Micro-Rant - on fresh coffee vs Good coffee

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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#1: Post by malachi »

Sometimes people in this community seem to go overboard on the whole "freshness" thing.

Yes... stale coffee is bad.
But fresh coffee is not inherently Good coffee.

Let me explain.

A coffee that is 24 hrs out of the roaster - but has been poorly roasted and is mediocre to bad green beans is Bad coffee. Yes, it's fresh coffee - but it's fresh Bad coffee.

If you were to cup this fresh Bad coffee on the same table as a coffee that is lovely CoE green that has been beautifully roasted but is 6 days post roast - the old Good coffee is going to taste far, far better than the fresh Bad coffee.

Because Bad coffee is bad - no matter how fresh it might be.

If you want to have Good coffee - freshness is the LAST step in identification (not the first much less the ONLY step).

So how do you identify Good coffee?

1 - you start with the green. And I don't mean "Guatemala" vs "Indonesian." You need to understand the coffee. You need to know cultivar (bourbon, typica, whatever - they all have their flavor characteristics). You need to know elevation. Most of all you need to know Region, Producer and Harvest. In other words - where is it from, who grew and processed it, how old is it. And this all leads you to how good the green is. This is a score (on a 100 pt scale) that indicates the POTENTIAL for this coffee. It doesn't mean that, once roasted and prepared, it will reach this potential. But no matter how well roasted or prepared - it means you will never exceed this potential. You are always looking for the highest scoring green - as the coffee in the cup can only be as good as the green itself (and is usually diminished from this).

2 - you then evaluate the roast. If you're buying from a commercial roaster, this is partially reputation, partially your personal experience, and partially through cupping the coffee itself. The idea is to look at how well roasted the coffee is - how close to the potential of the green the roaster has managed to get. Personal taste of course plays a part here - but you're trying to correct for that as much as possible to simply evaluate the craft skill of the roaster. If you're home roasting - I'd strongly suggest getting a third party you trust to evaluate for you. Most home roasters fall in love with their product and do a poor job of honestly evaluating their own performance and their ability to get the most out of a green coffee.

3 - then you apply "cupper's correction". In other words - you figure out which coffees that are available are the kinds of coffee you tend to like. For example - I despise dirty coffees and as a result no matter how good the roaster might be, I'm not buying their Sumatra.

4 - and then (and only then) do you look at freshness. Because a fresh Bad coffee is still Bad.

In my experience, very little coffee being consumed would score well on the first two of these - and it's largely because a lot of people simply don't look at coffee through those lenses.

Trust me - if you start learning to think this way, you're coffee is going to get much (MUCH) better.
What's in the cup is what matters.

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#2: Post by JmanEspresso »

Great post! Thanks very much.

Im still not understanding what exactly a Cuppers Correction is, though. Does it mean that,(for example), YOU(Chris) are cupping say, 5 coffees. Four are coffees you tend to like, and one is a Sumatra. Your personal tastes are not going to give am unbiased cupping score to that Sumatra, so after you have scored the coffee, you add a certain amount of points to the total score, to [hopefully]better reflect the coffees true character? So then, for example, YOU scored it a 78, but with your "cuppers correction", its actually an 86pt coffee?

That how it works?

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malachi (original poster)
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#3: Post by malachi (original poster) »


I'm misusing the common professional phrase "cuppers correction" in this case and simply saying that, when trying to come up with good coffee, after evaluating the roast the next step is to rule out coffees you hate and focus on coffees you love. So if you love low acid super funky coffees you are going to prize Indonesian coffees but should probably eliminate high grown washed coffees from Costa Rica.

The accurate use of the phrase does in fact apply to cupping green coffee but is rarely used to adjust a grade of a coffee up to correct for your hating it and rather due to you loving it.
What's in the cup is what matters.

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#4: Post by brokemusician77 »

Great topic!

I was thinking along similar lines the other day, and was wondering if it's possible to blend coffee to compensate somewhat for aging. What I mean is, if a roaster knew their customer wasn't going to have access to their coffee within the desirable window of freshness (2-15 days post roast), would it be possible to create a blend that would be more forgiving under those conditions?

The reason I ask, is that every time I get coffee from Fratello, through my local coffee shop, it's almost always a month old. What surprises me is that all the staff at the shop, and even Joel from Fratello have told me their coffee tastes best after it's aged a few weeks.

Further, Jimmy Oneschuk, owner of Cafe Museo in Saskatoon, who has competed in our regional and national Barista competitions, claims that Epic Espresso from 49th Parallel Roasters starts to exhibit some really great flavors after a month.

Is this more achievable with "Good" Coffee?
"There's a fine line between hobby and mental illness." - Anon.
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malachi (original poster)
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#5: Post by malachi (original poster) »

It's a good question.
I have no idea.

My gut reaction says that old Good coffee will taste better than old Bad coffee but my brain says that it's unlikely to be that simple - and that in fact it's likely that how bad a coffee fades as it ages probably depends on the quality of the green; the age of the green; the style of roasting; how it was stored post roast; the environment conditions where it was stored; and the specific coffee in question.

In other words... I don't know.
What's in the cup is what matters.

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#6: Post by JmanEspresso »


Ok, I think I see what you're saying.

So, let me give an example/question... At SweetMarias, Tom Owen gives detailed descriptions on every coffee they offer. If you click a certain coffees link, you can see its cupping scores. Under the spider wheel, it will say: "Cupping Score"-85.4 & "Cuppers Correction"-10. (just arbitrary numbers in this case). Does that mean he added or subtracted 10pts from the cupping score?

When I buy greens, the more information the better.. and I understand all other aspects of the description(ie: what brightness or aroma means), but Cuppers Correction has always been something Ive seen, and just skimmed over, because I didn't know how to interpret it.

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#7: Post by malachi (original poster) »

I don't know what methodology and score-sheet Tom uses but usually minus means he subtracted.
The issue is that many score sheets don't have a score for the coffee but rather scores for the various attributes (acidity, sweetness, etc). You then total the attribute scores to get the final score. The issue is that this can sometimes yield high scores for coffees that you, personally, don't like. A common example (for me) is around some of the more well known macro producers in Costa Rica. These are coffees that score out very well - but I find insipid, boring, and lacking character. Another example (for me) would be with certain coffees from East Africa, where even in-control ferment can yield scores that do not reflect how much I enjoy the coffee.
As a result, some score cards include a "cuppers correction" that allows a cupper to adjust the score - while still providing transparency.
This forces cuppers to honestly evaluate and portray the coffees ("I know it scores poorly but I just like it").

Of course, some people hate this approach.
And others cup with entirely different scores sheets or methods.
And some people use "cuppers correction" in entirely different ways.

And I, of course, entirely mis-used it in my rant.
What's in the cup is what matters.

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#8: Post by Ken Fox »

Hi Chris,

Oh my! I think maybe Dan should consider a "quarterly rant" from Chris and run it as a feature :mrgreen:

People DO talk about freshness here a lot, but I don't recall them talking very much about "fresh bad coffee," or how they go out of their way to buy the freshest stuff in their local supermarket's bins. Or, to buy S$ coffee that hasn't reached the expiration date (?2 years post roast?). With the exception of people just starting out who find these forums from a google search, and then want to know why they can't make good "espresso" from some preground plonk in their steam toy, I just don't recall a lot of posts from people using mediocre to bad coffees that are "fresh."

Of course, there are lots of home roasters here and their roast product is highly variable. I'm certain that I'd find much or most of it to be undrinkable, even if fresh, with some notable exceptions, I am sure.

I would be willing to bet that most home roasters who are involved enough in their hobby that they read and post on these forums, go out of their way to buy good green beans from respected suppliers who are household names on these forums. That's a virtual certainty. These suppliers are, at the very least, doubling the cost of the green coffee when they sell it to us. We are paying them for their selection skills, and when they start to let us down, we will drop them like a rock. I have several former greens suppliers whom I haven't bought beans from, for years, and have no intention of going back to them until or unless they show they have something to offer that merits my business. But I digress.

Even after expending a whole lot of effort and expense on procuring the best available greens, one still has to deal with freshness, both in the greens and in the roast product. Freezing is a good way to preserve roasted coffee when done properly, and probably a good way to preserve greens also, although I have quite a bit more experience with the former than I do with the latter.

Coffee is very perishable, both before and after roasting. Freshness is not the only factor in making a good cup, but it is certainly an important factor that without which it almost doesn't matter.

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#9: Post by michaelbenis »

I agree that's a great post. I think there are number of points emerging here from between the lines with which i'd agree:

There's a fair amount of poor and/or inconsistent coffee coming fresh out of quite a few boutique roasters and the problem here is not only at the grower/processor end, but with the big wholesalers/distributors - especially where beans for espresso are concerned and cupping notes aren't always 100% reliable. The roast can be meticulous and the beans super fresh, but that's not going to help with poorly graded/old etc. greens.

Then there are some beans which simply don't give their best within the usual 5 or so days of roasting, but take longer to round out fully

And there are some roasts which simply keep their qualities for a long time - I find that's particularly true of slow wood roasts.

But I don't think Chris was saying freshness isn't important - just that it's only part of the story.


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#10: Post by farmroast »

Total score on a green can be deceiving. Brightness will add to a score which I might find a plus for brewed but a minus for espresso at extremes. Some other scored characteristics may or may not benefit from being high. Blends become about balancing the individual characteristics of the components with percentages. Generally adding up to enough sweetness, body and controlling brightness. Some greens I've had were good as long as I culled a few defect beans, in a commercial operation I'm not sure how much culling is done.
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