Interview with Peter Giuliano
August 09, 2023
Interview with Peter Giuliano

Chatting with Peter Giuliano is always a special experience. He is one of our industry’s most broadly experienced coffee people. He was a founder of Counter Culture Coffee; he’s worked as a coffee buyer, barista trainer, and cupper. He’s also held a lot of executive positions on the board of the SCA and Roasters Guild and most recently, he’s headed up the market research and scientific investigation for the Specialty Coffee Association, currently in the role of Executive Director of the Coffee Science Foundation. But the coolest thing about Peter Giuliano is that in 1988 he got his start in coffee working as a barista in San Diego.

Peter Giuliano

You might know him as the guy who used to commentate the WBC live stream. You might also know him as the blogger behind the Coffee Variety or Starwars Character series. Peter has kept a really interesting blog over many years called Pax Coffea — it’s coffee, history and a whole lot more — the latest post is about the origins of Ranch Saucer. Most recently Peter co-authored the very much updated and very well researched Coffee Sensory and Cupping Handbook. And he has been heading up the SCA’s efforts in revamping their 20-year-old cupping system — with some quite radical, thought provoking and very ethically sound changes coming through in their beta version of the SCA Coffee Value Assessment. Jem Challender, our Dean of Studies, who helped design Barista Hustle’s own Cupping Protocols, compares notes with Peter Giuliano in this very informative interview. 

SCA Coffee Value Assessment form (beta version)

Jem Challender: After listening to your lecture, it seems like Sidel et al, 1981 was quite an important reference for the new approach the SCA is trying to bring to the beta cupping form and beyond. In regard to this quote, ‘Combining tasks often is based on a cost or time motive rather than one of test accuracy. Because of the increased risk of obtaining biased information, such activities may prove to be false economy,’ I’m wondering, how separated do you think Sidel is suggesting things should be? Days between the descriptive and the affective testing? 

Peter Giuliano: Although I did reference Sidel, the consensus among sensory scientists about the importance of separating kinds of sensory tests has only grown. Often, specific panels specialize in specific tests. For example, a standard Quantitative Descriptive Analysis (QDA) panel will generally only do descriptive analysis, and affective tests are often reserved for use with consumers. Therefore, there is no standard for time separation for an individual taster between affective and descriptive tests.

Our new system is based on the idea that coffee cuppers act as a good descriptive tester and as an affective tester. Mario experimented with this concept during his PhD research and we started our own research on this about two years ago. In our tests, we’ve learned that cuppers are able to perform descriptive and affective tests just fine, even in the same cupping session, so long as the tests are not combined and are done sequentially (descriptive first). This is in contrast to the current SCA protocol, in which cuppers are told to jump back and forth between descriptive and affective scoring.  


J.C.: Can I please get your thoughts on this scenario? You ask an experienced coffee cupper to do a ‘descriptive’ test on some new Guatemalan samples. One of them is a 12-intensity for earthy. Then they come back a couple of days later to perform the ‘affective’ test and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s the earthy one again — yuck’. And score the coffee down accordingly.

P.G.: That sounds about right! In our new system, the descriptive section provides a flavour profile, and the affective section provides a cumulative score based on “impression of quality”. It’s important to note that we recognize the descriptive (earthiness) as an objective assessment, but the affective response to that is subjective and based on the cupper’s ideas about earthiness and quality. You’ve chosen an apt attribute for your question — as you know, earthiness is seen as a positive attribute by some and as a repulsive one by others in our community. We would therefore expect there to be a descriptive consensus (Oh, that’s the earthy one…), but diversity in affective response (…yuck! Or …yum!). The cupper is absolutely encouraged to score a coffee down that they dislike, or score a coffee up that they like. What’s different is that we do not see the score as in any way “objective” or “calibrated” as some people have assumed cupping scores to be.



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