Sunday, August 13, 2006


coffee writing & microformats

there's a great article today in the nytimes business section about how the practice of rating wines on a 100-point scale has both spurred and hindered wine appreciation in the u.s.a. long-time readers know that i have consistently advocated that we coffee lovers develop our appreciation movement along the lines of that used by californian vintners, but learning from their many mistakes.

and as those who read my frequent coffee descriptions can attest, the numerical description system is one of their mistakes i completely avoid. one of the biggest problems in the numbers game -- used by some coffee website, i know -- is that the systems of the various wine publications don't seem to mesh.

that is, i'm not sure what they're based on, or if all the wine mags use the same standard tools. we in the specialty coffee family have an advantage here: the scaa flavor wheel developed by now-cqi-head ted lingle, the nez du cafe developed by jean le noir, the famous scaa sensory eval test, the scaa and cup of excellence cupping forms, and close contact among professional cuppers in international events as well strong bonds with certified exchange cuppers.

long-time readers know that as one of the first bloggers and coffee consumers to pursue rigorous coffee descriptors, i have always relied on these tools. i cup with specialty and exchange professionals as often as possible to keep on following the learning curve.

now that quite a few bloggers are talking seriously about coffee -- people in all parts of the specialty family, like dogmilque, dougie, tonx, as well as the new bloggers who come online everyday -- i think it's important we begin to loosely calibrate our efforts against these specialty standards.

let's take the wonderful recent example this week of andrew b's ecco la virginia. andrew sent this out to several of us, and we all talked about it, basically using some variation of the scaa standards, some of us more closely than others.

but no matter; the point is we were all on the same page somewhere, be it first or middle paragraphs. this is a fantastic development for coffee consumers seeking buying knowledge and for specialty roasters themselves.

but for the average coffee lover looking for buying, tasting, and brewing advice, running around to all these blogs -- even if aggregated in rss -- is a bit of a hassle since we don't have a standard specialty online description format that would make comparing and reading coffee descriptions easier.

that's why i've been interested for a while now in the idea of the hreview microformat. i think we should work with the specialty roasters to develop a version of this for coffee.

i've even gone so far as to talk to ted lingle about this now that he's over at cqi. and of course, to the extent that it may have numbers, it should explicity follow those of the scaa cupping form, not some random point scale.

tho' of course i would argue downplaying any numerical component in the final result -- since you can high-number coffees that are somewhat boring, while slightly lower-number coffees can be delicious gems in fireworks.

cupping numbers are important and useful, but must absolutely be kept in their proper perspective, and always surpassed by good tasting procedures and backed by the scaa standards above.

i don't mean to be coffee fascist or destroy creativity. i just am interested, now that we seem to be moving towards a critical mass of contributors in the still-new coffee blogging field, in seeing if we can help consumers and roasters out by considering a loose, common-sense backbone that is somewhat consistent and easily discoverable.

thus the microformat, which may soon be incorporated in consumer tools to aid discovery and use of different kinds of reviews. the format may or may not catch on.

but i'm interested in just tossing this idea out there so that coffee bloggers can think about it. that way if browsers and rss readers and who-knows-what tools that will soon be devised should come to adopt the microformats, we can be ready.

a loose, common-sense common format for coffee descriptions on the 'net will allow coffee appreciation to spread even more quickly than it is now. i don't think i have all the answers.

obviously the community needs to weigh in. i hope other coffee bloggers will look into this and consider posting on it over time, pro and con.

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posted by fortune | 10:21 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 5 comments

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