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Coffee talk

I was going to call this post Ten Commandments of Coffee. But they're not really commandments per se. More like 10 things you should know as a consumer.

But first! Today's bean review is from Intelligentsia. Good stuff. Not the best I've ever had, but pretty darn good. It's a Piendamo Columbia roasted about 2 days ago. Their notes are "red fruit, honey and caramel. Juicy and balanced with a finish of milk chocolate." My notes are that it is a very top-heavy coffee. By that I mean the first thing you notice is the bright flavors in the front and the finish is a very mellow, smooth almost silky texture for the body. It's mostly an upfront candy/chocolate taste that needs very little sugar if you take it. The beans are quite hard and grind with difficulty, but the ground coffee is a very light shade of brown and completely not in line with the deepness you get from the cup. It will be interesting to see what happens as the aroma and taste change over the week.

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Several conversations lately have got me thinking more about coffee education. Walking into Intelligentsia yesterday in downtown Chicago, Kelly snarked that she would have worn better clothes if she'd known. They can't help that their customer base is very hipster...they do coffee right even if they aim to go for the more luxury end. It's intimidating. 

But then there's Keurig. And Starbucks. And all the other crap. The reply is often that not everybody is a snob. It's not about being a snob though. In my mind there is a happy medium between the horrible stuff in your grocery aisle, single serve, or your local S-bucks and $109 per pound beans that make coffee people weak in the knees. 

There are things you should know as a coffee consumer. No, things you need to know as a coffee consumer. Some of it is science, some of it is getting behind the mass-market advertising and line that companies are trying to give you. So here you go

1. Coffee is a crop. You'd never know that when you buy it in a plastic package in fine little crystals. But it's like corn or grapes or peaches. It goes bad. It varies in quality. It grows on a tree. It's delicate and depends on where it grows for how it smells and tastes. Coffee from South America tastes different than coffee from Africa. 

2. Where you buy it matters. And we're not just talking about the farmer here. There are small-scale estates. There are cooperatives who pool their coffee together and use differing methods for processing. The big companies coffee is an outright commodity like seed corn. It's bulk. The flavor of the soil where it was grown mixes with the flavors of whatever other bulk beans they buy. Some companies roast in huge industrial sizes while some roasters do small batches that are specific to the type/region of bean.

3. How you treat it matters. Green coffee lasts for a long time if stored correctly. Once it's roasted, however, it loses flavor inside of a week. Especially the more air it is exposed to. Ground coffee stays fresh even less. Brewed coffee goes downhill immediately. Drink it fresh. 

4. A dark roast means you killed the beans. Well, burned the heck out of them more like it. Which is fine if that's what you enjoy. By all means. But if a bean from somewhere has a delicate taste buried somewhere in there, you're going to miss it if it tastes like charcoal. 

5. Green coffee on the open wholesale futures market costs a little over $2.00 per pound currently for your average beans. Does your coffee taste like it's worth $15 per pound? 

6. The best coffee in the world is not necessarily from Hawaii or Jamaica or Columbia. Don't be fooled. Amazing coffee also comes from Rwanda, Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Peru, etc.. 

7. Coffee can taste like chocolate, honey, flowers, raspberries, spices. It should not taste like socks or fake vanilla. If it tastes like socks or fake vanilla and you enjoy this, cool. Just be aware that you could also be enjoying coffee that tastes like nectarines dipped in honey and caramel. Your choice. 

8. Blends can be good--but usually not. Most times, if a store or coffeehouse is selling you a blend it's inferior beans put together to mask how bad they are individually. Then again, really good roasters or baristas can enhance flavors and set moods by mixing quality beans that smell/taste good together. The key word there is quality.

9. Baristas. Speaking of them. Don't let them intimidate you. You like cream and sugar? Cool. Drink your coffee your way. But sometimes let them make suggestions. Especially if they are top-notch they can take the idea of what you enjoy and magnify it into a new favorite drink.

10. But wait, you say. You like the over-roasted sludge Starbucks serves. You like your Folgers or your Maxwell House. Fine. Keep drinking it. The point isn't to tell you what you should do. The point is that most coffee drinkers don't know. People love their old cars, frozen pizza, and shopping at Wal-Mart. If it makes you happy that's great. Just be aware that there's a whole other world out there.

Ok, so now what? Google the best independent coffee shops in your area. Search the internet for specialty coffee--they'll mail it to you. If you have high-end groceries, cafes or bakeries in your area find out what they serve. Try and get your hands on some Cup of Excellence award-winners...you will pay dearly. Find out what the SCAA's Roaster's Guild Coffees of the Year are.

Happy brewing!

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