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Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Thu Oct 11, 2007, 7:39am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

On the industry side of things, it is a big deal. Fact is, flawed or not, Ken drives a lot of business for a small roaster. One roaster in particular told me that a 93+ score on Ken's website mean as much as $10-$15K in sales for that month the review is posted.

It's the same with Robert Parker, but I would imagine 10, 20x as much.

Posted October 10, 2007 link

Agreed.  It is/can be HUGE for the roaster, as it is for the winery.

MarkPrince Said:

For me it becomes a big deal because I'm more and more concerned about the rash of 90-97 point coffees showing up . . .

Posted October 10, 2007 link

Even though Parker quite clearly states here that, on his scale:
  • 96-100 = extraordinary
  • 90 - 95 = outstanding
  • 80 - 89 = above average to very good
  • 70 - 79 = average
  • 60 - 69 = below average
  • 50 - 59 = unacceptable  (and of course nothing ever gets below 50)

it's very true that -- whereas people would seek out wines with scores of an 85-89 a decade ago, today not even is 90 high enough to get them off the couch.  Today, "94" is the new "90," and woe be to the wine that scores an 89 . . . as they say about a Bronze medal, it's like kissing your sister.

MarkPrince Said:

It's a big deal for me because I know how important a points rating system is for the public (or at least a segment of the public), but only one source seems to currently be driving or running this kind of schema. And no, I do not want to be the counter on a regular basis to Coffee Review. I don't feel I'm skilled enough on coffee evaluation to do so.

I do, however, think that I'm skilled enough to do espresso evaluations, and I have a good core of people in Vancouver to help with that. That said, this test was more complex than it has to be or should be for several reasons. One is, well, it was, as far as I can tell, the first publicly disseminated and explained "process" trying to find new ground in this territory. That alone adds layer upon layer of complexity that comes natural in the first try. Can it be simpler? Sure - we could just run the tests, and post the tasting results - for the reader, simple as pie.

Posted October 10, 2007 link

One more observation, Mark, if I may . . .

One of the reasons, as I stated somewhere above, that Parker "works" for the public -- or any other wine writer, for that matter -- is his consistency.  Thus, even if you don't agree with his palate, certain key words in his description can clue the reader in to knowing that -- despite the rave reviews -- he/she probably won't like that wine.  The reverse is also true.  Thus, speaking personally, I know that he may rave about a Pinot Noir and give it a 95-point rating, I know from the description that it won't be for me; or that 87-point Chardonay might be just the thing to try . . .

THEREFORE, one more thing you may want to consider in terms of methodology is having ONE person do the evaluations.  One skilled taster who is consistent is, IMHO, ultimately better than a variable panel of tasters -- the consistency is lost.  ("Who was on this panel?"  "How does his palate relate to hers?"  "Who's this new person?"  "Doesn't he prefer Indonesian/robusta coffees in his blends?" and so on.)  

If the reviews are CONSISTENT from one person, or even from the same group/panel of people (and the written review reflects consensus), the reviews are ultimately more useful to the reader than from a varying panel -- even a rotating group of people.

Just a thought . . .

 
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fungua_mlango
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Posted Sat Oct 13, 2007, 5:45pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

So I would like to know more about this 'too fresh' bit you say in the captions under the pictures about halfway down the article (the shots you display in the Pavina Bodum cups). I have that exact problem and want to know how to resolve it. I ordered and am finishing up a full city roast from Cafe Rebelion in Denver, which was roasted the day it was mailed out to me. A month on and I'm still getting a huge amount of crema (too much, as told by Cafe West technical staff, given that I have constant bleeds out the back of the portafilter of my Solis SL 70). What can be done to tone down (and lessen the CO2) the crema so as to get more H20 in the shot? I use those Pavina cups, and usually my shots are a bit under 1oz as the crema would spill over if I tried to get the 1 - 1.5oz shot after the crema settles.
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Mon Oct 15, 2007, 6:36pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Philosopher Said:

Back to topic now and further comments about making the scoring system easier to use interpret - which I think is what Mark is actually looking for:

I will again use some wine analogy - colour  (looks) , nose (smell) , palate (taste) - One example:
Look =  colour, viscosity, brilliance, depth (15%)
Smell = aroma, faults, variety, intensity (35%)
Taste =  complexity, concentration, fruit, length, aftertaste, balance, tannin / phenolics, acid (50%)

For comparison MP uses:
Look = crema (10%)
Smell = aroma (10%)
Taste = body balance, sweetness balance, acidity balance, aftertaste (40%)
Other = with milk (10%)
Final assessment = judge score (10%), barista score (20%)

Posted October 15, 2007 link

The UC Davis 20-point scale was introduced in 1959 (17-20 outstanding, 13-16 good, 9-12 acceptable, and 1-8 unacceptable), but was way too objective and does not differentiate between objective observation and subject evaluation.  Thus, the modified UC Davis 20-point scale came into its many variations.  One such version is as follows:

  • Appearance (Color and Clarity), 0-2 points each
  • Aroma, 0-6 points
  • Balance (sugar/acid; fruit/tannin), 0-2 points total
  • Taste, 0-5 points
  • Overall Impression, 0-3
    (Note:  in some modifications, "Taste" receives a maximum of six points, and "Overall Impression" is limited to two.)

Or, as a percentage of possible points:
  • Color = up to 10% of the point total
  • Clarity = 10% max.
  • Aroma = 30% max.
  • Balance = 10% max.
  • Taste = 25% max.
  • Overall Impression = 15% max.
    (Remember that, using Parker's 100-point scale, a wine gets 50 points just for showing up.)

Just food for thought . . .

Philosopher Said:

Perhaps more information in the tasting notes:  Look = colour/hue crema, intensity of crema, volume of crema, persistence of crema.  Smell = variety of aromas, intensity of aroma, faults that can be detected

With regard to 'taste':  Should acid and sweetness balance be assessed separately?  Or just one score for the primary balance of sweet/acid/bitter.  The tasting notes can then specifically mention the things which dominate.  Body should be followed by mention of complexity and concentration and then a reference to 'balance' of flavours.  e.g. 'Overpoweringly fruity, too much chocolate'.  Again tasting notes can specify the dominant characteristics.  Lastly, length, aftertaste then faults - burnt, ashy etc etc

With regard to 'with milk':  Should the score for this be omitted and a comment made only in the tasting notes e.g. "v good/excellent with milk, gets lost in milk"  

With regard to 'judges score':  With an more elaborate marking system perhaps the judges score can be omitted completely.

With regard to 'barista' score:  Should we omit the score but reserve comments for the notes section?

In the end, the final result is most important but we should then warn readers how much their mileage may vary.

Posted October 15, 2007 link

Smell -- seems good to me;

Taste -- considering there is little to no actually sweetness (i.e.: residual sugar) present in an espresso unles the drinker deliberately adds it, I would say that "acid/sweetness" in one criterion, not two.  The rest seems fine to me.

Milk -- interesting thought, and I'm inclined to agree, but there's a part of me that knows how many drinks are made here with milk, and thuse including that as a part of the score also makes sense.  It's actually more complicated than that:  are you evaluating straight espresso (in which case how the beans do with milk can be relegated to the comment section), or are you evaluating all drinks one can make with espresso?  (And if it's the latter, does one really need tro evaluate an americano?)

Judges' Score -- I'd opt for retaining this, as you need a category for "impressions," and this is it.

Barista's Score - Excellent point: I'd opt for eliminating it as "points" and retaining it in "comments."

Philosopher Said:

More comments please - recommended dose/tamp/temp, ease to work with, reproducibility on prosumer machine  e.g. 'needs higher temp to work well, very good results on Silvia'

Final conclusions:  The final score should reflect the best espresso that can be achieved with the blend under ideal conditions.  However, the tasting notes can then elaborate on how easy it is to achieve it for the average prosumer and whether it is similarly well suited for milk drinks

Posted October 15, 2007 link

Agreed.

 
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Philosopher
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Posted Mon Oct 15, 2007, 8:50pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

JasonBrandtLewis Said:

are you evaluating straight espresso (in which case how the beans do with milk can be relegated to the comment section), or are you evaluating all drinks one can make with espresso?  (And if it's the latter, does one really need tro evaluate an americano?)

Posted October 15, 2007 link

I would strongly support straight espresso because otherwise as you mention, it just becomes too complicated.  After all this is an espresso cupping evaluation.  Even standard cupping would not try to evaluate all the possible permutations that coffee can be prepared or enjoyed.    I would expect that with a robust system and comprehensive tasting notes that you can probably predict which blends do well under the effects of dilution/flavourings.
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JasonBrandtLewis
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Mon Oct 15, 2007, 9:38pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Right, I agree.  Thus, you could "do away" with milk as a part of the actual score, and leave it to the comment section . . .

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Tue Oct 16, 2007, 12:33am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

fungua_mlango Said:

So I would like to know more about this 'too fresh' bit you say in the captions under the pictures about halfway down the article (the shots you display in the Pavina Bodum cups). I have that exact problem and want to know how to resolve it. I ordered and am finishing up a full city roast from Cafe Rebelion in Denver, which was roasted the day it was mailed out to me. A month on and I'm still getting a huge amount of crema (too much, as told by Cafe West technical staff, given that I have constant bleeds out the back of the portafilter of my Solis SL 70). What can be done to tone down (and lessen the CO2) the crema so as to get more H20 in the shot? I use those Pavina cups, and usually my shots are a bit under 1oz as the crema would spill over if I tried to get the 1 - 1.5oz shot after the crema settles.

Posted October 13, 2007 link

I don't want to get too off topic in this thread, so I'll answer your question in a new one.

Mark

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Tue Oct 16, 2007, 12:51am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

JasonBrandtLewis Said:

Taste -- considering there is little to no actually sweetness (i.e.: residual sugar) present in an espresso unles the drinker deliberately adds it, I would say that "acid/sweetness" in one criterion, not two.  The rest seems fine to me.

Posted October 15, 2007 link

I'm at odds with this one.

I've had way too many espressos that

- are very bright in acidity yet still leave a sweet finish
- are very bright in acidity but also start off sweet, almost as if a battle happens between the two (think lemonade, but without the lemonade taste)
- are medium in acidity (there, but almost neutral) with sweets all over
- are low in acidity but have huge sweetness in the start, middle, finish, or anywhere in between
- are low in acidity but also low in sweetness

and so on and so forth.

Sweets. Bitters. Acidity. Body. To me, all the bases in espresso. When I judged in competitions, I'd go to the table leaving behind, as best I could, my personal likes and dislikes in flavours in espresso, and just have a base - this is what I consider too bitter; this is what I consider too acidic; this is what I consider not enough body; this is what I consider not enough sweetness (there has to be, IMO, at least a faint impression of sweetness on the palate in a good shot of espresso).

My "this is too acidic" as a judge is much more acidity than "this is how much acidity I normally like or can enjoy" in an espresso, because I recognize I have a personal bias towards body / balance / sweets / bitters over acidity. Not everyone's like that. I know one judge who personally does not like bittersweet chocolate in a shot of espresso - something of a holy grail in competitions - yet I've seen his judging scores and judged beside him, and seen him fairly score shots that had a heavy dose of bittersweet chocolate that the competitor accurately described.

I'm kind of wishing I'd had a "balance" score in our test, but in a way, that's what the judges' overall score was.

Also, it's been suggested that our scoring of crema is about look. Not as I scored it, or as the other judges discussed it and scored it - look plus taste balance to the cup (ie, that "first sip") was part of the score.

Mark

 
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JasonBrandtLewis
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JasonBrandtLewis
Joined: 9 Dec 2005
Posts: 6,368
Location: Berkeley, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Elektra T1 - La Valentina -...
Grinder: Mahlkönig K30 Vario -...
Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup
Drip: CCD, Chemex
Roaster: No, no, not another...
Posted Tue Oct 16, 2007, 7:37am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Mark, I think you misunderstand.  

Keeping in mind first and foremost that the originial base here stems from a wine evaluation system . . .

  1.  Wines are either sweet or dry, meaning that they either DO or DO NOT have actual natural, residual fructose (and other sugars) physically present in the wine.  A sweet wine with low acidity often comes across flabby and soft, so whether we're talking about an off-dry (e.g.) Okanagan Riesling with 1.0% of residual sugar, or a German Trockenbeerenauslese with 35% r.s., the sweetness must be balanced by the wine's acidity.

  2.  But there is also an "impression" of sweetness that comes from the "freshness of fruit" in a wine -- for example, a Pinot Noir or a Chardonay (to name by two varieties) can often have a sweet impression on the palate yet the wine will contain absolutely no residual sugar whatsoever.  This "impression of sweetness" does not need to be balanced by acidity, as it is not physically present . . . It is this latter category into which I would place the "sweetness" of an espresso shot.

In the former category, with wine, the wine is either balanced or it's not -- like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there is not enough acidity to balance any sugar present, too much acidity, or it's just right.  Out-of-balance is a technical flaw in the wine.

In espresso (or coffee in general), it is not the physical presence or absence of sugar (and how that sugar is balanced by the acidity) that is at issue -- unless sugar is added to the espresso shot.  YES, acidity in coffee is physically present, and that acidity must be balanced with the overall lightness/richness of the drink itself.  And the presence of acidity is crucial to the overall quality and balance of the blend.  

I am not suggesting that a tasting criteria developed specifically for wine should be used "as is" for coffee, Mark.  I provided that breakdown precisely to illicit comments such as yours above.  There could (and perhaps should) be a plane on the scoresheet for "balance."  What makes sense to me -- but keep in mind I am coming from a wine background -- is that a "balance" score would address the role of the acidity in the coffee . . . and the "impression of sweetness" would be a part of taste or overall impressions . . .

  • * * * *

As for "crema," your "method" of scoring it -- as part of that first sip -- makes sense to me . . . that is, it's not just "look."

 
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altoCalgary
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Posted Sun Nov 25, 2007, 3:15pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Mark,

You have obviously tapped into the Zeitgeist by inquirying into an espresso evaluation process. What compelling reading!!

One of the areas I find particularly interesting in the espresso evaluation process is dialing in the sweetspot temperature(s), especially now that we have machines capable of temperature stability at the 0.3 and 0.1 degrees F levels (i.e., Synesso & La Marzocco). Several baristas and coffee experts have written about dial-in processes. Some that come to mind are Chris Tacy, Jim Schulman, and Billy Wilson. (I already have adapted their ideas into a process that I use.) At the same time, I expect that many of us would be very interested in learning what processes Vince and Sammy used to dial-in all the coffees evaluated. If they can help me enhance my dial-in procedures, I would be very happy.

I must admit that I am plagued by a worry. That is, just because I have found one of the sweetspots on my GS/3, I can't help but wondering if there is another one that I missed that would be even better or at least could bring out qualities of that espresso that are different, but still desirable. At the same time, I would rather not use a pound of espresso in my quest to satisfy my curiosity on every new bag that comes my way.


Thanks for fostering such interesting work.

Ron
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ThatsMyCoffee
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Posted Fri Dec 21, 2012, 1:31am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

This would have been 3 or 4 really great separate articles.  You've written a masterpiece.  Great read!

 
Scott
www.ThatsMyCoffee.com
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