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. 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. 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. However, I think using “Acceptable” creates an issue in the mind of the judge. The drink might be very bad, but could certainly be worse. Judges will often revert to the words – is this drink acceptable? 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. A score of 3 and below does not feel good. Despite the words, a 3 feels mediocre. 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. What is halfway between “good” and “very good”? It is a question that needs to be answered as you see a lot of 3.5s awarded. ”Really quite good” perhaps?
Using “Average” to describe 2 is also a bit depressing. I would have thought average would have been in the middle – so a 3? 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. It would be hard to replace “Acceptable” with a word that wasn’t more damning. 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. (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. 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. I’d be very interesting to hear people’s suggestions for alternative words in the comments. Would people like to get rid of the words? 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. The layout of the scoresheets hasn’t really changed in 7 or 8 years. Rules have come and gone but the layout has been pretty rigid. 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. Competitors often deliver a lot of information in the first 90 seconds, including details about the coffee(s) they are using. I wanted a dedicated space where I could take notes. 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. I wanted more space and a stronger emphasis on notes. 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. Returning a scoresheet without detailed notes should be grounds for disqualifying a judge. 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. 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. 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. I like the idea – though I feel like it would make a nice ancillary piece of info, rather than replacing words, and helpful advice. An area to watch nonetheless.
Fourth – a little rewording. In an effort to squeeze more notation space onto the sheets I trimmed a few words. In other cases I added words that the rules say to look for but hadn’t been included on the sheets. 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. Would love to hear some feedback – from baristas, judges or anyone else?