Ken Davids Response to Mark's Article

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Ken Davids Response to Mark's Article

Postby Matt Milletto on Sun Sep 30, 2007 12:21 pm

Ken's response to Mark's article on coffeegeek, having Ken's permission to post here on his behalf.

Kenneth Davids' Response to Mark Prince's Column in Coffee Geek, September 07

Earlier this month (September 2007) Mark Prince, editor of the lively and useful website http://Www.CoffeeGeek.com, generously praised my work as cupper and coffee writer. (Thank you Mark.) He then launched into an unsubstantiated and rather rambling attack on my credibility as a judge of espresso, provoked apparently by my recent review article Italy Seen from America: Nine (Genuine) Italian and Three American Espressos http://www.coffeereview.com/article.cfm?ID=135).
For Mark the fact that I rated the mainstream Italian blend Segafredo Massimo, for example, higher than the American Black Cat blend from Intelligentsia apparently indicated that something had to be wrong -- with me, with my espresso machine, or with my protocol. Along the way he also raised a couple of interesting and genuine issues about how to best review espresso coffees for consumers. I get to these issues later in this piece.
Just as Mark prefaced his attack with praise for my other work and books, I preface this response with praise for Mark and his work and his community-building website.

Mark's Accusation
My espresso brewing protocol is suspect.
Response
I use a La Marzocco semi-automatic Linea 1-group with PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) control of brewing temperature, and use the same protocol Mark proposes and used elsewhere in the industry. Aside from a couple of experiments some years ago, grinding and dosing and extraction have always been controlled manually. See below for details. The protocol is outlined on the site and embedded in some past articles (Readers' Choice Espressos http://www.coffeereview.com/article.cfm?ID=124 October 2006, for example). I did not embed the protocol in the current article, however, figuring that to do so would be redundant. Lesson: There is no such thing as redundancy on the Internet.

Accusation
I can't pull good shots.
Response
I have been pulling shots off and on for forty years, and furthermore have been honing my skills recently on my La Marzocco. I definitely lack the grace necessary to compete in a barista contest, but I also feel that I can do as well as anyone in pulling the best shot possible from a stranger's espresso blend.

Mark's Assumption
My article represented a comprehensive Italy-vs-USA test of espresso blends.
Response
I have the greatest respect for American boutique specialty espressos and have consistently given many of them higher ratings than I gave any of the Italian espressos in the article that set Mark off (for example, see Better than Ever: Boutique Espressos, http://www.coffeereview.com/article.cfm?ID=119). Nor did I present my article as a comprehensive Italy-vs-USA (or North America) test. As I tried to make it clear in title and introduction, this set of reviews, like all of my reviews, is a momentary snapshot of a small slice of the industry. All I was doing was testing Italian espressos currently available to consumers on the Internet against a very small basket of American espressos from medium-to-larger roasting companies. As I pointed out in the introduction, I did not source coffees from boutique American roasters because neither I nor American consumers have ready access to coffees from similar boutique roasters based in Italy.

Accusation
I should have altered brewing temperature to suit the characteristics (particularly the degree of roast) of the blends being tested.
Response
Depends on whether the reviews are aimed at consumers, who (in almost all cases) can't alter brewing temperatures on their home machines, or food service customers of roasting companies, who can set temperatures to match their suppliers' blends. We aim our reviews at consumers, not retailers, so I have kept the brewing temperature on the Marzocco set at 200F, which in my reading of the debate on temperature is a good compromise setting.

On the other hand, Mark Prince points out that some aficionado espresso lovers are able to tweak brewing temperature on their home machines using a variety of improvised strategies.

Frankly, our reviews are aimed at all users of home espresso machines, not just espresso hobbyists. Nevertheless, I've decided that it can't hurt to roll over on this issue and invite companies who submit espressos for review at Coffee Review to specify the temperature at which they would like to have their espressos reviewed. If they have no preference or do not respond, I will maintain my current default brewing temperature of 200F. I'll report the brewing temperature in the "Notes" section of the review.

Accusation
I failed to take into account that Italian espressos are released with a very long, other-worldly shelf-life assumption.
Response
I simply reviewed what came out of the bag because I assume this is what a consumer is likely to taste. Only two of the Italian espressos I tested showed signs of staling, and I noted those in my review. It is quite likely that even the best packaged coffees stale faster out of the bag than do fresh bulk coffees. But I am assuming that a good, coffee-involved consumer is not likely to keep coffee around for longer than two weeks anyhow. I probably should have mentioned this issue in my introduction. But certainly I was not about to artificially deduct points from a rating because possibly or hypothetically the contents might stale quicker over the course of a couple of weeks.

The Importance of Blind Tasting: Mark indirectly accuses me of being too engaged in the protocols of cupping to make a proper judge of espresso. What I think he is implying here is that espresso should only be judged in the full context of the visual and performance aspects of its production. In other words, it appears that from Mark's point of view that the crema, the pour, and (in the case of barista contests) the entire magnificent theater of drink production should be taken into account when evaluating espresso.
I have tremendous admiration for the stirring spectacle of barista contests, and certainly I admit that a shot of espresso with a coarse or button-holed crema is a depressing sight (though I have never witnessed such shabby crema in any of the espressos I have reviewed over the last ten years).

Nevertheless, I am a thorough-going adherent of blind testing of the non-visual, gustatory properties of beverages. If there is a difference in emphasis here between the kind of more performative evaluation Mark proposes and the kind of blind, purely mouth-and-nose based sensory testing I carry out, then vive la difference. Together we can reach a better understanding of a beverage we both love. But I certainly see no reason for me to abandon my protocol, which emphasizes the need to repress any visual cues that might trigger prior assumptions or preferences.

I never start a cupping or a tasting with the idea that I am going to "prove" anything. I chose a general category of coffees to examine, and then listen to the coffees with as great and detached attention as I can muster. In other words, I taste the coffees, write the reviews, and then, finally, I write the introduction based on whatever potentially interesting themes emerge from experiencing the coffees.

In the case of the contested article, I did not set out with any prejudices whatsoever in favor of Italian mainstream espressos. In fact, I expected them to be half stale from ancient packaging and a bit flat owing to the presence of too many Brazils and robustas. If anything, I was prejudiced in favor of the Intelligentsia Black Cat blend because I admire Intelligentsia as much as any coffee company for its no-compromise pursuit of quality, and always go out of my way to recommend it when I speak to journalists.
But the tests came out the way they did, I was struck by some interesting similarities in approach among the Italian espressos that I thought perhaps we could learn from, and explored that aspect of the experience in my introduction.

The irony of the timing of Mark Prince's attack is that the contested review of Italian and three American espressos was carried out with particular care because I had relatively few coffees to test and could take the time to be even freer than usual to obsess over the shots. The shots pulled at The American Barista & Coffee School during a workshop that Mark mentions in his initial attack had no bearing whatsoever on the review results, by the way. I had finished the story before I gave the workshop. But I will say that the participants in the workshop were even more enthusiastic than I was about the top-rated Segafredo Massimo (they had no idea whose espresso they were tasting at the time) and their response generally mirrored my assessments.

- Kenneth Davids
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Postby Mark Prince on Sun Sep 30, 2007 1:20 pm

To further add clarity to this, Ken originally asked me for "equal time" on CG in response to my article, and I said yes, offering up a front page article space. I also gave Ken advance copies of my next two articles, the Italy vs. US shootout, which include some of the stuff Ken has addressed in this post.

After letting Ken know that there would be forum feedback about his article (including my own responses to some things I felt were misinterpreted - nothing bad per se, just a misinterpretation), Ken decided to withdraw the article submission.

His original article contained much of what was quoted above, but also a lot more, including a lot of detail about his espresso evaluation protocol, some which was very sound, but some, IMO, was up for some debate.

I'd delayed publishing the finished articles evaluating US/Canadian blends vs. Italian blends to let Ken's article get enough front page time on CG. It was withdrawn earlier this week. The first part of the two part coffee evaluation article will be online by tomorrow on CG.


Mark
PS - Trish, now you know what is up with that "dang" article ;)
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Postby Matt Milletto on Sun Sep 30, 2007 2:09 pm

This is content from an email from Ken, where he did mention that Mark would happily have put up his response, but I think he is planning on posting more on coffeereview.com soon

Good to have some answers and communication on what protocols Ken is using, as I know they have been a topic in question for some time.

- m
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Postby luca on Sun Sep 30, 2007 9:37 pm

Did Ken have any comment on why most of the espresso that he scored was in the "very good" to "outstanding" band?

Cheers,

Luca
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Re: Ken Davids Response to Mark's Article

Postby Jim Schulman on Mon Oct 01, 2007 8:03 am

Ken Davids wrote:
... Accusation
I should have altered brewing temperature to suit the characteristics (particularly the degree of roast) of the blends being tested.
Response
... We aim our reviews at consumers, not retailers, so I have kept the brewing temperature on the Marzocco set at 200F, which in my reading of the debate on temperature is a good compromise setting.


Even in regular cupping, brewing temperatures, along with coffee to water ratio, and grind/brew time, will alter the taste enough so that, say, three coffees can rank differently if these are varied. I would say the swings can be around 5 points. Temperature, dose, and timing variations in espresso will have an even more dramatic effect. For instance, the Addis Ketema Yrgacheffe that Terroir sells as an SO espresso is pretty much undrinkable at 18 gram doubles and superb at 13 to 14 grams. Here the swing is 10 points at least.

If one is cupping a lot of coffees in an auction, or to select for purchase, there is no solution to the problem, since there is not enough time to explore all the possibilities. If one is reviewing, it is feasible to try several variations and make a note in the review on how the coffee behaves.

This is particularly so when reviewing espresso for consumers. Most will have neither the skills nor the equipment to come close to duplicating any shot making protocol a skilled person with commercial equipment will use. So instead of trying to be precise, a review may be more on target if it based on shots pulled with various doses and temperatures. For experts, the score would be from the best shot; for average consumers (remember, a Krups and blade grinder is about average) it could well be more accurate to give the worst.
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Postby onocoffee on Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:55 am

Seeing this discussion come up again causes me to think again and wonder if we're just defending our own "sacred cows"?

Is it too ghastly to consider that a reviewer may find an espresso that so "very un-Third Wave" like the Segafreddo to be "better" than a "Third Wave Sacred Cow" such as Intelligentsia?

What is it that we're defending or fighting for here, exactly?
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Postby Mark Prince on Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:34 pm

onocoffee wrote:What is it that we're defending or fighting for here, exactly?


Espresso.

Mark
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Postby luca on Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:00 pm

Jay,

I think that it would be well and truly worthwhile actually buying a bag of Segafredo or something and trying it.

Jim and Mark,

Howsabout getting together a few people and a few coffees and investigating how changing brew parameters will affect scores?

Jim,

I like your idea of scoring the best and the worst shots.

As I said on CG, I don't think that your average coffee review reader will be using a single group pidded linea. Perhaps it would be prudent for Ken to do a survey of his readers to work out what sort of espresso equipment they are using? He might even find that he needs to buy a superauto ...

Cheers,

Luca
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Postby nick on Mon Oct 01, 2007 10:16 pm

onocoffee wrote:Seeing this discussion come up again causes me to think again and wonder if we're just defending our own "sacred cows"?

Is it too ghastly to consider that a reviewer may find an espresso that so "very un-Third Wave" like the Segafreddo to be "better" than a "Third Wave Sacred Cow" such as Intelligentsia?

What is it that we're defending or fighting for here, exactly?


You could interpret this whole "issue" as defending the "Third Wave Sacred Cow" of Black Cat.

You could just as well interpret Ken's correspondence as a defense of Coffee Review. Ken's Coffee Review is an institution unto itself, as is CoffeeGeek. As is, apparently, the retailer known as "Banana Republic."

Having been a "target" of scrutiny in the past, when you put yourself out there as Mark and Ken have, it's something that comes with the territory. For Ken to denounce Mark's criticism as an "attack," while somewhat understandable, is in my view, inaccurate. It's a criticism, and a critique; comparable to my response (on the podcast) to Mark's posting of Susie Spindler's article last year re: CoE, SCAA, and NCA.

It comes with the territory. When you put yourself out there in a certain way, expect nothing less.
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Postby Mark Prince on Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:08 am

luca wrote:As I said on CG, I don't think that your average coffee review reader will be using a single group pidded linea. Perhaps it would be prudent for Ken to do a survey of his readers to work out what sort of espresso equipment they are using? He might even find that he needs to buy a superauto ...


Ken did use a super auto a few years ago. In his first draft of his rebuttal, he talked about that.

One thing everyone will read when the Italy vs. N. America blends article conclusion is up is that after formally testing all the N. American espressos, I pulled three of the blends more "informally" on a Silvia / Anfim "Best" home grinder, and the scores were pretty surprising. I pulled some of the more forgiving blends on the machine, and some of the comments made it to the judging forms, which I've included in the conclusion.

One reason why I think, even for a consumer-driven review or ratings website like Coffee Review, having the absolute best tools and skills available is paramount is because you ultimately want to be fair to the blends - as fair as possible. The other thread here on Coffeed that talks about 'perfect espressos - how many have you had' is in a way a testament to this. Espresso's DAMNED hard. So hard, some give up on it. We've set this goal for espresso that, in some ways, I think we've put the cart before the donkey - we've all had the proverbial god shot, and want that constantly, but we're no where near the ability (or equipment, or frankly, understanding) to get it as consistently as we want.

If the goal is to be as fair as possible to the *blend*, that is, in my opinion, at cross purposes to the task of perhaps brewing the espresso just like any joe with a $200 machine would perhaps brew it.

If the goal is to also *impress* with a sufficiently high score, because after all, the whole job of rating and ranking coffees on Coffee Review (or for that matter, wines in Wine Spectator), is to sell coffee, sell quality coffee (or wine)... if that's also the goal, then I think one would really have to justify a 93... or a 90, or an 85, or frankly, even a 79.5 score with some pretty good backing about how you got a shot that damned good from any blend.

Anyway, I could go on, and I will, in the last part of this article saga, which will be up on the weekend.

Mark
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Postby onocoffee on Tue Oct 02, 2007 5:41 am

For the record, I have had Segafreddo - several times. All of which were during my short trip through Frankfurt. Not the best espresso I've ever had, but certainly not the worst.

I have also had Black Cat numerous times. From friends, at my shop, at Intelly stores, at Intelly trade show booths. Again, not the best espresso I've ever had, but certainly not the worst.

This "discussion" has never been about "defending espresso" - it's always been about Segafreddo et al scoring higher than the Sacred Cow That Is Black Cat.

Will Ken Davids "defend" his website and his "authority"? Of course. His reputation and standing depend on it. But is he somehow "wrong" or his methodologies "inadequate"? No one was bemoaning his approach when Intelligentsia was getting higher scores, now suddenly with a low score, the methods are in question???

All of this merely because we, as a community, have come to some sort of "common understanding" that imported Italian coffees could, in no way, be superior to the Sacred Cows of the American Third Wave.

As James Hoffmann eluded to in his recent blog post, it seems that we've decided how espresso "ought" to be.

It's a criticism, and a critique; comparable to my response (on the podcast) to Mark's posting of Susie Spindler's article last year re: CoE, SCAA, and NCA.


I think that's to say that we've gone overboard with this "outrage" over Davids' rating of Black Cat lower than Segafreddo.
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Postby Mark Prince on Tue Oct 02, 2007 12:39 pm

onocoffee wrote:This "discussion" has never been about "defending espresso" - it's always been about Segafreddo et al scoring higher than the Sacred Cow That Is Black Cat.


If that's what you think, perhaps you haven't been reading the articles close enough.

I certainly don't consider Black Cat a sacred cow. I consider fresh roasted coffee to be the issue of importance here, along with the testing parameters. Even things like scoring any coffees in the 90s is more of an issue than defending Black Cat.

Mark
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Postby onocoffee on Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:55 pm

Mark Prince wrote:If that's what you think, perhaps you haven't been reading the articles close enough.


There's certainly a good possibility of that. Especially considering that I've merely skimmed much of the verbage written about this subject because I prefer to be doing other things than getting all worked up because Segafreddo beat Intelligentsia in a review on a website that I don't normally read.

The bottom line is that none of this would have sprung forth if Intelligentsia's Black Cat had scored higher than Segafreddo. Then the "World of Third Wave" would have the world as it "ought" to be.

I took the liberty of searching Davids' website to see if this is indeed just a fluke (as in the first time Intelligentsia has been reviewed) or if this is something else. Just to note: I did a simple search with "Intelligentsia" as the keyword on the sites' search engine.

Since 1998, Davids' site has reviewed Intelligentsia's coffee 34 times, with a high score of 95 (Dec 2006) and a low score of 84 (May 2002).

Black Cat Espresso - 88p - Aug 2007
Tres Santos Colombia - 90p - Feb 2007
El Salvador Pacamara Los Planes - 95p - Dec 2006
Papua New Guinea - 87p - Mar 2006
Colombia Tres Santos Micro-Lot Almaguer - 93p - Jan 2006
Guatemala El Cuervo - 90p - Nov 2005
Nicaragua Las Termopilas - 89p - Oct 2005
Honduras El Puente - 88p - Oct 2005
Kenya - 92p - Jul 2005
New Guinea - 91p - Jul 2005
Decaf Librarian's Blend - 87 - Jun 2005
Guatemala El Cuervo - 89 - Dec 2004
El Salvador Montecarlos Tablon Crater - 94p - Nov 2004
La Corona Blend - 92p - Nov 2004
El Salvador Las Nubitas - 92p - Nov 2004
Nicaragua Los Delirios - 91p - Nov 2004
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe - 90p - Oct 2004
Kenya Gaaki Central - 90p - Oct 2004
Spring Blend - 88p - April 2004
Trotter's Blend - 88p - April 2004
Kenya - 94p - Nov 2003
El Salvador Los Inmortales - 89p - Nov 2003
Guatemala Fraijanes El Cuervo - 86p - Sep 2003
El Salvador Santa Ana - 91p - Jul 2003
Honduras Intibuca - 90p - Jul 2003
Honduras Ocatepeque - 87p - Jul 2003
Panama La Torcaza - 90p - Feb 2003
Kenya Thirku - 89p - Feb 2003
Fazenda Vista Alegre Natural Dry - 84p - May 2002
Black Cat Espresso - 90p - April 2002
Oromo Espresso - 88p - April 2002
Solstice Blend - 86p - June 2001
The Elves Imperial Breakfast Blend - 86p - Nov 1999
Black Cat Blend - 86p - Oct 1998

Based on the scores, it seems that Black Cat has remained relatively consistent over a ten year period.

Mark Prince wrote:I think the scariest thing for me is that Peets' beat the BC in that test.

And Segefredo getting a 93? Aren't the nineties usually reserved for the upper stratosphere coffees? Ken seems to be doling them out more and more these days. George Howell's Kenya just got a 97 - and that coffee is spectacular - but the 90s have been rolling a lot as of late on CR.

BTW, I do agree that Black Cat has seen much better days.


The scores reflect that Davids' agrees with you. Black Cat scored an 86 in 1998, then a 90 in 2002 and then 88 in 2007. According the scores, Black Cat has seen better days...

I should also note that only 50% (17) of the Intelligentsia coffees reviewed were part of the "upper stratosphere" of coffees.

So much energy has been spent on anger about Black Cat scoring lower than Segafreddo but no one asks the important question of whether or not Black Cat is actually worse than Segafreddo and Peet's?

Do we merely "like" Black Cat because we're expected to like it and because "those in the know" tell us that we should "like" it?[/b]
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Postby Ryan Willbur on Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:48 pm

Jay, you are right about reactions. I believe that if BC had scored higher, no one would complain. In that scenario, an espresso roasted within this country and shipped fresh would have won over a mass marketed, 'who-knows-how-old,' shipped world-wide blend. I think when you look at it this way, everyone wants to pull for the local guy. For me, it's that I've lost a battle... Not one about Intelligentsia, but one about truly fresh roasted coffee.

Also, it seems like everyone in LA has been to Italy. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing that the best espresso is in Italy. I really don't believe that it is... This whole thing just adds to the frustration I feel over the issue.
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Postby Keith on Tue Oct 02, 2007 5:02 pm

For starters I just wanna say that I like Black Cat...

I Have been following these discussions of Coffee Review with alot of interest. I understand Marks point I think...but I wonder how important it is to me really. I am aware that Black Cat and many other fine espressos can produce a great shot when pulled by well trained baristas, on good equipment, with specific parameters and some care.
But isnt there something to be said about a a espresso that tastes good despite the fact that "ideal parameters" have not been followed. There are many espressos that I LOVE, but when the barista is not paying attention pulling my shot things with can go sour.
Reading Kens response reassures my theory, and I honestly trust his scores to be pretty spot on. I also believe that perhaps some of the coffees may have performed better at specific brew temps and am glad to see him change his policy on this.
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Postby Mark Prince on Tue Oct 02, 2007 5:43 pm

onocoffee wrote:
Mark Prince wrote:If that's what you think, perhaps you haven't been reading the articles close enough.


There's certainly a good possibility of that. Especially considering that I've merely skimmed much of the verbage written about this subject because I prefer to be doing other things than getting all worked up because Segafreddo beat Intelligentsia in a review on a website that I don't normally read.


(snip the rest, which I did read)

I'd suggest then, that you do actually read what was written, Jay, because it's not about "getting all worked up over Segafreddo beating Intelligentsia". That was the initial commentary. Once the subject was explored more deeply, examination of cupping evaluations, freshness issues, the skill of the barista and much more came to the forefront.

Or if you have better things to do, as you said, why even bother commenting in the first place? :)


Mark
Last edited by Mark Prince on Tue Oct 02, 2007 5:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Mark Prince on Tue Oct 02, 2007 5:45 pm

Ryan Willbur wrote:Jay, you are right about reactions. I believe that if BC had scored higher, no one would complain.


Even if BC had scored highest, if stale, months-old coffees had scored in the 90 range, I still would have been vocal about it. Probably much more in the minority, but I would have done it, and have done it in the past when Ken reviewed pods and other coffees with suspect scorings.

Mark
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Postby Vince Piccolo on Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:19 pm

Having pulled many espresso shots from Italian Roasters over the years I must say that I have never pulled a shot that I've been extremely happy with. That's not to say that these coffees weren't fantastic in Italy, but the coffees have been oxidized, lack body, pour blond quicker, stale much quicker because they are already stale and taste flat. This doesn't mean that we in North America are better, but in my eyes it does have something to say that fresher coffee is readily available.

On another note I noticed Italian espresso's tend to have a higher percentage of denser beans. Especially the Robusta blends. These blends need a completely different approach when pulling these shots. Now to compare these coffees with North American espresso's that lack the higher percentages of dense coffee"s is really comparing apples with oranges.

Another issue is packaging Italian coffee in Vacuum and gas, which is fine because they want their products to taste great in months after roast. The only problem is I've tested with a mocon O2 analyzer and a lot of the times their vacuuming and flushing don't work. There are a lot of dud bags ( or cans).I've had readings of 20% Oxygen!
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Postby Tim Dominick on Tue Oct 02, 2007 10:14 pm

Ryan Willbur wrote:Also, it seems like everyone in LA has been to Italy. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing that the best espresso is in Italy. I really don't believe that it is... This whole thing just adds to the frustration I feel over the issue.


Set and setting, you are in upscale LA afterall. Land of fiction,dreamscapes and people living a jaded jetset "this just gets me to normal" lifestyle. Think of it this way, it isn't the espresso they had in Italy during fashion week, it is the experience they had in Italy after buying the new season of D&G gear while tooling around in that hot Italian's Ferrari that left them with the impression that the espresso was somehow better than their daily shot in dreary old Silver Lake. It also explains why Kona and JBM are so many people's benchmarks for excellent coffees.

I agree with Keith, and I see Mark's point. I'm also more suprised to see a 90+ for an imported brand than worried about an 88 for a highly respected roasting company. Even the really smart kids get a B+ once and awhile, and as Jay's extensive research on the topic shows us, an 88 is about par with past performances for the BC in Ken's lab.

I remember one of Ken's last espresso reviews, Zoka got an eightysomething and the same alarm of "ken doesn't know what he is doing and his methodology is wrong, wrong, wrong" was sounded. Life quickly returned to normal, and ruffled feathers were eased back into place with a long run of 94+'s for all the A-listers. All was great in the world, until "espresso two, the wronging returns" made it's debut.
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Postby phaelon56 on Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:46 am

Black Cat has long had a reputation in the home barista community as being an espresso whose optimal characteristics are best revealed with a properly tuned commercial machine and an experienced barista.

One of the most memorable shots I've ever had was the first time I tried Black Cat - a shot consumed at Blue Spoon on Chambers Street in NYC a few years ago. Haven't been to Chicago in many years and when I visited Intelly's Silver lake shop it wasn't up and running yet so I've had it exactly one time in an "optimal" setting.

But more recently... several months back... I bought some Black Cat by Web order as did my buddy in DC who is an enthusiastic home barista. Neither of us has PID or other precise temp control on our home E-61 type machines but he tend to pre-flush less water than I do and most likely his shots are pulled a few degrees hotter than mine as a result.

And guess what? He and his GF absolutely love Black Cat - it's their all time favorite now and they rave about the complexity of the flavor profile and the deep chocolate and fruit undertones. But when I pull shots on my home machine I don't much care for it.

But since when is there an objective standard for taste? I happen to appreciate Daterra Reserve as one of my all time favorites for espresso yet I know a number of people who simply don't care for it.

The same can hold true for specifics related to pulling shots. I tend to achieve the most consistent shots - and to me the most enjoyable - by pulling ristretto's of roughly 1.25 to 1.5 oz fluid volume from 17 to 18 grams of beans. Yet I know of a highly regarded coffee industry figure who prefers his shots as 2 oz doubles. I've had shots prepared by his staff to that specification and simply didn't care for them nearly as much as I enjoy the same beans pulled as a ristretto.

Does that make either of us wrong or right? Of course not. Taste is subjective and always will be. But I think Ken Davids position is both rational and defensible regarding what are reasonable reference points for assessing espresso when the primary readership is home users. I think the average home user is a step beyond a cheap blade grinder and steam toy "espresso maker" but I'll guess that there are far more $200 machine/$100 grinder combos out there than there are $800 to $1500 setups.

And it's a big world with lots of people and room for differing opinions - especially in light of the fact that we have such radically differing audiences. I imagine there's a bit of overlap between the home espresso aficionados who hang out in the Coffeegeek forums and the readers of Coffeereview.com but I'll guess that they each have a primary audience that does not cross over. What's important to one group may be far less so to the other.

The bottom line is that none of this would have sprung forth if Intelligentsia's Black Cat had scored higher than Segafreddo. Then the "World of Third Wave" would have the world as it "ought" to be.


What Jay said. But I think this topic has produced some very fruitful discussion.
Owen O'Neill
Syracuse NY

Phaelon Coffee
and
New York Central Coffee Roasters
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Postby Brent on Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:00 pm

phaelon56 wrote:But when I pull shots on my home machine I don't much care for it.


and that is a comment that applies I suspect to a great many of us about a great many good or even very good coffees.

perhaps Ken doesn't care overly for the north american style, and really has a leaning toward italian style? or maybe, just maybe the earth sun and moon collided at that moment to create that truly great shot, and it just happened to be a stale imported coffee that did it...

:)
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Postby Mark Prince on Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:07 pm

Brent wrote:
phaelon56 wrote:But when I pull shots on my home machine I don't much care for it.


and that is a comment that applies I suspect to a great many of us about a great many good or even very good coffees.

perhaps Ken doesn't care overly for the north american style, and really has a leaning toward italian style?

:)


This is why serious cupping events, like the BoP or CoE, or eCafe, or events organized by the Q, have panels of judges. So that one person's likes or dislikes don't skew the results if they happen to really dislike a certain profile that is acceptable to many.

It's also why there are 4 (or more) sensory judges in pretty much any barista-related event, from Jams to Comps, even in the Trans Tasman cup and the World Latte Art Championship (where, IIRC, taste is part of the score).

Mark
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Postby Brent on Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:46 pm

Mark Prince wrote:This is why serious cupping events, like the BoP or CoE, or eCafe, or events organized by the Q, have panels of judges. So that one person's likes or dislikes don't skew the results if they happen to really dislike a certain profile that is acceptable to many.

It's also why there are 4 (or more) sensory judges in pretty much any barista-related event, from Jams to Comps, even in the Trans Tasman cup and the World Latte Art Championship (where, IIRC, taste is part of the score).

Mark


and I think one of the challenges in judging is to try and turn that bias off - be open minded about it, and discover new stuff... but in my experience, dish water still tastes like dishwater, and no one will score it any other way.

I just don't think that we are overly good at overcoming our bias all the time. So if Ken has a bias, so be it... but it would perhaps be pertinent to declare it.
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Postby Jim Schulman on Thu Oct 04, 2007 2:54 pm

Brent wrote:and I think one of the challenges in judging is to try and turn that bias off - be open minded about it, and discover new stuff... but in my experience, dish water still tastes like dishwater, and no one will score it any other way.


This is possible when it's a question of the overall flavor profiles; I personally like some more, others less, but can tell which coffees are outstanding in each category.

Things get a lot tougher with odd tastes. I don't know if this happens to others, but several times a year, I'll find a coffee that everyone else loves completely and undrinkably foul. This is such a gut reaction, perhaps from hard wired differences in retro-nasal receptors, that it's pretty much impossible to even rate the cups in question.

I've never seen anyone talk about this, but I'm pretty sure if it happens to me, it happens to others as well. I'm also pretty sure that it must happen more often at lesser intensities, so that the difference in sensitivities is not as obvious.

In such cases, it's not people disagreeing about some flavor balance, but people not even tasting the same things. It is for this reason, rather than for personal likes and dislikes, that multiple judges are necessary when trying to be objective.
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Postby Brent on Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:03 pm

Jim Schulman wrote:This is possible when it's a question of the overall flavor profiles; I personally like some more, others less, but can tell which coffees are outstanding in each category.


I agree...

Jim Schulman wrote:Things get a lot tougher with odd tastes. I don't know if this happens to others, but several times a year, I'll find a coffee that everyone else loves completely and undrinkably foul. This is such a gut reaction, perhaps from hard wired differences in retro-nasal receptors, that it's pretty much impossible to even rate the cups in question.


This happened a few times recently - one person (and it wasn't always me) was at odds to the others, overall it didn't seem to make a difference, as the coffees where that happened the variance was normally one person marking up, so you could argue that the "oddity" helped the coffee about as much as it would help it in the market place - some will like it, some won't.

Jim Schulman wrote:I've never seen anyone talk about this, but I'm pretty sure if it happens to me, it happens to others as well. I'm also pretty sure that it must happen more often at lesser intensities, so that the difference in sensitivities is not as obvious.


yup about the only thing I recall absolutely agreeing was that a latte tasted like it had dishwash liquid in it...

Jim Schulman wrote:In such cases, it's not people disagreeing about some flavor balance, but people not even tasting the same things. It is for this reason, rather than for personal likes and dislikes, that multiple judges are necessary when trying to be objective.


agreed, but multiple judges also smooth out the like / dislike thing IF it is an issue (which it shouldn't be)
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