Prodigal Coffee, Scott Rao Green Coffee - Page 4

Discuss roast levels and profiles for espresso, equipment for roasting coffee.
ira (original poster)
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#31: Post by ira (original poster) »

It's nice to know after 3 pages of analysis on the words on their web site that they do a good job of roasting coffee.

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Brewzologist
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#32: Post by Brewzologist »

"We are selling our good-but-rejected arrivals as green coffee to home roasters, as they are tasty, and a bargain relative to what home roasters can source through the usual channels."
-- Scott Rao

I look forward to tasting reports from Tom and others on the greens sold by Prodigal. I suspect most of us aren't expert tasters or Q-Graders, but collectively the roasting community on H-B is pretty good at crowdsourcing information on greens crops and their resulting appeal in the cup. If Prodigal's greens are as good as Rao says, I'd imagine we'd clean him out and make wonderful posts about roasting them. In that way we may help validate (or not) the issue of score inflation using his own processes and products.
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#33: Post by TomC »

Brewzologist wrote:"We are selling our good-but-rejected arrivals as green coffee to home roasters, as they are tasty, and a bargain relative to what home roasters can source through the usual channels."
-- Scott Rao

I look forward to tasting reports from Tom and others on the greens sold by Prodigal. I suspect most of us aren't expert tasters or Q-Graders, but collectively the roasting community on H-B is pretty good at crowdsourcing information on greens crops and their resulting appeal in the cup. If Prodigal's greens are as good as Rao says, I'd imagine we'd clean him out and make wonderful posts on roasting them. In that way we may help validate (or not) the issue of score inflation using his own processes and products.

To clarify, I only bought the roasted coffees. I don't even think there was green coffee on there originally. I bought it on the day they first were for sale.
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#34: Post by luca »

Sorry to have been absent from this topic. Australia has increased its phytosanitary certificate requirements for all green coffee imports now, so I must say that I've been paying rather less attention to coffee available as green to all of y'all overseas.

Score systems generally

First and foremost, I think that what's really missing here is that the prevailing industry score systems; COE and CQI/SCA, are score systems that are really intended to be used by people who are calibrated to them. Their "audience" is really not consumers, but the relevant green buyers. In the case of COE, green buyers often want to serve on juries, for which there will be a calibration process. In the case of CQI/SCA, the Q-grader course is just the most fantastic use of time week a coffee professional can put into education, taking one from knowing nothing about coffee, to having a good frame of reference for the most commercially prevalent specialty coffees across the major growing regions. The professionals that use those scores have a pretty good idea what to expect - if the scores are reliable - with just the score and the basic description of the coffee. From the comments here, you guys as retail consumers really don't seem to have a good idea what the scores mean. And why should you? For a long time, the industry never presented consumers with scores. And the only time you really see them is when people make a big deal of them. And, as Scott blogged, the same thing that has happened in the wine industry has happened in coffee - score inflation. After all, scores are more likely to be issued by people closer to the producer's end of the chain. And they are vendors. And it's in vendors interests for the scores to be higher. Green buyers also score for themselves, and their incentives are to be realistic and conservative where it is for internal use, but they don't share those scores - that would give the competition an advantage in out-buying the limited supply.

It's a pretty big topic, and it's somewhat niche. But the scores are also a reflection of the diversity of coffee experiences in the cup, which is something worth knowing about. And it's really too big a topic for me to tackle in a post reply. But would you guys like an article on scores, coffee quality and taste preferences, perhaps with some worked examples of coffees that you might actually buy (like not actual examples, but generic stuff like Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Washed)? Eg. how do people score, when, what factors make up the scores, how would the example coffees score, what do you expect in the cup at different score levels? If enough of you think such an article would be useful, and you want me to be the one to write it, and Dan would like it as a more permanent article resource type thing, I'd be happy to write it. No guarantees on when I'd write it, though!

Prodigal and my biases

As for Scott's business and the topic under discussion, I'll try to refrain from commenting much at the moment, mainly for the practical reason that I've got roasted coffees on the way and would like to comment after tasting them. And I'm sure if we wait a short while others will have the roasted and the green to comment on.

I should also disclose that I have pre-formed opinions on this. I have known Scott for several years now. I first met him at the MICE conference several years ago where he was here with Decent Espresso and to run some workshops. I had no idea what to expect, and was generally sceptical, since, as an old timer, I basically ignore what people have to say until I've tasted their coffee. One man's "light roast" is another's "medium" and all that, to put it diplomatically. I tasted Scott's roast development kit and agreed that the good example was very good and I found the baked example revolting. Since then, I've had several opportunities to drink coffee with Scott and to drink the same coffees he has and to trade notes with him, and there is a high degree of overlap between his and my personal preferences. I and many of my friends subscribed to Facsimile, and, whilst the coffees varied in score from maybe a low of 82-83 to a high of maybe 89.5, they were a highlight of our coffee consumption. We would often comment that the lowest scoring Facsimile coffee was more enjoyable to us than higher scoring coffees from local roasters, since the roasts were so clean and the flavours were so well-defined. If it were still running, we'd probably all still be subscribed and eagerly waiting for the next round. So I'm sure that it's no surprise for you to learn that we piled on, clown-car style, to get in a pooled order to minimise costs. We missed out on some of the coffees, so if those of you that have complaints about the business could kindly vacate your orders and free up some supply for us, I would selfishly appreciate it - though Scott might not!

Declining quality

Back to scores. Thank you all for quoting me above, you have saved me from having to dig all of that up.

So the first thing that we need is probably some context, and I'll be pretty short here because this is really what the article I offer should cover. For background, the 100 point score in all systems is made up of the sum of sub-categories, such as clean cup, sweetness, acidity, body, flavour, aftertaste, balance and overall. And I think of it as working out roughly like this, off the top of my head:

80 points - This is bare specialty. Basically, it's free of defects, and it's technically "specialty", but that's not really saying much. If you put these on a cupping table, people may struggle to work out what they are or where they are from. They are not very distinctive, and distinctiveness is the heart of at least some takes on "specialty" coffee. They probably score low in a few categories eg. it wouldn't be surprising to see some negative comments like "this coffee has a bit of a dry aftertaste".

84 points - This is where specialty coffee starts to get more distinctive. These are coffees that will taste of something identifiable. So, for example, at a bare 84, you might have a fairly bland washed colombian coffee that's the pooled product of several producers blended together and it might be the sort of thing where you comment that there's nothing bad here, but nothing remarkable, but the crisp cup that it has gives away that it's something of this sort. Add a point or so and you're probably going to start to identify some sort of aroma, but it might be simple and not especially intense. Like you might say it's kind of lemony.

86 points - These coffees are generally good across the board, maybe with a few standout areas, and have some sort of aroma/flavour that's probably fairly intense and fairly distinctive. Or maybe more. (Personally, I try to keep my flavour and aroma notes focussed; I don't like to give too many notes that suggest that a cup is more complex than it is ... sometimes tasting notes give a long list, but the list actually is people brainstorming synonyms for fewer flavours, not people listing separate and distinct flavours. I prefer one word for one concept.) So this is where you might say something like "really clean cup with some crisp, winey acidity and some blackcurrant" and it would probably be fairly obvious that it is classic kenyan.

87 points - As above, but here I start to expect that you'd either have several standout areas, or complexity of flavour as well as intensity." So, if it's a washed yirgacheffe, you might say something like "it's a little low in body, but it has some jasmine, the cup is nice and lemon and it has a clean and long finish." At this score level and above, at the end of the cupping, I start drinking the cupping bowl.

88 points - This is where the coffees start to really slap you around with what their identity is. They're strong across the board and they're complex and intense in aroma and flavour. So if it's kenya, your note isn't as above, it's more "juicy and heavy bodied, winey acidic snap, strong blackcurrant aroma with blackberry in the cup." If it's washed yirgacheffe, it's more like "low in body, but slaps you in the face with bergamot on the dry aroma, apricot and lemon in the cup." I rudely cut you off and reach across you to grab the cupping bowl at the end of the cupping, to drink it.

90 points - Basically, you have died and gone to heaven. There isn't really anything more you could reasonably expect. Basically every category is scoring near the top and there are probably at least four intense and distinct aromas and flavours that you can identify. And if it's a mixed table that you are tasting single blind (ie. you know the coffees but not the order), the experienced cuppers have already identified it after smelling the dry grounds. You wonder why I'm not drinking this cupping bowl at the end of the cupping. Come to think of it, you wonder where I am. You wonder why the fire alarm is going off. I'm stealing the remaining coffee.

I probably need to check that against some actual sheets, but that's kind of roughly how I see it.

As linked above, yes, I've noticed a decline in Kenyan coffee quality. In Australia, at least, the decline in Ethiopian coffee quality has been even worse, and less discussed. (And even more heartbreaking, what with civil war, covid and the forever unfair background that the great Ethiopian coffees have historically been every bit as good as anything anyone else has to offer, but they have always struggled to command the price premium of Kenyan coffee, let alone Panama geisha.) I don't think I've bought a bag of Ethiopian coffee from an Australian roaster for a few years, but I certainly buy brewed coffee from roasters to check if it's worth buying bags and try to keep across what's on the market. Before then, I used to just guzzle washed Ethiopian coffee. (Yes, hypocritically participating in the unfairness that I just decried a few sentences ago.) There are many reasons why coffee is in trouble. Climate change, the battle between cultivars and disease pressure, economics, farmer age, shipping logistics, regulatory frameworks, industry structures, etc, etc. And every country seems to be a very different system, with very different and unique challenges.

Last week I got to go to a great cupping at Proud Mary in Melbourne. The coffees that they presented were aromatic and distinctive; we cupped single blind and it wasn't that hard to work out which coffee was which ( It was a great event that attracted a lot of industry people as well as customers, so my friends and I got to speak to a few green buyers. I won't out who they were. So we were asking them what's in the pipeline and how things were looking after the last few nightmare years (remember the Suez canal blockage on top of everything else?) and they ended up asking us if we had noticed that the market (meaning their competitors, really) had started to sell coffees that they'd previously buy as blend components as single origins, for the price premium that they command over blends. I think they were somewhat relieved to hear us say "yes."

I rounded up a Melbourne geek squad this year for a Kenyan coffee cupping. My argument was that every year we end up flailing around trying different kenyan coffees and wasting far too much time and money trying the market, so when we hit the best ones, we're usually late in the season and they sell out. So, I argued, we should pool our resources and do this properly. I said let's have a cupping with the price of entry being contributing cupping samples for at least one bag of retail roasted Kenyan coffee from local Australian roasters that we can buy if it turns out to be good. We ended up with a dozen Australian roasts to investigate, benchmarked against some international roasts and some home roasts ( We agreed that none of the dozen Australian roasts were actually anything that we would want to buy. Not one. Now, part of the problem here was definitely roast issues, but the green quality wasn't particularly good, either. Certainly nothing looking like it would be over 88 points, which was really what we were looking for, and hoping for based on pre-2019 experience. It's just heartbreaking.
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#35: Post by Milligan »

Thank you for the post Luca! You are a great trove of knowledge. I'd certainly be interested in a green coffee article from you.

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#36: Post by yakster »

luca wrote:Sorry to have been absent from this topic.
Thanks, Luca, for weighing in on this subject. I'd also enjoy an article on the subject proposed if you have the time to write it up.
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#37: Post by mkane »

It's good to be 70.

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#38: Post by CarefreeBuzzBuzz »

@Luca

if you are going to write something, then please include some caveats on preparation and taste qualifiers. What do I mean by that?

What does one need to do to distinguish an 86.5 and 88 coffee in terms of preparation and ability? What do I mean by that?

Lot's of things are off in prep - at what point does that impact the drinker's abilities to distinguish.
Do we care if in a carefully controlled cupping one can tell; probably not since that's not how we drink our coffee. A useful article needs to translate the cupping score into actual preparation and that is where prep matters for comparison.
So if it's a pourer what has to be within parameters. If it's espresso, then what. It's really hard for me to replicate 19grams in and 38 grams out on my Slayer - it's manual. It might be 38.8 or 38.3. If Rao want's to play in the high world of cupping scores but it doesn't matter to consumers that's fine, but it's like the kid that builds cools sandcastles by himself. Make it real.

And what about ability to taste? How many HBer's can really tell the difference even if prep is spot on. What gets in the way first is a preference of one coffee over the other. It's just like being at a car show, one stands out more. But even if one has the ability to taste such differences can they describe them? Or maybe that's just a measure of ability? If you can't describe the differences, then you really don't have the ability to taste a 1.5 point difference.

We don't drink cupping scores. We drink coffee. Which is why Rao's email just made me........laugh. Maybe his fans just believe it cause he said it. The world of the Instagram influencer. Is he actually trying to start a coffee business or a coffee tasting business? But most of us, just want good coffee, and most of us can't taste the difference between 86.5 and 88 or even larger differences.

So a useful article is how does the educated coffee drinker and roaster decide between different beans. Hoos recent interview on roasting had some great practical input. Similar input to beans would be useful.

I may be an outlier with these opinions, yet they do come from observation of my wife as a pastry chef, and tasting exercises she had done. She can describe tastes and differences way beyond the average person who is left to say I like this 86.5 ginger cookie over this 88 ginger cookie but can't explain why.

Running a coffee business based on cupping scores is not a coffee business IMO, it's something else.
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#39: Post by TomC »

Discussions about Prodigal Coffee's roasted coffee should be separate from this discussion about their greens and how home roasters profile and discuss them.

Please see the following thread if you want to talk about their roasted coffee.

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#40: Post by CarefreeBuzzBuzz »

Well maybe change the title and move this one too since I don't think anyone has said they actually bought the greens. :D And Luca raises some good points that shouldn't get lost.
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