Home > Taste-O-Meter

Single-Serve-Direct Exclusive: The Taste-O-Meter™ System

Taste-O-Meter™ Ratings for Coffee

Choosing Your Perfect Coffee

Our Coffee-Rating Process

Taste-O-Meter™ Ratings for Teas and Other Beverages



Taste-O-Meter™ Ratings for Coffee

Coffee tasting, known as “cupping,” is accomplished professionally by people known as Master Tasters, who attempt to measure a coffee’s aroma, body, flavor, acidity, sweetness, aftertaste, balance and other factors. Every region, every type of bean and different roast will produce a unique set of characteristics. This can get overwhelmingly complex, and reviews may speak of such things as a “fruity bouquet,” “robust finish,” etc. But what does that really mean in terms of how does it relate to the kind of coffee YOU like? Do those terms really help you choose, or have they to some degree become just so many marketing buzzwords?

On the other extreme, in the most simple terms coffee roasters indicate the various roast designations of light, medium, and dark on the packaging, which gives at least some basic information. That is good as far as it goes, but this alone is far too simple to provide much comparative insight.

If only there was a systematic method of comparing coffees “head to head” on a just the primary, most important metrics? With such a system, you could find a coffee brand you have tasted and which you already know that you like. You could note its rating, then you could look for other coffees with similar ratings and have some confidence to adventure into those new taste experiences without disappointment. At Single-Serve-Direct, we believe that variety is the spice of life, and we want to empower you to choose just those new products that will most satisfy and delight!

Because we are just crazy like that, we created the Taste-O-Meter™ rating system. It offers useful ratings on what we feel are four of the most important coffee tasting metrics. Each is rated on a scale of 1-10:

Body

This is a coffee’s weight and density; the physical mouthfeel. A coffee with low body (1-5) has a thinner, more watery feel. A higher body, or “full-bodied” coffee has a thicker and creamier mouth feel (6-10). Body is a result of the amount of suspended and dissolved solids and oils extracted from the coffee grounds. How does body relate to a coffee’s “strength”? While body certainly is a component of strength, we must be careful to define exactly what we mean when we speak of a “strong” cup of coffee. On the one hand it is possible to have a thin, watery body along with an intense, strong flavor. It is also possible to have a full or strong body along with a weak, mellow flavor. For this reason we need to separate the body and flavor qualities in the Taste-O-Meter. Yes, these aspects do combine to provide a perceived overall “strength” of the coffee, however, a single “strength” rating alone would fail to differentiate whether we are speaking of a strong flavor, a strong body, or both.

Roast

Lighter roasts (1-3) give a certain kind of mellowness of flavor, darker roasts (8-10) have a more intense flavor characteristic, and medium is, not surprisingly, in between. But the roast flavor is really more about the type of flavor than the amount of it, even though darker roasts do generally tend to have a stronger flavor than lighter roasts. At the highest extreme, dark roasts may even give an ashy, burnt, or smokey flavor. Roasts may be indicated on the packaging a three-level system (light, medium, dark) although many roasters now opt for a five-level system (light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, dark). However, what one roaster considers “med-dark” may be another brand’s “dark.” So here we compare all coffees side by side on a single 10 point scale.

Acidity

Acidity refers to a tangy, fruity, or a subtly biting wine-like flavor element found in many “high-grown” (beans grown at high altitudes) Arabica coffees. That fact that coffee may have this quality is not unexpected given that coffee beans are in fact the seeds of coffee cherries. Most coffee drinkers, however, wouldn’t immediately think of tangy or fruity to describe coffee at all, perhaps because coffee is such a complex set of flavors and this particular flavor element often rides in under the others, balanced against them. At the higher end, however, acidity can give a distinct citrusy or sour flavor. Whether high or low acidity is a positive or negative attribute is a matter of personal preference. Acidity, along with overall flavor intensity, is reduced when green coffee is stored for longer periods. Acidity is also reduced as coffee is roasted darker.

Bitterness

One predominant flavor quality of coffee beans is a decidedly bitter flavor to some varying degree. When the bitterness is very low, it can be said that some degree of “sweetness” can be detected, however, it is probably more accurate to say a coffee’s sweetness is a function of it being relatively “un-bitter.” The stronger the bitterness, the higher the bitterness rating here. While bitterness is a positive attribute in coffee, but only to a degree. Exactly how bitter one prefers their coffee is a matter of personal taste. When tasters speak of a “balanced” cup of coffee, they generally mean that neither acidity nor bitterness predominates. This is often spoken of as a positive attribute, yet be aware that a balanced cup may not be your preference.

After considering these four primary ratings, there are further considerations we may delve into, such as how all the elements of a given cup of coffee come together—the subjective effect. These are described in our review of each coffee, if you want to find out more.

Choosing Your Perfect Coffee

When it comes to ratings, we generally interpret higher ratings as being “better.” But this is not necessarily true. The point here is that you want to find the right ratings for you. Maybe your perfect cup of coffee is on the watery with an intense, dark roast flavor (body 3, roast 8, acidity 3, bitterness 5), or maybe you like a tangy, mild roast flavor (body 5, roast 3, acidity 8, bitterness 5), or maybe what you really crave is a balanced cup, medium roast with a full, strong body (body 8, roast 3, acidity 6, bitterness 6). There is no right or wrong here.

Yet in practice, the kind of coffee Americans tend to rate as “better” is full bodied, stronger rather than weaker, and low to moderate acidity, neither excessively bitter.

A word to those who add cream and/or sugar:
If you typically add cream, realize that you are adding mostly body to your coffee, with a slight reduction in acidity and bitterness as well. Given such a preference, it stands to reason that you would probably prefer a coffee that has those attributes to a significant degree to start out with, since those are qualities you tend to prefer. Also, in like manner, if you add sweetener, you probably would prefer to avoid strongly bitter coffee—since you are in effect countering the bitterness with your sweetener.

Our Coffee-Rating Process

We started with a control group of three well-known brands. The thought here is that you probably have had at least one of these, and you know which you prefer. Using this as your guide, you can see how each rates on the four metrics, then you can select other interesting coffees to try, which may be rated similar to your preferences. Who knows, with this intelligent comparison selection, you may well find something you like even better can your current favorite—ah, the search for the ever elusive perfect cup!




Body Roast Acidity Bitterness
Starbucks House Blend med roast K-Cup® 9 5 3 7
Folger's med roast K-cup® 6 6 7 10
McCafe med roast K-cup® 5 4 9 5

Explanation: Starbuck’s House Blend medium roast K-cup® is a very full bodied cup (9); it’s quality seems to fill the mouth with a solid, thick flavor which has considerable staying power, or aftertaste. It also sports a middle of the road roast flavor, is very low in acidity (3) and moderately high in bitterness (7). The overall effect of this is a strong yet clean cup of coffee with a pronounced lingering aftertaste, but without harshness.

By contrast, Folger’s is less full bodied than the Starbucks, yet still coming in at a relatively full bodied rating (6), but this cup is far less smooth, dominated by an intense bitterness (10). Riding under that bitterness there is also significant acidity (7) that gives a “lemony” bite, but this is so eclipsed by the predominance of the bitter taste that it may go unnoticed. Overall, the Folgers K-cup is very strong cup of coffee, with a relatively “dirty” taste, as compared against the clean but strong Starbucks.

McDonald’s “McCafe” coffee is less strong than both of the above coffees, sporting only a moderate body (5), a medium roast than is slightly less prominent (4). The major factor here is the strong acidity (9) with a clear fruityness, while the bitterness level rides in at the mid point of the scale (5).

Note: The K-cup® ratings are given for the larger 11.5 oz option. Making the smaller cup (9.5 oz) will result in increasing the strength of body and flavor slightly.

Disclaimer: Although we have tried to give our best effort at relative taste ratings, keep in mind that taste is a subjective measurement. Different people can perceive differently, and even the same person can taste things differently at different times. In addition, roasters coffee beans may vary slightly between different batches, storage time of beans, etc. So it’s not “perfect.” Nevertheless, we have made great effort to be as fair and systematic as possible, and we believe our ratings system gives you some valuable insight.

Taste-O-Meter™ Ratings for Teas and Other Beverages

Strength

As with coffee, all the single-serve teas, hot chocolates, frappes and other products are pre-measured, so strength is a very important rating. Note that this is an attempt to rate the item’s quantitative presence of flavor, regardless of what that flavor actually is, and not so much the specific quality of that flavor. Higher ratings are stronger. Also, note that each type of product is related only to other brands of the same product type. So a tea rating of 5 is average for tea, and a frappe rating of 5 is average for frappes. (There is no relationship between teas and frappes.) Coffee ratings relate only to coffees, tea ratings to other teas, hot chocolates to other hot chocolates, etc.

Smooth/Creamy

The “smoothness” of tea is a reflection of it’s general effect on the palate. For products with milk or crème (cappuccino, frappe, hot chocolate) it is a creaminess rating.

Flavor

For tea and other drinks, flavor is a judgment about the balance and essence of the flavor itself, while strength is a qualitative judgment of the amount of that flavor.