Archive for the ‘Industry Issues and News’ Category

  • The High Price of Coffee in Taiwan

  • June 13th, 2013
  • Yesterday, we noted that the average price of a 90+ point coffee from U.S. roasters in 2013 is $22.13 per pound.  Count your blessings if you’re a consumer in the United States.

    In 2013, we’ve reviewed 23 coffees rated 90+ from Taiwan.  The average score was nearly identical to the U.S. average: 92.0 vs. 92.1 for the U.S.  However, there was a dramatic price difference.  The average price per pound in Taiwan was $39.30 (converted at an exchange rate of 0f 29.9 TWD to $US).  That’s 75% more than in the United States.

    I’d be interested to hear from others what factors are driving the significant difference.  It does not appear to be a statistical anomaly, such as an over-weighting of expensive Geshas, luwaks, Konas, or JBM’s.  In fact, nearly half of the 90+ point coffees from Taiwan are blends.  In the U.S., almost all of the 90+ point coffees are single origin coffees.

  • Promising Sumatras

  • June 11th, 2013
  • Due to Kenneth David’s rugged travel schedule over the past several weeks, the June issue of Coffee Review, which features coffees from Sumatra, is behind schedule.  We expect to post the article and reviews within the week.  Sorry for the delay.

    Reports from the Coffee Review lab on the samples we’ve received are very positive.  We’ve received some truly exceptional Sumatras.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see one or more 94-point coffees come off the table.. Luscious and sweet traditional wet-hulled coffees.  Uniquely-sweet and rich.  Some naturally processed coffees and several fully washed.   Definite progress in Sumatra towards developing truly outstanding cup character.

  • The Complexity of Coffee: Aroma Profiling Isn’t Just for Wine

  • December 30th, 2011
  • Proper Aroma/Flavor profiling is all too often neglected in Coffee. Coffee Aromas/Flavors are essential to understanding and appreciating coffee. As in wine, coffee gets its aromas or flavors from the soil and the climatic environment in which the coffee plant grows. The coffee variety (genetic) and the method in which the green coffee was processed also contribute to the aromas/flavors. Like wine, coffee has many variables which can affect its quality. Coffee crops can be harmed by insects, freeze and poor storage conditions during harvest, which may lead to moldy and sour flavors. It can also be contaminated during its processing such as in the depulping and washing of the coffee cherries, and lastly, during the final storage conditions where once again several defects can develop on the beans. These problems are not exactly the same but similar to those which occur during wine production. Coffee has different varieties, as does wine, which get their characteristics from the soil (terroir).  The core aromatic profile of the end product (in the cup) is defined by these characteristics and by the roasters. The coffee blender creates the finishing touch by assembling different roasts. This is very similar to what consulting winemakers do during the wine blending process. We talk about taste, aromas, flavors, acidity and body in coffee as we do in wine. The main difference between coffee and wine, taste aside, is that coffee is not rated by vintage. Unlike certain wines, roasted coffee does not keep for years. The fresher the roast, the more aromatic the coffee beverage will be. Let it age and you will create unpleasant tastes and aromas; this is especially true for the volatile aromas. The consumer also has an important hand in the outcome of her/his coffee experience as does the wine consumer. In wine, serving temperature, wine glass shape and proper food pairing play an important role in properly enjoying a wine. In coffee this process is a little different. The important factors are the grinding, blending and brewing process. The grinding size and the water temperature play major roles in the proper extraction of coffee aromas/flavors, as well as the quantity and quality of water used to prepare a good cup of coffee.  Ultimately, the coffee drinker puts her/his final touch to the coffee beverage.

    In coffee, over 850 volatile aromatic compounds have been catalogued to date. That said, most aromatic descriptions have been simplified or regrouped in terms of flavors and taste. Common flavors found in coffee are fruity, floral, earthy, buttery, caramel, nutty, spicy, smoky, etc. The classification of taste includes acid, bitter, body (thin, watery to thick, heavy). This simplification helps coffee drinkers express their preferences in a basic way. If one wants to gain further knowledge of coffee tasting, then it is imperative to recognize key aromas and flavors in coffee. Especially if you wish to narrow down the country of origin, variety and profile. One would then be able to differentiate between a Robusta from South East Asia with one from Brazil. This is something we have been doing for years with wine and which has been available to every wine aficionados for more than 30 years through le nez du vin (Wine Aroma Kits). Using the same methodology, Jean Lenoir, creator of the famous Wine Aroma kits, created two le nez du café (or make scents of coffee) kits. The first kit is an introduction that includes the 6 most commonly found coffee aromas:
    (1) Garden peas, 2) Blackcurrant-like, 3) Butter, 4) Caramel, 5) Roasted peanuts, 6) Roasted coffee. The second, a more advanced and complete kit, contains the 36 most commonly found coffee aromas:
    01) Earth , 02) Potato , 03) Garden peas, 04) Cucumber 05) Straw , 06) Cedar, 07) Clove-like , 08) Pepper, 09) Coriander seeds, 10) Vanilla, 11) Tea-roses/Redcurrant jelly, 12) Coffee blossom, 13) Coffee pulp, 14) Blackcurrant-like, 15) Lemon, 16)Apricot, 17) Apple, 18)Butter, 19) Honeyed, 20) Leather, 21) Basmati Rice, 22) Toast, 23) Malt, 24) Maple Syrup, 25) Caramel, 26) Dark chocolate, 27) Roasted almonds, 28) Roasted peanuts, 29) Roasted hazelnuts, 30) Walnuts, 31) Cooked beef, 32) Smoke, 33) Pipe Tobacco, 34) Roasted coffee, 35) Medicinal, 36) Rubber.
    This unique and extensive collection of aromas will help you train your sense of smell and improve your enjoyment of coffee. The le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits provide a common vocabulary to describe coffee aromas, taste and flavors because coffee deserves the same attention as wine.

    It is no surprise that most coffee roasters and specialists from the world over use le nez du café to train their sense of smell and better understand the aromatics behind coffee.

    So if you are passionate about your coffee and would like to become a better taster, understand where aromas and flavors originate and how they are associated with the varieties, le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits are fundamental to the development of your coffee expertise.

  • Quality: Passion, Process or Both?

  • July 25th, 2011

  • The challenge: The highest quality coffee is produced by large, technically sophisticated companies which do a much better job at delivering fresh, consistent, good-value coffees than do most of today’s smaller specialty roasting companies.

    I find I need to parse this lengthy and loaded sentence in order to comment on it.

    Quality in coffee is a multifaceted thing, in large measure because of what I called “the broken chain of custody” in my book Coffee Basics. The grower, who puts in the lion’s share of the work, can do everything right, only to have the coffee ruined during shipment. The roaster then optimizes the coffee’s potential – or ruins it through over- or under-roasting, blending, incorrect packaging or grinding. Even if all of these steps are done optimally, is the coffee sold fresh, brewed at the right dosage, in good equipment with soft water heated to ideal temperature, and if so is it consumed immediately? The chances of a given coffee reaching its full potential do indeed remind me of salmon swimming upstream!

    Starting near the beginning of the seed-to-cup path, sourcing the best quality green coffee depends on having extensive training in cupping so as to be able to recognize it, and then having sufficient funds to secure it in a competitive marketplace. Small start-ups typically are long on passion but short on both expertise and cash, while large, publicly-traded corporations have plenty of both but usually use them in the service of supplying coffees of consistent mediocrity.

    Freshness is something that needs to be defined, and it’s one of the biggest areas where small and large roasters alike tend to cut corners. If excellence is the standard – and it should be – then only whole bean coffee at room temperature within 5-7 days of roast deserves to be called “fresh,” and certainly only such coffee deserves the designation “freshly-roasted.”

    To preserve freshness beyond this very short time frame requires a large investment in technology and packaging and rigorous, consistent use thereof. One needs not only oxygen-impermeable bags with one-way degassing valves but also vacuum-packaging machine costing in excess of $50,000 to get the oxygen content within the bag below 1% before sealing, as well as an oxygen headspace meter to test packaged coffee and other equipment. Whole bean coffee thus packaged can be indistinguishable from freshly-roasted (as defined above) coffee for 2-3 months, but many roasters cut corners, either by just buying pre-formed bags and sealing them without drawing a vacuum or back-flushing with inert gas (in which case the shelf life is the same as unprotected whole beans), or by packaging their coffee correctly and then shooting themselves in the foot (and screwing their customers) through ridiculous “best by” dates of 6 months, a year, or even longer. The first practice is pervasive among small, “boutique” roasters, the others endemic among the larger players.

    As for ground coffee, if you are Nestlé you have the ability to take coffee from roasting all the way to a pressurized Nespresso capsule in a sub-1% oxygen environment, preserving almost all the coffee’s aroma through precise grinding on a state-of-the-art water-cooled roller mill grinder that by itself costs more than many craft roaster’s entire roasting plants. If, on the other hand, you’re buying great coffee but grinding it for your wholesale accounts on a well-worn Grindmaster or Ditting, quality for you is basically a fantasy, not the process with clearly defined and monitored parameters that is the definition of quality in a manufacturing context.

    Overall I would say that clearly the peak experiences in coffee are offered by roasters who employ experienced buyers with good access to capital and established buying relationships and who either roast and deliver their coffee on a purely local basis or have invested in (and know how to use) the equipment essential to preserve freshness. As for consistent quality, that is clearly the province of medium-to-large sized companies who buy in large enough quantities, understand the art of blending and, last not least, have made the investment in personnel and roasting, packaging, grinding and quality control equipment to deliver coffees of consistent quality. The Scandinavian countries, Germany and Japan have many such companies, Illycaffè in Italy is rightly revered for its standards, and of course here in the U.S. there are numerous mid-sized roasters who also deliver very good (and occasionally great) coffees of a consistent standard at prices consumers are happy to pay every day.

    In conclusion, being small, groovy, microlot-oriented and employing staff with the right number of piercings (and selling high-priced coffees) doesn’t guarantee quality, anymore than being medium-to-large sized and driven more by bottom-line considerations than raw passion guarantees mediocrity. As with most else in coffee, it’s much more complicated than that.

    For another perspective on this challenge, click here to see how Kenneth Davids responds

  • Regardless of Size, Only the Passionate Rule

  • July 25th, 2011

  • The challenge: The highest quality coffee is produced by large, technically sophisticated companies which do a much better job at delivering fresh, consistent, good-value coffees than do most of today’s smaller specialty roasting companies.

    Neither size nor technical sophistication assures quality. Only the obsessive and unrelenting commitment of a company’s leadership assures a steady output of high-quality, distinctive coffees. Some companies, regardless of size, produce such exceptional coffees on a regular basis; others produce good coffees always and exceptional ones now and then; far too many produce little but mediocrity.

    The original model for specialty coffee came courtesy of Alfred Peet in 1966, which is roasting fine, distinctive coffee at the back of the store and walking it up to the front to sell it fresh out of the roaster. Today there are small companies that have successfully revived this model, in some cases successfully updating it by selling via the Internet. They buy small lots of very fine coffee, roast them skillfully using skillful hands-on artisan roasting, and ship them fresh. Some of these companies have produced coffees that without a doubt are among the most memorable coffee experiences of my life, and rank as genuine triumphs of almost transcendent artisanry stretching from small producer through boutique importer to boutique roaster. On the other hand, second-rate versions of the archetypal boutique roaster abound, companies that buy mediocre green coffees on the bad advice of an importer and roast ‘em ‘til they’re brown – or, more usually, black. These companies are on the wane or changing, as they are pushed by the latest generation of smaller coffee roasting companies that buy with more precision and roast with a more careful and lighter hand, but there still are many of them around.

    And even the good boutique roasters face the challenge of growth. At a certain point volume increases until the small-scale, roast-and-sell-them-fresh model doesn’t work anymore, and the company either has to start buying expensive packaging equipment to assure a longer shelf life (see Kevin Knox’s excellent companion blog to this one for details), or slow down and stay small, which I can imagine is almost as difficult a business proposition as getting big enough to afford a minimum of about 70K of new packaging and testing equipment.

    Or these companies may be tempted to take the easy way out to expansion, which is packaging coffee in valve bags without equipment to properly evacuate oxygen and instruments to monitor it, subsequently allowing it to sit on store shelves or in back rooms until it’s half stale. There is a whole segment of the specialty coffee industry, new and old, that appears to handle coffee this way. These same companies often apply similar carelessness to buying green coffees and roasting them. They produce some of the least impressive whole bean coffees in the country, but you can’t tell that from reading the bags, which may be full of staling coffee on the inside but display a lot of fluff on the outside about buying the finest coffee and roasting it in small batches.

    Maybe the consistently best coffee in the country is produced by a handful of companies that are large enough to afford top-end packaging lines and obsessive enough to actually take the time to source top quality, distinctive green coffees. These companies range in size from medium-small to very large. The road to excellence is easier for the smaller ones because their volumes are smaller and they can be more selective in their green buying, but what remains most important, regardless of size, is the commitment leaders make to the demanding, unrelenting attention required to put out well-sourced, well-roasted, well-packaged coffee.

    Then there are the big commercial companies that turn out canned roast-and-ground coffees. These coffees are a clear case of garbage in and garbage out. Unless it is a 100% Colombia, the coffees that fill the plastic roast-and-ground supermarket cans are objectively and unarguably bad. But the companies that produce them have amazing technical capacity – for example, they can turn Robusta coffees that literally taste like stinking, two-week-old compost into dull, tasteless brown water. That is a genuine technical achievement. I’m quite serious. It is difficult to pull off, but it lets people on a severe coffee budget get stimulated relatively cheaply and without gagging while giving investors a decent return on their money.

    Finally, a word on what are probably the most technically sophisticated coffee companies in the world, the big European espresso roasters. To my taste, the best among these espresso giants is Nespresso, with its intimidatingly good and distinctively different range of espresso capsules. On the other hand, for me Illy Caffè is a triumph of technical sophistication aimed at a regrettably limited goal: a consistently characterless espresso, as technically perfect but as limply elegant as a French academic painting from the 19th century.

    For another perspective on this challenge, click here to see how Kevin Knox responds

  • Travel Less and Cup More

  • July 11th, 2011
  • The Challenge: Coffee buyers for roasting companies should be doing much less travel and much more cupping, quality control and customer education.

    Kevin Knox writes:

    I’d put this another way. The most important tools for buying great coffee are a well-trained palate, a well-equipped cupping room, relationships with the best importers and – last not least – sufficient capital to afford to buy top coffees in season and keep them in inventory for extended periods.

    I think it’s great that people in the trade want to know where coffee comes from, but I do see many small roasting companies allocating large sums of money, relative to their size and volume of coffee bought and roasted, to extensive origin travel that is clearly in lieu of – or at least at the expense of – much-needed attention to things at home.

    Wanting to have, or claiming to have, a personal relationship with every farm you buy coffee from makes for great marketing but it isn’t good business, nor is it actually possible unless one limits one’s buying to a handful of farms in a couple of countries.

    More important, if the goal is having the best coffee from each origin, the way to get there is to cup samples extensively and intensively in season from as broad a cross-section of farms as one can access, rather than limiting purchases to farms you bought from in previous years. In other words, “relationship” coffee or multi-year exclusives and having the best coffee are antithetical ideals. A more open approach also delivers much better value, allowing one to reward new and unknown farms doing a great job rather than over-paying for “name” coffees from farms bent on using the roaster as a vehicle to build their own brand with consumers.

    Cupping, QC and customer education are the responsibilities of roaster-retailers, while producing high quality coffee at origin is the domain of farmers and agronomists. From the point of view of delivering coffee of high quality and value as well as that of being environmentally responsible and minimizing one’s carbon footprint, I would suggest that buyers for all but the largest companies would indeed be much better off spending much more time doing their jobs while letting their partners at origin do theirs.

    For another perspective on this challenge, click here to see how Kenneth Davids responds

  • Making Coffee Travel Relevant

  • July 11th, 2011
  • The Challenge: Coffee buyers for roasting companies should be doing much less travel and much more cupping, quality control and customer education.

    Kenneth Davids writes:

    I guess my reservation with the challenge statement is the repetition of the “much” word. If the thrust of the challenge statement is to argue that coffee buyers should focus first and foremost on the actual character of the coffee they buy and sell and less on travel stories glamorizing a quest for perfect coffees, etc. then I would agree. This critique applies as well to the traditional, older-fashioned marketing apparatus for fine single-origin coffees, wherein imagery of samba dancers and giraffes seemed to figure more prominently in promotional materials than attempts to describe the character of the coffees and what made them taste that way.

    One of the reasons I like the latest trend in promotion of high-end coffee is that it tends to focus on what made the coffee taste the way it does – botanical variety, growing elevation, processing method, etc. – rather than on tourist hype or giraffes. True, the affectionate accounts of growers and their families one runs across on websites and packages may come off as a little irrelevant to how the coffee tastes, but I’ll go with it in the spirit of fairness, because if the media can turn hysterical cooks and pretentious winemakers into heroes I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to do the same for our own friends and collaborators in producing countries. True too, the tendency to brand coffee farms or coops and for roasters to buy green coffee by these brands rather than by the actual character of the coffee offered for sale in a given crop year is a little distressing from the point of view of coffee quality and authenticity, but again, if executives in soft-drink company board rooms can try to brand their stuff I can’t see why coffee growers can’t make the same attempt.

    Although that does take us back to the argument made in the challenge statement, which is that coffee buyers should focus on the cup in front of them in this time and space and crop year and not on hype, safari glamour, or even on genuine friendship and how great the ron Zacapa was that night in Huehuetenango.

    But finally, I think a certain kind of serious coffee travel undertaken over the long run is probably essential for coffee buyers. This is the kind that happens during harvest, and is slow, thorough in its observation, and ultimately focused on a better understanding of the cup itself and the almost infinite number of variables, both natural and deliberate, that go into determining its character. It is not the kind of touring in which a group hits three farms or coops per day and its all “we pick only ripe cherries and they go in here and come out there and our coffee is the greatest in the world, and we treat our workers well, and now let’s have a great lunch up at the house.” It’s a process of observing what actually happens during processing and drying, and talking a lot with the people who actually make it happen, and then following up with systematically cupping the results. And if at all possible continuing to cup the results through subsequent years and the changes those years bring. To me, newer roasters should have such an education, and as the money and time come available should spend time witnessing all of the major variations on processing method and drying. In other words, rather than four trips to Central America it might be better to make one trip to witness wet-hulling in Sumatra and another to some large hi-tech farm in Brazil where they do three different processing methods and another to some farm or coop that does both traditional wet process and small-scale dry process; in Ethiopia, for example.

    We in the fine coffee industry need to make these investigations ourselves with an open mind, because the traditional lore of the traditional coffee industry is out-of-date and useless and the empirical work of the scientists is necessarily narrow in focus and, it would seem, oblivious to subtle sensory variation in coffee, which is precisely where we, as students and teachers of fine coffee, need to focus our attention.

    For another perspective on this challenge, click here to see how Kevin Knox responds

  • Inside Ratings and Coffee Review

  • December 20th, 2010
  • Readers occasionally call Coffee Review to task for rating coffees too high. (On the other hand, others ask why we’ve never rated a coffee higher than 97. That latter question I’ll save for another time and another blog.)

    But in response to those harboring the “too high” suspicion, the first thing I would point out is that in general we only publish reviews of coffees that exceed 87 or 88. That doesn’t mean we don’t rate many more coffees lower than 87, often considerably lower. We just don’t review these many lower-rated coffees. We only publish reviews of the good ones because we generally prefer to reward excellence, not punish failure. If we do identify weakness we try to do it in a more general context in the introductory articles to our reviews, rather than naming names in the reviews themselves. For example, we pointed out the overall deteriorating quality of many Hawaii and Caribbean coffees in our March 2010 article “Island Coffees: Hawaii and the Caribbean,” and gave some reasons for that trend. However, we stopped short of printing reviews of the disappointments that supported that generalization, focusing instead on reviews of those coffees and producers that bucked that trend.

    The other exceptions to the we-only-review-87-or-above approach are situations where consumers are limited in their choices. When we review mass-market coffees rather than specialty coffees, for example, we cover the whole range from dismal to pretty good, on the assumption that readers who buy these inexpensive coffees are limited to what they find on the supermarket shelf. Similarly, when we review single-serve pods or capsules that fit only one kind of machine we tend to review a range of whatever is available for that machine, regardless of rating.

    To sum up, for a typical review article we sample an average of about 25 to 40 coffees. These coffees have already gone through a selection process. They have been nominated by roasters (or in some cases by consumers) as outstanding coffees, so they presumably represent some of the best options for a given origin or category. Nevertheless, we typically find no more than about one-third of those 25 to 40 coffees worthy of review.

    Better, More Distinctive Coffees Mean Higher Ratings

    A second development to keep in mind is that the many of the best specialty coffees have gotten better – often much better – over the past two or three years. The leading edge of specialty coffee production, composed largely of smaller, younger coffee companies and a newer generation of more savvy, worldly coffee growers, has raised the bar for quality and distinction in specialty coffee. The historical dynamic of this change is too complex to go into here, but it starts with consumers who are willing to pay higher prices for small, one-time-only lots of exceptional coffees; roasting companies that are willing to spend time and money ferreting out the best small lots of exceptional coffees; coffee growers who understand this situation and are willing to meet or exceed the expectations of both demanding roasting companies and aficionados; and finally the growth of institutions that foster competitiveness in coffee, like the Cup of Excellence and the Barista Guild, and development institutions that fund improvements in coffee production at origin aimed at helping producers meet higher expectations and thus merit higher prices for their coffees.

    In other words, the high end of specialty coffee is simply producing better and more distinctive coffees than ever before, coffees that, when they hit their mark, deserve the recognition of high ratings.

    The Macro-Lot Challenge

    We at Coffee Review find ourselves concerned, however, that we may not be sufficiently honoring the middle range of specialty, those coffees from larger specialty roasters or more traditional smaller roasting companies that are sturdy, pleasing, reasonably distinctive, but perhaps only occasionally exceptional, yet offer a good value for their often modest price and are widely available. For coffees of this kind and price, a rating of 88 may be something to celebrate. We are trying to find more ways to focus on such coffees, along the lines of the “best wines under $15” approach to wine reviewing. For example, this year we are planning a review of single-origin coffees from larger lots of green coffees (at least one hundred 150-pound sacks), which we are calling “macro-lots” rather than the tiny, precious (and often high-priced) “micro-lots” that rightfully yet perhaps dauntingly tend to dominate the highest ratings at Coffee Review.

  • Coffee Tasting Sheets and the ‘Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle’

  • March 1st, 2010
  • Recently I was involved in a couple of tasting programs.  One was a roasters’ competition for espresso and another was research for a rural industries organization evaluating coffee cherry maturity on taste quality.  In both cases it was necessary to use tasting sheets.

    For the cherry maturity tasting, we used the Cup of Excellence® Tasting sheets devised by George Howell.  These sheets were a huge leap forward in comparison to the old SCAA cupping sheets which automatically gave the coffees 50% and evaluated only five characteristics.  George based this sheet on wine tasting sheets to try and introduce some more sophistication to coffee tasting.  There is no doubt he succeeded with this as the SCAA proceeded to modify its very basic form to its current form which is largely based on the COE one.

    For the World Barista Championships the tasting forms were originally based around the Italian Espresso Tasters wheel, which I had a hand in adapting for the judges of these competitions.

    The trouble with tasting sheets is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (HUP).  It was Tim Castle who pointed out to me in a rather philosophical conversation we were having some years ago about the best coffee tasting sheet being a blank sheet of paper.  Although at first it sounds unrealistic, there is actually a lot of sense in this statement.

    The reason for this is that in very laymen’s terms, HUP basically means that the very act of measuring something interferes and alters the very thing you are trying to measure and so it is impossible to be accurate. In other words by having prompts on a tasting sheet this will pre-dispose us to think about a coffee in a certain (biased) way.  If for instance acidity is not mentioned on a sheet then you can’t evaluate it.  The COE tasting sheets introduced sweetness for instance, whereas previously it wasn’t on the SCAA sheet. So suddenly sweetness becomes more important.  It could be body or any other characteristic that is affected in a similar way.

    For the research project I was responsible for placing a range of coffees from a particular terroir within an international benchmarking configuration: i.e. exactly how the coffees would fit in internationally in relation to all levels: NY Exchange, >70% Specialty Coffee Association >80% or Cup of Excellence >84% whether for drip, plunger or espresso.

    These simple bench-marks make it a bit easier for a context without bending your perception too much and most professional cuppers are somewhat familiar with them.  Keeping in mind that acidity still tends to be the most defining single characteristic for both Specialty and COE coffees.

    While tasting the roasters’ competition I came under fire for not filling out all the boxes.  I was aiming to be as consistent as possible but also trying to place the coffees in this international context with more of an emphasis on body rather than acidity. As a result I put a final score of where I believed the coffee sat in an international configuration.

    I always insist on no collusion between judges during scoring unlike some barista competitions where there is considerable discussion by judges about their scores behind closed doors. Consequently these barista judges tend to be very uniform and I might add timid, rather than expressive.  In COE competitions, new and inexperienced judges tend to be very conservative as they don’t want to stand out on their own in comparison to everyone else.  Having all the judges within a narrow range is not necessarily good judging.

    I would rather a judge is confident and expresses their view of a coffee, honestly openly and without inhibition as long as they are consistent.  If one judge consistently scores low and another consistently scores high it will not make the competition unfair as long as they are consistent.  But in the end I tend to agree with Mr Heisenberg: the less interference in the scoring process the better, so to speak anyway.