Unmarked Roads to Vague Destinations
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything. I’m very lazy, you see. I’d like to do a fortnightly thing. I won’t promise anything. Anyway, while I’ve been on hiatus, tons and tons has happened in our little coffee world. Most importantly (well… for me), I won the UK Cup Tasters Championship and came 8th in the world. Boom. I consider myself qualified to write about coffee now. Everything I wrote before this piece was unqualified drivel. Sorry about that.
Today’s post is a little soft, but upcoming posts will focus on some coffee science-eque things like extraction percentages and new(ish) kit like the EK43.
To sum up what I love about speciality coffee…
I can spend £3 and experience a unique beverage that is filled with unique flavor and a special story. Something that is the culmination of thousands of miles, countless people, and a huge range of processes. A beverage that is brewed fresh by a professional, just in front of me, yet is also a representation of high quality cultivation halfway across the world. Every step of the way, specialists are there to make the most of this product; farmers, green bean buyers, roasters, and brewers. Coffee is a singular substance with an amazing range of possibility.
This means that, for me, there will never be a perfect coffee. Not because there is always a flaw, but because the exploration itself is what satisfies me. There isn’t a meal I’d want to eat for the rest of my life, and there isn’t a coffee I’d want to drink forever.
Not everyone feels this way. For me, coffee is ultimately driven by flavor, and the relation of that flavor to the coffee’s provenance. Yet for someone else, the satisfaction may lie in the pursuit of a singular ideal. Maybe coffee for them is a ritual, a pre-set pattern of deft movements; a coffee kata or mantra. Or maybe they are driven by flavor as well… but they have a perfect coffee in mind… something that calls to them, a half forgotten memory, or a maybe dream of the future… the Platonic form of coffee. An espresso that must taste like chocolate, nuts, and caramel. A coffee from which all coffees are judged, and any derivation from this sacred vision is a poor reflection, a flaw, a smudge on the looking glass.
Now, each of these pursuits are wildly different, even if we’re still talking about coffee. To be satisfied with my coffee I want to know about the individual farm, the processing method, the roaster, the roasting date, the method of preparation. Not because I’m a snob but because I am so fascinated by coffee and it’s process that these little bits of information give me pleasure. They help to complete my experience. On top of this, I want fully realized flavor experience in the cup. It is a crafted beverage, and I want the person serving it to happily represent themselves with the drink they hand me. The recipe must be considered, and I want the person serving the cup to know and discuss the flavor and terroir.
For the coffee ritualist, the pleasure might be in the motions of making the coffee, the kit they use, the space in their day that has been carved out for this familiar dance with blades and scalding rain.
For the person seeking an Ideal coffee, they may gain happiness from how close a coffee has come to their own idea of a perfect cup.
Each of us will have different goals, and each of us will need to pursue those goals very differently from one another.
Differently from one another.
This is key.
So often, I see people talking to each other about what is “good” or “bad”. This happens all the time. Single origin espressos are BAD. Kalita Waves are the BEST way to brew coffee. South American coffees are BORING. This coffee is TASTY. This context-free thumbs up or thumbs down is useless. We see silly in-fighting in the industry on how best to make and serve coffee… but far too often we forget to make sure that the other person knows our reasoning or, just as importantly, our goals. Sometimes I feel like we’re arguing about which road to take, yet we haven’t agreed on a destination. I’m probably guilty of this as well… but I try not to be. Let’s all try that.