Living Our Values: Why we set the benchmark at 86

The following is a excerpt from our report Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017. Number one on our list of values is "We seek the right quality."

We often describe ourselves as an "86 company," meaning we begin with coffees that score 86 points and work our way up. We felt we should define what that means, why 86 is our benchmark, and what it means for the industry to source high quality coffee.

Defining Quality

We want to define what we mean by the term quality, especially since we claim to find the truly good coffees. We search for quality through screening and scrutinizing, then we articulate the result with a list of the coffee’s flavor attributes, and a numerical score out of 100. CCS sets the bar at 86 points for the coffee we buy. We recognize that this number isn’t self explained, but it is an efficient and simplified way of communicating a starting point for most people in the industry.

The common denominator for an “86” coffee is its clarity, and this means more than clean coffee. Clarity is a sensorial term that describes how a coffee opens and expresses its attributes, usually with the help of a structuring acidity. This combination creates complexity in the cup and many more desired attributes.

Sharing this experience of actually tasting the qualities through cupping is key to understanding and agreeing on a value for a coffee. Thus the point of using a numeric scale to express the quality is also a way to define its monetary value. Premium is a term for the extra money paid for higher quality, which suggests that the starting point is the right one. We disagree, because that level is more often than not too low.

High quality in coffee is the result of a concrete process and a particular craft, it doesn’t just happen. When certain conditions are in place, making a delicious coffee is achievable, but not easy. By setting our benchmark at 86 we mean to honor the honest craftsmanship and care that goes into making a truly special coffee.


Read the full report.

A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!

A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!