If you have been reading our ratings you may have wondered if there is a simple way to describe each Star level. Over the past year we have developed a big picture of how each coffee we taste fits into the overall coffee world. Each Star level represents a small range of coffee quality overall, and each of these can be simply described to help understand just what to expect. Keep in mind that we only score coffees ‘black’.
You will notice that the top three Star levels are relatively positive in nature. While it is easy to point to the 5 Star rated coffees for a great experience, it is important to note that there are still coffees with a reasonable quality out there even if they don’t have the highest rating. For more information on how we come to these ratings, check out Scoring Coffee, which explains our method. The following is a user’s guide to our ratings so you can figure out which level appeals most to your tastes.
5 Stars – A dynamic experience
These coffees are the cream of the crop. Balance is a big key to achieving this rating, and the flavors are clear as well as harmonious in the cup. 5 Star coffees also demonstrate superb quality in both the cupping evaluation and the brew, which means that provided the proper extraction method is used, these coffees will please your taste buds on their own no matter how you go about brewing it. In a word, the coffee is dynamic.
4.5 Stars – Articulate flavor
Just a step away from a perfect 5 Stars, these coffees show strong potential. We have found that often the coffee shines as either a brew or cupping, but not in both categories. Sometimes these coffees will have a dominant bright acidity and slightly lower sweetness, which pulls the overall balance off just a bit. What makes them good and interesting? The specific flavors are articulated in the cup and easily identified.
4 Stars – Notable qualities
4 Star coffee is commonly well sourced from the farm level, but something is out of balance in the cup. These are often subdued and simple cups, with the flavor notes coming through less clearly. While there are usually specific qualities which are desirable, their intensity and definition are less than ideal.
3.5 Stars – Good quality
Typically the lowest rating where we can say the quality of the raw coffee is still “good”. These coffees might shine in one particular aspect, but are held back from scoring higher by either a lack of certain balancing elements or the presence of some less desirable flavors. A 3.5 Star coffee may be generally nondescript, or it may have high qualities which are undermined by off flavors.
3 Stars – Some flaws, but drinkable
A coffee with 3 Stars may be bland or flat, with flavors which may be a bit unpleasant. Despite having a less than desirable taste experience these coffees are usually relatively drinkable. Bitterness elements tend to be more pronounced, but may be somewhat balanced by the presence of sweetness and/or acidity. Overall, the coffee is uninspiring.
2.5 Stars – Average
This is the realm of the truly average and unremarkable. Flavor components tend to be non-descript or unidentifiable, body and aftertaste are not particularly appealing, and could be generally described with a “meh”. While there are no dynamic or interesting flavors, the experience is typically not grossly offensive either. You may not know, or even care, that you are drinking coffee.
2 Stars – Some redeeming quality present
2 Star coffees are far from the best, but they may still have at least one redeeming quality in the cup. Often the coffee is darkly roasted, but a positive element comes through in some small way. This rating may indicate that the coffee was sourced well, but roasted inappropriately. These coffees seem to beg for the addition of cream and sugar, which can ultimately create a tasty experience even though it has little to do with the quality of the coffee bean source and roasting skill.
1.5 Stars – Difficult to drink
Coffees which have a 1.5 Star rating are usually quite darkly roasted, and/or have a poor flavor quality. These coffees are palatable to some, though the overall consensus is of bitterness. The flavors tend to be sharp, chalky, dry, and highly bitter, leading to a cup which is difficult to get down. The addition of cream and sugar might make these coffees palatable.
1 Star – Overly harsh
The 1 Star rating is indicative of coffee which may have failed in both sourcing and roasting. The dominant characteristics are bitter elements and the finish is especially harsh. The use of cream and sugar is common with these coffees, though the ability to mask intense bitter flavor can only cover a certain amount.
0.5 Star – Clear defects and unpleasant flavors
0.5 Star coffees are ultimately an exercise in proving the worth of technical coffee sourcing education such as the Q Grader program. The coffees in this category may be relatively light in roast, but defects such as insect damage, mold, or rotten beans may be clearly identifiable in the cup. These defects create intensely bitter, pungent, and unappealing flavors in the cup. The addition of cream and sugar is generally incapable of masking the unpleasant flavor of these coffees. Buyer beware.
0 Stars – Completely undrinkable
So far we have not officially rated any coffees as “0 Stars”, though the score is technically possible and we have tasted coffees which would fall here. Coffee of this rating is fully defective with poor roasting. The cup is so offensive so as to prevent the drinker from being capable of swallowing it. Roast Ratings is not seeking these coffees to taste actively, but they do exist.
With this overview of our Star ratings, we hope that you can see more of how and why we taste so much coffee! While it is impossible to say that everyone will love one specific coffee, the top scores represent what we feel will be pleasing to the most people. You may very well prefer a coffee which we have not rated as highly, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. If you look at the whole coffee picture, our system values dynamic, vibrant, balanced coffee at the top because they are truly special and memorable, and ultimately represent the best of what coffee has to offer. Happy drinking!