What is your favorite thing about coffee? This is the type of question that I am asked on a regular basis.
One of the most intriguing things about coffee that I enjoy is the seemingly endless amount of flavor experiences. At one point in my career this manifested as “origin character”, or the specific flavor that comes from a particular country. Currently we as an industry have begun to understand that these origin characteristics are not always about the terroir, but also traditional varietals and processing methods that have huge impact on flavor and can be replicated to some degree in other countries.
I have long pursued an understanding of my palate even since I was a kid digging through the spice rack at home and aspiring to be a chef. Little did I know that curiosity would lead me to my newest venture, Roast Ratings.
Roast Ratings is a new website that Holly Bastin (my original trainer, friend, and WBC coach)
and myself have created to give a consumer-friendly approach to ranking coffees. Everyone
likes being able to gauge how “good” a product is in comparison to another, and we want to take that to a different place in the coffee industry. There are at least a few companies that score and review coffees on the internet, and our goal with this company is to give opinions on coffee from a unique perspective.
Dual Rating System
In creating a new and different rating system, we realized that something was missing from the standard way many people evaluate a coffee. We all know that a coffee tastes different in a cupping than it does in most brewing methods, and that is why we created a dual evaluation that looks about both cupping and brewed coffee.
Cupping is our standard in the coffee industry. It speaks to the technical quality of a coffee. The coffee being evaluated becomes an open book of integrity points as well as identifiable flavor notes. In addition, cupping speaks to the versatility of a coffee, and how it might taste with a metal filter or less common methods.
Brewing is pretty obvious. This is how most consumers (at least in the USA) tend to drink their coffee. The purpose for evaluating brewed coffee is to give an accurate picture of what it will actually taste like at home. Additionally, this evaluation shows how a coffee will change between the two methods. There are many coffees that taste better in one evaluation over the other, which would indicate less versatility or overall chance that the consumer will get a great experience.
Of course, one of our primary tasks is to score and rate a given coffee, which brought up another question. What type of scoring system should be used?
It was quickly apparent that all of the standard scoring systems (SCAA, CoE, etc) are primarily focused on green quality and standardized roasts. So we decided to make a new score system focused on the things that we value in coffee, and that we believe others will value as well. Our scoring takes aroma, tactile, and aftertaste into consideration, but we also address overall balance with acidity, sweetness, and bitterness scores. Lastly, we score an element called ‘drinkability’ which is similar to a cupper’s score, and is mostly concerned with “was it pleasant to drink” and “do I want more?”
We made this scoring system with all criteria being earned, thus making a full range of scores from 0 to 100. The full range was needed so we could accurately compare the darkest of the dark with the lightest of light roasts out there. This is clearly a departure from standard scoring methods, which automatically assume certain points on the scale.
The new scoring sheet is used for both the cupping and the brew, each being worth up to 50 points, and added together to create an aggregate score out of 100. The aggregate score is then translated into ‘Stars’ for the overall rating. The 5-Star rating system is easily understood and helps give a better understanding of the new system we have created.
The coffee industry has an incredible range of expectations for even the simplest terminology. For example if I tell you that I have a 90 point coffee for you to try, are you immediately impressed? Or has that term come to mean less to you lately? It is difficult for a roaster to hear that their coffee scored 85 points simply because they have an expectation of what 85 point coffee tastes like. Unfortunately, that perception is likely based on an 85 point green coffee rather than a true 100 point roasted coffee scale.
Take that same 85 point coffee on our full-range rating system, and you will realize that it is actually a ‘4 ½ Star’ coffee, which is pretty stinkin good! It isn’t a ‘5 Star’ coffee, which is the range for incredibly dynamic coffees.
Overall the Star ratings create a simple, yet very understandable image of where a specific coffee fits into the range of all coffees.
So… How is this useful?
Since our primary audience is everyday coffee drinkers, Roast Ratings needs to be immediately useful for them. The website is easy to navigate and full of information about the specific coffees that have been rated. The ‘Roast Finder’ is made for exploring specific flavor profiles and easily discovering new offerings from roasters around the country (or world). In addition, we have educational articles for learning about coffee and preparation as well as our ‘Mom Blog’ for fun posts and less serious topics.
So how exactly would submitting coffees benefit roasters? One of our goals in creating this company was to create value for everyone involved. Submitting a coffee for rating will give you a few major benefits:
First, an objective and unbiased review of your coffee. You will get feedback on how your coffee compares to others, as well as where it shines or potentially falls short. Not all coffees can be dynamic chart-toppers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be great in their own right!
Second, a way to market your coffee. By having a rating associated with your coffee you can promote it in new ways, adding sales numbers for that coffee as well as promoting your brand as a quality roasting company. In addition, we promote your coffees on social media and our website. We will give more promotion the higher your coffee rates. We actually really want people to buy great specialty coffee over store brands.
There is also another group of people who gain value from Roast Ratings: Baristas. Baristas can utilize our information for their own enrichment and customer service, or even to be able to give recommendations to their customers on where to search for their next great cup. We have had multiroaster cafes and baristas make purchasing decisions for their offerings based on high ratings as well.
We also recommend the use of our ratings as a sales tool. Finding quality wholesale options, or even giving deeper insight into the product you are already selling are all avenues to pursue. Moving forward we will be working on even more beneficial tools for the barista and café owners as well!
In the end our goal is to give something useful. We believe in the integrity points that specialty coffee embodies, and it is often very clear that even the more simple specialty coffees are superior to bulk brands and grocery store packages. In addition to submitted coffees from roasters, we go and purchase nationally-available brands (think grocery store shelves) with our own funds to add to the site. The point of this is not to talk trash or put these big brands down, but to give a perspective of where everything fits. When you taste the full range of coffees out there in the world you might be surprised how well our new system classifies coffee of all levels!