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Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
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MarkPrince
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Posted Mon Oct 8, 2007, 1:00am
Subject: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results
by Mark Prince

In the third (and last, for now) article in a series, we finally get down to brass tacks as it where, and put some of the best major market coffees out of Italy against some of the best that the US and Canada has to offer in this Battle Italy vs. North America Espresso shootout. It ain't over by a long shot.
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Philosopher
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 4:05am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Congratulations to the diligent and creative efforts of the American roasters.  It was also a commendable effort with  the organisation of the tasting.

In one sense, the result should not be too surprising when you are comparing fresh versus stale coffee.  I even feel a bit sorry for the Italians.   The test was always going to be biased towards North America (not necessarily because of the judges or participants).  Nevertheless, you wonder if North American tastes may differ from Italian ones - although I can't imagine "burnt rubber" being a desirable attribute.  

Perhaps the test should be done here in Australia - that way we get to test old beans from both sides of the world. ;-)  Alternatively, throw a new bag of Ecco into the bottom of my laundry basket for a month and then pull a shot. :-Q

Overall, the evaluation concept was good and I loved reading the descriptors.   Mr. Jones, "actually caused a bit of vomit action I had to suppress" was the funniest comment.   To be fair though you may need a more 'International' panel and at least controlling for roast date.

Too bad I don't have the opportunity to taste your offerings.  Must make a point of doing so when I visit my US relatives.
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bainesy
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 4:31am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Sorry Mark, I don't see how this can be billed as North America vs Italy, and "double blinded" when everyone knew which were the Italian blends and which were the NA ones (I accept that it was double blind *within* the categories).

Fair enough if you were simply trying to find the best/worst Italian blend, and the best/worst NA blend, but in setting the two regions against each other you failed to eliminate the possibility of conscious and unconscious bias.
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 6:34am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Fantastic article, thanks.

As a home user, a comparison with the Silvia would have been really helpful.  I know there's no way I can pull shots of any of these blends the way they are "supposed" to be pulled on my Silvia, Elektra or La Peppina.  

My current favorite is Metropolis Redline.  I'm really interested in trying it in a commercial setting someday.  I know that it will taste very different.  

For instance, the Toscano I make at home tastes very different from the Toscano I drink at murky coffee.  I had a nice shot of Kid-O this weekend at Sticky Fingers Bakery that may convince me to revisit Kid-O at home.  

I suppose my summary would be that a North America vs North America test with home machines would be really good to see.

 
Rich A
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mikep
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 9:13am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

bainesy Said:

Sorry Mark, I don't see how this can be billed as North America vs Italy, and "double blinded" when everyone knew which were the Italian blends and which were the NA ones (I accept that it was double blind *within* the categories).

Posted October 10, 2007 link

It would have been nice if it was the same barista for all the coffee as well, just to try to make everything as uniform as possible.


Thanks for this series of articles!  I can see a lot of work went into the testing, and it is great to try to discuss and debate these issues.
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CoffeeNTabak
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 9:59am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Hey Mark,

Thanks for posting the article.  As always, it was very descriptive of the proceedings and a nice balance between objective journalism and candid op-editorialism.  It's great to see the reviews and have them officially tasted by espresso gurus.  However, and you admit that refinement is needed in the cupping methodology, there are obvious holes in the process.  First of which is the fact, as has been mentioned by another poster already, that the N.A. and Italian blends were cupped on separate days.  Even though it was admitted that the Italian blends would have fared poorer in a truly blind cupping the fact remains that the study was not truly blind--maybe label-limited.  

After having read the article and seen the reviews the results have me truly wondering why there is such a disparity between the reviews offered by your cuppers and by Mr. Davids.  Why were blends found "bitter" and "burnt" by your cuppers found replete with delicate flavors by Ken?  Perhaps in future cuppings, after you've refined the methodology, it would be worthwhile to have Ken present as an evaluator.  With the years of experience of all participants, surely some sense may be made of previous disparities and learning would take place across the board.  

Again, though, the article was very interesting and illustrates a promising new methodology for the future.  Keep up the hard work on behalf of the good bean.

Best,

Jeff
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 10:25am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Excellent article. A thoroughly enjoyable, if not entirely surprising read.  It was noted earlier but I want to reiterate, it can hardly be called double-blind when the it was made abundantly clear which blends were Italian and which were N. American.  Small point though which I doubt had much effect on scores except possibly to cause more kindness to the stale coffees.

As far as the rating system itself. Very good.  I think it ideally gets at the heart of the four 'm's' and serves as the basis for a reliable and functional rating system.  One issue I see is a backlash from the blend producers to their "excellent" "must try" "superb" blend being rated an 79.  If you see what I mean.  In todays world where the 100 point system is universal no producer would want to put "Rated 79 by the WBC" on their bag because the general public would not be aware that this is actually one of the best.  Even though all of us CG'ers know that the rating of 72 on the Black Cat is excellent, I could not feel comfortable if I'm Intelligentsia putting "Rated 72" on my bag.  Especially since the public at large is bombarded every day by ratings well into the 90's.

I recall seeing a post on the very beefy thread on the last two articles which talked about a blend that got an 86 rating which it deserved because it was so terrible.  I'm afraid the public will share this view that anything below 90, heck below 93, is not worth trying.

 
Don Cummings
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 10:52am
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Mark,

Great report, great effort . . . pretty good methodology.  ;^)

You will never please everyone all the time, and there may or may not be some additional adjustments you may want to consider to the methodology.  No system is perfect, period.  The goal, IMHO, is to develop a system that is the least "imperect" as possible.  

A couple of random thoughts . . . .

I think Don Cummings is spot on when he writes:

DonTMan Said:

One issue I see is a backlash from the blend producers to their "excellent" "must try" "superb" blend being rated an 79.  If you see what I mean.  In todays world where the 100 point system is universal no producer would want to put "Rated 79 by the WBC" on their bag because the general public would not be aware that this is actually one of the best.  Even though all of us CG'ers know that the rating of 72 on the Black Cat is excellent, I could not feel comfortable if I'm Intelligentsia putting "Rated 72" on my bag.  Especially since the public at large is bombarded every day by ratings well into the 90's.

I recall seeing a post on the very beefy thread on the last two articles which talked about a blend that got an 86 rating which it deserved because it was so terrible.  I'm afraid the public will share this view that anything below 90, heck below 93, is not worth trying.

Posted October 10, 2007 link

Yet another reason to shift away from a numerical rating . . . .

So, too, does Jonathan Baines and Jeff Gracik make excellent points re:

bainesy Said:

Sorry Mark, I don't see how this can be billed as North America vs Italy, and "double blinded" when everyone knew which were the Italian blends and which were the NA ones (I accept that it was double blind *within* the categories).

Posted October 10, 2007 link

CoffeeNTabak Said:

. . . However, and you admit that refinement is needed in the cupping methodology, there are obvious holes in the process.  First of which is the fact, as has been mentioned by another poster already, that the N.A. and Italian blends were cupped on separate days.

Posted October 10, 2007 link

These are, however, relatively minor (though completely valid) criticisms in that -- at least as I see it -- this was almost more of a "trial run" for the methodology than a definitive review of the coffees themselves . . . (a review, yes; definitive, well -- ).

Again, Mark -- great job!

 
A morning without coffee is sleep . . .
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CGP4
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 12:24pm
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Ecco's Northern Italian Reserve has been my favorite for a while -- I'm happy to see it come out on top!  I'm surprised the barista score was as high as it is, though, as I've always though the blend a little sensitive to being in its sweet spot, temperature- and dose-wise.  I know the shots were pulled on a very stable Linea at the temp the barista considered ideal.  Does the barista score incorporate how it reacted and tasted outside of the final, dialed-in shots?  On a Silvia, for example, it's harder to coax the best out of the Ecco than that barista score would indicate (in my opinion, at least).
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Dom1183
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Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007, 1:00pm
Subject: Re: Battle North America vs. Italy - The Results by Mark Prince
 

Excellent work Mark and a great job done by the judges and baristas too.

Even though the results are not surprising, I still think it was an excellent read.

One thing I found to be very disturbing was how bad most of the Italian brands were. I knew they would be bad but never thought they would be that terrible.
I'm thinking that if they tasted that bad pulled off a commerial Linea, I can't even image how terrible they would be on my un-modified Silvia combined with my (nowhere near the Piccolo Bros.) barista skills.  

Tell me that's not a frightening thought? : )  

I also wonder if the Italian brands tested here are the equivalent to our Folgers, Nabob and Maxwell house brands. Where in Italy they are the gigantic coffee providers for the masses made with stale low quality beans and sold at an affordable price.
Surely one has to believe that Italy has some great roasters that are much more comparable to ours.
It's unfortunate that we would never be able to try them.
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