March 14, 2024 5 min read

Brewing Guide Part 1: Intro to Quality & the journey to the 100 Point Coffee 

Over the course of the next few months we will endeavor to discuss the age old and nearly religious debate of brewing coffee and how best to do it. This seems like it should be a simple and straight forward topic; two scoops add some water and voila you're done. No, to my and many others dismay this is not even close. After fifteen years of working with and educating customers, roasters and baristas alike I have come to understand that is far, far from the case. 

This topic is contentious at best, heated and riddled with subjective authority where everyone is a self proclaimed expert. And, to some extent that is true. Everyone of us is our own coffee expert, whom knows exactly how we like the flavor to be and what we value most in the sensory experience. This is one thing that makes coffee beautiful - we all derive our own unique positives and negatives from each coffee. This however does make it hard when trying to convey the "best" how-to approach for anything - particularly brewing coffee. So, to be able to uniformly communicate a language of aromatics, flavors, and textures we must have some standard or basis from which each of us can heave ourselves off into the great sensory unknown.

We all are familiar with the point ranking system - where something (most often wine) is scored on a points basis out of 100. When we see an item score 95 points out of a possible hundred we automatically assume it is of the finest quality. Coffee also has a points based ranking system much like wine. This system establishes a universal standard of how we can communicate quality helping to neutralize or level the playing field for the subjective bias of individual preference. Now this is all well and good - but who or whom decide what is good or what is bad, and furthermore what makes a 95 point coffee 95 points and why is that a good thing?

This is where it gets interesting. The Q system for coffee (a kin to the sommelier) was established to certify individuals as "Q-Graders" (yes I am a Q-grader) whom could then go on to rank and score green coffee. This system was intended to be primarily focused on the commercial / production level, in order to provide a uniform language that green coffee buyers could use with coffee growers - not give a "Robert Parker" style wine rating for the finished/roasted product. Through this I think there has been some challenges in effectively communicating what quality means on the commercial side vs. what quality means to a consumer at home.

The Q system evaluates a coffee's fundamental characteristics, rewarding the score on the basis of the intensity of; sweetness, clarity, acidity and body, while critiquing and punishing the score for defects, damage, mold or the lack of positive attributes and the like. Each of these categories has points associated to it and will ultimately reveal a total score out of 100 for that particular coffee. 

The highest scoring coffees from the standpoint of the Q are typically ones that are sweet, have a  prominent acidity, uniform clarity and a rich mouthfeel or texture / body and have minimal defects or negative attributes. Coffees that are classically "coffee" rather than exotically fruity. 

Publications like Coffee Review have done a great job in trying to bridge the gap and create a consumer focused guide to coffee quality. However, it's merits rest solely on the basis of the tastes of the panel of the organizations three judges whom each have their own sensory preferences just like each of us. 

All the same, it is important we utilize these scores whether from an individual Q-Grader or a panel of 25 jurors to help inform and guide our decisions when buying coffee. The more we adopt and utilize these scoring systems as consumers the more fluent we will all become and will in turn create a universal language of quality we all speak.

In 2019 we roasted history's first ever 98 point coffee as scored and published by Coffee Review - for those curious please see review here. This was a massive break through for us and the producers who grew the coffee. It was also a pivotal moment in the collective coffee consciousness, that perhaps, a 100-point coffee does exist.

So what does that mean? What is a 100 point coffee? Well, the short answer is a coffee that when consumed, is the best coffee you have ever had and at that moment you cannot imagine a coffee with more of any one particular attribute. It is to your minds eye perfect in all ways and you cannot imagine anything better. It has the perfect acidity, the perfect sweetness, the perfect aromatics, the perfect texture and mouthfeel. You are not left thinking "well it could have been more of this, or less of that" it is complete. Another key thing to remember is there can be more than one 100 point coffee in your lifetime as the wine industry has clearly shown us. 

I have given one 100 point score to a coffee in the past fifteen years, and probably should have given a few others. This rating was for a Panamanian Geisha I was evaluating as a judge during the "Best of Panama" coffee competition. At the time I simply said, I cannot think of anything more I would like from a coffee and cannot imagine something better in all ways - so, I gave it a hundred. This sounds simple but ultimately it doesn't have to be complicated, if you love it - reward it. 

As we learn more about brewing coffee and endeavor to find the perfect cup over the next few months you will notice that each of our coffees on offer have a DonX rating next to them on the product page. That is my Q score averaged against my personal bias notes and points. This score will help you objectively decide if this coffee is for you. Remember, at the end of the day quality really rests in what you enjoy and what makes you happy. Using my scoring system will help you find your perfect coffee masterpiece.

Let us embark on an adventure to discover what makes great coffee possible; from the coffee & water all the way to final pour. I will be presenting all topics in depth in a 6 part series. Looking forward to the adventure!

Written By: Tamas Christman ©2024 All Rights Reserved

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