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Rating Coffee

The rating system I started with and still stick to today is a straight forward and super simple four-point scale:

4 – Organize your life around this coffee. Drop everything, re-schedule your appointments or plan a trip if necessary.

3 – Good coffee. A small detour will be well-rewarded.

2 – It’s coffee. It’s caffeinated. It’ll do.

1 - Danger, Will Robinson!

The only additional bit of complexity you should know about are pluses and minuses that I may (or may not) append to each number as needed.

Overall, I like my system quite a bit. It quickly signals to the reader whether a coffee or cafe is thumbs up (3 or 4) or thumbs down (1 or 2) and reflects a more nuanced system most of us are familiar with – a grade point average system (A/4, B/3, C/2, D/1). My system falls short of the complexity and nuance offered by the 100-point system used by those in the coffee industry. But then again, while that system may work well for a single cup of coffee, it can’t tell you much about an entire cafe.

That said, my rating system isn’t perfect for a cafe either. After all, what if the drip is good, but the espresso bad? What if the cafe offers a fantastic space, with only mediocre coffee? What about consumer choice and quality of service? My feeling is that these factors are where good old-fashioned words become important. As a qualitative researcher, I try to capture these elements in writing. If you’re in doubt, let me know in the comments. In the mean time, I’ll try to establish a more well-defined set of measures I tend to look for and how they factor into my overall decision.

11 comments to Rating Coffee

  • Excellent rating system! I love it. But…have you found that coffee that you can rate a 4? I have, and that is why I’ve opened a coffee shop to sell it.
    Thanks, and I love the site…Eric

  • Chris Farr

    Hi there,
    I stumbled onto your site and found it most helpful. I started working at a cafe here in NYC about a year ago and before I knew it I was manning the espresso machine. I have since developed a love for coffee. My family lives down in Ecuador and I recently went down to visit them. Many people don’t know this but Ecuador has some AMAZING coffee. I had a couple meetings with the owners of a relatively new company and brought back samples. My goal is to spread the word and get Ecuador on the coffee map as well. Any suggestions? Maybe I can send you a couple samples and you can give me some feedback.
    Thanks so much.
    Regards,
    Chris

  • A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted a study that reveals some serious critiques of the 100-point system used for wine, which is very similar to the system used professionally for coffee. While it wasn’t damning, it pointed to the fact that most judges displayed about 4 point margin of error in scores for the same wine. Not surprising, but certainly gives you pause when a few points often make or break a wine and can mean serious bragging rites for producers.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703683804574533840282653628.html

  • Dear MSC,
    I have been reading your blog for the last 2 years and really enjoyed it. I love the new format and your take on coffee.
    I like to share some of our coffees with you and see how we rate…
    Let me know where we can send you some samples.
    Sincerely,
    Fabrice

  • I just want to let you and your readers know that I have recently changed my business model. I now offer my coffee wholesale to the public starting at $7.49 per pound. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

    Thank You,
    Sam Brest
    King David Coffee Roasters
    http://www.kingdavidcoffee.com

  • Kberg

    Forgot to read this part of your site, however the what if the drip is good and espresso is bad should focus on whether training and techniques are being used, ,often both are bad, unless drip is simple, if a shop for example is well trained in cold brew but s baristas are not then who knows, for instance a restaurant or cafe or shop can serve inteligentsia or stumpdown coffee, sure a staff or two may know the filters and technique, while baristas are untrained, that a said chances are if a shop has bad espresso, you are not going to find great pour-overs. I do notice your ratings are a close call, between 3+,4- and 4, making me wonder if you visit on another day with a different barista whether those small differences matter.

  • Hello, thanks for your awesome article.

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  • Jefferson Coffee

    Pls check Savaya Coffee Market .They roast and buy directly from the farm

    http://www.savayacoffee.com

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