Ken Davids’ latest coffee reviews are on-line. This time he takes a look at coffees you’ll find in bags, bins and cans your local supermarket — and finds that the lines that used to clearly separate specialty coffees from the rest of the pack are blurring. I’m not so certain.

Ken’s “numbers game” — liberally borrowed from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Rating System — really breaks down in this set of reviews. With Davids’ system, only a precious few points separate “a cup dominated by faintly nuanced burned cellulose” and “coffee that doesn’t call attention to itself, yet three cups later you’re still pouring it.”

Truth be told, I’m not impressed with any numerical scoring system that offers one hundred scoring points, but refuses to gainfully employ half of them. Such a system leads inevitably to scoring snafus… Consider this review of Thanksgiving Coffee’s Colombian Blend:

This coffee is so complex at the top that it positively levitates, alive
with sweet, light vanilla tones. In the finish whatever is left of the
body vanishes, the vanilla tones fade, but the sweetness lingers

And compare it to this month’s review of Illy’s Medium Roast:

The aroma is subdued but sweet and enlivened with a tickle of dry,
fruit-toned chocolate. In the cup round, rather deeply dimensioned, with
just enough acidity to keep the cup subtle rather than banal.

The first review strikes me as nearly effervescent, while the second would appear to damn the cup with faint praise. They both scored 85.

If you insist on cupping against a system of 100 points, I’d like to think you’d use the full scale. Failing that, at least stick to your guns on interpretation…

95-100 Exceptional  80-84 Good
90-94 Outstanding   75-79 Fair
85-89 Very Good     70-74 Poor

Better yet, skip the numbers. Fine coffees don’t lend themselves to a numbers game any more than do fine wines. Such numbers present an illusion of precision that simply doesn’t exist. By all means, convey the merits of one coffee relative to another — but, please — let’s not get into the realm of consumers buying coffees solely on the basis of a number, and without regard to things that really matter: like flavor, aroma, acidity, body and balance.

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