I’m not an average coffee drinker. I’m the obnoxiously picky kind of coffee drinker –– the guy who brings his own equipment to the office and refuses gas station and Starbucks coffee alike. This is not a point of pride for me anymore, really. It’s more of an Achilles’ heel, or a symptom of gross pretentiousness. (Sorry, co-workers. I’m a rotten, always-caffeinated monster.)
As my obsession with coffee has grown over the years, I’ve learned a lot. You probably know that coffee is green before it’s roasted. The importers of that green coffee will roast it, then “cup” it –– very carefully taste-testing it for quality, grading it for its aromatics, flavor, body, acidity, balance, cleanliness, sweetness, uniformity, and aftertaste.
Cupping scores are given on a 1 to 100 scale. Any coffee scoring above 90 points is considered outstanding –– the cream of the crop. If a coffee scores 80 points or less, it’s deemed
CRI –– or Color Rendering Index –– is kind of like a cupping score, except for lighting. CRI is determined by a lighting product’s ability to render a spectrum of eight different pastel colors. The higher the number, the more clearly the true colors of your space, and the things within it, will be when the lights are on. Like cupping scores in coffee, CRI is on a 1-100 scale, and a 90+ CRI product would be considered top of the line.
In coffee, a high-scoring crop will have more clear, discernible flavors than lower-scoring crops.
Furthermore, in coffee, generally, the higher the cupping score, the higher the price. So it is with CRI and lighting. High-CRI lighting products will almost always carry a bigger price tag than those with poor, low CRI. But here’s the thing: there’s a place for non-specialty coffee. There are endless applications for it. It’s just not practical from an economic perspective for gas station coffee to be $3 or more a cup. There's plenty of room
The same goes for fine wine, right? To many palates, a $100 bottle of wine may taste no different than a $10 one. A house wine, or house coffee –– the kind of stuff you’d find in a three-or-four-star hotel room –– will never come from the top-shelf. And it shouldn't, as top-shelf stuff was not produced for the average, or casual, wine or coffee drinker.
Consider this chasm in lighting. Do freeway tunnels need lighting with perfect CRI? Of course not, as evidenced by the fact that most of them are still dimly lit by orange-faded HIDs. Stairwells are the same. Top-of-the-line, high-CRI lighting would be a waste in a place people only use as a means to get from one story to another.
What’s the flip scenario? Perhaps you’ve poured a bunch of money into a store buildout or your inventory. You need the right lighting to complement it and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your investment. Low-CRI lighting could diminish the perceptions of customers.
Remember The Dress? It may stand as Exhibit A in how poor lighting (plus probably poor cameras) can incorrectly render the colors of an object.
I should note that other scales have been created in addition to CRI, like R9 and CQS (Color Quality Scale). And some lighting professionals believe that CRI is inaccurate in its ability to measure the color rendering potential of LEDs. That said, it’s still a rule of proxy that many lighting professionals stand by.
Just like there’s no substitute for sipping a cup of coffee to see how it tastes to your palate, it’s always a good idea to do a test install of lighting in any critical areas to make sure you like the results.