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Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
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CoffeeNTabak
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 1:03pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

I made this point in my private correspondence with Ken that I do agree most (maybe 80%) of consumers can't or won't "temperature surf" a machine, or adjust a pstat to get a desired grouphead temperature, or experiment enough to find a blends' sweet spot. But I also told him I'm not talking to that 80%. I'm talking to the 15% who want better espresso (and who don't know about temp surfing, but are willing to try), and the 5% of consumers who do know about these things.

Posted October 1, 2007 link

Mark,

I really appreciated your original article, and also Ken's rebuttal.  However, upon reading your last article and the above quoted text, it sounds as if, to a degree, you are talking past one another.  I understand the tweaking that you are speaking of, but doesn't Ken directly address this and submit that his tasting is not specifically targeting the aficionado?  While the critique that he uses a PIDed Linea instead of a consumer machine has some basis, it sounds as if he is using it to create shot consistency.  After having read his methodology and considering his target audience, I'm not certain that the your original critique stands.  You admit to evaluating coffee and espresso for one audience and Ken for another.  Is that fair to say?  

Best,

Jeff
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brentling
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 1:04pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

fookoonetwork Said:

But was she able to repeat it?  It is fine to have fantastic shots occasionally, but can it be done on a consistent basis?

Posted October 2, 2007 link

can fantastic shots be done consistently - I don't think so. the fantastic ones are the ones where the earth, sun and moon collide... these are the "best" I would also say that the "best" definition is slightly different for all people, and also the definition shifts. I think the comment on scores through the ages was on the mark. What I might have called great 10 years ago, in reality was probably only good compared to what I have now.  What I call great now, may be standard in a few years - who knows. Maybe I will start drinking water?

can great shots be made consistently - yes - thats the ones the good baristas keep doing...

so is she consistent - usually, is she improving - yes. the reality is you or I could also have pulled that fantastic shot as well, would it have been better - that is the question!

fookoonetwork Said:

And if so, has it been referenced against shots pulled by a world class barista who is on his/her game?

Posted October 2, 2007 link

Yes


:)
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MarkPrince
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 2:35pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

CoffeeNTabak Said:

Mark,

I really appreciated your original article, and also Ken's rebuttal.  However, upon reading your last article and the above quoted text, it sounds as if, to a degree, you are talking past one another.  I understand the tweaking that you are speaking of, but doesn't Ken directly address this and submit that his tasting is not specifically targeting the aficionado?  While the critique that he uses a PIDed Linea instead of a consumer machine has some basis, it sounds as if he is using it to create shot consistency.  After having read his methodology and considering his target audience, I'm not certain that the your original critique stands.  You admit to evaluating coffee and espresso for one audience and Ken for another.  Is that fair to say?

Posted October 2, 2007 link

I should give some history here first - what's online now is a complete re-write of my original 2 part article. In it, (and it was much longer), I initially picked apart more of Ken's described evaluation parameters, but at some point, the article just became another attack on Ken and not much else, so I ditched it.

The article I have up now contains a bit of that, but in going the slightly different direction I did, I left out a lot of directly targeted comments that addressed some of Ken's testing methodology, and even some of the questions you ask above, so I'll answer those here.

With all of these comments, my goal is to be as ultimately fair to each and every blend as possible. That meant making sure the espresso was produced as best as I could possibly manage, given the resources I had in town. It also meant allowing for some very precise variable adjustments. Here's some additional points:

Tweaking the temperatures, and who can do it
As I said to Ken privately, and over at coffeed, 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).

So working the blends until you find each individual blend's best shot pulling temperature is, imo, an important step in doing a professional espresso evaluation.

Who is Coffee Review's Audience
Of course, Ken knows his audience more than I or anyone else does, but if he's saying his audience isn't the "aficionado", well, I have a hard time digesting that.

Using a PIDed Machine for consistency
Ken wrote that he uses similar tools to what we used in our espresso evaluation - that being a PID controlled La Marzocco. The argument is consistency, but I'll argue that Ken isn't using that "consistency" to espresso's advantage... he's using the consistency in the cupping motif, making the consistent temperature rigid and non-changing, instead of using the tool's ability to not only consistently maintain a specific temperature, but also adjust that temperature.

Who our market is - our review, and Coffee Review's review
I'd argue they're the same market - primarily the upper 20% of espresso drinkers in the home (or at public cafes) who have experienced good coffee and want it.... and to a lesser extent, convincing the remaining 80% that there's something better out there.

Also, I want to raise something else. Here's my main two beefs with the Coffee Review evaluation

  1. Scores in the 90s, no matter what coffee they are, seem to be too generous these days; for coffee cupping, I can accept that there's more coffees in the 90s, but for an espresso blend - with all the intrinsic difficulties it takes to get that proverbial god-shot, you have to do a helluva lot more explaining than just your typical "cupping notes" to justify a 90, 92, or 93.

  2. There initially was no in depth discussion about how the coffee was prepared and presented.

The 2 part is now out there, mainly because Ken was called out. IMO, this is a good thing - discussion about espresso evaluation is already moving forward.

On point 1, I requote this, from the current article:

I asked Andrew Barnett (of Ecco Caffe) what the best shots of espresso he ever had were, and he rattled off a list of fond memories. At the top of his list was the shot pulled for him in the finals of the 2006 WBC, by Klaus Thompsen, the eventual winner. I asked Andrew, a seasoned and highly regarded coffee cupper in his own right, what score he would give that espresso shot. Very quickly, Andrew answered:

"I'd give it a 91 or 92 - it was just superlative."

One of the world's top cuppers, and a guy considered one of the top sensory judges in the WBC, gave the world's best barista a 91 or a 92 on their WBC-winning espresso shot. And that espresso shot scores lower than two of the months-old Italian blends on Coffee Review's August feature. It kinda puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

If a 90 (or 91 or 92) is reserved for the best of the best, then where should other blends be scoring when a competent (but not WBC winning) barista is pulling the shots. 70s? 80s? 60s? What if a blend got a 79.5 and was the highest scorer in a wide range of samples: would that be a disappointment, or acknowledged for what it is?

And one last thing I'd like to bring up. Jay Caragay, who I do consider a pretty good friend, has been going around the tubes, er, Internets of late basically saying this is all about protecting the sacred cow that is Black Cat.

that is simply not true and I suggest that Jay start reading the articles a bit more closely.

It's about very fundamental things in espresso: freshness of the beans; the skill of the barista being as important as any other factor in producing a great shot; using the proper tools; and, developing a good espresso evaluation regimen that doesn't just parrot how coffee is cupped.

Intelly's Black Cat scored okay, but some 7.5 points behind the winner in our own taste evaluation. It was never, for me at least, about protecting Black Cat. It was about protecting and defining where espresso has advanced to, today.

Mark

 
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SlayerEspresso
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 4:58pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Mark,

As a roaster & espresso freak for the past 16 years, I personally love the methodology you guys came up with for judging the espresso. I also love the idea of adding the 20 points from the barista! Anyone who spends a lot of time working with espresso blends would/should also appreciate how difficult this process can be. I also agree that the barista should be able to play with temperature/grind/does/distribution/tamp when pulling these shots - and therefore should be using the best equipment available.

The objective is to identify the BEST coffee blends and being able to give the full deets on how these shots were pulled is valuable to the target audience (as you said) which are those who pull, or desire to pull, the best shots possible - and hopefully in time, we can educate more and more people to move into this category. Whether one can replicate the exact taste of the espresso is it was tasted in the evaluation, under 'ideal' conditions, is not the point (imo). There are simply too many variables beyond the equipment & barista - there is also water, age that the exact same coffee that someone happens to be using at their house, cleanliness of the machine, etc, etc. So, to me - the point is to define a method of judging the coffee that is as objective as possible, allowing for the barista's subjective 'bonus' points & professional opinion. Then, let the chips fall where they may and let people know the results. Should they choose to accept the ranking of these coffee and buy them is up to them. Should they choose to learn and potentially modify how they brew espresso to replicate the results pulled by a professional...GREAT! Should the consumer learn that there is more to espresso, searching for hidden nuances...GREAT! Should they choose to upgrade their equipment in their quest, meaning that manufacturers now have a greater audience to build higher quality machines...GREAT. All around its great for our industry - from the roasters to love their coffee and strive to be better each day to the equipment manufacturers & farmers growing the quality beans needed for the blends and ultimately better for all consumers who love great espresso.

Keep up the work & can't wait to read the results.

Cheers

 
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CoffeeNTabak
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 6:31pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Mark.  

There were two things mentioned in your response to which I would like to offer thoughts.  The first is the alleged disparity between Ken's stated and actual audiences.  I suspect that you are dead on with this judgment.  Coffee Reviews is most likely a mystery to the vast majority of coffee drinkers, even if we are to focus on those consuming only specialty grade coffee.  Perhaps this is merely a misestimation by Ken of his audience, or maybe his reviews do not reach his target audience for myriad other reasons.  The question is whether Ken should be writing his reviews for his target audience, the general coffee drinking public, or to his actual audience (of course, this estimation of his "actual" audience is pure conjecture).

The second item I would like to address is the difference between the standard coffee methodology and your suggested method for espresso.  If we allow that manifold variables affect the quality of a shot of espresso and that these should therefore be incorporated into the review process so as to allow each blend to be at their best, should we not then consider how variations in temperature, dose,  steep time, etc. affect the quality in standard cups?  In the age of the Clover isn't it fair to say that brewed coffee should be treated with as much care as the espresso that is being reviewed?  My point is that of course coffee is subject to the variables  you identify.  Perhaps your suggestions should pioneer a new cupping methodology.  But if so, does this not call for change in the cupping of brewed coffee?  I know that your mission and that of this site is to raise the awareness of and appreciation for coffee as a culinary art.  However, I'm afraid that the complexity involved in searching for the window of perfection for each blend might simply be too much to reasonably ask from someone cupping as many coffees as Ken may be cupping.  Perhaps then your suggestion that he open his reviews for consumer reviews/responses may be a helpful balancing agent.  

What do you think?

Best,

Jeff
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MarkPrince
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Posted Tue Oct 2, 2007, 8:01pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

There's already some talk (grumbling? discontent) amongst some of the most cutting edge roasters and coffee evaluators that the cupping system is outdated, and needs some revisiting, including roasting the coffees to their most ideal level, not to "full city - stop".

I got a whale of an interesting email from Susie Spindler, and I wonder if I can convince her to post it here, or allow me to post it - it goes into depth about where cupping was, is, and perhaps where it should go as an evaluator tool.

Mark

 
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Dom1183
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Posted Wed Oct 3, 2007, 8:06am
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Elwood Said:

I just pulled a shot of lavazza oro(all this reading gave me a hunger for a espresso)
whit my Sylvia...........my rating = 9.4

I also pulled a shot of Illy last night(again with my Sylvia) and gave it a 9.4

I will be tasting a "choco blend" tonight at the house of one of my Barista Bro,
again with the Sylvia espresso machine,I don't no what rating he gave it which is cool
because we will be able to talk about the blend of the choco, its taste, etcetera etcetera.
It will be interesting to see his rating compared to mine,and if he or I like it or not.

I will also bring my Lavazza oro to see what kind of rating he will give it.
(The shots will be tamped with a pre set tamper of 30 lbs and 7 grams of coffee)

Posted October 1, 2007 link


Wow a 9.4 out of 10 for stale months old coffee?
What would you give a fresh roast from Terroir or Intelligentsia?
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Elwood
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Posted Wed Oct 3, 2007, 3:35pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

If my taste buds like's the shot I pulled with the espresso blend I have(being a months stale Terroir or Intelligentsia for that matter)Bottom line is am the one thats drinking the stuff.

If you dont like it then you dont like it.Also why are you assuming that the stuff I have is "Months Old" ?

The Lavazza Rossa I got was given to me by my friend that came down from Italy.
The Lavazza oro was also a gift from My Italian friend.

I rated the oro a 5.5 I dont like the stuff(the espresso Oro and Rossa was no older than 2 weeks old)

Now thats what My Sylvia gave me.........I dont really care if it's month old store bought espresso or fresh stuff,If it taste good to my pallet then thats good enough for me.

I will be tasting the choco next,I was just roasted 4 days ago,I will also be giving it My rating.
I dont have to like what others like just because......
One Man's junk is another Man's treasure.
I never did cave in to peer pressure.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Wed Oct 3, 2007, 5:48pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

Since Lavazza and most of the Italian brands don't put roasted-on dates on their bags, it's obvious that a) they don't want customers to know the roasted-on dates (or believe customers don't need to know these dates), and b) they have rather long term expectations for how coffee will "keep", what with coffee bought today having expiry dates as far as 1 or 2 years in the future. Both are bad things.

Regardless, the previous poster made what is generally a fair assumption to make - if one is talking about Lavazza, Pellini, Illy, Segefredo, or any of these other famous Italian brands, and they happen to be posting from N. America, then the coffee they are drinking is, 9 times out of 10, a months old product.

Please keep the discussion here civil, folks.

Mark

 
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Elwood
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Posted Wed Oct 3, 2007, 6:02pm
Subject: Re: Establishing an Espresso Evaluation Process by Mark Prince
 

So is it also safe to assume that a lavazza or any other fine italian brand could never get over 8.5 seing that 9 time out of 10 is a month Old?
Why then even rate them if we already no you wont like them because there old?
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