On Coffee Scores

There seems to be some sort of background discussion on coffee scores happening this week, with Mark Prince weighing in, as well as a few other bloggers and reviewers. Some are saying "simplify the system," others are saying "be more critical." I thought I'd just add my thoughts to the conversation.


I don't care if you use the SCAA score sheet, a Q Grader rubric, or your own invented system, just be transparent about it. Let us know what goes into your scores and why, to give them context and meaning. But here's the deal - make your metric actually mean something.

Mark Prince suggested that he'd only ever scored coffees about a 95 a few times, which sounds to me like a broken metric. If 100 is unattainable, why use it at all? Hell, if 96 is unattainable, then your system is basically just 0-95. It's understandable that a coffee would have to be pretty damn terrible to score a 0, but shouldn't there be a 100 coffee out there? How can you judge something as almost 100 if you truly believe there's nothing better? Basically, I see no reason for a score to be present on a system if it can not be used. Perfection may not be possible, but that means you should redefine your ceiling criteria. A 100 should not represent the be-all-end-all of coffee for all time, but rather the best in class at its time. Provide scope, whether temporal or restricted by region (the American scale, or the Colombian Coffee scale). Or, possibly, make your scale a bell curve - stick 100 right smack in the middle, like the IQ distribution. The median IQ is always 100, because the scale is always adjusted, allowing for mass increase or decrease in intelligence of the population. That sort of metric would allow for mass increase or decrease of overall coffee quality, no?

Descriptions and Reasons

Everybody's palate is different, and heavily influenced by culture, sensory aptitude, and personal subjectivity. You don't have to be truly objective in reviewing coffee, I think, as you are no King Review - there are other options. Your reviews should represent your tastes, so they resonate with your audience better. But don't just say "Hey I liked that one, yum." Provide some reasoning, like "I really enjoyed the acidity, because it made the juicy cherry flavors pop." Providing flavor and palate descriptors means people know just what to expect, but I'd even suggest going further. If you're assigning a score at all, break it down for your readers. Tell them what points were lost where, and what that means to you. Sweet Marias even has the "Cupper's Correction" score added in to say "I'm fluffing the score a bit because it all turned out well in the end," or "Maybe I was a bit harsh on the details, and this isn't exactly an 85-point coffee." Make known your reasoning for your decisions, and people will understand that the number is hardly arbitrary.

And that's basically it. Scores, numbers, whatever are useful, but they need some sort of context to help the reader out. Numbers in a vacuum are about as helpful as saying this blog post is a 10. 

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