The Amazing Spider Graphs

April 7, 2015

As new coffees roll in, we have been scoring them with our new spider graphs. We hope they are (and have been) a great tool to help you decide what coffees to buy from our site. We suggest that you also pay attention to the written comments as well since numbers aren’t always the best way to judge a coffee’s taste. If you are really into the dark chocolate notes and heavy body of coffees from Nicaragua and Sumatra, you will probably be disappointed with even the highest scoring Gesha coffees that have a very light body and floral notes.

Locating and using Spider Graphs

When reading about a coffee on our site, notice the small images under the main image. Click the circular one with the weird, blue shape inside or CLICK HERE.

There might be a few coffees on our site that still have the old-school graphs. These are larger lots that have been in stock for a few weeks.

Some call them “spider graphs”. Some call them “radar graphs”. Whatever you call them, they can be useful when deciding on what coffees you include in your next order. Our coffee rating system has changed over time and will probably continue to evolve. We are always trying to find better ways to communicate how our coffees taste so you won’t end up buying coffee that just doesn’t taste good to you. Each coffee we sell is rated by Tom and Dan in our cupping lab (usually a day or so before we post the coffee on our site).

Notice how our spider graphs start at 6 instead of 0? We figured we would break the rules a bit since we would probably never carry a coffee that scored under 6 anyways. Starting from 6 also makes for a more dramatic shape in the graph so you can glance at it and tell how balanced or if it weighs in heavy in a characteristic you really like.

It will expand into a larger one where you can quickly see the score and shape of the graph. Click on “zoom” and the graph expands again so you can see all the scores of that coffee.


-Dry Fragrance: Refers to the aroma of the dry ground coffee before hot water is added.

-Wet Aroma: The smell of wet coffee grinds, after the hot water is added.

-Brightness/Acidity: Acidity is the taste of sharp high notes in the coffee caused by a set of chlorogenic, citiric, quinic, acetic acids and others, sensed mostly in the front of the mouth and tongue. (It is a good quality; not related to bitterness in coffee, and not directly responsible for upset stomachs). Acidity is prized by many cuppers, and relates directly to the quality of the cup since acidity is the product of high altitude plantings.

-Wet Aroma: The smell of wet coffee grinds, after the hot water is added.

-Flavor: This is the overall impression in the mouth, including all the other ratings. There are 4 “primary taste” groupings (sour, sweet ,salty, bitter) and many “secondary tastes”.

-Body: Often called “mouthfeel”, body is the sense of weight and thickness of the brewed coffee, caused by the percentage of soluble solids in the cup including all organic compounds that are extracted (the brewing method and amount of ground coffee used influences this greatly). We rate Body on a lower scale because light bodied coffees are certainly not bad, and in some origins the lighter body best suits to overall cup character.

-Finish: The lingering or emerging tastes that come after the mouth is cleared. This includes the time when the coffee leaves your mouth to minutes afterward…a reason that you will find a lot of cuppers revising aftertaste scores when they are still experiencing a positive flavor a minute or two later.

-Sweetness: Sweetness is almost always a desirable quality in coffee, even if it is described in euphemistic ways such as “rustic sweetness” or “bittersweetness.” You may notice that refined sweetness (think European pastries, fine candy, white sugar, pure sweetness) scores high, as well as complex sweetness from fruit sugars (fructose). Malty sweetness (maltose) is less traditional, but quite desirable and honey can range from the very pure and clean to complex, rustic almost yeasty. Basically, if sweetness is a key to the cup, it will be rated well.

-Clean Cup: Note that “clean cup” does not literally mean that there isn’t dirt on the coffee. It’s just about flavor and raw, funky coffees that are “unclean” and the flavor can also be quite desirable, such a wet-hulled Indonesia coffees from Sumatra, or dry-processed Ethiopia and Yemeni types.

-Complexity: Complexity compliments “flavor” and “finish” scores, to communicate a multitude or layering of many flavors. It means that there’s a lot to discover in the cup. Then again, simple coffees can be a relief after over-exposure to many powerful, intense, complex coffees.

-Uniformity: Uniformity refers to cup-to-cup differences. Dry-process coffees can be less uniform than wet-process coffees by nature. We would never avoid a lot that has fantastic flavors if occasionally it waivers. This is scored during the cupping protocol, where multiple cups are made of each lot being reviewed.

-Cupper’s Correction: This is adopted from the SCAA system and Cup of Excellence scoring (they sometimes call it “Overall Points”). It allows a cupper to ensure that the total score correctly communicates the overall impression of the cup. You might criticize this approach and consider it “fudging”the total. In a way, you would be correct … but it would be much worse to change the category scores to acheive the desired total (to give a coffee a 9 for acidity when you know it is a 7), or conversely to have a coffee that absolutely deserves a 90 end up at 84. The specific Cupper’s Correction number matters naught, be it a 5 or an 8 … the idea is that the total score gives a correct impression of the coffee quality.

-Score: 100-95 = Astounding, 90-94 = Outstanding, 85-89 = Very Good, 80-84 = Good, 75-79 = Fair, 70-74 = Poor


It’s Not About The Numbers

Don’t get hung up on the total scores. If you are looking for bright citrus notes with tart acidity, you will be disappointed by even the highest scoring Sumatra with tons of earthiness, body and dark chocolate notes. Take a look at how the coffee is scored, not just the total score. More importantly, read the review…it’s an actual narrative of how the coffee tastes and we always use comparisons to foods, fruits and drinks that you are hopefully familiar with.