Many roasters and importers have their own methods of rating coffee, but the most well known method is the Specialty Coffee Association of America's (SCAA) Cupping Protocol. When we originally designed the coffee app, we planned to use the SCAA method. However, we realized that while it's an excellent tool for professionals, it's not a perfect fit for normal coffee drinkers.
One key problem is that it was designed to be used at origin, where graders are concerned about avoiding defects as much as they are concerned about finding flavorful and interesting coffee. By the time coffee gets to a customer, the defective coffee lots have been weeded out (aka sold to commercial roasters for use in blends). So we made three key changes.
Flavor & Aroma Wheels
The SCAA cupping form asks directly for a 'fragrance' and 'flavor' score. It also has a place to record 'dry' and 'break' aroma. Instead of asking for a direct score, we ask users to record the specific aromas and flavors they identify, and award the coffee points for each one.
We do this to avoid a simple amazon.com style 5-star rating system AND to prevent people from recording scores based on their own personal preference. If a consumer has been trained to like french roast, it's really easy for them to give a dark roast an 8 and a light roast a 4, without really thinking about the quality of the beans. Asking for them to pick up on specific flavors and aromas limits how much people can score on roast preference and forces people to think more about the beans.
Bitterness, Clean Cup & Uniformity
SCAA Cupping has 'uniformity' as a criteria, we pulled that out completely because a) third-wave roasters aren't shipping defective beans, and b) most people aren't preparing two cups of the same coffee to cup. It simply isn't useful for 99.9% of customers.
We've also effectively replaced 'clean cup' with bitterness. Bitterness is not the same, but it's more relatable and we think it does a better job.
And finally, we expanded the scoring range. SCAA Cupping scores are measured on a 6-10 scale, effectively meaning you start off with 60 points. We award points on a sliding 0-10 scale. For example, a coffee will receive 7 points for a 5 on body quality. The net effect is a wider range of scores for good coffees. 80 doesn't equate to "specialty".
If you'd like to know exactly how points are added up, it's no secret. Just click the button below. Learn more about scoring