company - education - coffee

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

'Lemony' Espresso

I had another shot of a 'lemony' espresso this morning. One I would normally refuse but it was free and I felt I could not refuse since it was my opinion that was sought. It was not painful, nor was it comparable in sweetness to our last espresso venture. In fact, it was kinda boring or you could say clean in the 'I don't mean' way. Not much aroma, very little creaminess and little viscosity. It was like a little lemon curd pastry in it's singular flavor component. It is not that I do not like a little lemon citrus in my espresso, it's just that I like somethng creamy and thicker for espresso. Once upon a time, Ben and I may have said this was a unique espresso but times have changed... a lot.

A nice Yirgacheffe with beautiful aromatics and a hint of lemon is nice. A Kenya, a Guat, or a Colombia with some lemon would be interesting. I love a good fruit character in a coffee but this shot was none of these.

It is not that a Brazil cannot be lemon but the question is should a classic washed Brazil in espresso be all lemon? OR maybe the question is, could I sell something like this with confidence and conviction?

Brazils can be boring but honestly, they make a much better base than your garden variety earthy spice characters often used as a base in espresso. When I think of Brazil though, I think vanilla, sarsaparilla, nut, cocoa, caramel, molasses... sure, but lemon, I am not sold on that. It's like trying to pull fruit out of something that isn't, for lack of a better term, fruity.

I don't know if lemon is really a big issue for me in an espresso I don't drink and would not serve but maybe that's not my point in writing today. I realized that this drink sparked a conversation.

You have to have perspective.

The best thing I ever did was consistently serve multiple espresso and varied roaster's coffees in one shop. When you only see one roaster's perspective, you lose your perspective. If all you ever really taste are your own coffees from one source, you will not have a greater understanding of other people's styles and the realm of possibilities that exist beyond what you are currently serving in a cafe. As a Barista, a shop owner, a consumer, and also at the roasterie, trying various styles leads to growth in palate and appreciation of what coffee can be.

I had a long debate about this with friends (Corinna and Jorg) in Guatemala. The greatest single thing you can do for yourself is to try everything and don't buy into the hype about anything. For all the Gurus and supposed Masters, there are a dozen others who scoot by under the radar doing amazing things without flashy egos or lengthy diatribes on why they are the best.

Sometimes, it's the guys who aren't selling themselves to their peers who are doing great things in their own shops. If I hadn't been guesting coffees, I never would have run across Andrew Barnett, Miguel Meza, or a whole other group of roasters out there doing respectable work. Heck, we may have even thumbed our nose at other great roasters simply because they didn't agree with what our current roaster is doing if it weren't for our guesting program.

Some podcaster once offered that a roaster is like the religion you choose, I would offer that roasters are like chefs and there are many to choose from with lots of perspectives on interpretation of the same ingredients. Sometimes, you can mix or match to what you perceive as their strong points, other times you let them lead you to a unique experience.

Coffee is an evolution and if you lock in too hard to one philosophy, there you will be and no further.

Point is, whether you were hooked into coffee by a chocolate ristretto or a lemony lungo, take the time to see what else is out there and give it a chance with an open mind and a curious palate. Don't listen to the pundits and try everything for youself because there are no standards and there is a unique new taste out there around every corner.