doesn't really do justice to an espresso drink, so as pointed out things like acdity and sweetness should be assessed on a balance basis - sort of a "does the acidity work for this espresso" and hence the "balance" of the shot is perhaps more important in an espresso (depending on your preferences I guess)

Milk - if you are assessing an espresso, why ruin it with milk (I have an intolerance to milk, so am taking a hard stand from that basis :) ) I also think that the milk does change the taste so therefore it is perhaps better to assess a milky drink / blend as such, and espresso seperately. This is how it is done in NZ for the NZ Coffee Festival, and I think it's a good seperation.

Single origing versus blend. If you are preparing it as an espresso, it either works as an espresso shot or doesn't. If you are going to push a single origin as an espresso it should I think be because that origin stands up by itself as an espresso.

And, at the end of the day, it's all subjective...
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby phaelon56 on Mon Jun 30, 2008 8:18 am

Brent wrote: on your preferences I guess)

Milk - if you are assessing an espresso, why ruin it with milk (I have an intolerance to milk, so am taking a hard stand from that basis :) ) I also think that the milk does change the taste so therefore it is perhaps better to assess a milky drink / blend as such, and espresso separately.


I enjoy a good machiatto or cappuccino on a regular basis but agree that there should be two separate assessments. This raises the question of why the ratings would be done and who the target audience is. In a commerce driven world where many of us earn our living by supplying espresso drinks at the retail level and others among us are roasters who supply those retailers.... a very high percentage of the espresso produced will be used in milk drinks.

I think it would be helpful for both cafe operators and home enthusiasts to have some reference points as to how certain espressos perform as straight shots, in short milk drinks and in tall milk drinks. It's no substitute for individual testing and assessment at the point of use but it is a good starting point for product selection. Some assessments of how "forgiving" a particular bean/blend/roast is for brew temperature latitude woudl also be useful information for many people.

Single origin versus blend. If you are preparing it as an espresso, it either works as an espresso shot or doesn't. If you are going to push a single origin as an espresso it should I think be because that origin stands up by itself as an espresso.

And, at the end of the day, it's all subjective...


Also agreed about the subjectivity. And that's an area where having a set of standards becomes very helpful. I know my own subjective taste but if I have a standard against which i can compare it on an ongoing basis - it helps me narrow down my product selection. Case in point - I had a single origin shot at the Intelligentsia booth at SCAA show this year. It was a properly pulled shot and possessed all the attributes ascribed to it. The barista who was pulling the shot loved that coffee as an SO shot and I didn't care for it at all - and it's all subjective.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby Kyle Glanville on Mon Jun 30, 2008 10:53 am

Maybe we should cup coffees with cream and sugar?
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby John P on Mon Jun 30, 2008 4:24 pm

Maybe we should just cup the cream and sugar.
Why ruin it with all that coffee flavor? :wink:

On a more serious note:

I agree that espresso should be cupped as espresso, and the subject of milk drinks should maybe be left to works/does not work. For some of our espresso, I will greatly recommend as straight shot only, another may be up through cappuccino, and others may be great in all things... so "safe" for larger milk drinks.

As to the meat of the question: The best starting point is for the roasters to provide information such as Your Roaster Suggests: 17 g at 9.2 bar at 199 F for a 27-29 second extraction. Flavors in the cup will be... AND This espresso is/is not forgiving. Or something to that effect.

Because of the nature of espresso itself, where a couple of degrees, a couple of grams, or a combination of both can have either remarkable or disastrous results, we need to have a "reference point" such as above to start from. Also as many of us continue to use higher and higher quality beans for our "basic" espresso, it would be more cost effective for the consumer to have as much information as possible.

ditto on the reference to Mark Prince's "battle of North America vs. Italy".

I'm still trying to get a handle on cupping coffee, and even with a system it's difficult until you build the proper tasting vocabulary. A continual work in progress.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby James Hoffmann on Tue Jul 01, 2008 12:24 am

I have to admit I am still at a stage where I struggle with numerical scoring of coffee.

For me a number communicates nothing very precise. If it is a high number then all I really understand is that the person scoring really liked it, and I think with espresso the brewing is still so flawed, yet to so integral to the cup that any attempts at precision are somewhat vulnerable to criticism.

I know programs like Cup of Excellence rely on numerical scoring, and I appreciate the ability of score sheets like that to help you remain consistent in the ones you push forward but when I look on the website and see the final jury scores they communicate very little to me. (perhaps saying more about me than the scores!) As tasters we are constantly searching for a frame of reference, and a stellar coffee's company on the table can have a huge impact on its scoring. The same with espresso too I guess. When someone tells me they scored a coffee a 96 then I want to know what else they were tasting, as much as I want to know why and how it tasted.

What I'd like to know, before coming down firmly in one camp (because I am still sort of on the fence), is what will drive the consumer to explore coffees more, to take a risk more? Is it easier for a consumer to taste something and find all the descriptors that we put on the bag or is it easier for them to understand why it might have attained a certain score? (genuine question)
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby John P on Tue Jul 01, 2008 10:57 am

James Hoffman wrote
Is it easier for a consumer to taste something and find all the descriptors that we put on the bag or is it easier for them to understand why it might have attained a certain score?


James,

This is a great question. I think in some fashion you may need a combination for both, but...*

I can only attest to my own experience as a consumer and on the other end as an owner.

When I buy coffee or espresso to try I look at these factors. These are in no particular order.

1. Region: I will often have a preference for a particular region, such as Kenya, or African coffee in general.
2. Score: I do look at the higher scoring coffees but in the end I will buy an 87 of something that appeals to me over a 91 of something that does not.
3. Flavor descriptors: I read the characteristics of the coffee and if those tasting notes appeal to me, I buy it.
4. Vendor or Roaster: What is their reputation. Have I purchased anything from them before.

From my Customers

1. What would you recommend.
2. Do you have anything from X Country, Region, etc.
3. What does this taste like.

My limited experience tells me that people will have their preferences and will look to the roaster or retailer for guidance. You can often use their preferences as a gateway to other coffee based on flavor characteristics. Although some may use the score as a headline, I think that the meat of the matter are the flavor descriptors, and as long as the descriptors are not overblown, more consumers will pay attention to the flavor descriptors than the score.

I have a hard time selling anything based on scores... but will list awards or accolades a coffee has earned. As you have mentioned, the scores merely show that those who have cupped the coffee have really liked it.

*I think that those consumers who are looking at coffee or espresso such as we are all dealing with will already assume a high level of quality. The key components will be taste, and the story behind the coffee. Stories will often add a connection between product and people, and that often goes a long way.

In the end, I am still not sure what the most effective way is. I do think, as with any sort of marketing, it has to be a multi pronged attack coupled with tasting or cupping classes, building a reputation, etc.

Great question, but a difficult answer.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby Brent on Tue Jul 01, 2008 3:46 pm

John P wrote:As to the meat of the question: The best starting point is for the roasters to provide information such as Your Roaster Suggests: 17 g at 9.2 bar at 199 F for a 27-29 second extraction. Flavors in the cup will be... AND This espresso is/is not forgiving. Or something to that effect.


I like that as a concept. But, as I would describe our blends as reasonably forgiving, I don't get to much into the instructions, other than suggesting an extraction time closer to 30 seconds than 20 :)

When it comes to flavours, I always try to include coffee as a flavour, and limit the description in terms of detail - try and keep it to basic items - ie one description is "smooth, semi sweet with a hint of chocolate, and tastes like coffee" This works for a lot of people as the description is not threatening nor does it require much knowledge, and everyone gets it...

John P wrote:I'm still trying to get a handle on cupping coffee, and even with a system it's difficult until you build the proper tasting vocabulary. A continual work in progress.


I think it comes down a little to what are you cupping for? Scoring and descriptions etc are relevant to what you are using the information for.

James Hoffmann wrote:I have to admit I am still at a stage where I struggle with numerical scoring of coffee.

For me a number communicates nothing very precise.


Numerical scoring or alphabetical scoring - it's the same thing, a scale. I guess you could use good, gooder, goodest etc :) At the end it's just an indication. I would assume a 90 is better than a 60 etc etc etc but the difference between 89 and 90? not much I would suggest.

James Hoffmann wrote:What I'd like to know, before coming down firmly in one camp (because I am still sort of on the fence), is what will drive the consumer to explore coffees more, to take a risk more? Is it easier for a consumer to taste something and find all the descriptors that we put on the bag or is it easier for them to understand why it might have attained a certain score? (genuine question)


If you put too many descriptors on my fear is you frighten away the very people you are trying to attract. When I am making coffee for people in a situation where the person is looking for guidance about what they should be tasting, I don't recall anyone who wasn't happy with "light" descriptions - sweet, bitter, chocolatey, fruity etc those are easy to get, and if someone gets more, then thats good, if they can get the basics, then they are starting to tell that there is a difference between different coffees.

I have a customer who keeps his descriptions down to two for coffee - good or crap.
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby John P on Tue Jul 01, 2008 4:27 pm

Brent wrote: I think it comes down a little to what are you cupping for? Scoring and descriptions etc are relevant to what you are using the information for.


I think you've nailed it.

I cup so I can find out: Do I enjoy the coffee or espresso? and Can I easily convey the taste of that to my customer?

For espresso,I might run through five or six experimental blends before I hit one I particularly like long term.
So in terms of scoring with espresso, what is the purpose?
Does scoring espresso serve the same or a different purpose than scoring coffee?
Or is it not the score, but rather the breakdown of the individual elements-- brightness, aftertaste, body, balance, etc., that really tell the story?

It's probably more than "How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?"
but WHY?
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Re: How would you score espresso in a standardised manner?

Postby Mike Perry on Fri Oct 03, 2008 8:40 am

When it comes to espresso, I believe the best way to cup and evaluate it is as espresso, straight up, drink it all. At our company we spend more time on espresso than any other product. Why? Because like great wine, many are great and all are different. That said, we also try with milk because straight espresso is a smaller percentage of drink sales than lattes or cappuccinos.
The best espresso I ever had, the one god shot, was an SO Brazil Pedro Petra COE #1. Problem was we could not duplicate every time and it did not work well with others. Most of our great espresso's are blends, but we start by running SO shots of every origin we feel has any chance of working. Some are high end like the Pedro Petra, others affordable like the Brazil Casherra. With all, we start by running lots of shots to see how consistent or temperamental the coffee is and make general notes (no score) on how they run. From there, we run shots and note / score color, consistence and persistence of crema. This is a bit from WBC but also translate to the normal cafe as better longer lasting crema allows for better latte art. From a taste standpoint I differ a bit from the WBC (or I guess I should say USBC as I have not attended WBC judges training, only USBC) because I don't like a shot straight from the spout, I like one that has settled about 60 seconds but still has a non broken crema. I swirl, taste about half, then swirl and finish the shot. Normally the shot is sweeter (and better by my preference) at the bottom, this is why I like to drink the whole shot. I like to comment on acidity, body, flavor, aftertaste, balance, and sweetness. I also add or subtract cuppers points but only do so about 25% of the time. I use both flavor and sweetness because I love naturally sweet espresso and believe it is the most difficult attribute to find and I want to reward it. I score on an 8 point scale like COE with a base of 36 for a total 100 points possible. So to get to the point, I would score:

Color 7/8 reddish brown, minor flecking
Consistence/Persistence 6/8 no break 45 seconds, weak heal with spoon
Acidity 6/8 medium acidity, present and pleasant
Body 7/8 very syruppy, rich, heavy, honey
Flavor 7/8 wonderful orange citrus, slight cocoa, hint of spice
Aftertaste 7/8 lingered on tongue, wanted more,
Balance 7/8 great combo of body, acidity, flavor
Sweetnees 7/8 Like sweet honey, lingered nicely,
Total 54
Cuppers Pts +1
Base 36
Total 91
Additional comments: Nice as SO, very balanced and sweet, great flavor
With Milk: Held up nice, sweet and flavorful, lost cocoa

This is an example only, I normally use half points as well. I noted with milk at bottom because as I said above I feel it is important to know this info. Normally I would do everything at least twice for each origin, at least 6 days past roast (noting roast date).
This is a rare example of an origin that would work as an SO espresso, not just be served as an SO espresso. After trying many different origins its time to start blending, its all trial and error with educated guesses based on notes above and personal preferences of what I like or want. I like the work Mark P did with Italy vs NA but I feel if you are tasting some of the best espresso in the world, it should score like wine, with 90+ points not only possible but a reality.

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