For many years the wine industry has been scoring their bottles as an indicator of quality and for the vintner, for bragging rights. The coffee industry also has a scoring system based around green coffees – also out of a hundred. Good coffees will score above 80 which are then termed specialty coffee while those that score in the 90s become unicorns to the wider public due to the combination of scarcity and price.
To score your cup of coffee becomes more complicated than choosing a bottle of 90 point wine, opening it at the recommended serving temperature and then pouring a glass. I’ll just run over a brief scoring system and then elaborate on the three components after. So the first scoring item is the origin of coffee which is out of 20, next is the roast style and this is out of 30 and finally, the barista which is out of 50. From this you can see that the barista accounts for half of the final result – a good barista can save a poorly roasted or sourced coffee while the reverse can happen to quality beans from a good roaster.
In detail then are my interpretations of the three parameters: item one is the origin. We can break this down to continents or regions and then to countries and then to districts and farms. For example coffee from Ethiopia can be described as lighter and fruitier than from Indonesia or Central America. Roasters will generally stick to safe origins for their blends and single origins that will appeal to the broader demographic which is why you don’t see many offerings from Vietnam, India or China but you will see Africans, Central and South Americans and PNG/Indonesia.
I think most people will score this 20 out of 20 initially simply because of the lack of variety or exposure to a range of different coffees. There is a great deal that can go on at the farm level from seasonal weather changes to processing methods and varietals of coffee cultivation but by the time it reaches your mouth it is hard to discern these small sub categories and mark it accordingly. I’ve suggested this because if you have had a good experience with a Brazil you will choose it again but if you have had something unpleasant then subconsciously you will give it a 10/20.
Next Item is the roast style and this can be scored based on the colour and oiliness of the beans. Simply put if you can see droplets of oil on the coffee beans or if they are shiny then expect strong, pungent and bitter notes to your drink – if you like that then score appropriately. I think most roasters produce a medium to slightly dark roast whereas most franchise companies tend towards a dark roast. Next time you’re in a cafe, compare the colour of the beans in the grinder hopper with a franchise and you will see what I mean.
Last is the Barista. If your coffee is served as requested with great milk texture and temperature then you can score highly. The unseen side to making a coffee is the grind and resulting extraction. Get it right with excellent milk and the barista deserves top marks but this is where the difference between baristas on the same machine can influence the score. The result of this is the introduction of more mechanical controls over the amount of coffee dosed, how much force is used during tamping and even to automatic milk texturing equipment. Don’t be surprised to see the future barista more of an entertainer while a robot does the hard work in the background.
If you can see the extraction, pay attention to how quick or slow the coffee runs out of the spouts. As a general rule 30 seconds is a good extraction rate compared with 15 seconds or 40 seconds.
Let’s go through an example of the scoring system :
Coffee origin Brazil 15/20
Roast level Medium 30/30
Barista Milk good but fast extraction 25/50
Total score 70/100
Result is an ok cup that was let down by the barista failing to adjust the grind and thus ruining the taste.
You can see that if all the baristas do their job well then the roast level and origin become more critical and you can then adjust the ratios to 25/35/40.
Have some fun with this and see what you observe or what discussions you have with friends and family and just like wine you can be as serious or as blasé with your scores as you feel.