Prufrocker: The Blog

The Lone Barista

I’m conscious that sensory science has not made it into the cafe environment yet, but I have a notion of how it can.   Last month I gave a talk at the Nordic Roaster’s forum and that was all very nice…and a little controversial, so check it out here, but the highlight of the event... Read more »

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I’m conscious that sensory science has not made it into the cafe environment yet, but I have a notion of how it can.


Last month I gave a talk at the Nordic Roaster’s forum and that was all very nice…and a little controversial, so check it out here, but the highlight of the event for me was the incredible Coffee Mind duo. Ida Steen and Morten Munchow gave a two-part interactive presentation where Ida first discussed what we would do and how we would do it, then 60 of us did Sensory Science. I mean I’m something of a sensory science groupie at the moment so I found this very exciting. They put out ten unlabeled coffees (we found out later 4 of these were repetitions of the same sample). Next they asked us to download a form on our phones which looked very much like a google forms survey and we were to score in 10 categories from 1-15 in intensity level a bunch of categories. In the list were roastiness, baked bread (bakedness) as well as sweetness, body and a bunch of scoring elements that mirrored the SCAA scoresheet.


Next day, Morten gives us a talk telling us what they achieved. And the results were resounding! We contributed statistically significant evidence that the baked flavour in coffee can be correlated to a particular roast curve and easily identified. Add to this the evidence that a large untrained group could also locate correct and convincing findings. What’s more, it was easy and familiar. Only difference was, we were only scoring intensities and this should mean no bias.


Here’s where I’m gonna jump in a quote a line from the ‘lone barista’ who’s face and name I can’t recall but who’s pearl of wisdom stays with me. All those years ago he said…… ‘I’ve never had a coffee that is too sweet.’

I can tell you right now that the coffee that I would have liked the most on that cupping table in Copenhagen was the most sweet, the least roast y with the most body and the most flavour intensity. Then I can say that from a commercial perspective, I would be open to all coffees scoring in any region in the acidity (intensity) category and could in good faith retail all of these knowing the range of fruit preferences was being accounted for.


Can you see where I’m going with this? Even after a lot of innovation in cafe QC I’m still not happy with our QC procedure, mainly due to the SCAE cupping protocols being as they are so flawed and our attempts to improve them, still needing improvements.


The google forms on a phone was the fastest tidiest scoring experience I’ve had and the cleanness of the information afterwards is just too appealing for words. So in the interests of dipping our toe in the water, I’m gonna trial a 1-15 scoring range for intensities in the Prufrock espresso journal and the cupping journal too.


I asked Chris Henden at the amazing East Coast Coffee Madness conference in Montreal recently where he was giving his down-with-the-coffee-refractometer spiel (ask him about it, quite confusing) ‘how possible it would be to give total sugar content and nutritional info on green coffee?’. ‘Expensive’ he said. Probably won’t happen so let’s imagine the whole SCAA cupping disappears in the future and we go for intensities only and at the same time we add an index of enjoyment from 1-15. Do I sound frivolous? One subjective category and the rest intensities and we see how we go. I will report back on how this goes. Take a read of my proposal to Morten and Ida at Coffee Mind. Morton’s response to my letter was very positive and he mentioned he thought this would constitute the basis of a Master’s Thesis so let’s hope one of the young chargers at the Copenhagen Sensory Science unit takes this bull by the horns and we’ll high ho Silver and away.


You know the 1-15 scoring scale? It goes like this.


Hey Morton. I’m interested in changing our espresso QC for a while. I found the experience of cupping the coffees at NRF very rewarding and I’d like to talk to you and Ida about integrating this into our morning grinder calibration.


Would you consider setting up an experiment with us at Prufrock. We could use the Google forms document (maybe it wasn’t google forms but it looked like it) you used for the cupping to assess espressos. We do 10 quantitative measurements based on the world barista championship score sheet. Here’s a link if you’re not familiar with it.

If I converted this into the kind of scoresheet you used, I’d do it something like this:


Crema persistency

Flavour intensity

Fruitiness intensity

Aftertaste intensity

Sweetness intensity

Acidity intensity

Bitterness intensity

Weight (body) intensity

Smoothness intensity.

Enjoyment level


Then we put a qualitative measurement in there to gauge the barista’s enjoyment level. I think we would need this in there because my goal is to work out a correlation between intensities and the kind of espressos we score highest. Then my theory is that overtime you will be able to get an impression for the combination of intensity levels that make us enjoy a coffee more, at least at Prufrock.


I also greatly appreciate the efficiency of the Google forms method of data collection in the café. Does this sound like a valid approach to starting to do something more scientific in the café environment?


We record detailed coffee info too on Roast date, variety, extraction yield etc. So this should give you something quantitative to look back to and observe repetitions of the same coffee.

I’m conscious with espresso that we can’t really do the four repetitions that you guys did on the 10 cups table at NRF. So more I think we would see repetitions when we have the same brew ratio and the same extraction yield and the same shot time corresponding. They should taste pretty similar. If they don’t it’s interesting. Also interesting to see which of our baristas score these factors the same way.

Am I way off track here? I’m just conscious that as yet the sensory lexicon has not yet been brought into the cafe environment from day to day.


We have an enormous espresso online journal from the last 3-4 years with a lot of data you might want to take a look at to see if this is of interest, just to get a feel for what we have been up to. I will share it with you on google drive and you can check out what we’re up to. We have reformatted it a bit over time so it’s not perfect and not all our data is in there but there is about 500 espresso observations in the current journal.