Where did our standards come from?

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Where did our standards come from?

Postby Alex Negranza on Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:09 pm

New to Coffeed.com and thoroughly excited to learn more.

I've been doing a cursory browse looking for a forum discussion on where our standards came from and couldn't find anything, so I started this new topic. Sorry if it's a repeat.

I'm curious as to who/what/when/where/why we have the standards we do, in regards to the progressive side of specialty coffee. As far as I understand, we've only had enough knowledge as of recently to really have a comprehensive outlook on coffee in all of it's aspects. I feel that more research is going into answering more and more people's questions of, "Why?" The trend I'm seeing is that new wave baristas at all levels are becoming more and more curious at challenging the traditional theories, and even third wave theories too.

Anyone have suggestions of resources I can use?
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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby nick on Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:01 pm

Way too general a question, Alex. Can you be more specific? WHICH standards are you referring to?
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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby Mike Ferguson on Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:33 pm

This thread is a place to start:

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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby Chris Kornman on Mon Aug 24, 2009 12:49 pm

I had always heard they were discovered in the New-England back yard of George Howell on golden tablets inscribed in reformed Egyptian characters. The tablets have since been 'lost' but the standards can be read in God in a Cup: An Account Written by the Hand of Coffee upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Kaldi.
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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby Peter G on Mon Aug 24, 2009 1:23 pm

Alex, I think you ask a great question. All too few folks understand the origin and background of the various standards we commonly use.

As Nick's reply implies, the story will vary depending on the standard you're referring to. If you look at the thread about water-to-coffee ratio, you will see that most commonly recognized brewing standards have their roots in taste panel research done by the Brewing Committee of the National Coffee Organization in the 1950s.

And this is the model for most standards development. In most cases, a body that represents multiple entities (usually a professional association) will organize a committee to research and develop standards for the industry to use. Many of the most commonly accepted standards that we all use were developed or elaborated on by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, usually just called the SCAA. Among the SCAA's standards are:

-Specialty Green Coffee Standard
-Golden Cup Standard (brewed coffee)
-Specialty Coffee Cupping Form
-SCAA Green Coffee Contract
-SCAA Cupping Standard

In other cases, SCAA has collaborated with other organizations- private or public- to recognize a standard. For example, the roast color standard was developed in collaboration with Agtron. The Barista Guild of America, a professional guild of the SCAA, is involved in the SCAA's espresso standard.

To govern this work, the SCAA has a standing Statistics and Standards Committee, and their job is to research and oversee the development and introduction of standards for our association. Right now, Paul Thornton chairs this important committee. Meanwhile, other organizations are engaged in their own work: for example, the World Barista Championship develops standards for use in their competition. In general, there is some collaboration between standard-developing organizations. Also, it might interest you to know that SCAA is a member of ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

The SCAA has recognized that there is an increased need for standards lately, and have undertaken a strategy to develop and compile more standards, and organize them in a more accessible manner. It's an important function, and one more reason to be involved with the SCAA. Forgive the pitch, but hey.

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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby 123coffee on Thu Oct 15, 2009 10:52 pm

Dear Alex,

Many of the standards we recognize had their roots in the roughly 100 years from the end of the Civil War to the first 20 years following WWII. Prior to Reconstruction, coffee, as much else in American commercial life, was a much cruder business than it became in the late decades of the 19th Century. The second industrial revolution turned inventors and industry toward peacetime innovation; piped gas in the big cities enabled controlled fires for roasting.

By the 1870’s roasting aparatus, moved indoors (prior to this period many had roasted outside to avoid devastating fires in woden structures) and with the help of the front discharging roaster innovation of Jabez Burns standardized regional roast colors as City, Full-City, French, Full French, and Italian (New York circa 1890) began to appear. Steamships with schedules that could be kept (rather than sailing vessels that did not sail until cargo holds were full, and when at sea were at the mercy of wind and weather) guaranteed passage, and ventilated cargo-holds helped assure the arrival of a crop without aging/deterioration creating standardized styles of coffee that could be relied upon shipment after shipment.

The New York Coffee Exchange (1881) established a council of graders, who in turn created the standards for acceptable coffee to be proffered on the exchange. Later standards were created for the graders themselves.

C. E. Bickford (San Francisco) developed the blind cup test enabling buyer to find coffees of choice from among many offerings (c.1885). The blind cup test showed off the qualities we now admire in the high grown smaller bean coffees of Central America, changing the taste standards and buying habits of American roasters, who until that time had bought on site selection alone, and favored big bean (soft) coffees and fabled origin names over other considerations.

The invention of the vacuum can and its introduction (Hills Bros,1900) created relative freshness standards that could be tasted in the cup.

The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act established standards for coffee labeling. The Exchange at about this time created the all arabica standard for coffee acceptable for delivery against contracts.

Introduction of Fire-eye, the Jabez Burns innovation that permitted semi-automatic roasting by placing a heat sensor in the roaster drum made pin-point roast development accuracy possible, and changed the character of the post WWII cup, by going a long way to insure uniformity of roast from those roasters who employed the technology.

Post WWII establishment of the Pan American Coffee Bureau (members were all arabica origin countries of the Americas) and their research and educational arm, The Coffee Brewing Center published scientific research, much of it conducted by Dr. E. E. Lockhart, on the various properties of coffee, leading the way to teaching classes on coffee preparation, and the creation of a carricula for teaching, teaching manuals, and student texts, the “Gold cup standard”, and brewing specifications for various brewing technologies.

Much of the lore knowledge and standards developed in that period was codified for the interested American coffee industry reader in the work of William Ukers (1922), and Sivetz & Desrosier (1979).

The roughly 50 years from the nadir of the small independent roaster, to the apex of their renaissance is not a story whose standards were created over night, either in anyone’s backyard. As for tablets, the only ones I recall were made by Bayer. Headaches aside, it is an accumulation of knowledge, apprenticeship learned, in some cases, and self learned in others, and that only seem as hieroglyphs to the uninitiated, that came together in the early 1970s to form the basis of the standards that we in the trade generally accept, and at the same time continue to wrangle over.

The thing that brought a diverse body of knowledge together was an understanding in one generation (now carried on in a another) that going to work every day, and pouring our hearts into our coffee wasn’t enough. An infrastructure needed to be invented to be the custodian of the seeds of accumulated knowledge, and the nurturer of a future for good coffee people, and good coffee practices. For that reason SCAA was created, and CQI, and The Roasters Guild, and Barista Guild. These institutions together with CofE the trade press, Womens Coffee Alliance, Coffee Kids, Grounds For Health, and the various NGO’s throughout the coffee world each do their part to bring more levels of understanding of coffee to us all, helping to make us better coffee people; making better coffee through the application of universally learned and applied standards of excellence in coffee growing, handling, manufacturing and brewing practices.

There is an old and honorable story of coffee standards that lead to best practices, but it is only the beginning of the story.

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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby Mike Ferguson on Fri Oct 16, 2009 12:37 pm

Print it.
That's a wrap.

You won't find a better historical overview that that. Thanks Don.
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Re: Where did our standards come from?

Postby Sandy on Fri Oct 16, 2009 1:10 pm

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