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Stump the Roaster: Berlin, 4th May


Join our European Cafe Imports team for a night of Stumping the Roaster! a focused conversation about roasting coffee, with an extroadinary panel of coffee professionals. 

The evenings events will talke place Thursday, May the 4th at 7pm at our European office facility:

58 Oranienstrasse, 10969 Berlin. 

Cafe Imports Europe's Stuart Ritson will emcee the event, with our panel of roasters including:

James Bailey, Workshop Coffee

Jeff Verellen, Caffenation

Mihaela Iordache, La Brulerie de Belleville

Philipp Reichel, Café Neun

Lynsey Harley, Modern Standard Coffee

Maren Ernst, Ernst Kaffeeröster

The Café Imports Legendary Coffee Tour: Spring 2017

We are pleased to be announcing our Spring 2017 "Legendary Coffee Tour", hitting a cupping table near you this May!

The Legendary Coffee Tour is a travelling coffee education event and celebration presented by our notorious team of Café Imports Sales Reps and Customer Service. In years past, Café Imports has hit the road with a number of similarly styled coffee events including but not limited to: The Legendary Cupping Tour, 2015 (a multi-city cupping/party event tour), The Legendary Coffee Producer Tour, 2016 (a multi-city, multi-coffee producer meet & greet/presentation/party) Stump the Roaster event series, 2016-2017 (a focused conversation about roasting coffee, with a panel of roasters).

The Legendary Coffee Tour was created in the likeness of these three aforementioned events, aiming to focus strengths from all three into one city at a time, Spring 2017 marks the first leg of the Legendary Coffee tour, with stops in Toronto, Miami, Tampa, Indianapolis, and Denver. The resultant success from this Spring circuit will set the tone for a tour we hope to be never-ending...a coffee series for which legends are made.

We are excited to be having two very special guests along for the Ride:

• The wizards at will be in attendence acting as a digi-literary "hype" team, documenting our travels and our collaborating coffee communities.

• Our Minneapolis neighbors at Mill City Roasters are also on board, buying a round of drinks or several for all attendees as the tour's official beverage sponsor. 

The details for each city are listed below, along with a facebook event page link for each location, if you care to R.S.V.P. ahead of time. We are excited to see your beautiful faces soon! #LegendaryCoffeeTour

May 10th, Toronto

An afternoon Coffee Cupping and early evening Stump the Roaster Q&A panel discussion

Boxcar Social Harbourfront

235 Queen's Quay West Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada

1:00-3:00pm Coffee Cupping, 4:00-6:30pm Stump the Roaster

Click here for the Legendary Coffee Tour: Toronto Facebook event page.

May 17th, Miami

An afternoon Coffee Cupping at All Day MIA followed by a new "Roaster Relay" event at Panther Coffee

Cupping at All Day MIA at 2:00-4:00pm

1035 N Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33136

"Roaster Relay" (new CI event) at Panther Coffee. 7:00pm - 10:00pm

5934 NW 2nd Ave Miami FL 33127

Click here for the Legendary Coffee Tour: Miami Facebook event page.

May 18th, Tampa

Stump the Roaster with Buddy Brew Coffee *Exact Location and Time To Be Determined, check back soon!! Facebook event to follow.* (Live Stump the Roaster panel to be announced leading up to event!)

May 25th, Indianapolis

Afternoon coffee cupping followed by an early evening Stump the Roaster live panel Q&A @ The Tube Factory.

The Tube Factory

1125 S. Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203

Coffee Cupping 2:00pm - 3:30pm 
Doors open for Stump the Roaster at 4:00pm
Stump the Roaster at 4:30-7:30pm (Live panel to be announced leading up to event!)

Click here for the Legendary Coffee Tour: Indianapolis Facebook event page.

June 2nd - Denver

Afternoon coffee cupping followed by an early evening Stump the Roaster live panel Q&A @ Huckleberry Coffee Roasters.4:30 Coffee Cupping

Huckleberry Roasters, warehouse location
2650 West 2nd Ave, Unit 14, Denver, CO 80219
4:30pm - Cupping

6:30pm - Stump the Roaster

Click here for the Legendary Coffee Tour: Denver Facebook event page.

Stay posted to our Social media for further tour deatails and updates!

Sample Roasting with the Stronghold S7 Pro - A Reflection by Ian Fretheim

In November of 2015, I made a trip to South Korea to visit a roaster manufacturer called Stronghold Technology. The four-drum sample roasters that we had been using were in need of an upgrade: Digital probing had verified significant variability between the barrels, and Cafe Imports was expanding its operations such that our remote offices were also in need of calibrated sample roasting. While my colleague in the sensory analysis department, Megan Person, had become an expert on our drum sample roaster, increases in sample volume at our HQ and the lighter staffing that we were using in the offices abroad both demanded that we adapt.

At that time, Stronghold was relatively new. Information about the company was difficult to find, and long-term reviews were nonexistent, but there were two things I knew: Stronghold built an automatic roaster with a batch size small enough for samples. Their original roaster, the S7, had a 850-gram capacity. I became interested in the S7 in part because Stronghold claimed that it could roast, save and replicate profiles with as little as 150 grams of coffee. That sounded a heck of a lot like an answer to my sample roasting situation. The larger batch size would also come in handy for cupping events, while the automation would allow salespeople to roast their own samples rather than relying on Megan and I.

I decided to make the trip and check them out for myself. The potential upside was so great that if the trip turned out to be a dud it would still have been justified.

I spent two days roasting on the S7 in Stronghold's office. I didn't produce exactly the roasts that I was looking for. My investigations into the S7's capabilities were too broad--can it do this, can it do that, what if I change this parameter, etc. I needed to feel good about the roaster's potential, and see as much of the S7's range of application as I could. Perfecting roasts was a task for a later date. Based on the range of roasts that I was able to accomplish, and seeing the S7's ability to replicate those roasts, I came home confident that I had found our machine.

Now it's 17 months later, and we've been using the S7 almost exclusively for our sample roasting for about a year. The ease of use, the quality and consistency of roast, the scalability and the ability to build and share profiles between roasters--all these things have made the S7 a truly remarkable tool for our sensory program.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Stronghold, and I look forward to many more years of it. They're going to be at SCA Expo, and I strongly encourage you to check out their booth--and the version of the S7 that they'll be releasing for sale here in the U.S.A. That's right. The S7 that I've been raving about is no more...

Stronghold is moving forward with a second-generation roaster called the S7 Pro. We've just received ours, and I can say that everything has been improved-even things we didn't know needed improving. From the user interface to the probing, from the PID controller to profile replication, even with practical things like chaff collection and clean out, I was gobsmacked unboxing and firing up the new machines. The only thing the S7 Pros don't do is make breakfast, which I've heard may be part of the first software update...

--Ian Fretheim

Café Imports Director of Sensory Analysis

Stronghold has also released a video testimonial with Ian commenting on his experience working with the S7. You can watch that at this link:

Origin Report: Costa Rica

Ever since we bought our first container of Costa Rican microlots in 2004, we have been nurturing and growing our relationships with producers there, only to see the projects, partnerships, and the coffees themselves blossom in ways we honestly just could not have imagined back then.

Our operation is extensive in Costa Rica. At our office and cupping lab in San José, farmers stop by to cup coffees, watch buyers cup their coffees, or just grab some GrainPro bags to take back to the mill. We're living there (well, one of our green buyers is, anyway) from December to May which allows us to constantly source coffees and to keep our doors open for our customers in a way that a two-week visit, or a simple agent on the ground, just does not allow.
Rain. That one word defined this year, but in ways that were not expected. Unlike the dry season previous, the rains came at precisely the right times for peak cherry development during the 2016/2017 growth cycle.

The rain was a boon to coffee growers, but it changed the tenor of the harvest season completely, creating a bit of drama as producers scrambled to pick, process, and pack their abundant crops in half the usual time. Normally this is a major problem, as farmers are not able to give the coffee the attention that it demands, but this year, the volume was also down, so that all came together for some coffees that are shaping up to be stellar.

Tropical storm Otto hit Costa Rica late this past November, bringing heavy rain and gusting winds that knocked many of the ripening cherries to the ground. At the beginning of the harvest period, when seasonal workers began to show up to begin picking coffee, the cherry still wasn't ready - many left in search of work elsewhere. As luck would have it, just as the workers left the coffee became ready to pick.

This particular situation affected one of our longtime partners: the Las Lajas micromill in Sabanilla de Alajuela. Suddenly, the coffee on their seven farms had ripened at the same time - which meant pickers had double work to do to keep up with the loads being harvested, and the patios and drying beds were soon filled with drying coffee, putting space at a premium.

Co-operatives and larger organizations were also feeling the crunch: The loss of cherry and the lack of labor resources put a strain on the harvest for the complicated networks of small producers who pool resources and often make several large sweeps through the fields for ripe cherry, rather than returning daily to each tree as they are able to do at smaller operations.

As a result, while we expect to see a significant drop in full-container volume from larger cooperatives this year, the micromills are a different story: quality appears to be up, and the volume should be just about the same as last year.


The theory is that a majority of cherries knocked from the branches by the storm were weak or of lesser quality to begin with. A natural "pruning" of these cherries by the rain and wind meant only the stronger cherries remained, which meant they also received the bulk of the nutrients, sunlight, and energy from the plant during maturation.

Costa Rica measures the harvest by using a cajuela, a metal box that is filled to the brim with cherry, then closed, and counted to give a tally of how many full cajuelas a producer has brought to the mill. The harvest is measured in volume, but the cajuelas are also weighed to compare one year's crop with the last. Last year the average weight of one cajuela was 11-12 kilograms. This year, cajuelas from the majority of our microlot partners are weighing 12-13.5 kilograms.


More sugars, and riper cherry, weigh more in each box. This is the direct result of a near-perfect growing season with unique weather conditions prior to the harvest.

We have begun to cup the first samples of this year from our partners like Las Lajas and the Aguilera Bros at our lab in San José, and we'll soon taste those samples in Minneapolis and our international offices as well. Most all of these microlot samples are cupping in at least one whole point higher than last year - and these are just the first samples of the year.

In short, we are seeing better quality in terms of both full-container and microlots and expect a significant decrease in the exportable volume of larger cooperative coffees this year. In terms of microlot processing, we expect the majority to be honey, followed by washed, and then naturals.

All of this goes to show not only the impact of climate variances and the unpredictability of weather in the coffee lands, but also that adaptability is key: Where our micromill partners are able to adjust their harvest season to capitalize on the quality cherry production, small farmers in co-operatives seemed better able to capture quality without also producing quantity. As the Earth warms and patterns change, we will see more of these types of season-by-season adaptations and the evolution of production in Costa Rica and beyond - but for right now, we can simply wait for the delicious coffees to start rolling in.

We are currently in the middle of finalizing our Microlot containers from Costa Rica. As they become available, our offering sheet will reflect these lots. We suggest, if you haven't done so already, email your rep with your needs including process, bag counts, and any specific farms or micromills. We will do our best to make sure everyone is accommodated and has some delicious Costa Rican coffee for this season!

Introducing Tolima to our Colombian "Regional Select" offerings

We are excited to be offering a new Colombian coffee region, recently arriving to our Regional Select program coffees for the very first time: Tolima. 

Tolima is the third largest coffee producing region of Colombia and accounts for 12% of the country's annual production. Located in west-central Colombia, this region is fully inscribed by the Andean mountains and the Magdalena river basin, making it rather remote and challenging to access. Until recently, much of the coffee growing area had been considered dangerous because of the Colombian FARC's presence. Today, Tolima has seen a drastic decline in FARC presence, allowing for increased accessibility to these nutty, tangy, fruity, and creamy-bodied coffees.

We have two lots currently available at our U.S. warehouse: 10066, and 10067 (click for beanologies)

Progress Report: Environment 2017--Remaining Carbon Neutral with Trees, Water, & People

"From 2005-2016, every bean of coffee that reached the Café Imports warehouse doors was carbon neutral/carbon offset by planting trees. This new effort (with Trees, Water & People) in 2017, a charitable effort by the ownership of Café Imports, guarantees again that all of our coffee is carbon neutral by the time it arrives at our warehouse"

--Andrew Miller, Café Imports Founder

Unfortunately, at a time where it is seemingly more topical than ever before, we find it is critical to analyze our business practices and the impact importing coffee has on the environment. Our goal each year, in accordance with our mission of Progress, is to analyze our carbon footprint and examine how we can keep our business practices carbon neutral.

By clicking on this link, or on the image below, you can view a report on our environmental progress--reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead for 2017. In this report, we have outlined the impact our business and behavior has on the environment, and how we are making progress to minimize our global impact. All information in the report can also be found at

Café Imports Progress Report: Environment 2017


A significant portion of our report highlights the analysis of our carbon footprint and what we are doing to offset that. In 2005, we worked with Trees for the Future, purchasing 80,000 trees to be planted in Central America. This project offset our carbon footprint through 2016. As the calendar turned over to 2017, we found ourselves "on the market" for another project to offset our carbon footprint moving forward. After careful consideration, we are extremely excited to announce our partnership with Trees, Water & People to fulfill our goal of remaining carbon neutral.  TWP has been planting trees, building cook stoves, and greatly increasing the quality of life for people in Central America since 1998. Their mission of improving lives while helping manage natural resources is something we feel aligns with our core values and business practices, and we are greatly looking forward to the experience of working with them. More information can be found about the Trees, Water & People in the aforementioned environmental progress report. 

It is important to note that we refer to this TWP project and all of our carbon offset projects as a necessary cost of doing ethical business: They are base-line investments from Café Imports and are not connected to or reflected in the premiums of our coffee offerings.

The environmental commitments we have integrated into our business practices are here to stay. We don't consider ourselves a 'green' business, but we are committed to make environmentally conscious decisions at every step of the coffee chain, wherever possible. We know there is plenty of room for improvement, but we take pride knowing there are efforts in place. If you have any suggestions, please e-mail and we will happily consider your input.

Natural > Hydro > Honey -- An Innovative Process by Elkin Guzman

We are proud to announce the very limited release of our first-ever Natural - Hydro - Honey - processed coffee.  
This offering is a product of innovation, experimentation, and the application of scientific understanding throughout every step of the process.
Elkin Guzman, a longtime partner and friend of Cafe Imports, continues to lead the way by taking risks, asking questions, and deepening his understanding of what it takes to produce an amazing coffee.

The Process:
1. Cherries are harvested in the morning @ 23-25° Brix.
2. Cherries are float-sorted to remove imperfect fruit.
3. Cherries are dried on raised beds as naturals for a period of 8 days.
4. Cherries are re-hydrated for a period of 18-24 hours.
5. Cherries are depulped mechanically, leaving their mucilage intact.
6. Coffee is then dried on raised beds as a honey for an average period of 25-30 days.

"PARTLY SUNNY PARTY" the 2017 Cafe Imports GSC Expo Party Announced

We are very excited to be throwing a party once again for all the beautiful people of the specialty-coffee community. Join us along with our co-sponsors Barista Magazine and Roast Magazine for a night of majesty, a.k.a. Friday night of the Global Specialty Coffee Expo.

Friday, April 21, 6-10pm at the Fremont Foundry, 154 N 35th St., Seattle 

It is our third Seattle "Partly Sunny Party," on the heels of last year's "Hotlanta: Cool Party" from Atlanta SCAA Expo 2016. To say the very least, this is not our first rodeo* (*party).

Complimentary food & drinks will be provided, as well as live music spinning by RADAMES

Facebook event here.

"Perfecting the Enemy of the Good" -- A New Cupping Score Card by Ian Fretheim

Cafe Imports Director of Sensory Analysis Ian Fretheim has been working on a new Cupping Score Card for some time now. After careful development and refinement, based on years of on-again/off-again brainstorming and months of application, Ian has arrived upon a new form that we are deeming the "Analytic Cupping Score Card" (Figure 1). Cafe Imports' Sensory Analysis department has been working with this new form for the past several months, in an effort to increase both the accuracy and the descriptiveness of our cupping program. Please enjoy the following essay, written by Ian himself, where he explores the new design and metaphysical hurdles to its development.

Figure 1 (Click here for a downloadable .pdf)


It is sometimes posited, even admonished, that we should not allow the Perfect to become the enemy of the Good. Less creative words were never said. Of course, early on the road from pragmatic compromise to tired platitude, this may yet be sound advice. Later, it is no more than Status defending Quo.

Or maybe the saying is true, and it is not the Perfect (head) but Perfection (heart) and Perfecting (hands) that we should look for in defense against the Good. In the knowing hands of experts, in the movements of the potter and the poet...we see that the Perfect is a far cry from Perfection. We see the ruse of the Perfect. Not the potter's ruse but Status's. The Perfect is nonexistent. And the status quoth neither heart nor skill of hand, but to claim the Perfect enemy that does not exist. Not so, Perfection. Not so, Perfecting.

Of course there are times when the Good needs an enemy. There are times when the Good needs an enemy Better than its friends. Without challenge, cross-breeze cold drought and deluge now and then, the Good loses pace, loses what makes it Robustly Good, defends weaknesses as pillars and afterthoughts as strengths. 

Plato may have planted these seeds. He saw the human as dealing in imperfect approximations of the Real thing. The Perfect. But who is the enemy of whom? Until perhaps Plato, had there been no war? And was this, the opening shot, let fly not from the Perfect attacking the Good, but from the Good keeping the Perfect at bay? Is the warning not to let the Perfect become the enemy of the Good a sort of rally cry for the oppressive Good?

With Plato we begin in a cave being taught to not let the Good be the enemy of the Perfect. In a cave, Good dancing distraction before us. Distraction from?...the Perfect. Plato, original Perfectionist. But what did Plato see? By his own theory, and by his own eyes: Approximation. Of the Perfect.

Though he never tasted but 88s, Plato always scaled to 100.

How did he know?

It is not the Good for which we need to worry, but Perfection. Plato lacked his teacher's knack for it. Lacked the Pliability to be wrong. To fall through the unknown and stick the landing. Or not. In Place of the unknown, Plato put the net of Perfect.

It may be that Plato once fell in love. Grecian air and all. One night they're walking the coast...and this is where Odysseus... as the sun sets over the Mediterranean expanse, he turns and says to his beloved, "You're really Good." Plato. For him, she can not be the Perfect (for the Perfect [non]exists above all existents), nor can he handle perfection, cannot suffer perfection upon perfection. "You're really good. 88. Maybe 89." What if the moon catches her eye? "Point five." Point five? Plato. Tell her/him s/he is perfection. But he cannot see it. So enamoured is he with the Perfect and its construction. Yes. Even for Plato there is no Perfect, only the Project. Perhaps the sweetest he can say is: "Dearest Danae, before you my understanding of the Perfect was less Perfect. But you've skewed the distribution and now I've added you to the accumulated data and the Perfect is more Perfect than I had imagined!"

Plato regrets his former youthful Proclamations of 87.5, so rash and lacking in Perspective. So absent knowledge and imagination of Danae. So 85 and a quarter. But there they are. Etched in the stone of some demon's cave, imperfect approximations of the Perfect for all to see. Every 100 must be dragged down by gross material connection with lowly 86s. None withstand judgement and all come out 91 - 92.

But what if we, for a moment, set aside Plato's approximation of the imperfect Good, which he called the Perfect? What if we take upon ourselves the task of Perfecting an enemy of the Good, rather than positing its ideal Perfect? An enemy of the Good set out not as the straw Perfect, but instead as the Better? Failing Perfection, might this enemy yet revitalize the dogged Good.

We have been working on a new cupping score card here at Cafe Imports for the last few months. The project began in earnest in November of 2016, but followed literally years of ongoing conversation and brainstorming. By early December we had a working model and by the end of the year we had refined it and begun training its use.

What is a score card? We can think of it as a questionnaire. As the administrator of a sensory test, I give my panelists score cards that I intend for them to use to tell me about their experiences. There is certain information that I want to know, in our case, about the coffees on a cupping table. I cannot follow each cupper around the table, asking (for inspiration) at each aspiration, "uh, so, how's the acidity?" "hmm, ok, how about now? Aftertaste?" "oh, hey, you getting jasmine in that?" "freshly cut? Or more tea-like?" Neither can I just set out the cups and tell everyone to have at it. The information received would scale between pictograms and this essay.

So the score card is a questionnaire. Great. Now we just have to decide what we want to ask. Oh, and how we want to ask it. Oh, and maybe what it is about what we want to ask, and how we can ask that.

Grab a bunch of cupping score cards and compare them. There are overlapping categories, and there are unique categories. In many cases they are arranged differently from one another, even where they are similar. What gives? Ever been to a Cup of Excellence competition? It's no mistake that their form leads with Clean and Sweet. At every CoE orientation to which I've ever been, the head cupper emphasizes Clean and Sweet. If you are unsure about a coffee, ask yourself, is it Clean and Sweet? By leading the scorecard with Clean and Sweet, Cup of Excellence is helping to orient their panelists to find the coffees that best fit their criteria.

So, the order in which the questions get asked matters. What else? Well, how about what we do and do not ask? For example, coffee has bitterness. Even very good coffees have some bitterness. But specialty forms don't ask about it. Why? Could be that because relative to lower-grade beans and Robustas, specialty Arabica stands out for its lack of bitterness. Could be that we'd rather spend our time assessing other, more positive attributes. Could be that we take it for given and that's a rap.

There's a problem, though, which is that bitterness is there. Lurking in every Aftertaste, every Overall, every Final Score. While we can use form structuring and question selection to focus the efforts of our panelists, we cannot very well get them to leave out integral aspects of their experience -- in particular when we are asking the very open questions of quality and perception through categories like Flavor and Aftertaste. Life finds a way and bitterness is going to get scored. As is lack of bitterness. Every time. Not providing space for bitterness is fine, but it also means that we have information that 1) is not getting reported and 2) is bleeding into other categories without clear specification.

Once we figure out all of our questions, we'll figure out the order in which to present them. We know that we want to explicitly include the most basic and unavoidable aspects of the tasting experience, lest they find their own way in. For coffee, this will be the tastes sweet, sour, and bitter. We've already got two, and so adding the third will be easy. Just need to make room.

What is this? For everything we add we need to take two away? Not quite. But we do need to limit the number of questions we're asking our panelists to consider. If you look beyond coffee, you'll see that in many cases we're trying to extract much more information from our sensory all at once than are other specialty industries. Ask too much and you'll dilute the answers. Don't give enough time to answer them, same result. It works in reverse, too. Ask too few questions or give too much time and you're likely to get over-cooked (extracted) responses.

What have we been asking about? Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, Sweetness and Cupper's Score. What have we been asking about these things? We've been asking what the quality is. What is the quality of the Flavor? Of the Acidity? Why? Perhaps for the same reason we don't ask about bitterness. We are a quality-based industry. What would be the alternative? Intensity. However, raw intensity does little to tell us whether something is any good. Tons of acidity, but it's all acetic? Enough said -- and back to quality.

What is quality? If we look to acidity we can enumerate types of acid -- citric, malic, etc.-- and then designate which of those are considered good and which are considered bad. We can call this Q1. But that's not the end of it. Maybe malic is a higher-rated type than citric, but maybe the citric acid in this Yirgacheffe offers a more pleasant experience, described as juicier, than the malic in this Huehuetenango. Let's call this Q2. And again, what if Yirg number 2 has a similarly juicy citric acid as Yirg number 1, but Yirg number 2's acid is somehow more concentrated, clear, or representative of citric acid in coffee? Q3. Q4 goes to preference, for while we might deny that preference enters the professional assessment, it's there. Then, of course, so long as we are talking about positive attributes, we do indeed bring in intensity. We'll call it I. Let's call all of these the Indices of Quality. There may be others, and these may not each be weighted equally, though it would be better if they were...

How do we come to a score for the acidity of a coffee? Simplistically, Q1 +/- Q2 +/- Q3 +/- Q4 +/- I. And again for flavor, aftertaste, body, sweetness, etc. And again for the next coffee and the next. Either this, or we just use personalized shortcuts to loosen the bandwidth required to rapidly make the Quality calculation over and over. Intensity looks pretty good again, what with the Indices of Intensity being... intensity.

While quality needs significant simplification and specification, intensity needs precise elaboration and qualification.

Maybe there's another way to bring in quality? Something less complex and ambiguous? Something that can allow it to elaborate and qualify intensity? Can we build a new score card?

Let's go back to what we said about what we're asking about. What do we want to know? What are we looking for? With these questions for lenses, let's look at our old categories: Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, Sweetness, and Cupper's Score. We use seven categories scored 0 - 10 and give a 30-point handicap to all coffees, adding up to 100 (if it's Perfect). Limiting ourselves to seven categories is extremely functional, and the 30-point math is comfortable so we'll try to stay with that.

We'll definitely keep Acidity and Sweetness, to which we'll add Bitterness. This means we've got 5 categories and only 4 spots remaining: Aroma, Flavor, Aftertaste, Body, and Cupper's Score. Let's keep Body as it is less vague than the others, is a variable attribute in coffees and lends itself readily to scaling. This essay has gotten long so I'll cut some chase. Aroma and Cupper's Score are both out. Cupper's Score doesn't tell me anything. It may as well be Stubborn Score when it doesn't match the attributes and Meh Score when it does. Aroma is important. I always smell the grounds before I make coffee at home. Everyone always smells the grounds when they cup. But what happens when a coffee smells really nice and then cups poorly? It doesn't get bought. When it doesn't smell like much but it cups out well? It gets bought. Panelists often say things like: "I marked this an 85, but my aroma score is pulling it up/down."

Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness, Body: in. Aroma and Cupper's Score: out. We're left with three open spots, and only Flavor and Aftertaste to fill them. Scratch that. Aftertaste is out. People frequently use it to just amplify their Flavor score, it's qualitatively vague, correlates with other attributes, and now that we're assessing Bitterness, Aftertaste can probably be dropped.

What about Flavor and our final three spots? Flavor is dubious. Most coffee tasters are highly flavor-centric, and yet flavor is an exceptionally vague category. Are we asking people to draw on the entirety of their food- and beverage-consuming lives? Seriously? And we're asking coffee people to do this?! It's no wonder cupping notes at times read like the heavily curated menus of the bourgiest working-class-themed restaurants in your city. If the fennel isn't roasted on Jim's cherry wood in a shale-composite outdoor oven, is it even an upper Midwestern farm-style pizza pie? This is the kind of stuff that makes coffee interesting--to talk about. It's not the stuff that makes coffee quality.

"Flavor?" is a vague question. Try it sometime. "Hey, you! Flavor?" "Uh, what?" "Quality!" Of course, all the complexity discussed above applies. If we're not interested in fennel, what are we interested in? What are we looking for? With some qualification, we're looking for coffees that are Fruity, Floral, and Caramely.

Importantly, the most differentiated and specific flavor experiences come from a cupping roast and a cupping preparation. The cupping process certainly highlights defects, but it can also highlight the most exceptionally nuanced, subtle and volatile qualities of a coffee. In other words, much of the ambrosia of these apples is Edenic -- whereas the soft, sweet, malic description is not.

Of all the madeleine moments that coffee can conjure, the coffees that we're consistently interested in buying boil right down to Fruity, Floral, and Caramely. That roasted-fennel dreamscape that I described earlier? Maybe a bit floral, not too fruity, and, by the sounds of it, fairly caramely. We need more info, but what was it, some sort of Pacamara?

Where do we stand now? Fruity, Floral, Caramely, Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness and Body. Flavors (sought after), Tastes, and Tactility. OK. Now we just need to figure out how to scale them. If you've noticed, we've already qualified Flavor to some extent. We've divided it into positive flavor groups. We could get into some trouble with ferment, but we can deal with that later. What if these categories were scaled graphically from Absent to Intense? What if Intense Fruitiness were a 10 (instead of Perfect coffee flavor)? Granting that the world didn't end then and there with the panelist's closing of the 0, I would know that this coffee was very fruity. What if Absent Fruitiness were a 6?

We've haven't gotten too much into score compression, but let me just drop from my pocket that most coffee scorers, like Plato, believe in the Perfect 100, and the crushing insult of <80. We fear with the fear of the ancient mysteries to trespass anywhere near the former or much beyond sight of the latter. It's called compression, and I am an acolyte-hypocrite in never having scored anything 100 points. How then can I know that an 88 has 12 points to go? If we posit a Perfect 100-point coffee (though ever unknown, for knowledge can only taint the Perfect), by necessity standing behind every Real experience, then our 91s and our 92s will be 8 and 9 points fear, 4 and 5 points hope, and terribly uncomfortable all squished together near the ceiling of our imagination.

Back to it. What if Fructus Absentia were a 6? Simple. I would not expect a fruity coffee. Works the same with the other flavors. How about the tastes? What about that bad acid? Let's try it. Let's scale acidity from Lacking at 6 to Intense at 10 (Mild, Moderate, and Strong making up the middle). Aromatic acid? Minus 2. We can use a checkbox. Intense gets a 10, minus 2 gives an 8. Seems a bit much except that the questions are "What is the intensity?" and "Is there acetic acid?" High and low are not the only concerns when we're talking about scaling. It is also important for the numbers we use to tell us specific information about the category that we're assessing. Imagine a spider diagram in which acidity is drawn out to ten, but the region beyond eight is shaded with a contrasting color. This conveys more information about the tasting experience than a diagram that only extends to seven or eight, wherein the acidity score has been pre-discounted as lower quality. For those worried over the final maths, we've found that acetic coffees tend in the end to be less sweet and more bitter than those without acetic acid.

CQAs? We can use another checkbox. Sweetness is easy. More is more. But bitterness? Graphically we can scale the same: Lacking through Intense. Numerically, we simply invert, such that Lacking is a 10, and Intense is a 6.

This leaves us with Body. Thin - Normal - Thick. 6 - 8 - 10. Rough? Minus 2. Astringent? Minus 4. Are thick coffees objectively better than thin ones? No, but they are thicker. If an EP Excelso gets a 10 on body compared to some spindly Gesha with a 6, then that's great because now I have some information. The Gesha can score very well elsewhere and the Excelso can be Thick. It's OK; you don't have to marry it.

Accounting for defects and further qualitative refinements can be done surprisingly well with set value checkboxes, as you'll see below.

The example of our score card in figure 1, is a working draft. It has shortcomings. It raises questions. Can we include a slider for panelists to note roast level? What are the specific thresholds and definitions for each category? When should I mark "Variable?" or "Muddled?" What is "Tropical Fruit?" Are CQAs always astringent, and if so should they discount twice? Can coffees "plus-one" more than once in a single category (e.g. Tropical and Stone Fruit)? What happens when we no longer love "Tropical Fruit?" If a cupper scores a coffee higher than 100 points, does their spoon get revoked?

This isn't the final word in score cards. For me, it's just the second or third word. Remember: We're Perfecting an enemy of the Good. Should we find success such that our score card is one day itself Good, another enemy will be needed.

-- Ian Fretheim, Cafe Imports Director of Sensory Analysis


Stump the Roaster: Melbourne, Thursday 30 March 7-10pm

YOU are invited to an in-depth conversation about roasting at Cafe Imports Australia, Thursday 30 March, 7-10pm. 

Free beer and food will be provided to foster top-notch focus during the evening's sage-level stage banter!

Our panel of guests include:

Fay Kamanis of Padre Coffee
Aaron Wood of Wood & Co Coffee Roasters
Pat Connolly of Veneziano Coffee
Damien Steponavicius of Five Sense Coffee
Dan May of Mecca Coffee

With the entire evening emceed by Cafe Imports S.V.P of Sales Noah Namowicz

R.S.V.P. by visiting our event facebook page! or by emailing