In 1997, Coffee Review started reviewing coffees for consumers and the trade using a 100-point scale. Such ratings were widely in use at the time for wines, but no one had used them before for coffee. The industry seemed ready for the idea, even enthusiastic about it, and today 100-point ratings saturate specialty coffee communication, particularly within the trade, where they play a role everywhere, from green coffee competitions to green dealer reports.
The same challenges, opportunities, and caveats present themselves as we introduce 100-point reviews to the tea industry some two decades later. To explore the paradox of 100-point reviews in more detail, read The 100-point Coffee Rating Paradox, an insightful 2015 article by Kenneth Davids, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Coffee Review that is relevant and timely as we prepare to launch 100-point tea reviews in 2019.
Much like reviewing coffee, evaluating tea presents rather different challenge from evaluating wine. Tea is a continually changing collaboration rather than a finished product effectively preserved in a bottle. Fine wines are bottled in a winery, often by the same people who grow the grapes and produce the wine. And, although wine undergoes small changes while inside the bottle (and occasionally spoils), those changes are often positive and reasonably predictable. To enjoy a wine, consumers simply open a properly stored bottle of wine, pour it, and drink it. If the consumer were to compare their taste sensations to those in a professional wine review, there is a strong likelihood that they would be similar.
Tea, on the other hand, is subject to a globe-spanning sequence of operations by a succession of people stretching from farmer to consumer-brewer, people who live in different parts of the world and who often don’t even know one another’s name, much less work at the same location.
By the time most tea is consumed, it has usually been subject to countless processes carried out by unrelated parties from all over the planet. Tea is not bottled and essentially shelf stable and static. It’s not just bought, opened and consumed such that two consumers in two different places and at two different times will share roughly identical sensory experiences of the “same” product. Tea is a constantly changing, multicultural, transoceanic, highly person culinary work-in-progress in which consumers may have distinctly different taste experiences with the “same” product.
With that in mind, we believe our reviews, as well as the teas and companies described in them, are a good starting point for identifying and sampling quality teas. But, ultimately, the reviews are the beginning point for learning about tea and learning about your own taste in tea.