Rating the Coffee Raters
As gourmet coffee has become more popular, consumers are looking for better and different coffees to drink. While the best way to find a new coffee is buying and tasting new offerings, you have to drink a lot of frog coffees to find a true prince. Just like for beer and wine, reviews are a guide for coffee drinkers to coffees that they may like.
All food and beverage taste ratings are subjective. Ratings by different persons are often wildly incongruous. It is not unusual to have a taste test, in which, raters are at opposite ends of the scale. Furthermore, even expert tasters do not expect to taste the exact same beverage a second time and give it the same rating it got the first time. For example, Robert Parker says that he has a variance of plus or minus three points in rating the same wine from the same bottle a second time. http://goo.gl/LNFzHG The result is that a wine rated at a 90 the first time may be rated by Parker anywhere between an 87 and a 93 the second time. It isn’t any different for expert coffee cuppers. In spite of that, ratings are the best way for coffee consumers to locate new and outstanding coffees.
There are a large number of coffee rating websites on the internet. They can be broken down into three groups. Gourmet rating sites which seek out and report on high end coffees. Average consumer sites which focus on cost and mass availability. Scam sites which are created to give high scores to coffee company advertisers. Coffee consumers that are looking for high end coffee need to ferret out the gourmet sites and ignore the consumer and scam sites.
Coffee Review (http://www.coffeereview.com/)
The Mother of All Coffee Raters. Founded in 1997 by Ken David, the author of three books on coffee,and Ron Walters. In 2015 over one million coffee lovers visited Coffee Review. Reviews are done by Ken and two of his associates. Periodically they invite in other professionals to assist with the reviews. All of the reviews are based on blind tasting, so that the reviewer is not influenced by the variety or the brand.
Coffee Review says that it uses a 100 point scale to rate coffees. The reality is they won’t report on any coffee with less than an 80 point rating and the highest score it has ever given any coffee is 97 points. Coffee Review says this about their ratings:
“85/86 = An acceptable coffee, but nothing exceptional — the best high-end supermarket whole bean, for example
87-88 = An interesting coffee but either 1) distinctive yet mildly flawed, or 2) solid but not exciting
89-90 = A very good coffee, drinkable, with considerable distinction and interest
91-92 = An exceptional, solid coffee with some excitement and distinction in aroma and flavor – or a super-exceptional coffee that still perhaps has some issue that some consumers may object to but others will love – a big, slightly imbalanced acidity, for example, or an overly lush fruit
93-94 = Exceptional originality, beauty, individuality and distinction, with no negative issues whatsoever
95-96 = Perfect in structure, flawless, and shockingly distinctive and beautiful
97+ = Means: “We have not tasted a coffee of this style as splendid as this one for a long, long time”
Roast Ratings (http://www.roastratings.com/)
Founded in 2015 by International Barista Champion, Pete Licata and his wife Holly. All of their ratings are done with blind tasting.
Roast Ratings uses a star system to rate their coffees, they say this about the rating scale.
“5 Stars – A dynamic experience
4.5 Stars – Articulate flavor
4 Stars – Notable qualities
3.5 Stars – Good quality
3 Stars – Some flaws, but drinkable
2.5 Stars – Average
2 Stars – Some redeeming quality present
1.5 Stars – Difficult to drink
1 Star – Overly harsh
0 Stars – Completely undrinkable”
Roast Ratings also provides a numerical score on a 100 point scale for the coffees it reviews. However, there is an apparent anomaly between its star ratings and its numerical ratings. For example, a recent review was an Ethiopia Gedeb Chelbessa received 5 stars and 93.5 points. (Shouldn’t 5 stars = 100 points?) In another rating a Kau Dark Roast was given 4 stars and 79 points. A consumer looking at the stars would understand that this is a coffee with “notable qualities,” but looking at the 79 should conclude that this is a below specialty grade coffee. ( Caveat: It may be that I don’t understand their numerical rating system but if I don’t other people don’t either.)
One excellent feature of Roast Ratings is that it gives reviews based on different methods of brewing. So a coffee may be rated highly for pour-over brewing but higher or lower for French press brewing.
The Search for the Perfect Cup (http://tsftpc.com/)
Founded by Brian Spears a self-described coffee lover and world traveler. TSFPC does not use a scoring system. The coffees are not blind tasted. Instead Brian brews samples using different methods and then reports on the flavors.
If he likes the coffee he can be effusive, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t pull any punches. For example, one of his reviews states: “This is a weak body coffee that is tea like and has no depth or character.” While some readers may be put off, the straight talk is better than trying to read between the lines of a reviewer that is being diplomatic.
Coffee Detective (http://www.coffeedetective.com/)
Founded around 2005 by Nick Usborne. The site promises to provide reviews of coffee using common sense and plain English. The site does not use a grading system and does not blind taste. Usborne evaluates all of the coffees after brewing in an automatic drip coffee maker.
Usborne reviews coffees that are sent to him by roasters. Sometimes he buys coffee to review. If he was given the coffee, he adds the following to his review: “This product was sent to us free in return for a review. (That said, we always reserve the right NOT to review a free product if we don’t like it, or feel you wouldn’t like it.)”
Each of these gourmet coffee rating websites has its own character and taste preferences. Try them all and decide which one best matches your taste profile.