How We Score And Select Coffees

By: Jeff Babcock, Founder/CEO, Zoka

In the early 2000’s, I joined the nonprofit organization, Cup of Excellence® (COE). COE developed the first true quality scoring system for coffee and hosts competitions for coffee growers. This set a standard for all people who buy green coffees from these countries, and gives farmers the chance to be recognized and financially rewarded for great work. 

Since 2003, I have judged in 25 competitions across 10 different countries. The winning coffees from these competitions are then sold through an international, online auction.

What I learned from the Cup of Excellence was how to score and measure coffees for their quality. I now use this scoring system in all of my cuppings, for single origins and blends, and score all the coffees that I choose for Zoka. Over the years, we've developed great relationships with COE winning farms who we visit regularly and buy from year after year. Their quality is superb. 

I cup hundreds of coffees each year looking for the best.  Here's how I choose.

The format used in the Cup of Excellence® is a numbering system scoring eight elements, each on a scale of 1-8, with 8 being the best. Those eight scores are added together, and 36 points are then added to reach the total (maximum of 100). When a coffee scores above an 85, the quality is quite good. Above a 90, the quality is exceptional. Zoka only purchases green coffees that score an 85 and above in our sample roasting cups. 

Here's what to look for: 

1. Defects. Are there any defects in the beans or cup which would disqualify the coffee? For example, a coffee with notes of grass was most likely picked too early and the beans are underdeveloped. 

2. Clean Cup. How clean is the coffee while cupping? Does it have any dirty, earthy or off-fruity flavor notes?

3. Sweetness. For me, sweetness is one of the most important measurements in the quality of a coffee. If the coffee is sweet, it was picked at the right time.  When cupping, the highest quality coffees will get better, and sweeter, as the coffee cools.

4. Acidity. This is the sparkle in a coffee. Like a good Chardonnay, the pleasant bite should blend in with the sweetness and provide a sparkling sensation. This adds a little zest to the coffee.

5. Mouthfeel. What is the texture and viscosity of the coffee? A great coffee will have a creamy, rounding mouthfeel that just rolls smoothly when you drink it.

6. Flavor. The flavor of a great coffee adds the distinctiveness, the intensity and the pleasurable taste to the other elements. Overtones of chocolate, caramel, fruit and spiciness are common flavor characteristics.

7. Aftertaste. This is where the flavors either linger or fade quickly. Poor quality coffees will generally become more astringent as the coffee cools down, while better coffees will become sweeter.

8. Balance. The complexity and harmony of all of these elements is measured here. If the coffee elements are all in harmony, the coffee is like a symphony of flavors, sweetness, acidity, and balance. And the resulting points will be very high.

To learn more about the COE, and download a cupping form, visit