Roasters Rock

In the SCAA/CQI cupping protocol there is an attribute that is perhaps undervalued and overlooked. What is interesting is that in life we often overlook this attribute as well.

Balance in Coffee
In coffee, when learning how to score this attribute, we are told to assess how well the other attributes of flavor, aftertaste, acidity, and balance work together. If one of those attributes is overly dominant or unnecessarily draws your attention the coffee falls out of balance. The bigger the distraction, the lower the score.

Imagine it this way; there are four kids on the playground and there are no adults around to prompt them. They decide to play together. There is a young kid and an older kid, a fat kid and a skinny kid, a dark haired kid and a blonde, a short kid and a tall kid. As they work out what game they will play or what activity they will undertake, a dynamic starts to occur.

Often, the older, stronger, taller kid dictates what they will do and the others just go along because they don’t feel that they have a say. This group is dominated by one, but at least the other kids have decided to play. This would be slightly out of balance.

Another example might be that the skinny kid teases the fat kid and makes him cry. The tall kid decides to take his ball and go home. This would be WAY out of balance!

But what if all of the kids decided together that they would play soccer and they divided teams evenly and then went and had a great time. As an observer you watched  “the group” play, rather than individual kids playing alone.  THAT is balance.

It is the same way with coffee. If you find yourself NOT paying attention to any one attribute and enjoying the coffee as a whole, the coffee is in balance. If it is balanced from hot to cool, score the attribute high!

When looking at something outside of yourself, like coffee, it is easy to be objective about balance. It is even an attribute that can be calibrated and agreed upon amongst many cuppers. Making judgments about other things is something we do all the time.

So why is it so hard to look inside ourselves or at our own lives and observe balance? Others will look at us and make judgments like, “That woman is a workaholic.” or “He only cares about money.”

Balance in Life
An observation was made that, “People in the coffee industry tend to be very balanced.” Let’s test that theory! First, we will have to define what balance is for a person in coffee. After consulting some self-help books and motivational speakers’ thoughts, the following are the areas of life to observe and find balance:

1)    Body/Health – Spending time to exercise, proper diet, and enough rest.
2)    Mind/Education – Always be learning something new.
3)    Soul/Faith – Doing something bigger than yourself that is a selfless act, bettering the world.
4)    Relationships – Being an active builder of bonds with family, associates, and friends.
5)    Finance/Wealth – Planning and executing on financial goals, retirement preparation.
6)    Profession/Trade – Working at ‘your job’ and planning where that will lead you.

Coffee people, like all people, tend to be good at certain areas of life and need work in others. (That is about as insightful as a fortune cookie.) But here is one observation of the people in our industry. In general:

Body: On a scale of 1 to 10, coffee people are a 7.5. On the whole, we are healthier than average but those darned mochas, cookies, and muffins are too hard to resist. We are also fairly active and more apt to be running around than in front of a computer all day.

Mind: Here we excel. Average is probably an 8.25. This is not so much the amount of higher education, but the energy that is put into learning about the world, social issues, business, and product development. It is also seen in specialized education such as barista certification, roaster certification, and Q-grader certification.

Soul/Faith: Again, high marks for the industry at about an 8.  Perhaps more than most other industries, coffee people are acutely aware of the interconnectedness of the supply chain and how actions can ripple. We drive innovations in recycling, composting, responsible land management, and community outreach. Regardless of religious beliefs, there is an understanding that by helping others we help ourselves.

Relationships: Good, but not great, about a 7. Often coffee people are so driven and passionate about what they are doing that they forget to slow down and include others in their lives. While spreading the net wider in the communities and the world, it is easy to neglect family, and close friends. As an industry, we would be well served to spend more time here.

Finance/Wealth: This area NEEDS improvement! The score is at a 6.5.  Because we see the industry as favoring the consuming countries over the producing countries, we are often battling the feelings of guilt that we might ‘become wealthy’ in the industry. If everyone can get over this feeling of guilt and get to a place where we decide EVERYONE deserves to get what he or she want, then we will find a way to change the model. We deal in the second most consumed commodity in the world; there is wealth to go around.

Profession/Trade: Excellent! 8.75. As an industry we also get the following concept: Quality changes everything! We strive to get better at our craft. We know we get to charge more for coffee that tastes better. It is this thing that often takes SO MUCH of our focus that we let the other areas slide.

So, are we as an industry balanced? Yeah… pretty well.  We would get a solid 8. If we were being Q-Graded, we would probably get an 85.75. That’s definitely above specialty grade, but we could be improved with a little more attention paid to the details.

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at as well as

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