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Find Your Coffee

At cafehound.com, we endeavor to locate the best coffee in the world. Over the last eight years we’ve happily watched as globally, the options available to the public have exponentially increased and the public’s general awareness of specialty coffee has deepened. Although we still believe that tracking down the best coffee in the world is central to our mission, we recently decided to dip our toes into the area of recommending specific coffee(s) to coffee lovers based on a mixture of qualitative and empirical analysis.

espresso_2017

In two posts (1 and 2) from 2015, we took verbal reviews of specialty coffees from the site coffeereview.com,  and we employed various clustering algorithms to discover groupings of coffee (based on words used to describe them and other factors). This served as our initial foray into using Data Science on expert coffee reviews to improve our understanding of specialty coffee.

Over the past month, we’ve set out to improve upon that original work in order to empower java lovers to discover the perfect brew. Our years of cupping coffee and talking with experts have shown that – after a certain point – what constitutes a “good cup of coffee” is subjective and specific to the palette of the beholder.

With that in mind, cafehound.com chose to use a large, multiyear list of coffee reviews from Kenneth David’s coffeereview.com site to explore the relationship between the descriptions used to rate coffee aroma, flavor, aftertaste, body, acidity and finish. We hypothesized that there are distinct groupings of coffee based on their roast profile, body, and flavors that are relevant to informing consumer preferences in the overall marketplace. To clarify, a market segmentation based on a representative sample of surveyed consumer preferences may be more useful to marketing professionals, but that is outside of the scope of this post. Instead, we’re using the structure inferred from math and reviews of specific coffees to estimate categories of the potential “coffee experience.” These categories may provide coffee consumers with guideposts for exploring new specialty coffees.

Our results led to six broad categories of coffee that we’ve ordered from lightest to darkest roast (based on average Agtron ratings). Agtron ratings are a numerical representation of the consistency of the roast color (lower numbers indicate a darker roast <45, higher numbers indicate a lighter roast 50+). More than the roast determines the flavor profile and overall body of the coffee, which is why some of these segments may appear similar.

Initially, we bring this content to you via occasionally updated web pages. Depending on demand, we may scale our service to provide daily or weekly recommendation updates.

For now, follow the link below to Find Your Coffee.

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For code share:

Shiny Segmentation and Prediction

Data Science: Exploring CoffeeReview.com Top Coffees (Cntd.)

In the last post we began exploring the relationship between the language describing coffee (“cupping notes”) and price/brand/roaster. Our objective is to provide coffee consumers with a general understanding of particular groupings of coffee they can choose based on flavor profiles and mouthfeel characteristics. An example of the type of properties coffee professionals use to describe their craft is illustrated in the below flavor wheel from Counter Culture:

CC_FlavorWheel

After evaluating the segments that our initial k-means clustering (with a k of 5) produced, I was unsatisfied with the results. My decision to haphazardly throw the price variable (unscaled) into the model was wrong-headed and drove the algorithm to essentially classify segment membership solely based upon that. In some cases such an exercise may be useful, but for our objective of discerning whether specific language could be used to segment particular specialty coffees, this segmentation wasn’t going to do it for us.

Also, this initial segmentation helped me narrow my “business objective”. Now I wanted to segment by flavor profile, something that might actually help inform a potential consumer’s purchasing decisions.

In order to develop the cupping note variables that would inform our segmentation, I explored the text data from Kenneth Davids’ site and selected the most common and/or most distinguishing words to test. The list of words is below.

wordlist

A quick look at these led me to believe that certain words might not yield significant information gain in the algorithm due to lack of variance. Mouthfeel, sweet and acidity were present in 96%, 80% and 90% of reviews respectively. Their power as differentiating variables would be constrained by their existence in nearly all observations (with the possible exception of acidity).

However, in my initial quick cluster using SPSS, I included the three variables mentioned above and I still liked the results enough to move forward.

Segment 1: 16.9% of reviews

Segment 1: 16.9% of reviews

This segment was the most expensive (average $42.31 USD per pound) and highest rated (94.6). The segment was the highest indexed on floral, honey, complex, silk, delicate, intense, and peach cupping notes. It also indexed highly on nib, lemon and acidity. The most common producer countries in this mix were geisha panama and Colombia, Ethiopian, Kenyan and El Salvadoran coffees.

List of Segment One Coffees 

Seg1_L1 Seg1_L2

Segment 2: 27.8% of reviews

Segment 2: 27.8% of reviews

This segment was the least expensive (average $26.72 USD per pound) and moderately rated (94.45) while coming from the most diverse sampling of producer countries. It indexed highest on rich, deep, resonant and pungent cupping notes. Whereas the other segments did not include any coffees from Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico or Papa New Guinea, this segment did.

List of Segment Two Coffees 

Seg2_L1Seg2_L2Seg2_L3

Segment 3: 13.9% of reviews

Segment 3: 13.9% of reviews

This segment was middle of the road in terms of cost and ratings (average $37.09 USD per pound and rated 94.52 on average). It indexed highest as juicy, tart, acidity, nib, bright, sweet, and was also well above average in complexity and floral notes. The range of producing countries varied quite a bit in this segment, with several bourbon varietals from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Hawaii – still other Geishas from Panama, Colombia and Guatemala – several Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffees and a few honey processed coffees from El Salvador (Pacamara) and Hawaii (Maragogype ($75/lb)).

List of Segment Three Coffees 

Seg3_L1 Seg3_L2

Segment 4: 20.3% of reviews

Segment 4: 20.3% of reviews

This segment was the least expensive ($28.46 USD per pound) and lowest rated (94.33) – all things relative to a very highly rated group of coffees. It indexed highest for fruit, sweet, lemon and light while also coming in pretty strong in the tart department as well. This segment is composed of a mixture of coffees from Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, Indonesia and Honduras. A few peaberry coffees are included, the red caturra from Rusty’s Hawaiian, a few stray Geisha coffees, and a decently heavy sampling of Sumatra, Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and various Kenyan single-origins. For the value, this is a very attractive and diverse segment of coffees. See our site visit to Rusty’s in Hawai’i in 2011.

List of Segment Four Coffees 

Seg4_L1 Seg4_L2

Cupping With Miguel At Lorie's Home

Cupping With Miguel At Lorie’s Home

Segment 5: 21.1% of reviews

Segment 5: 21.1% of reviews

Segment five is highly rated (94.58) and quite expensive ($37.73 USD per pound on average). This segment indexes the highest for tart, rich, acidity, syrup, pungent, and mouthfeel, while also scoring highly for honey and bright notes. Panama, Colombia, Hawaii and Ethiopia are the most heavily represented producer countries in this grouping. This segment is probably the most populated by Geishas followed by exotic Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees.

List of Segment Five Coffees 

Seg5_L1Seg5_L2

 

 

For more information on the roasters evaluated in this data from the coffeereview.com website, see the links and data below:

ML_1ML_2ML_3ML_4

And I’ll leave you with a bit of a refresher on the Cup of Excellence Scoring Categories for thinking about and communicating coffee quality/taste.

Cup of Excellence® Scoring Categories

DEFECTS

Phenolic, rio, riado automatic disqualification Ferment
Oniony, sweaty

CLEAN CUP
+ purity | free from measurable faults | clarity – dirty | earthy | moldy | off-fruity

SWEETNESS (prevalence of…)
+ ripeness | sweet
– green | undeveloped | closed | tart

ACIDITY
+ lively | refined | firm | soft | having spine | crisp | structure | racy – sharp | hard | thin | dull | acetic | sour | flabby | biting

MOUTHFEEL (texture, viscosity, sediment, weight, astringency)
+ buttery | creamy | round | smooth | cradling | rich | velvety | tightly knit – astringent | rough | watery | thin | light | gritty

FLAVOR (nose + taste)
+ character | intensity | distinctiveness | pleasure | simple-complex | depth

(possible notations: nutty, chocolate, berry, fruit, caramel, floral, beefy, spicy, honey, smokey…)

– insipid | potato | peas | grassy | woody | bitter-salty-sour | gamey | baggy

AFTERTASTE
+ sweet | cleanly disappearing | pleasantly lingering
– bitter | harsh | astringent | cloying | dirty | unpleasant | metallic

BALANCE
+ harmony | equilibrium | stable-consistent (from hot to cold) | structure | tuning | acidity-body – hollow | excessive | aggressive | inconsistent change in character

OVERALL (not a correction!)
+ complexity | dimension | uniformity | richness | (transformation from hot to cold…) – simplistic | boring | do not like!

A Green Pod? Trade-off between Convenience and Environment

This is an interesting article from the New York Times on the problem faced by coffee industry– how to make gourmet coffee preparation convenient to customer while preserving the environment.

A Coffee Conundrum
By MURRAY CARPENTER

WATERBURY, Vt. — Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has built a reputation as an eco-friendly company since it was founded nearly 30 years ago.

It started composting used coffee grounds in 1983, helped develop an eco-friendly paper cup in 2006 and last year installed a huge solar array on the roof of its distribution center. The company’s motto, “Brewing a Better World,” reflects its belief that it has a responsibility to help improve living conditions in regions that grow coffee beans.

But its recent growth has been fueled by a product that runs counter to its reputation. More than 80 percent of Green Mountain’s $803 million in sales last year came from nonrecyclable, nonbiodegradable, single-use coffee pods and their brewing systems. This year, the company expects to sell nearly three billion K-Cups, the plastic and tinfoil pods that are made to be thrown away — filter, grounds and all — after one use.

Now Green Mountain and its rivals are beginning to wrestle with the waste issue and searching for ways to make the packaging greener. Possible solutions include more use of biodegradable packaging, programs to recycle the pods or making the coffee filters themselves reusable.

“The whole concept of the product is a little bit counter to environmental progress,” said Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If you are trying to create something that is single use, disposable, and relies on a one-way packaging that can’t be recycled, there are inherent problems with that.”

In the battle for market share, single-serve systems are helping coffee remain competitive, Judith Ganes-Chase, a consultant to the coffee industry, said. “The industry has to be innovative. There is a lot of competition from other beverages in the marketplace,” Ms. Ganes-Chase said. “One of the biggest issues has always been the convenience factor of how to get a good cup of coffee to the consumer at any point in the day, when it is demanded.”

Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, said that although single-serve sales were growing rapidly, they still amounted to a small percentage of the more than 100 billion cups of coffee Americans drink every year.

Green Mountain’s K-Cups come in 300 varieties of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and a new line of blends made to be brewed over ice. The cost varies, but is often about 60 cents a cup, or $25 a pound of coffee.

At the plant, in a mountain valley between Burlington and Montpelier, burlap sacks of green coffee beans from all over the world are stacked on tall pallet loads in one warehouse. Next door, the beans are roasted. Most are then ground and packed into K-Cups.

The containers resemble oversize creamer tubs. On machines here, they are lined with paper filters, filled with coffee, topped off with nitrogen gas to prevent oxidization, and sealed with foil. The cups work with brewing machines designed by Keurig, a Reading, Mass., subsidiary of Green Mountain.

In the machine, pins puncture the foil top and plastic bottom of the K-Cup, and hot water flows through, brewing a drink into a mug. Then the little cup gets tossed.

Michael Dupee, Green Mountain’s vice president for corporate social responsibility, said some customers did not like to see the waste. “Consumers see the waste stream,” Mr. Dupee said, “and they compare it to what they had done before, and they have a perception that there is a problem.”

To some consumers, however, the convenience and efficiency override the waste issue.

“We used to make a pot of coffee, and we would be throwing it out all the time,” said Michael Hurley, who uses the K-Cup system for concessions at small-town movie theaters he owns in Belfast and Houlton, Me. “So we don’t do that anymore. And when people come in, they get exactly what they want.”

Mr. Dupee showed off a prototype that Green Mountain planned to test this summer. It is a paper K-Cup, filled with Celestial Seasonings tea, that eliminates the plastic and the aluminum foil. In addition, he said many consumers had started brewing coffee in reusable metal-mesh filters for the Keurig machines, which accept ground coffee.

Green Mountain, he said, has also commissioned a life-cycle analysis to understand the environmental costs of the K-Cups. Though he would not discuss details of the analysis, pending a third-party review, he did say the study found that most of the impacts occur where the packaging is produced, not where the waste is disposed. He said he had been working with suppliers to make their manufacturing processes cleaner and more efficient.

He also cited Green Mountain’s collaboration with International Paper to develop the Ecotainer — a hot-beverage cup with a plant-based, compostable lining — as an example of progress in packaging.

Other coffee companies are also wrestling with the waste issue. Businesses that use Flavia pods, which is made by Mars, are able to ship the used pods to the New Jersey company TerraCycle, which will compost the coffee or tea and reuse the plastic in products like pavers and fencing, a TerraCycle spokesman, Albe Zakes said. More than 2.5 million Flavia packs in the United States have been recycled in the last year. Mars sells a billion drinks a year in 35,000 workplaces worldwide.

In Britain, Mr. Zakes said, TerraCycle has processed more than 800,000 coffee discs from Kraft’s Tassimo single-serve system. The results are being evaluated for possible application in the United States, a Kraft spokeswoman, Bridget MacConnell, said. Kraft and Mars are paying for collecting the pods, including shipping costs to TerraCycle.

Sara Lee has a simpler solution for its Senseo pods — the coffee-filled filter bags are made of paper and are biodegradable and compostable.

Nestlé’s upscale Nespresso system uses aluminum capsules, and it has started a pilot program to collect used pods for recycling at some Nespresso Boutiques.

Ms. Hoover, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said another option was to include prepaid mailers with coffee pods, as Hewlett-Packard has done for ink-jet cartridges.

Green Mountain’s chief executive, Lawrence J. Blanford, said the K-Cups had some environmental benefits. Brewing one cup at a time means less wasted coffee at the bottom of the pot, and this reduces the overall environmental impact per cup of coffee.

K-Cups are also increasing demand for fair-trade coffees, he said, which accounted for 30 percent of Green Mountain sales in 2009. Fair-trade-certified coffees ensure that coffee farmers are paid a fair price per pound, and that coffee farms meet certain environmental standards.

Peter Meehan, chief executive of Newman’s Own Organics, said the success of the K-Cups, which are his company’s fastest-growing product, had helped Newman expand the market for organic products.

Still, Ms. Hoover wonders whether there is a simpler solution to the waste question. “At some point you have to ask, ‘But do we need this product enough that we need to be trying to find all these different solutions for the components of it, or can we just go back to the old way that we used to make coffee, and was that good enough?’ ”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/business/energy-environment/04coffee.html?_r=1&pagewanted=printhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/business/energy-environment/04coffee.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

Kris/Maher “Ano Novo” Blend. A stylish way to say “Happy New Year.”

New custom blend coming just in time for the New Year!!! Novo Coffee in Denver is supplying samples within the next week. We will be blending and cupping four different variations before making a final decision on the “Ano Novo” blend. All net proceeds will go to charity. Be very excited and tell your friends!

–The Hounds

Cafe Hounding: Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery – San Francisco

270 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA
sightglasscoffee.com

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Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery has already garnered a lot of attention even though they just opened the kiosk three months ago and the “real” coffee bar and roastery are still under construction. It is located in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood on 7th Street at Falsom– a short walk from BART Civic Center station.

I visited Sightglass in the morning of a weekday. At first, I was a bit disappointed that the cafe seemed to be closed and there was construction inside the building. A second later, I smelt strong coffee aroma coming from inside so I kept walking down to what was once a driveway to a warehouse. Finally, I spotted the coffee kiosk inside the garage gate.

Sightglass is owned and run by the two brothers who are also the roasters, and apparently the contractors and constructors, of this coffee bar. They were originally from the Pacific Northwest so coffee is in their blood. They helped start Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission, and before that worked at Blue Bottle (which we reviewed here). People from Blue Bottle also help the brothers set up their new cafe. Jared also worked together with Eileen Hassi, the owner of Ritual Coffee, back while they both were in Seattle. All of these confirmed what Eileen told me during an interview with her that the gourmet coffee industry in San Francisco had a healthy “friendly competition.”

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I enjoyed my latte while watching Justin and Jared working and supervising the construction of their new coffee bar. Right now they use coffee beans from Verve Coffee Roaster in Santa Cruz, CA, but plan to roast their own beans in a month. (I already spotted a Probat roaster there.) With their past roasting experience at Blue Bottle  among other places, the quality of the beans they will offer is likely guaranteed.

I had a conversation with Justin who shared with me their vision. According to him, the building was a paint warehouse so it has gigantic size as compared to the usual neighborhood coffee houses. The ceiling is high and the place is very airy. They will have a mezzanine that people can sit and enjoy their drink. The coffee bar will be in the back while the roasting area will be in the front. They plan to have seating area around the roaster as well. They hope that the construction should be done in a few months. And I am looking forward to going check out the place and tasting their own roasted coffee soon.

Cafe Hounding: Crema Cafe – Cambridge, MA

27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
www.cremacambridge.com

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According to a friend of Cafe Hounds who is currently a graduate student at Harvard, Crema Cafe is one of the best coffee houses in Harvard Square. In fact, Crema Cafe just won Best Coffeehouse in Boston by Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2009. I met with my friend on morning during a weekday. The cafe was packed with customers although they seemed to have plenty seating area– upstair, bars, outdoor, and long tables. The location is convenient, right in Harvard Square by the Red Line station.

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As usual, I ordered my latte. Crema Cafe always uses Colombian beans for their espresso drinks. According to their baristas, sometimes they use single origin from Colombia while other times they use blends with beans from Colombia. Their beans are from George Howell’s Terroir Coffee Company in Acton outside Boston. My latte had good aroma and it was not too dark– something you would expect from Colombian beans. They also have selection of pastries, some food, and soft drinks available.

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Overall, I see myself going to Crema again. The hard part for me is that when I am around Harvard Square, I tend to go to Burdick, which is one of the best chocolate cafes I have visited. But Crema Cafe is definitely a fine place that I will go if I want to get a coffee in Harvard Square area.

Cafe Hounding: Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza, San Francisco

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. – Mint Plaza, San Francisco
66 Mint St. (corner of Jessie), San Francisco, CA, 94103
bluebottlecoffee.net

Picture 1

Blue Bottle Coffee is a household name for coffee geeks living or visiting San Francisco.  San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with James Freeman about a month ago. I have been frequented this cafe, both getting a latte at the cafe or buying their beans to bring back to my home in San Diego. The flagship Blue Bottle is at the Mint Plaza, not too far from Civic Center and Union Square. However, it is not located on the main streets so this place is ideal if you want a quick escape from the hectic people traffic on Market and Powell.

Picture 2

The cafe is easy to spot if you know exactly where it is. Otherwise, try to locate a cute “blue bottle” logo on the wall of the building behind the Mint Building. Once you enter the cafe, you will find yourself in a craftsman-decorated 17ft-ceiling room with modern, industrial redecoration. Looking around, you will see glassware of Blue Bottle’s Kyoto-style coffee maker and other coffee-related appliances on cafe’s long countertop. It really makes you feel like being in a chemistry lab rather than a cafe, which is very cool.

I usually visit Blue Bottle in the afternoon of weekdays, and always find the cafe packed with customers. Sometimes, the line even goes beyond the entrance. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer your questions (including those related to the chemical reactions that might be happening in one of those glass beakers!). Since the cafe was very busy during the last time of my visit, I did not have a chance to talk to the barista although my latte was very good as expected. (Last month, my cappuccino was prepared by Sally, who had worked with Blue Bottle for 8 months. The drink was great, too.) Blue Bottle uses their 17ft Ceiling Blend for their espresso drinks. It mimics the Italian espresso blend but substituted robusta with high-quality organic arabica, resulting in a very smooth coffee with nice aroma. Blue Bottle also uses organic milk for their latte and cappuccino. If you are an ice-coffee guy, try Blue Bottle’s Kyoto or New Orleans ice coffee. (The Kyoto-style coffee takes over a day to prepare, slowly brewing drop by drop at room temperature.)

Picture 3

In terms of its ambience, the cafe is good for those who want a short break with a cup of coffee. The high ceiling makes the cafe airy, open, and relax. People also meet here for some quick informal business discussions. Although the cafe seems to be crowded and people have to wait for their drinks at times, I never have problem finding a seat in this cafe. There might be just around 20-30 seats in total, all with communal high bars rather than individual tables. Customers tend not to sit for a long time. One of the reason is that this cafe is not laptop-friendly (no electrical plugs and no wireless internet). However, I concur that this is a good policy after all, given the size of the cafe and the number of customers it serves. This is the place that you can come to enjoy your drink, relax, and leave your work behind– at least for a short moment.

–Kris Hound