For some time now I've been thinking that there's a need for updated materials on evaluating coffees. My first work on this was drafting a video series with the working title Evaluating Coffee with Purpose. Before I got around to filming that, I started to work on 60 Second Coffee Tips and discovered that the largest category of episodes that I've brainstormed for that series relate to sensory evaluation. I shouldn't be surprised. This is one of the most collaborative aspects of my work and something that plays an important role at many points from the farm, through the entire chain of custody for the coffee, all the way through post-production quality assurance. The more I worked on this, the more it became clear that I probably need to write a book.
The scope on this one is much more limited than the roasting book that I'm working on. It should be shorter and I expect to have it finished sooner. My working title here is, Beyond Cupping: Techniques for Quality Coffee Sourcing, Product Development, and Process Verification. I'm envisioning this as a five chapter book.
- Basic Cupping
The first chapter breaks down the elements of coffee cupping that are common across many widely used variations. I expect most readers will find much of this to be review material, but I'll be incorporating material planned for 60 Second Coffee Tips and going deeper into some aspects of cupping that are often taken for granted. Even experienced cuppers are likely to find something useful here.
The next chapter gets into considerations surrounding sample roasting and evaluative methods that are commonly used in different parts of the supply chain to identify the right mix of coffees for a business. This includes the techniques most commonly covered in training for cuppers, but lays out specific reasons you may want to go beyond that and commonly used techniques for addressing those considerations.
Roasting gets into evaluation for product development and deals with things like analysis of roasting data and the use of different brewing methods during product development.
I decided that blending needs its own chapter. Often I hear roasters lament that roasting is hard enough and learning to blend coffees seems like an overwhelming addition that they don't want to deal with. Coffee blends are an important part of many product lines and there are many excellent reasons to get good at blending. This deals with blend evaluation from a product development perspective and builds on material from the roasting chapter in a way that I hope reduces the steepness of the perceived learning curve.
Finally, once you've sourced the right coffees and developed your product line, it's important to ensure that you're producing your desired products consistently. This is where documenting a product specification, production data tracking and process traceability, and using appropriate evaluative methods to verify that products match their specification comes into play. You may have noticed that data from methods in each chapter feeds forward to the considerations raised in the next one. Similarly, there are methods here that should feed back into future buying, creating a closed loop for continual improvement.
My hope is that by presenting a wide range of evaluative methods in a practical and accessible manner along with how and why these are used, readers will be equipped to take a more holistic approach to sourcing, product development, and process verification. As their business grows and new needs are identified (or to satisfy curiosity or conduct meaningful research), they should have the background needed to design and conduct the right tests and make sense of the data collected in order to drive better decision making.
I'll write more about this as there's meaningful progress.