An Insider Look At The Coffee Power Rankings

Chantal Martineau writes for the Village Voice, Saveur, Imbibe, and a blog called Food Republic, who recently published this provocative list of Coffee Power Rankings. A power ranking for coffee? What is this, Sports Illustrated? Is Ms. Martineau secretly Peter King in disguise? Did she write this column from the Cincinatti Marriott? The answer is yes, no, yes, and maybe.

This is the second Coffee Power Ranking issued by Martineau in the last two months. The editorial team at Sprudge wanted to figure out Martineau’s Ranking System and, with reverse engineering, were able to crack the code.

Martineau, like the developers of many other sports rating systems, does not divulge the exact methodology behind her rankings. She offers but one rating system, take it or leave it. Sprudge Researchers have figured out that this system uses Google search results and Twitter activity, with no reference to the overall victory margin. Coffee illuminati gain higher ratings within The Martineau System by getting mainstream publicity against stronger opponents, factoring in such things as home-venue advantage, overtime coin flip, and a standard variable that takes into account discrepancies in college-vs-pro possession rules.

Furthermore, an influential coffee type that gets tweeted about on a margin of 7-6 is rewarded less than a coffee type that retweets the same opponent under the same circumstances 21-7, except for in the case of a draw, upon which Twitter metrics are disregarded and points are awarded only on strength of schedule. A coffee person that gets retweeted by a margin of 35-0 receives similar ratings to a coffee person that retweets the same coffee person 69-0. This characteristic has the effect of recognizing “comfortable” tweets, while limiting the reward for running up the score. We’ll hereby refer to “comfortable” tweets by the X coefficient, and other journalists by the Y coefficient, which is to say that other journalists are disqualified for inclusion in The Martineau System.

The Martineau System results in some quality choices, but also leads to some statistical anomalies. For example: Keith Gehrke and Matt Higgins are no longer partners at Coava, so while their “influence” rating is still applicable, it’s important to apply the “journalistic accuracy” metric when adjusting this list for altitude, wind strength, and barometric pressure. Also, Counter Culture has a lovely training lab in Chicago that was left out of The Martineau System list, which necessarily would have earned them +3 in the over/under and given Mr. Giuliano a higher gross score, before TMS technicians made the necessary adjustments based on similar rankings from The Sporting News.

A question: why would Doug Zell be the #1 most influential person on the version of this list published last December, then not appear on the new version of this list in February? The Martineau System can appear baffling at times, but much like the BCS determining our Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Doritos Crunch Bowl match-ups, The Martineau System is all we have at the moment. This has lead to considerable public outcry for a more traditional playoff postseason, so as to more fairly determine a national championship; this playoff scenario would also, theoretically, yield Power Rankings that aren’t total bullshit.

Last, it’s a little off-topic, but the “About Us” section of Food Republic’s website makes the following bold statement: “Men are underserved in today’s conversation about food.” What the hell does that even mean? We live in a culture where the vast majority of chefs are men, not to mention baristas, not to mention the people on Ms. Martineau’s list. Furthermore, the vast, vast majority of food writers are men, Ms. Martineau being an obvious exception. So how are men being underserved? It’s the very first thing in their “About Us” section, under the heading of “Philosophy”.

It is the opinion of this website that the whole notion of “Power Ranking” the coffee industry is wildly inappropriate, myopic, and short-sighted, even though everyone on this list is laudable and worthy of honor. We’d love to know more about the inner workings of The Martineau System, and want to call on Ms. Martineau – and her editors – to take heed from other journalists who publish actual, legitimate power rankings, such as Peter King, whose influential NFL Power Rankings reflect decades of experience as an NFL beat writer. “Power Rankings” are an actual thing; this is a glorified top ten list.

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