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The Golden Cup Award: a program for a better brew.

"This guy called me up the other day and said he's planning to open a coffee store. He's been looking at some locations and wants to be up and running in three months," says Don Holly, with a slight smile that he gives to those who are familiar with this all-too-common scenario. "He doesn't know anything about coffee, but he's been told by others in the business, and therefore understands, that he doesn't really need to know much of anything about coffee. He's asking me which seminars at the SCAA show are essential, and which ones he call skip."

Holly shakes his head. He knows plenty about coffee, but wishes he knew more - and recognizes that there is still a vast amount of knowledge waiting for him to discover. He doesn't say it, but you can tell that Holly thinks this willingness to rush into the coffee business, without wanting or caring to know anything about coffee, is a dangerous thing - particularly dangerous to the goals of the SCAA, of which Holly is administrative director. The whole point is to serve good coffee, not repeat mistakes from the past that result from a lack of coffee knowledge.

Coffee, to state the obvious, is a complex beverage. But too many coffee retailers, coffeehouses, cafes, and restaurants, who are brewing up pot after pot, aren't grasping this obvious fact. They're buying good coffee, spending plenty of money on equipment, and have enough repeat business to warrant a feeling of a job well done, yet they're sabotaging the whole effort by brewing coffee that is just okay, better than a cup of instant but nothing that couldn't be dramatically better with just a little more knowledge and some practical adjustments.

To be fair, many retailers are unaware of proper brewing procedures through no fault of their own. For years, people have been led to believe that 2.5 oz. or less of coffee will make an acceptable 64 oz. pot of coffee. It won't. The SCAA recommends using a minimum of 3 1/4 oz., and up to 4 1/4 oz., of coffee to 64 oz. of water in order to achieve a good pot of coffee. How much coffee to use in ratio to water is merely one example of the many areas about which people are commonly misinformed. The amount, 2.5 oz., seems to be popular largely because the emphasis in the last 20 years has been on keeping costs low and increasing yields. "Use less, save money" advertising campaigns from the late 1970s and 1980s were commonplace. Because of that conditioning of the market, many people resist their supplier's suggestion to use more coffee per brew, assuming it to just be a pitch to get them to use more, buy more. Yet if they would listen and put these helpful tips into practice, they would find that the dramatic improvement in beverage flavor would lead to increased sales. Many retailers just don't realize that quality can be greatly improved through minor adjustments in their brewing practices.

That's why the SCAA has introduced a new effort aimed at improving the brewing practices of all coffee establishments: The Golden Cup Program. Those who brew in accordance with the SCAA's brewing standards promulgated by the program are eligible for the award, and can get a good-looking plaque for in-store display and consumer recognition. Those stores that don't yet brew what the SCAA deems to be a "golden cup" will, nonetheless (through the process of trying to obtain the award), learn how to brew a significantly better pot of coffee and brew it consistently. This is a win-win situation, where overall sales can increase at all levels with the improvement of the coffee beverages sold.

What's in a Cup?

While acknowledging that there are subjective factors at work in distinguishing what makes a good cup of coffee, Holly says that there are some absolutes - some measurable factors that can be controlled to consistently achieve a relatively excellent brew. In the 1950s and the 1960s, a great deal of scientific research was done by the Coffee Brewing Institute of the Pan-American Coffee Bureau. The SCAA's standards are based on this research, as well as that of the Norwegian Coffee Brewing Institute.

These entities found that much of how we perceive the quality, the "deliciousness" if you will, of a cup of coffee comes down to, technically speaking, a favorable combination of strength and extraction.

Strength is discussed technically as the concentration of soluble components in the beverage. In other words, strength, as Karalynn McDermott said in a presentation at the 1996 SCAA show, is a measure of the concentration of soluble components "expressed as a percentage, comparing the amount of coffee flavor material to the amount of water in the final beverage." There is a range of brew strength that has been determined to be most desirable or pleasing to most people. That range of solubles concentration is between 1.0-1.5%.

Ideally, coffee is between 98.5% and 99% water. The balance would be the extracted elements from the coffee beans (soluble concentration) which makes up the beverage's strength. Less than 1% is too weak. More than 1.5% is generally too strong for most people. However, as Carl Staub, of Agtron Inc., developer of the Agtron/SCAA Brewing Analysis Kit - which is used to test brewing systems applying for the Golden Cup award - says, "Beverage strength is really a personal preference. In specialty coffee, we've identified a target range, but it wouldn't be wrong to like your coffee stronger or weaker." He adds that it's a different story with extraction levels.

Extraction "is a measure of the solubles yield," according to McDermott. "It is also expressed as a percentage, comparing the amount of coffee flavoring materials in the beverage to the amount of coffee grounds used to prepare the beverage," she said in her presentation. Essentially, it is how much material from the grounds ends up being extracted into the water. For the solubles yield, 18-22% is the target range. Lower than 18% of the extractable particles in a coffee bean extracted will result in the grassy, peanut-like flavors inherent with underextraction. More than 22% is overextracted and will cause undesirable astringent or bitter flavors to present themselves.

Strength and extraction are vital in defining what a cup of coffee is. The whole point of brewing coffee is to extract some (but definitely not all) of the elements from the coffee beans into the water, and ending up with a desired strength or concentration of those elements that is pleasing to the palate.

Where the ranges of optimum strength and optimum extraction intersect is known as 'optimum balance.' Through brewing analysis, an SCAA certified brewing technician can tell if this optimum balance is being achieved. If so, and if other critical brewing criteria are met, a Golden Cup Award will be presented. If not, however, the applicant is still in luck. The Golden Cup program is designed to improve brewing practices, not to punish those who don't meet the SCAA's standards. The idea is to help retailers achieve those standards. So, rather than fail, a retailer who doesn't yet achieve Golden Cup status as determined by brewing analysis simply makes adjustments in their brewing practices (such as using a different grind or more coffee or better water) in order to achieve the optimum balance of strength and extraction. When they do achieve it, they are granted the award. Even if they don't receive the award, they will, almost without exception, be brewing better coffee than they were before the analysis, which will please them and their customers.

Inspecting the Elements

There are numerous factors in the brewing process that affect the balance of strength and extraction, and that otherwise affect the quality of the brewed beverage. Each is critical and is looked at by the technicians conducting the on-site brew analysis for those operations hoping to receive the Golden Cup Award. It's helpful to look at each one individually. Note that most of the information from this section is largely based on that found in the Coffee Brewing Handbook (CBH), first edition, written by executive director of the SCAA, Ted Lingle, and from Carl Staub's directions for using the Agtron/SCAA brewing analysis kit, which is comprised of the tools the inspecting technicians use in their analysis. Furthermore, the original science from which these materials derive was done by Earl E. Lockhart, Ph.D., who was a professor of Food Science at M.I.T. and scientific director of the Coffee Brewing Institute from 1952-1964.

Currently, there are 150 technicians who have been trained by the SCAA's scientific wing, the Specialty Coffee Institute. They record information about the particular brewing program being tested. They first note what coffee blend is being tested, the SCAA/Agtron Tile number for the roast classification, and the grind measurement. They also take note of the type of brewing equipment (urn, shuttle system, etc.), the manufacturer, and the size (in fluid ounces and gallons). They then begin the objective evaluation, which is essentially an on-site soluble solids test (there is also a subjective evaluation).

Water Quality

The first measurement taken in the objective analysis is that of the total dissolved solids in the water used to brew tile coffee. It seems like a no-brainer, but many a cup of coffee could taste dramatically better with just a little more attention paid to the water being used to brew it. Comprising 98.5-99.0% of the final beverage, water is critical to the final flavor. The best tasting coffee will be brewed from water that has between 50-100 ppm of total dissolved solids (TDS). For the Golden Cup Award, one of the two most critical factors is the net amount of TDS in the final brewed beverage (its strength). That optimum is between 1,150 ppm (or 1.15% by weight basis) and 1,350 ppm (or 1.35% by weight basis). The amount of TDS present in the water to begin with is recorded and later subtracted from the gross TDS of the brewed beverage to determine its net TDS (or true strength).

General brewing principles suggest that the water used for brewing should also be free of any taste, odor, or visible matter. Chlorine should be filtered out along with excess minerals. The water should be free of iron, which will give the brew a very unappetizing greenish hue. While not specifically tested for in the Golden Cup Program, these considerations are important for obtaining the best tasting brew possible, and problems here can affect the achievement of optimum balance sought.

The pH measurement of the water is also noted, because an out- of-balance pH measurement can also hinder achievement of the optimum balance of strength and extraction. The pH balance of a given water supply may be hard to change. It is helpful, however, to know what the water's pH is and what effect it may have on the brew, so that compensations can be made in other areas such as using more or less coffee or adjusting the grind. A pH of 7.0 is neutral, neither acidic nor alkaline, and is the optimum pH measurement for water. A change in pH of 0.1 is detectable by the palates of most people. Below 7.0 (6.9, for example), it is acidic (the lower the number, the more acidic it is) and will increase the solubility of the compounds in the coffee grounds. Above 7.0, it is alkaline and will form salts that reduce the fine acidity sought in some specialty coffees.

Brewing Recipe

The next item inspected is the recipe, the ratio of coffee grounds to water. One of the most important and often easiest ways to improve the taste of brewed coffee is to be sure you're using the proper brewing recipe. The guidelines set forth in the CBH are 9-11 gm. of coffee per six fluid ounces of water. For the ever-popular 64 oz. pot, as mentioned above, 3 1/4-4 1/4 oz. is the prescribed range. For the large urn brewers, one pound of coffee should be used with 2-2 1/2 gallons of water. An applicant for the Golden Cup Award who does not brew within this coffee to water ratio is not eligible for the award. "If the other brewing points are applied even to a non-eligible ratio, though," says Ted Lingle, "the coffee will still be greatly improved."

Using the appropriate amount of coffee grounds can prove to be a challenge in some brewing equipment. The practice of using less and less coffee to save on costs became so entrenched over the years since the original Golden Cup Program ended that most commercial brewing machines don't have filter baskets large enough to hold the proper amount of grounds without creating some spillover, particularly when the coffee is fresh. The SCAA is working with brewing equipment manufacturers to remedy this situation where it occurs. In the meantime, there are many who believe that better tasting coffee is worth the slight inconvenience of wiping a few grounds off the side of a filter basket.

For the inspector, the brewing recipe is critical in determining whether the optimum balance of strength and extraction is achieved. It provides two of the four variables in the equation. By using a chart and plotting the amount of coffee grounds, amount of water, and net TDS of the beverage, the soluble yield or extraction can be determined.

To get a Total Dissolved Solids reading of between 1,150 ppm and 1,350 ppm using a low drop weight such as 2 1/2 oz. for a 64 oz. brew, the coffee is going to have to be severely overextracted, creating unwanted bitter tastes. Using an amount well higher than the range is going to produce an underdeveloped brew at a desirable strength. Again, it's a balance of strength and extraction that is the art of brewing. This means careful measuring to ensure the use of the right amount of coffee for the amount of water used to brew.

Measuring the TDS

Next, the technician measures the amount of total dissolved solids in the brewed beverage. He does this with the Brew Strength Meter, a device in the Agtron/SCAA Brewing Analysis Kit. This reading will include all dissolved solids that were originally in the water and those that were extracted from the coffee grounds and introduced into the beverage. This measurement is recorded and the total dissolved solids from the water (which was measured earlier) are subtracted to arrive at the net total of dissolved solids which represent the actual beverage strength. The target for this reading is 1,150 ppm to 1,350 ppm.

Figuring the Soluble Yield

With three variables recorded (strength in TDS, amount of coffee, and amount of water), the fourth variable, the soluble yield/soluble extraction, can be easily figured using the Coffee Brewing Control Chart as described above.


There are many factors in the brewing process that are looked at by the technicians that will affect the outcome of the brewed beverage and how it charts on the Coffee Brewing Control Chart.


The first is brewing temperature. This is largely dictated by the brewing equipment and the altitude. Brewing temperature should be between 195 [degrees] F and 205 [degrees] F. This is critical. The flavor of coffee is made up of numerous chemical compounds extracted from the coffee beans. Each of these flavor components extracts at a different rate. The rates of each will change as the temperature does. Coffee that is brewed at a significantly lower temperature than 200 [degrees] F (say 160 [degrees] F) has less flavor compounds extracted. Water temperatures higher than 205 [degrees] F increase extraction and also change the chemistry of the flavor compounds unfavorably.

The inspecting technicians record the temperature of the brew water at various points in the brew cycle where the water contacts the grounds. The temperature should be consistent and within range throughout the brew cycle. If the inspector finds that the brewing equipment is not utilizing the correct water temperature, adjustments are made to the equipment to obtain it.

Brewing Time

Also affecting the balance of compounds being released from the grounds is the length of time the coffee grounds and the water are in contact. Generally, the longer the contact time, the greater the extraction. The extractable compounds are released at different rates depending on the compound. Because of this, the mix of compounds in the brewed beverage (and the resulting flavor) changes with time. This makes it a critical element to control in the brewing process. Often, however, the brewing equipment leaves little control over brewing time.

There are three measurements taken to determine the amount of time the water is in contact with the grounds. The first is the water cycle time, the amount of time the water flows out of the brewing equipment with no obstructions (while timing this, the technician captures the water and measures its amount to verify that the brewing recipe stated is in fact being duplicated and not altered by the machinery). The next measurement is the total brew cycle time. Here, the coffee is brewed according to the recipe and timed. When all of the water has finished leaving the coffee grounds (finished dripping), the length of time is recorded. The water cycle time is subtracted from the brewing cycle time, which gives the dwell time, or the amount of time that the water is actually in contact with the grounds before flowing into the pot. The appropriateness of the length of the dwell time is closely related to the following two topics: turbulence and grind.


As the water passes over and through the grounds, it mixes with them. How the water mixes with the coffee grounds is important. The water must first wet the grounds and then extract the flavor components out of them. The way the water circulates in the grounds is known as turbulence. To achieve proper turbulence, the grounds and water need enough room to move and expand.

The flow of water through the grounds should be even and uniform. After brewing a pot of coffee, the technician inspects the grounds. Dry pockets or all of the grounds being pushed up to one side are signs of uneven turbulence and can result in too much being extracted from some of the grounds and not enough from the others. This can result in a less than perfect beverage with the worst of both worlds: overextracted, bitter flavors and underextracted grassy flavors.

The Correct Grind

The correct grind is that which matches the brewing time. Given that all other factors such as brewing temperature and recipe are equal, if it takes five minutes for the water in a 64 oz. brewer to move through the coffee grounds, a relatively coarser grind is going to be necessary compared with that required for a brewing cycle that takes three minutes The shorter the time the water is in contact with the grounds, the finer the grind. A fine grind in a long brewing time is going to be overextracted and bitter. A coarse grind in a short brew isn't going to yield much flavor. This is perhaps a bit of oversimplification - as all of these variables work together and have an effect on each other - but it is a good general rule of thumb.

The Subjective Evaluation

This is perhaps the most important evaluation. General comments are noted about the aroma, taste, body, acidity, and freshness of the finished brew. Meeting all of the objective requirements described in the sections above is meaningless if the coffee still doesn't taste good. Generally, though, if the objective criteria are met, the subjective criteria will be met as well. If not, then it is a strong signal that something as yet unidentified is amiss and needs to be looked into.

How the coffee is held after brewing is inspected as part of the subjective evaluation as well. The proper holding temperature is between 175 [degrees] F and 185 [degrees] F and the maximum holding time is 30 minutes. These holding requirements must be met for an applicant to receive a Golden Cup Award. Not adhering to these standards greatly weakens the quality and freshness of the brewed coffee as it is served.

The brewing station is also inspected for cleanliness and condition. The brew basket, spray heads, seat cups, and holding vessels should all be clean and in good working order.

Granting of the Award

Once the on-site evaluation is complete, samples of the brewed coffee are sent to the Specialty Coffee Institute's laboratory where they are tested for total dissolved solids in the Institute's LabWave 9000 microwave moisture and solids analyzer.

If the results corroborate that the operation brewing the sample meets the Golden Cup requirements, the SCAA will then give them the award. Two early winners of the award were Un Grand Cafe, a French restaurant in Chicago, Illinois (working with Atlantic Eyes Coffee Co.) and Cafe Carluccio of Los Angeles, California (working with Cafe Au Lait, Inc.). Since then, 13 other companies have been granted the award. Again, though, it is not the number of awards granted but the effect of the application process itself that should be used to judge the success of the program.

The Application Process

If you are the manager of an establishment which serves brewed coffee and believe your brewing practices are 'ship-shape,' you may be interested in applying for a Golden Cup award for all of your customers to see. Contact your roaster to see if they have an SCAA qualified technician who can analyze your brew. You don't have to be an SCAA member to be eligible. The only requirements are that you brew according to the SCAA's brewing standards.

To become a certified technician, you must be employed by a roasting firm with a current SCAA membership, own the SCAA's Advanced Brew Master's Analysis Kit, and successfully complete the SCAA's Brewing Technician Certificate Course.


For the roasting firm, the benefits are great. Alan Chemtob of Care Au Lait in Los Angeles, California, explains it this way: "The reason we really believe in the Golden Cup Program is that we go through a lot of trouble sourcing good quality coffee, roasting it expertly, and packaging it and shipping immediately to make sure it comes to our customers fresh. Then we have to give up control of it. We want our coffees to taste good to the consumer. This program will help ensure that once it leaves here, the coffee will be brewed correctly and the consumer will get an excellent cup of coffee.

"The nice thing about the program is it's not just us telling our customers they should use more coffee. It's an objective entity setting standards that we can point to. This takes the natural suspicion out of the vendor/buyer relationship. Instead of focusing on the money spent or saved, the focus is on the quality of the coffee, and customers are encouraged to adhere to proper brewing practices that are based on empirical data. We're very supportive of the program and would like to get all of our sales and technical staff trained as Certified Brewing Technicians by the SCAA and help get this program out there."

For the entity receiving the award, the benefits are also great. Chemtob says that it's a good way to reward those who are already doing it right: "Care Carluccio was doing everything right. Their water supply needed some additional filtering beyond what they had, though. The analysis we did identified that problem and we were able to correct it."

Chris Chacko, president of Atlantic Eyes Coffee Co., said that their client, Un Grand Cafe, was thrilled with winning the Golden Cup Award. "It was a real learning process for us and for them," Chacko says. "Now, Un Grand Cafe has the knowledge to taste their own coffees and tell if there is something wrong or room for improvement and can make adjustments accordingly."

Chacko adds that the better coffee brewing practices have really been a hit. "Coffee in Chicago has been brewed to a strength of about 700-800 ppm in the last 15 years. By changing to the SCAA standards, we were expecting complaints from the patrons who wouldn't be used to properly strong coffee. Instead, we've been flooded with calls of retail orders after Un Grand Cafe won their award and told everyone they get their coffee from us."

One area which has not yet been thoroughly addressed, however, is that of decaffeinated coffee. Often estimated to account for 20% of foodservice coffee sales, decaf - because of the processing it undergoes - brews somewhat differently than coffee which is not decaffeinated. Frank Dennis, managing director of Swiss Water[R] Decaf, notes, "As processors and marketers of decaffeinated coffee to the specialty trade, we are concerned that decaf be brewed to the same high standards that the SCAA has adopted for coffee in general. Just as roasters are anxious to see their coffee brewed to show it in the best possible light, we at Swiss Water[R] Decaf want to know that our efforts to deliver the best possible decaffeinated coffees are supported by rigorous brewing standards."

Holly notes that the task of developing an equivalent Golden Cup Award for decaffeinated coffee would be a big job, "To develop brewing standards for decaf would require that the same original research that was done for non-decaffeinated coffee by Dr. Lockhart be repeated for decaf. That would mean literally thousands of samplings in different parts of the country, not to mention all the testing and analysis that would have to be done beforehand. It is not something that the SCI will likely tackle until there are more than a thousand Golden Cup Awards granted under the existing program."

Through the Golden Cup Award and others that the SCAA is busy developing, they are indeed working hard to get the word out that coffee is a complex beverage, and helping those in the industry grasp the day-to-day practicalities of that fact. If the number of Golden Cup Awards presented comes close to the high number given out under the original program, it could help create a world where everyday coffee quality is elevated and sustained.

RELATED ARTICLE: Cafe 98 Awarded SCAA Seal

For the first time since its inception, the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) has awarded the SCAA seal of certifications to the Cafe 98 coffee brewing system. Cafe 98's proprietary brewing systems is the first to pass the association's stringent criteria for contact time, brew temperature, and soluble solids extraction.

Mike Tompkins, of Coffee Products Associated, the North American distributor for Cafe 98, notes, "We are very proud to provide the industry with the first brewing system to be recognized for brewing excellence by the SCAA.

"As coffee preferences have changed, so have the requirements for brewing technology. The performance of standard brewing equipment does not meet the parameters necessary to brew specialty or gourmet coffee; therefore, the association developed standards for specialty coffee brewing technology in order to achieve the goal of serving a Golden Cup of Coffee."

Coffee Products Associates, Inc.. P.O. Box 400, Bloomingdale, Illinois 60108. Tel: (1)(630) 582-4529, Fax: (1)(630) 582-4625.
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Title Annotation:awards for effective brewing practices
Author:Peel, Carl
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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