By Craig Holt
No system for evaluating coffee quality is perfect. The Q Coffee System, however, has been a great help to me as a specialty coffee importer and, I would guess, to many others in the specialty industry. While the vast majority of our clients today are skilled and thoughtful cuppers, we used to have much more difficulty being clear with each other about coffee quality. There were even times when communication fell apart entirely.
Eleven years ago a client who had just taken delivery of a box of beautiful, complex Sumatra Grade 1 Lintong TP (sweet and earthy, heavy bodied, hints of dark berry) called me up.
Client: There’s a problem with the Sumatra.
Client: A customer complained about it.
Me: What did the customer say?
Client: They said, “It tastes like crap.”
Me: Do you think it tastes like crap?
Client: I haven’t cupped it.
I was, to put it mildly, fairly disappointed in this dialogue. And not just because the customer was voicing a second-hand complaint without having cupped the coffee himself.
What bothered me most was the vagueness of the language used to describe the problem. What kind of crap did the coffee taste like? Was it fresh, pungent crap? Or were we talking about old, dusty crap left on the crumbling wooden steps of some ghost town saloon? Was it from a cow, a pigeon or a llama? Where was the objectivity? What kind of way is that to describe the organoleptic experience of drinking coffee?