company - education - coffee

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Coffee: Strong and dark is better?

One of the most common complaints I hear is the Barista's lament 'The customer only wants a really large, dark, and bitter cup of coffee they can pour large amounts of cream n' sugar into. Why should I bother?'

The roots of our coffee heritage are strongly rooted in Starbucks and the dark roast mindset. Darker is better. It's more premium. If it's not dark, it's not specialty. Roast it so dark some of the beans explode, that way there's less to grind up! It's not about the coffee, it's about what's added to it that makes it special. That's the state of specialty coffee for most of North America and a lot of marketing money has been spent to make that case.

We've been suckered.

A Northern Italian style roast for espresso.

In Northern Italy (and the Scandanavian countries) they source better grade beans and roast much lighter than we generaly do. (There are a handful of exceptions tho) They historicaly have wealth in Northern Italy and therefore the customers can pay more for better quality. In the South, the roasts are darker because they were economicaly forced to use poorer quality beans and needed to roast over the defects. Hence the Northern Italian(very light) and South Italian(darker) roasts in espresso. The poorer areas roasted the coffee darker because they had to.

Espresso is a brewing method and not a roast or certain coffee.

Early American espresso seems to have adopted the South Italian style simply because of immigrants from Southern Italy and what appeared to be the complete lack of access to good coffees for espresso. Rumor is that certain countries bought all the good coffee while we were still serving cheap coffees with unlimited refills.

What about French roast you say, the French are wealthy and have a culinary focus...

French roast is a very dark roast for a simple reason. Historicaly, the French were colonialists. They only bought coffee from their own colonies, which was a problem because the coffee producing colonies were all low altitude areas that produced very poor grade coffees. They roasted dark and covered all the faults in the beans. All they had to do to compensate for the campfire roast flavor was add a lot of scalded milk and some sugar, and you have your Café au lait!

If you look at the China/Taiwan/Japan tea culture and how black tea came about, they don't drink these black teas. The tea they shipped over to Europe was roasty to preserve them for transport and sold to the Europeans who compensated and doused tea with cream and sugar. The Chinese and Taiwanese focused on holding the best teas for themselves and continue to do so. This is the reason many of us may never have a great green tea.

There are parallels in wine/grappa as well but it might be too much for one article.

It's easy to argue about, but the point is that a rare few of us have had high grade light roasts. Most of us have sampled the grassy under roasted poor grade coffees of companies like Dunkin or the overroasted coffees dressed in nicer bags and must begin to realize, the bean plays as much a part as the roast. Darker, yes, when you have a bad coffee or want a lot of milk and sugar. When it is exceptional coffee, you can and probably should go lighter. Let the coffee speak and enjoy it for what it is and where it came from. There are changes thanks to CoE but it's a long slow process.

Dark roasts have their place but they are about what the roaster has done and not about the unique flavors of a great coffees.

Anybody know what these are?

Aussie Double Roasts

The Mythical Third Crack