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Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
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Philosopher
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 6:50am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

I fully acknowledge that upwards of 80% of those who have an espresso machine in the home don't know how to, or don't care to work with their machines' temperatures. But they're not the audience I am speaking to. I'm addressing the top 20%, and out of that group, maybe 15% don't know how to temp surf, but somehow discovered that their machines pull a shot better some times, and worse some times, and want to know why. Then there's the top 5% who know about temperature surfing and pstat adjustments. This 20% is the audience I am addressing (and to be honest, I'd love to bring more of the majority, or the 80% into the fold).
Mark

Posted October 2, 2007 link

Even if your statistics were true, an ideal outcome would not only be based on the technical skill to consistently achieve the optimal shot parameters but also the palate and experience to know how to find them.

I suspect the actual proportion of espresso machine owners who would find any relevance in your system to be actually quite small.

It's really a philosophical question.  Which blend is really 'better'?  One that delivers a very good result over a wide range of parameters for the majority of consumers or one that delivers exceptional results only when placed in the hands of an expert and usually an average one for mere mortals?

Perhaps we are just flattering ourselves to think that we can consistently mimic the results of 'Expert Baristas' in the same way a wine lover thinks he can try his hand at making them.
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mrgnomer
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 9:40am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Wow.  Great articles.  Lots to think about, very pertinent start to what is a good espresso roast/roaster and how can it be evaluated.

I totally agree with taking the evaluation seriously.  There needs to be a standard that's controlled and object where it can be but flexible enough to take into account espresso extraction is very complicated and needs to consider roast levels, blend characters...that are affected by extraction temperature, dose amount and other factors.

I wondered too why Ken endorsed the Aeropress as capbable of making espresso.  I'm three years new to being intensly interested in coffee and espresso and I've read some of his evaluations and excerpts of his popular books but I don't know much about his experience.  Personally I get the impression he's approaching coffee from the 'common man's' perspective and addressing his evaluations there.  I favoured David Schomer's advice over Ken's when it came to espresso.

I don't really agree, then, that any roast could fairly or even should be evaluted with low or poor quality extraction in mind.  It's like having a kick arse fuel designed for Ferrari quality vehicles but then saying you can only test it in a sub compact for performance or under sub compact conditions because that's what the average consumer drives.  Not a reasonable evaluation.

Yes, Ken says he used a LaMarzocco in his evaluations and that he's had what, 40 odd years of espresso preparation experience, but in his rebuttal he also stated that his evalution was based more on what the average consumer would get out of the roast as opposed to say a serious geek.  Kind of a contradiction.

The average consumer isn't using a Linea.  It would have made more sense if Ken's comparison was strongly prefaced by stating the intention that the comparison was directed at average, non geek consumers using machines and techniques for espresso extraction that made the age of the roast and other factors most likely non variables due to their capabilities and the capabilities of their machines.  Then prepare the espresso as they would:  on a similar machine with similar techniques.  You can't put forward a review of roasts with the tone that it's targeting serious espresso extraction, go forward with an evaluation that awards most likely stale roasts higher marks than fresh roasts from popular artisan roasters and then when you're challenged on your evaluation process say your evalution was geared to the common consumer- your review loses credibility then and your ratings don't really mean anything tangible.

Thanks, Mark, for emphasizing the need to evaluate roasts based on as close to ideal espresso extraction variables and defending good fresh roasts.  I'm interested to see how your evaluation rates the Italian roasts you've chosen compared to the North American roasts.  I would agree that European roasters have more experience and could ideally produce better roasts but the serious artisan roasters of North America are really committed to constant improvement and the highest standards of quality of their roasts.  I can see the gap in experience and capablity quickly narrowing.
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mrgnomer
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mrgnomer
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 10:01am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Philosopher Said:


It's really a philosophical question.  Which blend is really 'better'?  One that delivers a very good result over a wide range of parameters for the majority of consumers or one that delivers exceptional results only when placed in the hands of an expert and usually an average one for mere mortals?

Posted October 7, 2007 link

I think it's more of a quality question.  The majority of consumers with budget equipment and not real interest in geek quality espresso probably couldn't extract espresso that would show much difference between stale and fresh roasts.  They could get palatable results from grocery store coffee.  Without the interest or investment to get the best out of high quality fresh roasts it doesn't end up mattering much what kind of roast they use.

Those who take a real interest in getting the best espresso are more interested in the high quality roasts that make very good espresso possible.  If they're in the espresso extracting minority over all, so what.  As a group that has made the investment in research, equipment and experience to bring the best out of roasts they're really in the majority.  Basing an evaluation on their capabilities not only makes sense but it's very fair when you consider the artisan espresso roasters are mostly targeting them anyway.
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 3:10pm
Subject: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

Mark, let me preface my comments here by saying I spent over 35 years tasting, studying and working in the wine trade -- working for wineries in both production and sales; working in both retail and restaurants; working for wholesalers and importers; and as a wine writer and professional wine judge.  You raise several valid points.  So, too, does Kenneth David in his reply to your original article.  And you both are way off base in places . . .

UC Davis developed a 20-point scale for wine evaluation, and everyone hated it.  There was no room for any sort of subjective opinion, no room for the "I like it" factor.  So everyone, from the 1950s to the early 1980s used a "modified" UC Davis 20-point system.  Until Robert Parker introduced the 100-point system, and the 20-point system died overnight!  

The 100-point scoring system is something I have railed against for more than 20 years.  Mark?  Save your breath.  It's here to stay.  The reason is that the 100-point system resonates deeply with anyone who went to grammar school and got a "100" on their spelling test.  It does imply perfection, something that DOES NOT EXIST in the world of subjective, sensory evaluation, and where are you going to go when that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or that shot of Panamanian La Esmeralda actually scores "100"???  The system is rife with problems, and skewed towards "grade inflation."  Today's 94 is yesterday's 90, and it's only going to get worse.  (And yes, you get 50 points for just showing up, and it's not really a 100-point scare, but a 49-point scale, because it really only stretches from 51 to 100, and . . . and . . . and . . . . )

I have never heard of the "200 WBC Standard" prior to reading these articles, Mark, but it makes sense.  Whether I have a La Pavoni lever machine (what did I know; it was my very first espresso machine back in the mid-1970s), or a Coffee Gaggia (which I had since approx. 1982), or a "prosumer" La Valentina (for about a year now), the very first attempt(s) at changing my brew temperature is the "water dance" $#!+ with my HX machine . . . and I still don't really know what the exact brewing temperature is.  Nor do I realy care . . . all that much.  Is my espresso/cappuccino good?  Is my espresso/cappuccino great?  Well, it's consistently better than I can get at the cafés in my neighborhood, and that's what I'm hoping to achieve.  Yes, I've had better shots at Espresso Vivace in Seattle and at Caffé Artigiano in Vancouver, to name but two.  But I've pulled some shots I'd consider "god shots" at home, too -- better than the shots I've had at some "famous" cafés/roasters.

I consider myself an above average coffee/espresso drinker/maker.  A pro?  Heck no!  Not by any means.  But clearly I'm more "into" it than the average individual who's still drinking Maxwell House, Yuban or Taster's Choice.  Yet I have no desire -- and never had, so far -- to roast my own coffee, to take those next steps and learn how to build/tweak my own blend, etc., etc.  I have no desire to get a Scace thermofilter temperature sensor, a portafilter pressure gauge kit, a precision gram scale, or a shot timer.  I have no desire to get a PID controller kit for my La Val.  And while the idea of a GS3 or a Synesso Cyncra or a Mistral is indeed a lovely thought, not only do budgetary factors come into play, but I seriously doubt the quality of my espresso would increase SO DRAMATICALLY to make it a worthwhile expense for my home.  And while I confess the thought of taking a barista "class" has indeed crossed my mind, the thought of becoming a barista is out of the question.  (Hell, Mark, let's face it:  for most of the people who pull shots for a living, becoming a barista is out of the question!)  And so?

And so the idea of reviewing coffees at a consistent temperature makes sense -- for the majority of readers . . . of both CoffeeGeek and Coffee Review.  Both sites are geared to people who are "serious" about coffee, but "serious" covers a wide range.  Yes, it includes -- for lack of a better term -- the fanatical, but it also includes people like me, and people who are far less "into" it than I.

(If we can look at people's equipment as a gauge, how many readers/participants of CoffeeGeek and/or Coffee Review have a) a Rancillo Silvia or Gaggia of some sort, or an equivalent*; b) have a "prosumer" HX machine of some sort, or a Vivaldi or Brewtus; or c) have a La Marzocco, of any type, or a multi-group machine at home?  Just a guess on my part, but I'd venture to guess that more people fall into "a" than "b," and more people fall into "b" than "c" . . . .)

I can't speak for Kenneth David, nor am I trying to.  But the idea of using "a La Marzocco semi-automatic Linea 1-group with PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) control of brewing temperature" makes sense to me.  So, too, does Ken's comment that it "Depends on whether the reviews are aimed at consumers, who (in almost all cases) can't alter brewing temperatures on their home machines, or food service customers of roasting companies, who can set temperatures to match their suppliers' blends. We aim our reviews at consumers, not retailers, so I have kept the brewing temperature on the Marzocco set at 200°F, which in my reading of the debate on temperature is a good compromise setting."

I understand (and agree with) your point, Mark, that certain coffees show their best at certain temperatures, and that temperature will not always be 200°F for every coffee.  Indeed, no single temperature fits all.  And that's true for espresso AND for brewed coffee, isn't it?  Yet the SCAA endorses the Technivorm . . . go figure!  (Does it lose the endorsement when the temperature isn't perfect for the coffee I'm using?)  ;^)

In an ideal world -- and I have no idea how much extra time, effort and expense this would entail -- Ken (and everyone else who reviews coffee) would pull shots at 200°F and again at whatever temperature the roaster specifies.  

(Ken does say he will "invite companies who submit espressos for review at Coffee Review to specify the temperature at which they would like to have their espressos reviewed. If they have no preference or do not respond, I will maintain my current default brewing temperature of 200°F."  The problem is, for those at home who cannot easily know the temperature at which their shots are pulled, well you know . . . )

The coffee/espresso industry is, in many ways, like the wine industry.  The goal in any evaluation is to achieve standard, repeatable results.  But we aren't talking about evaluating the horsepower of various engines in a static test.  We're talking about how the race car is driven by the driver, and sometimes cars with lower horsepower will actually beat cars with higher horsepower.  Sometimes a wine will shine; and othertimes it may not.  And sometimes this coffee reviewer will LOVE "x" coffee, and another reviewer may not . . .

Cheers,
Jason

  • Heck, how many have a Starbuck's "Barista"???
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GaryH
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GaryH
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 5:20pm
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

JasonBrandtLewis Said:

Mark, let me preface my comments here by saying I spent over 35 years tasting, studying and working in the wine trade -- working for wineries in both production and sales; working in both retail and restaurants; working for wholesalers and importers; and as a wine writer and professional wine judge.  You raise several valid points.  So, too, does Kenneth David in his reply to your original article.  And you both are way off base in places . . .

UC Davis developed a 20-point scale for wine evaluation, and everyone hated it.  There was no room for any sort of subjective opinion, no room for the "I like it" factor.  So everyone, from the 1950s to the early 1980s used a "modified" UC Davis 20-point system.  Until Robert Parker introduced the 100-point system, and the 20-point system died overnight!  

Jason

Posted October 7, 2007 link

Jason,

Using the 100 point wine evaluation system, how much variation is there in published values among various professional wine judges? Have you ever seen where one judge would give a certain wine 90+ points and another judge would give the same wine only 80 points? How much variation is there? What is an acceptable judging range?

Gary
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DonTMan
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 5:37pm
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

One thing I've noticed while following this thread is that while there is debate as to the practicality and ultimate usefulness of weighing temperature in the judgment process there seems to be pretty solid agreement that blends do have a 'preferred' brewing temp.

To me this fact alone is of the ultimate importance to the discussion at hand. While thinking about this I had a picture of a label on bags of espresso that listed ideal brewing temp.  Then I thought of a corollary. That of mileage stickers on cars or efficiency ratings on appliances.  This analogy works in that these stickers are not for everybody. They are for those who care about such things.

When this discussion began I had not yet PID'ed my machine so I all I knew was that sometimes I really caught my machine well in its cycle and I knew that temp played a role in the quality of my shots.  Now with my PID in place I have experienced the utter joy of dialing in the perfect brew temp and tasting a blend just erupt in flavor.

The point of this? At this point brew temp may not be a critical factor to the larger percentage of the coffee enjoying public but we would do a major disservice to them by ignoring its importance simply because they are unable to do something about it.  Think about the future.  By highlighting it as an important factor in quality espresso I can see a day where even standard machines have a nice little adjustable digital temp display.  A lot of people don't care about it because they don't realize they should.

I, for one, only care about the absolute rating of particular blends.  If Black Cat is an 88 at 200 degrees and a 92 at 204, I need to know about that 204 rating.  Catering to a common denominator is not good for the community at large.  Think about this.  Most people use pressurized portafilters on their machines at home.  There are probably some blends that benefit from this.  Heck, stale coffees probably do benefit from this relative to fresh.  We all agree that preground is simply not kosher but what if a blend does well to sit around for a day or five after grinding. Most people prepare espresso from pre-ground.  How low do we go to hit this common denominator.

I say that true coffee ratings can only be derived from the ultimate application of the four "M's" (I might be reiterating Mark's argument for including the barista here. Its been a while since I read his original article.)  If people at home are unable or unsuccessful at duplicating the rating barista's effort so be it, the important thing is that all ratings are derived from the best of all possible circumstances for each coffee.

 
Don Cummings
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Philosopher
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 5:46pm
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

JasonBrandtLewis Said:

The 100-point scoring system is something I have railed against for more than 20 years.  Mark?  Save your breath.  It's here to stay.  The reason is that the 100-point system resonates deeply with anyone who went to grammar school and got a "100" on their spelling test.  It does imply perfection, something that DOES NOT EXIST in the world of subjective, sensory evaluation

Posted October 7, 2007 link

Isn't it interesting that in the search for espresso 'perfection'  that coffee-geeks are now trying to mimic a flawed system that has resulted in the de-personification of a product that is meant to be enjoyed.  Perhaps we will have hordes of people descending on roasters, clutching their copy of 'The Coffee Advocate' and paying $200/kg for that rare species -  a 'Prince 97'.  

For an essay on the points systems and Parkerism see:

http://www.wineanorak.com/score.htm
http://www.wineanorak.com/myth.htm
http://www.wineanorak.com/rating.htm
http://www.liquidasset.com/tasting.html


JasonBrandtLewis Said:

And so the idea of reviewing coffees at a consistent temperature makes sense -- for the majority of readers . . . of both CoffeeGeek and Coffee Review.  Both sites are geared to people who are "serious" about coffee, but "serious" covers a wide range.  Yes, it includes -- for lack of a better term -- the fanatical, but it also includes people like me, and people who are far less "into" it than I.

Posted October 7, 2007 link

I agree, serious does not necessarily mean fanatical.  Call me a Luddite but good coffee is not the only thing I enjoy.  I think I can pour a competent espresso and am beginning to develop a reasonable palate but I have no delusions of grandeur about being a barista or roaster.  

I thought Coffeekid's motto was to get the masses interested in specialty coffee.  However, scoring systems like this are more likely to marginalise them.
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 9:54pm
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

GaryH Said:

Jason,

Using the 100 point wine evaluation system, how much variation is there in published values among various professional wine judges? Have you ever seen where one judge would give a certain wine 90+ points and another judge would give the same wine only 80 points? How much variation is there? What is an acceptable judging range?

Gary

Posted October 7, 2007 link

There is no way to answer that, Gary, in that there is no standard.  That said, let me give you two examples:

Example No. 1:

a)  EVERY YEAR, there are wines that will win a gold medal at a wine competition, but will win nothing else at any of the other wine competitions at which the wine has been entered.  Why is that?  What's the range there?  What did the panel of four judges see at that competition that the other panels failed to see in all the others?

b)  There are also wines that will win silver medals at five competitions but no golds, a couple of bronzes, and three "No Awards" (out of ten different fairs/competitions).  Which, I ask, is the better wine?  The wine that received one gold but no other medals? or the wine that received five silvers and two bronzes?

Example No. 2:

Take the reviews of Robert M. Parker, Jr., Stephen Tanzer, James Laube, Claude Kolm, Allan Meadows (aka "Burghound"), and anyone else you'd care to throw into the mix.  Several times over the course of a year, __________ will review a wine and "award" it x number of points.  Another writer may give it 5-10 points less.  A thrid writer may be within two points of the first one.  And a fourth may be five points higher.  

How does that work?

Simple.  Once you make sure the wine is not flawed (the sample in front of you is not suffering from excessive VA, EA, TCA, Brett, SO2, H2S, mercaptans, having undergone ML in the bottle, etc., etc., etc.) . . . once the OBJECTIVE evaluation is finished (does this wine actually taste like the grape variety [or blend] it's supposed to be? is it balanced?), then it's time for the SUBJECTIVE to come into play?

  • * * * *

Now . . . as I've asked Parker several times, if someone could explain the difference to be between what makes this a "92" and that a "93" . . . .

 
A morning without coffee is sleep . . .
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JasonBrandtLewis
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Sun Oct 7, 2007, 10:14pm
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

Philosopher Said:

Isn't it interesting that in the search for espresso 'perfection'  that coffee-geeks are now trying to mimic a flawed system that has resulted in the de-personification of a product that is meant to be enjoyed.  Perhaps we will have hordes of people descending on roasters, clutching their copy of 'The Coffee Advocate' and paying $200/kg for that rare species -  a 'Prince 97'.  

For an essay on the points systems and Parkerism . . . .

Posted October 7, 2007 link

It's not just the essays you point to.  I've often said that you can't have a 100-point scale, that it promotes the concept of "perfection" --and what happens when that perfect wine, or that perfect "god shot" is surpassed by another one?  104 points?

Take the concept of Michelin stars -- there can be more than one three-star restaurant . . . .  

In the wine world, Michael Broadbent popularized "five stars" -- and he held out a sixth star from something truly extraordinary.  Add to that the "no stars" and you have seven possibilities.  Connoiseurs' Guide to California Wine, before they added points to their publication, had a five-step rating:  one-, two-, or three-stars, no stars at all, or an upside-down wine glass.

I always used a similar scale to these two.  

IFC = In-F'ing-Credible
GSM = Good $#!+, Maynard (an homage to Dobie Gilis' best friend, Maynard G. Krebbs)
PGS = Pretty Good $#!+
DNS = Does Not Suck
DNPIM = Do NOT Put In Mouth

Then, I realized there was something lacking -- a score fora wine that should have been great, but the winemaker screwed it up:  STW = Shoot The Winemaker (think of this as over-roasting the beans to the point of charcoal).

 
A morning without coffee is sleep . . .
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Posted Mon Oct 8, 2007, 2:21am
Subject: Re: Some Random Thoughts re: Mark Prince's "Espresso Evaluation Process"
 

JasonBrandtLewis Said:

IFC = In-F'ing-Credible
GSM = Good $#!+, Maynard (an homage to Dobie Gilis' best friend, Maynard G. Krebbs)
PGS = Pretty Good $#!+
DNS = Does Not Suck
DNPIM = Do NOT Put In Mouth

Posted October 7, 2007 link

OMG. This is simply brilliant. If you don't mind, I would like to either just use this kind of rating, or something similar (I don't know if many here would know who Dobi Gilis or Maynard are), when I do very informal tasting (not cupping) reviews for future Coffee at the Moment Articles?

Re on your other posts, especially your first one Jason - absolutely invaluable insight and food for thought. I lost my day here (I bought a new Canon 40D, and well, I'm as much a photo geek as I am a coffeegeek) and didn't complete the photos for the Part three of this article. I'm working on that now as I check into this thread. I want to reply more, but I almost want to wait until I get the "results" article online for you and everyone to read (and perhaps comment on) before posting a reply.

The things you, Jason, even Derek (Philosopher, who I'm assuming isn't agreeing much with these articles) have written are very core, believe it or not, to my own thoughts on this entire subject for the past month... we're no where near yet towards a good, unified, or "great" way to evaluate, rank, and rate espresso. And if I've given any kind of impression that I think the way we've come up with is flawless, or the way everyone should do it from now on, I should learn to write better. This method we came up with is just the best we could come up with at the time, in our own little vacuum. It was really 5 people doing serious, at length discussion, and perhaps another five or ten people being on the periphery, in secondary discussions about what to do.

Even so, in the "results" article, I have a small section called "Mistakes we made, and how it could be better". Some of the things written here were written for that part weeks ago. Some I've added since, based on feedback in this thread.

Anyway, I don't think I'm getting the article online tonight. It's 2:20am, and I'm still not finished. But Monday's our Thanksgiving Day up here, and I hope to have it up tomorrow.

Mark
PS... I'm serious about using your ranking system, if you'll allow me. Perhaps you can even suggest variants specific to a) espresso, and b) coffee tastings.

 
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