I am aware there is some potential for me seeming like an arrogant so and so in this post, but it really is just about having a bit of a discussion.
It is no surprise that I am a big fan of barista competitions, but having recently gone through the UK judges workshop there are a couple of things I would like to post about and get some discussion going on. Â First off an issue that both Anette and I find very frustrating:
The Scale of Words
For those unfamiliar with the words they are used to quantify the 0-6 scale used:
0 – Unacceptable
1 – Acceptable
2 – Average
3 – Good
4 – Very Good
5 – Excellent
6 – Extraordinary
Let’s start with 0 & 1. Â I can see why they chose “Unacceptable” for 0 – if a judge is giving you no points whatsoever you must have done something pretty wrong. Â However, I think using “Acceptable” creates an issue in the mind of the judge. Â The drink might be very bad, but could certainly be worse. Â Judges will often revert to the words – is this drink acceptable? Â It may not be, but surely a single point out of six is punishment enough?
I guess it comes down to the difference in how numbers are perceived by judges and by competitors. Â A score of 3 and below does not feel good. Â Despite the words, a 3 feels mediocre. Â However, a judge will often hold back from giving a 3 asking themselves if “good” is really the word to describe the drink.
Steps of 0.5 are allowed between 1 and 6, but these don’t come with words. Â What is halfway between “good” and “very good”? Â It is a question that needs to be answered as you see a lot of 3.5s awarded. Â “Really quite good” perhaps?
Using “Average” to describe 2 is also a bit depressing. Â I would have thought average would have been in the middle – so a 3? Â Are we saying that we expect the average competing barista to only score 2 in the 6 point boxes?
Choosing the language is obviously very difficult. Â It would be hard to replace “Acceptable” with a word that wasn’t more damning. Â I would argue that as a barista I would be happier with a numerical score, and then written feedback alongside it indicating both the problem and a possible solution. Â (i.e. scoring 2.5 for tactile balance on an espresso, with a note saying “the shot was lacking in body, likely due to fast brew/underextraction. Â Perhaps a slower brew would improve the body”)
I know a lot of people like and use the words, believing them to be an important frame of reference. Â I’d be very interesting to hear people’s suggestions for alternative words in the comments. Â Would people like to get rid of the words? Â Do they think they are fine as they are?
It seems churlish to complain about something and not at least offer some sort of solution. Â The layout of the scoresheets hasn’t really changed in 7 or 8 years. Â Rules have come and gone but the layout has been pretty rigid. Â I took the Sensory Scoresheet and moved a few things around, changed a couple of words but it is designed to be used with the current rules.
You can view it here.
The changes are based on how I use a scoresheet, so perhaps it says something about my judging!
First off – intros have changed a lot. Â Competitors often deliver a lot of information in the first 90 seconds, including details about the coffee(s) they are using. Â I wanted a dedicated space where I could take notes. Â Previously I had used the espresso section, but it quickly becomes crowded, especially if you want to write detailed feedback on the taste of the drink.
Secondly – the boxes switched sides. Â I wanted more space and a stronger emphasis on notes. Â Leaving a wide open space to the right makes it even more explicit that judges should be filling this up completely with lots of useful notes. Â Returning a scoresheet without detailed notes should be grounds for disqualifying a judge. Â Only one barista gets a prize, the others get the scoresheets and feedback from the event – so it had better be damned good!
Thirdly – circles. Â This is something a lot of judges do already – draw a little circle to better communicate what was wrong with the visuals of the espresso/cappuccino. Â Interestingly the UK judges have come up with a slightly more complex system for noting down the visuals of drinks to better communicate scores – especially to other judges debriefing a competitors on sheets they didn’t write. Â I like the idea – though I feel like it would make a nice ancillary piece of info, rather than replacing words, and helpful advice. Â An area to watch nonetheless.
Fourth – a little rewording. Â In an effort to squeeze more notation space onto the sheets I trimmed a few words. Â In other cases I added words that the rules say to look for but hadn’t been included on the sheets. Â Thoughts and comments on this very welcome.
Ultimately I wanted more space to write notes, because I think that will improve the use of the sheets returned to the competitors. Â Would love to hear some feedback – from baristas, judges or anyone else?