The Coffee Rose: A new sensory tool from Cafe Imports

Posted by Sam Thomas on

In the coffee industry, the best way to evaluate the product is by tasting. Whether that be sampling roasting a new green coffee that just came in, or testing out a new roast profile on a different roaster, the way you will evaluate that coffee or equipment is by tasting the final product it produces.

Cupping is the industry standard practice to evaluate coffee in the most objective way possible. (If you are unfamiliar with cupping, check out our articles on the process of cupping professionally ) Because cupping has a rigid set of protocols, it allows us to consistently and objectively evaluate the coffee by minimizing variables that come into play when brewing coffee.

Because of its rigid structure, cupping can be intimidating. “How do I do this? What am I supposed to be tasting? What am I supposed to do if it all tastes like coffee to me? Why do I have to slurp loudly?” All valid questions! Training one's palate and finding the right verbiage to describe what you are tasting can be difficult and takes time.

Recently, Cafe Imports developed an innovative tool to help coffee professionals record and quantify their experience at the cupping table. The tool is called The Coffee Rose. The Coffee Rose is an interactive flavor wheel that helps the taster more accurately score coffees based on the flavor descriptors they select on the wheel. The Coffee Rose has a preset list of descriptors, and users also have the option to insert their own. Newcomers to cupping are able to access a common vocabulary that they can use to describe what they are tasting. In addition to selecting a flavor, users can indicate the level of intensity those flavors in the coffee are, based off of a reference coffee on the table. This method helps everyone in the cupping session start on the same page, and hopefully reach a similar conclusion.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Imports

While the Coffee Rose can help new coffee professionals get acclimated to cupping, the tool has a lot to offer to seasoned veterans in the industry as well. While spinning through the wheel each descriptor and intensity level you select grades that coffee as you go. This eliminates the need for manual scoring with a traditional coffee scoring sheet, and allows you to focus on taste rather than a score that you have to come up with.

Using the Rose also allows you to see what other people in the cupping session are tasting. Since the Rose is an online tool, it automatically combines and averages the score based on the inputs of others cupping notes. Potentially, you could cup with someone on the other side of the world and see in real time score and evaluate a coffee without having to manually send one's own notes on each coffee.

Cupping at Cafe Imports

Last week, the sensory team at Mill City Roasters joined Ian Fretheim for a tasting at Cafe Imports. Ian offered to guide us through a cupping and demonstrate how to use the Coffee Rose. For me, the feature that stood out the most was the different scoring metrics for each type of processing method. Ian summed this idea up nicely in a blog post from last year, “No matter how good a stout might be, it will always be a terrible lager. It doesn’t make sense to judge stouts on lager metrics. Neither does it make sense to judge wet hulled or natural coffees on washed metrics.”

In our demo of the Coffee Rose with Cafe Imports we had natural, washed, and wet hulled processed coffees from Sumatra (we did this demo tasting blind, so we we’re not privy to which coffees were which.). The natural processed coffee came out to an averaged score of 87 and was very fruity with lots of jammy red grape, cooked blackberry, and clove flavors with strong winey malic acidity. All of these things are great, but are what you usually expect out of a natural process coffee.

When tasting and scoring the wet hulled coffee, our average score was a much higher score of 90.54. This is because this coffee did not taste like a typical wet hulled coffee from this region. Our cupping notes read “Strong cola and fresh lime with cooked pear and vanilla flavors. Lots of delicate fruit-like sweetness with juicy malic acidity.” These are not usual flavor descriptors of this kind of coffee, which is why it scores higher than the natural process coffee. The notes we had on the natural processed coffee were good and did score the coffee positively , but they were what we would expect from that coffee. This is extremely helpful in eliminating bias in cupping. While one might be predisposed to one type of coffee, the Rose will take into account what kind of coffee is being evaluated and score it based on the preset criteria of that process/region rather than scoring on one flat scale.

A summary of our notes on a wet-hulled Sumatra from The Coffee Rose

The Coffee Rose is an extremely versatile tool that helps break down the intimidations beginners might have of cupping while also providing lots of in depth analysis for coffee professionals who are evaluating coffees on a daily basis. Nicole Good, a sales representative at Cafe Imports, says she’s been using the Rose for over a year in regular cuppings. During a tour of the green coffee warehouse in a recent Roasting 101 class, she shared that the tool felt intuitive and easy to use during a cupping, and after a bit of practice with it she said “I don’t know how I ever cupped without it.”

In our weekly cuppings here at Mill City, we’re still using pen and paper to record our experiences and calibrate with each other on fragrance, aroma, flavor, and body. But this new tool is something we will work with and continue to explore. If it proves to be as useful and easy as the team at Cafe Imports hopes, it may one day replace our notebooks.

A friendly cupping assistant

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