How much do you know about coffee?
Twenty years ago, Ron Walters, my colleague and co-founder of Coffee Review, arranged a meeting with me at a bar in a San Francisco hotel to discuss an idea he had for starting a publication that reviewed coffees with the same seriousness that other magazines reviewed wines. That was 1996. Some may recall that in 1996 there were no 100-point scoring systems for coffee anywhere, at any level of the industry. No formal reviewing, no green coffee competitions, no roasted coffee competitions, no venues whatsoever for rewarding excellence in coffee.
There were only company brochures, print advertising, and word-of-mouth. Certainly, very skillful cupping and coffee evaluation took place within the coffee industry at the level of coffee country associations, importer/exporters, and green buyers. But their skills remained sequestered in industry cupping rooms. Starbucks-style dark roasting was in the ascendant even with small, start-up roasters; caramel lattes ruled in the cafés; and the world of microlots and medium-to-light roasting was at most a faint, utopian idea in a few purists’ heads and hearts.
Before our meeting in 1996, Ron, a wine enthusiast, had just visited some high-end coffee farms while on vacation, and returned with an interest in fine coffee. But once back, he was surprised to find that no one was reviewing coffees with the same seriousness as so many others were reviewing wines. No Coffee Spectator? No Coffee Advocate? Why not start a publication, offered primarily online, that would offer consumers credible, objective reviews of retail-roasted coffee?