Video 10 – Labelling results

In case I don’t make it clear enough in the video – if you can do this (if you are a cafe or roastery) then I would highly recommend this simple experiment.

Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing maths education

The coffees we used 1:

Blackburn AA

El Carrizo

Ngunguru AA

Tegu AA

  1. this is more so you can read the descriptions than me trying to flog you coffee!  ↩︎

21 Comments Video 10 – Labelling results

  1. Michelle

    In your upcoming vlogs I’m wondering if you’d consider doing something for us amateurs? Your post about breaking/skimming with French presses ( has made home-made coffee so much more enjoyable. While I don’t have an espresso machine at home, I buy and grind beans, but find the process of what to buy at times daunting (more so when Yirgacheffe is out of season) – should I always steer clear of espresso labelled beans?

    And, if you’re willing there are these questions too: store beans in the freezer/don’t store them in the freezer? Don’t add water when it’s boiling as you’ll burn the coffee?

    Many thanks for the videos, they’ve been a nice break from the text.

  2. alexander ruas

    also – you don’t have to be so ambitious every time…. maybe slacking off doesn’t come naturally to as it does to me but we would be thrilled with a stroll through your roastery/offices to see what it looks like where you work. or even better – stroll through SquareMile and jump on your bicycle and roll over to some cafe where they serve your coffees – all the time filming!
    this would give us a taste of life in London!
    my favourite video so far is the one from the flower market!

    keep up the great work!


  3. Colin Harmon

    Really interesting video. I’d like to see an unlabelled bag arrive as a subscription coffee so we could say what we’re tasting and then post it back to you guys?

  4. James Hoffmann

    That is a very interesting and tempting idea – except that not all of our subscribers are super nerdy about their coffee, they simply want to enjoy it and I think a large part of that enjoyment is still the story (which includes the descriptions). However I could probably work up an experiment through the shop along a similar line that was a bit more opt-in.

  5. Lance

    James this is a very exciting topic. As you know I have spent a decade doing tastings with a commercial Italian branded coffee and people are lead by the flavours you describe. Often when I suggest certain notes in the coffee the customer tends to hunt for them and generally find them.
    I remember a group of expert wine tasters once being given wines that had been meesed about with. For example some white wines had red colour added to make them appear red. It would be fun to jumble the coffees up a bit to see if the customer was lead by what was written on the sheet or their palate.
    When I am trying to sell to a possible client I always suggest doing the tasting blind as a label or brand can sway them.
    I find that getting the customer to try more than 2 coffees ends up in confusion.
    I have a lot of fun doing blind tastings and this is a very valid test that can be rolled our many times in the future.
    Looking forward to any future results you may post.

  6. Chris Deferio

    I love this as a way to get to know the presuppositions of your future clientele.
    This is not only great customer service but is great for the roaster as the people act as a control group. Knowing the presuppositions of your audience is the first step in laying a foundation for a good argument. In the case of coffee your argument is that they should drink the good stuff. Taking the time to get to know where they are helps you get them to where you want them to be…Buying, understanding, and enjoying YOUR stuff!
    Nice video, James. Inspirational as usual.

  7. Chris Deferio

    Also…I bet this would be doubly effective to do before ever selling any coffee…just to help in finding common descriptors for your particular demographic?

  8. Wee Chuan

    Just ordered the coffee beans from Squre Mile through my friend who just came back from UK.

    Can’t wait to try today here in Malaysia. Never got to meet you when I was studying in UK but got to met Arnette in LSC.

    Is the video file size very huge? I wanted to watch but the so-called broadband line here is very slow & loads for ages. Is it possible to share through download.

  9. Colin Harmon

    I think it would be really interesting to do. I recently did a tasting with a group and their notes were very different to mine. I went back and tasted them again and was quite embarassed to find I’d been tasting the name of the coffee rather than what was actually in the cup. Memory and reputation are powerful persuaders.

  10. James Hoffmann

    Odd – I’ve been watching things back after uploading and it has been very quick. Perhaps it doesn’t like you guys over in Dublin?

    Is it slow for everyone else?

  11. Carl

    Same for me – tried at work and home. (I assumed it was contention what with the videos being SO popular :-)

    I just signed up for the monthly subscription – I’d be up for Colin’s unlabelled bags exp’t. I actually dislike flavour (as opposed to texture) descriptors on the label. I find they prejudice my taste too easily and they can be a bit frustrating,verging on intimidating.

  12. Nicholas Lundgaard


    I’m in the US and can confirm that it’s slow. I wouldn’t say “slow as ****,” but it’s too slow to keep up with watching right from the start–I have to let it download about a third of the way before starting. Not a big deal for me, certainly not something I would complain about. Vimeo was always great, though. What made you quit using it?

    Anyway, great video, very close to my heart. I know there are a lot of roasters are either completely silent about their coffee’s profile, or very vague. Some people argue that getting “spoonfed the answers” on flavors is like cheating, or is downright misleading. Personally, I think that’s crap and I’ve always appreciated the guidance on flavors–Knowing what to look for was one great tool that’s helped me develop my palate further, and brewing espresso the descriptions are a great tool for diagnosing whether I’m pulling shots in the intended range (not that I’ve ever felt bound to do so).


  13. shm

    I’m in Scotland with a 24 meg (14 in actuality) line and I have to let it load a bit before watching, I’d say it was the blog’s fault.

  14. Hunt Slade

    Here in the southeast US, it is very slow – even on a cable modem. Pause and then play is our ordeal – worth it, but frustrating.

  15. David Pier

    Re:, I imagine Jim is using it because it offers better video quality. It might just be that the quality is so high that it is exceeding the bandwith of even some broadband connections.

  16. Anne

    Hey James,

    It doesn’t need to be said that these videos have all been great and I’ve been rambling on about them to anyone that will listen here in rural Massachusetts. I did have a thought about this experiment though. I’ve found when doing introductory tasting people tend to gravitate towards the most unusual coffee on the table – be that a kenyan, a dark roast, a natural, etc. Since you used two kenyans I think it was mitigated somewhat but I would be really interested to see what the success rate was like with four very similar coffees – all centrals, or all el salvador bourbons, to see what the match rate is like then. I think we as coffee professionals think people “get” coffees when really they’re just guessing with the most unusual coffee on the table. Often I can find that people are still using the same descriptors and can explain back to them why they guessed “correctly,” but it would be interesting to see how successful we are at describing the nuances of very similar coffees back to the consumer – if at all.

  17. Erik Fooladi

    Wonderful videos, and as a layman (coffee-wise) I find the question about descriptions very intriguing. One point that might be interesting to pursue is the fact that flavour can be divided into three/four components, which of two are felt one the tongue (correct me if I’m wrong, I’m taking this slightly from the top of my head):
    1) taste (on the tongue, in the mouth)
    salty, acid/sour, bitter, sweet, umami
    2) textures and trigeminal effects (on the tongue, in the mouth):
    temperatures, smoothness, metallic (try putting a metal spoon in your mouth…), hot/pungent (i.e. chili), cooling (i.e. menthol), greasy, crunchy etc.
    3) aroma/scent/odour (in the nose):
    talks for it self, maybe. Apples and pears taste the same if you hold your nose-type of phenomena.

    If the descriptors are categorised into these three categories; which category will receive most references, and do any of them have more correct matches than others? Are customers oriented towards what is regitered in the mouth rather than in the nose, or vice versa? (you mention that descriptions in common supermarkets etc. are more oriented to the mouth part, right?)

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