GCQRI Day One – Dr Tim Schilling

Tim’s title was “Insufficient understanding of the mechanisms affecting quality coffee and measuring quality – and potential for GCQRI to address these.”

Serious as that sounds, it was all very accessible! The talk covered what we know (very little), why we don’t know much (I’ll come to this) and a little about sensory techniques.

So what do we know? Not very much sadly – coffee exhibits great variability in quality, we know that altitude affects quality, we know that variety affects flavour, we know that terroir affects the quality. All very general – and we are unable to get into real specifics. While we might see a correlation between altitude and quality we don’t know that altitude is the actual cause of the quality.

We were then given a draft review of the literature published on coffee cup quality. This is broken down into determining factors such as fertilizer or shade. It is 18 pages long (sadly) and will be published for free on the new GCQRI website, and free to download for anyone. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I will post something when I do I guess.

So why don’t we know more about cup quality? Tim suggested a few things – we’re a young industry, origin research has had to focus on yield and disease resistance and also there aren’t many institutions at origin with the capacity to run this kind of R&D. (There are obviously quite a few countries where this is possible, but I don’t think we could claim the majority of arabica producing countries).

What came up next is going to be something of a theme and a definite issue for this program: assessing cup quality. As Peter Giuliano said earlier, “We’re in the flavour industry”. Right now there are many different ways to assess cup quality as put forward by SCAA, CoE, Q, the ICO as well as consumer panels and focus groups. There are also objective scientific methods like NIRS,GC, pH, citric acid etc etc.

The problem we have is that there is no solid definition of quality, and secondly – many of our assessment methods do not produce statistically significant data.

We’ve barely dipped a toe into cup quality research and the takeaway message is that there is so much unexplored possibility and that is very exciting.

2 Comments

  1. James:

    Thanks for this. While I share your wish that there were more and more readily available research on the drivers of coffee quality, I continue to struggle with suggestion that there simply is no good research out there that combines the rigor of the natural sciences with qualified sensory analysis. I presume Geoff Watts is with you in Texas and do hope he can share his experiences with the good folks at CIAT – the International Center of Tropical Agriculture – in Cali, Colombia, who have pioneered an extremely sophisticated, site-specific approach to quality-focused research that does precisely what people continue to suggest hasn’t happened. It weds exhaustive scientific analysis of a dizzying range of environmental and behavioral variables on the farm with the sensory analysis of Geoff’s celebrity palate. The approach has created enormous potential for mapping quality frontiers and generating site-specific recommendations for cultivars, farm management practices, etc. based on the interaction of the many variables that contribute to quality. It is not “the” answer, of course, but I think has a lot to contribute to the search for scientifically valid, quality-driven research methods.

    Thanks again!

    Michael

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