company - education - coffee

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

To tech out or not to tech out.., blueberry manure, and blends..

All too often we are overly obsessed with the finer points of machine function, dosing techniques, and all the user variables surroundingthe coffee when sometimes we just need to evaluate the coffee itself. Hoffman does a nice write up on the basics of bad coffee diagnosis.

Along this same line of thought there is an underlying thread that irks me. I began participating on Alistair Durie's pet project to emphasize one point: are we drinking good coffee?

It started with a thread about blueberries in coffee. A very controversial thing among the coffee elite. Blueberry smells in coffee are the product of over-fermentation. Fruit rotting on the coffee seed in such a manner that it imparts a faux blueberry smell to the seeds. Nice and grand except you have a compost manure flavor underneath the blueberry smell that is not so pleasant I call a 'funk'. With a dark enough roast, you can cover that funk but you conversely lose some of the fermenty bluberry odor. With our techie nature as barista, it seems we are so focused on the blueberry that we don't stop to think if this is something at all desirable. We are focused on temperature curves, grinder heat, and PIDs, but what about the coffee we are using? The only reason we should be putting all this effort into modding and tricking out our machines would be to express the coffees better. So, I would challenge any barista out there to know the blend and to express the coffee by knowing what the coffee is and what makes it taste the way it tastes. For these Harrars(known for this blueberry ferment aroma) and Yemens(known for the uneveness and inconsistency of processing), we might consider not focusing on the blueberry but rather we should avoid the manure 'funk' underneath. The blueberry and funk go hand in hand.

When it comes to single origins and blends, we need to start lauding exemplary coffees and use our skills and techie nature to express them. Rethink everything and start out from a new perspective. I would love to see fantastic blends of coffees. The thing is there are not enough fantatstic standalone coffees to make these blends yet. We as a community, are still focused on gimmicks like the blueberry aroma that are the product of poor processing.

I dream of a day when a blend is 2 or three stellar beans and they are labeled with transparency on the bag. Naming the farm proudly as you would a french wine. Syrupy sweet and fragrant coffees that express the craftsmanship of the farmer and the terroir of the farm. I know Andrew Barnett over at Ecco is toying with this idea and GHH is ahead on this but most of the industry is still entrenched with either muddy Indonesian blends to bitterly cut through milk, Single Origins for the sake of Single Origins, or novelty coffees like Harrar and Yemens as Single Origin Espresso.

So this is my challange to all you home barista, barista, coffee pundits, and the likes: What is the flavor and why does this coffee taste this way? Flavor is the all encompassing factor beyond the techie, beyond the fair trade issues, and beyond the caffeine. The tastes should define the coffee and what are you tasting and why does it taste that way?