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What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
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jpender
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 4:38pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

I've been a hop head for decades. It's rare for me to get a beer with too much hop aroma, flavor or bitterness. Stone brewing is also one of my favorites and their IPA high on my list (I like their imperial stout too but oddly I gag on the espresso version). One trend I find a little disturbing is the ever increasing alcohol content of beers. It seems like the average is 7-8% ABV at our local Whole Foods and there are more and more that are in the double digits.

I enjoy wheat beers and also sour lambics. But I don't understand espresso that tastes like hot lemon juice. Who likes that?
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andys
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 6:31pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

MarkPrince Said:

I learned that the refractometer is god. If your numbers are off according to collective refractometer / TDS / Mojo wisdom, your coffee is definitely off, even if it tastes good to you. If your numbers are bang on according to collective wisdom, but the coffee tastes bad, it is you that is ef'ed up, not the coffee. Because the refractometer doesn't lie. It is god.

Posted April 9, 2014 link

Hi Mark:

I don't do Twitter, so I guess the bad news is that I miss out on much of current Third Wave trends. And I guess the good news is that I miss out on much of the current Third Wave bs (like you experienced yesterday).

For what it's worth, and from what I remember, Vince Fedele (VST inventor) NEVER made the kind of statements that you are paraphrasing above. He would say, "use the refractometer to help establish a preference range for your taste buds and the particular coffee you are brewing." He also said that "most" coffees taste best at a 19-21% extraction yield, but not all.

Astute folks like Scott Rao have come along and observed that some coffees taste good at a 16% yield, worse at 17-18% and even better at 19%.

The whole thing is way too nuanced to be bastardized and oversimplified into the "Mojo wisdom" that you experienced floating out there on twitter.

 
-AndyS
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MarkPrince
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 7:30pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

andys Said:

For what it's worth, and from what I remember, Vince Fedele (VST inventor) NEVER made the kind of statements that you are paraphrasing above. He would say, "use the refractometer to help establish a preference range for your taste buds and the particular coffee you are brewing." He also said that "most" coffees taste best at a 19-21% extraction yield, but not all.

Astute folks like Scott Rao have come along and observed that some coffees taste good at a 16% yield, worse at 17-18% and even better at 19%.

The whole thing is way too nuanced to be bastardized and oversimplified into the "Mojo wisdom" that you experienced floating out there on twitter.

Posted April 9, 2014 link

I wasn't implying that Vince Fedele said these statements - I apologise it came off that way.

I'm talking about the current crop of people who claim they refractometer every thing they brew, and how they can't judge a coffee unless they do it.

I'm talking about one guy in particular (I won't mention his name) who, when I told him about a coffee I loved, and he asked my Mojo scores, I told him and his response was "yeah, no way that coffee could taste good with those numbers".

I'm talking about guys who place more value on "the numbers" (and for that matter, latte art pours) than actual taste. Guys who very rarely actually share accurate tasting notes.

I've become an anti fan of publishing TDS numbers, mojo results for these reasons. I still use it (well I last used mine about 70 days ago), I also think, outside of one's own controlled environment (ie, water used, ambient temperature, kettle used, ambient humidity, etc etc) these numbers are not very useful to others using different water, different grinders, different brewing techniques.

in a cafe? Where you want consistent coffee? Measuring this stuff is fantastic. Using it as a sole meter for what's good and not good? Bullshite.

Regarding Scott - he's a great collector and compiler of collected information and wisdom in coffee. I'm glad that various sources of info and wisdom find their way into one (or two) books.

Mark

 
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 8:36pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

Many (not all!) in the blond roast/refractometer crowd are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They're forced to argue that the numbers are a meaningful and objective measure of success, because, so often, their roast and brew techniques make awful tasting coffee.  It's like the Chico Marx line in Duck Soup,

Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

Taste is the final arbiter.

Rich
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dana_leighton
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 9:27pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

boar_d_laze Said:

The blond roast/refractometer crowd are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They're forced to argue that the numbers are a meaningful and objective measure of success, because their roast and brew techniques make awful tasting coffee.

Posted April 9, 2014 link

You may be on to something Rich.

I've been mulling over Mark's post since this morning, and I was wondering why would someone be so attached to some kind of "objective" measure of brew quality as a measure of good tasting coffee. Why not just trust your taste?

I was thinking that if one has not developed fully the sensory abilities necessary to distinguish flavors, then one might need to rely on refractometer measurements to guide their senses. That might not be the case for all refractometer fundamentalists, but it may be the case for most.

One of the motivations for religious fundamentalism is a cognitive need for closure - a desire to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty, and come to clear conclusions (Brandt & Reyna, 2010). If these "refractometer fundamentalists" experience sensed flavors as ambiguous or uncertain and they have a high need for closure, then they may show a strong preference for dogma, rules, and refractometers to guide what "good" coffee is, as opposed to their own sensory experience of "good." Analogous to religious fundamentalists who might prefer rules and the "Truth" to guide their moral behavior and decisions rather than their own subjective judgments of morality.

OK enough social psychology for one night. On the other hand, they might just be pretentious fools. That is, in many ways, a more appealing explanation!

 
Dana Leighton - Espresso hack and CoffeeGeek moderator
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 9:46pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

Dogmatism and pretension aren't mutually exclusive.  

Rich
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alanfrew
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Posted Wed Apr 9, 2014, 11:14pm
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

Hi Mark, great minds and all that, check out this month's newsletter http://www.coffeeco.com.au/newsletter/april2014.html . I've already had enough of people asking me what extraction level I'd recommend for each bean I sell.

Alan
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barkingburro
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Posted Thu Apr 10, 2014, 12:38am
Subject: On Prancer, on Nixon, on Borat, on Dogma...
 

Alternate title: Dogma is Subjective

But first, a small aside...

I keep seeing the same sort of comparable controversies in both coffee geekdom and audiophiles vs. audio engineers. Here is just a sampling:

-- Trusting your senses vs. trusting numeric measurements
-- Worshipping expensive esoterica vs. dissing same
-- Importance of source material and production vs. final implementation

and, last but not least:

-- Bullying and adherence to dogma

But about that dogma being subjective...

I read Alan's linked post and saw one of the above dogmas right off the bat: his claim that Clover, Trifecta, and Steampunk machines do not produce a better brew than manual methods and are priced well out of proportion to their results. This despite notable testimonies to the contrary, at least concerning the Trifecta, by well-respected reviewers (and I'll add my own experience to that).

Of course, the main points Mark brought up were four-fold:

1) Blind adherence to measurements over taste,
2) Worship of one particular extreme taste profile,
3) Underestimating the importance of roast vs. brewing technique,

and, of course,

4) Bullying.

#2, above, is most interesting to me because it breaks the audio analogy. At least in audio, there is an objective reference for quality: live unamplified music. Which brings me back to my title... er... alternate title. With so much difference of opinion as to what constitutes a good cup of coffee, the dogma really does have a diverse field in which to take root. I'm still dealing with the dairy/sugar dogma that baristas like to toss around from time to time. And remember the only-Italians-do-it-right dogma? How about the clarity vs. body dogma? So now we have light roast dogma, acidity dogma, and who knows what else is to come?

 
- Michael
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Apr 10, 2014, 1:37am
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

I'm very happy to see I'm not alone in thinking that blind devotion to the refractometer is a problem, when you are discussing tastes and flavours.

I think in a cafe, a refractometer is a must have tool, because consistency amongst staff and the product going out the door is extremely important. I do not think a refractometer makes better coffee on its own. I think a quality, skilled barista makes fantastic coffee after a dial in, using his senses of taste, smell, sound, touch and visual stimuli. Once he or she is dialed in, then run the refractometer, and tell the staff "do this". That's where it is golden.

What seems to be happening though is that a core of young, not super experienced baristas (you cannot develop a palate in 2-3yr, IMO; hell, I've been at this 15 years and I'm still developing my sense of taste and smell for coffee) refractometer everything they brew and look for the results to be within some golden ratio that someone else proclaimed is "the correct ratio".

They don't (seem to) learn to fix coffee mistakes via taste. They learn to fix coffee mistakes via a readout. I do not like that. I especially don't like that when they tell me I must be doing it wrong because my numbers are low or high.

I've spent 15 years brewing and tasting quality coffee and espresso. I don't pull that "years" card out often, but when some roaster who, IMO is just trying to save time by going to a solitary roast for all his single origins, (while claiming all work equally well for espresso or drip) is telling me to refractometer coffee I think is too bright... I really do want to bring out the experience card in my retort.

Mark

 
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CoffeeRon
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Posted Thu Apr 10, 2014, 2:24am
Subject: Re: What I learned on Twitter yesterday about refractometers & bright coffee
 

Aw c'mon Mark, if the refractometer says the roast is good, you obviously just don't like good coffee! :P Makes me wonder if they'll wake up in a few years and realize how ridiculous they sound. Tools are there to help us make good coffee, not tell us what it is. They do have there place though. It took me almost 5 yrs to put an Erics thermometer on my machine and finally find out that I was  never flushing enough- seems my Wega is a serious dragon- and finally I found out why I always had a bit of bitterness to my espressos. Some of us are slow learners I guess. I'm just glad to have a place like this to come and help me on my journey- thanks for that!
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