Interpreting Coffee Reviews | CoffeeReview.com

Interpreting Reviews

Aroma, acidity, body, flavor and aftertaste are the standard descriptive categories used by the Coffee Review and American professionals when evaluating coffee. We use a rating system of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each of these five categories, reflecting both quantity (how much) and quality (how good.) Overall ratings provide a summary assessment of reviewed coffees and are based on a scale of 50 to 100. Degree or darkness of roast dramatically affects a coffee's flavor profile. For each roasted coffee, we report its roast level in quantitative descriptive terms based on readings from a specially modified spectrophotometer popularly called an Agtron. Click here to learn about Coffee Rating Caveats.

Aroma

How intense and pleasurable is the aroma when the nose first descends over the cup and is enveloped by fragrance? Aroma also provides a subtle introduction to various nuances of acidity and taste: bitter and sweet tones, fruit, flower or herbal notes, and the like.

Acidity

Acidity is the bright, dry sensation that enlivens the taste of coffee. Without acidity coffee is dull and lifeless. Acidity is not a sour sensation, which is a defect, nor should it be astringent, though it sometimes is. At best it is a tart, often rich vibrancy that lifts the coffee and pleasurably stretches its range and dimension. Acidity can be overpoweringly clear and wine-like, as in most Kenyas, sweet and delicate as in many Perus, low-toned and vibrant as in many Sumatras. The darker a coffee is roasted, the less overt acidity it will display.

Body

Body is the sensation of weight that gives power and persistence to taste. Body can be light and delicate, heavy and resonant, thin and disappointing. Body tends to increase with darkness of roast until it peaks at about a medium-dark roast, then begins to thin again in even darker styles.

Flavor and Aftertaste

Flavor and aftertaste include everything not suitably described under the categories aroma, acidity and body. An assessment of flavor may invoke general terms like balanced, complex, deep, clean, rough or flat; it may identify specific defects like grassy or fermented; or it may praise positive nuances like winey, fruity or herbal. Aftertaste reflects sensations that linger after the coffee has been swallowed (or spit out) and incorporates finish (how taste characteristics grow, diminish or change as the coffee remains in contact with the palate.)
 
Overall Rating

The scale for the overall ratings runs from 50 to 100, and reflects the reviewers' overall subjective assessment of a coffee's aroma, acidity, body and flavor and aftertaste. Overall ratings are interpreted as follows:

95-100
Exceptional
90-94 Outstanding
85-89 Very Good
80-84 Good
75-79 Fair
70-74 Poor
<70 Not Recommended
 

Roast

Degree or darkness of roast dramatically affects a coffee's flavor profile, as does how the coffee has been brought to a given roast: quickly with high temperatures, slowly with low, and so on. Overly light roasts may taste bready, baked or grain like; overly dark roasts charred and thin. But aside from these extremes, no single degree of roast is necessarily better than another. Preferences in roast vary widely, influenced by tradition (New Englanders often prefer lighter roasts, West-Coasters darker), brewing style (coffee intended for drip brewing is usually best roasted lighter than coffee intended for espresso or French-press brewing) and drinking style (people who take their coffee with milk often prefer darker roasts to lighter.)

Degree of roast can be measured with some precision through the use of a specially modified spectrophotometer popularly called an Agtron. Agtron readings range from #95 (lightest roast) through #10 (darkest common roast) in intervals of ten. At the Coffee Review, we also use the descriptive terms such as light, medium, medium-dark, and dark (based on terminology developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America) to indicate various degrees of roast. These deliberately simple terms avoid the glamour of more popular roast terms like French, Viennese, Espresso, Italian and the like, which can be confusing because their use varies so widely. A Starbucks regular roast may be considerably darker than many espresso roasts, for example, while a Viennese roast can mean almost anything depending on who's doing the roasting and labeling.

The following chart can be used as a general guide to describe different roast levels:

Roast Agtron Characteristics
Light > 70 Light brown to cinnamon color
Light body, minimal aroma, tea-like flavor
No oil on surface of bean
Medium - Light 61 - 70 Moderately light brown color
Bright acidity, green coffee distinctions clear
Surface of bean remains dry
Medium 51 - 60 Medium brown color
Balanced acidity, fuller body
Generally dry bean surface
Medium - Dark 41 - 50 Rich brown color
Droplets of oil appear on bean surface
Hints of bittersweetness emerge
Muted acidity, heavier body
Dark 35 - 40 Deep brownish/black color
Spots of oil to shiny surface
Bittersweet roast notes dominate
Acidity and muted
Very Dark 25 - 34 Black surface covered brightly with oil
Bitter/bittersweet tones dominate
Body thins, green coffee distinctions are fully muted
Extreme - Dark < 25 Black, shiny surface
Burned bitter tones dominate