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If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
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Discussions > Espresso > General > If I wanted...  
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z0mbie
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z0mbie
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 2:08am
Subject: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

It seems more and more coffee shops are using more descriptors to sell their coffee.

Do you think this is pretentious  or helpful?

I have always loved coffee for what it is.. Coffee. Not strawberries and blueberries and chocolate and licorice and...etc.

Is this tend of describing coffee like this actually doing the industry more harm than good?
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TheRealScubaSteve
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 2:34am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

I'm pretty new to the coffee scene and I can say that whether it be used as a descriptor in a coffee shop or on these very boards, I found various fruit descriptors to be rather confusing. It leaves one expecting to taste chocolate or almonds or grapefruit, etc. Having said that, I tried a Costa Rican coffee today and thought, "this must be what people mean when they talk about blueberries . . ." I can understand where it comes from, but it still really didn't taste like blueberries in the true sense of the word.

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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jbviau
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 9:15am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

I actually enjoy the descriptions. Often, I find certain notes to be easier to smell than taste, and many are merely evoked rather than truly nailed. With blueberries in particular, even the "blueberry bombs" strike me more as blueberry pie-like (i.e. fruit + pastry) than true blueberry.

Anyway, what's wrong with developing/exercising your palate? "Just coffee" as a term deserves to be unpacked; it's not that simple.
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Buckley
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 9:29am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

The perception and the character of taste is not shared in the same way by different persons in the same way that we think the color blue of the sound of middle C are perceived, so discussions concerning taste are always going to be highly variable and open to disagreement.

The value of spending thousands of dollars on professional coffee grinders and infusers ("espresso machines") compared to drip or other brew is that the process opens up the available flavors in the roasted coffee and they can hit the nose as an aroma, and then the palate (tongue plus nose) as a series of flavors, one after another.  If one sips a shot of espresso, the flavors can be perceived as changing as the shot cools.

Coffee is very complex, chemically, and the flavor perceptions are exteremly broad and variable.  If one wants to share an experience through words, analogies seem to be the most sharable vocabulary.

For me, the epiphany came when, years ago, I ordered a shot of Honey Badger at Intelligentsia in Chicago.  As the cup was handed to me, the barista said, "Let me know if you taste the strawberries."  In response I smiled ironically, humoring them, but then the first taste that hit my palate was strawberries, exactly!  Other flavor notes followed.  I brought a bag of Honey Badger home with me and in one infusion, I was able to exactly replicate on my Mypressi what the La Marzocco in the cafe handed to me, but only once.  The rest of my shots had a pleasantly 'fruity' first taste, but it was nondescript.

The descriptors, I am afraid, are an attempt to describe what is perceived by tasters with some talent and/or training for it when they sample an expert cupping or infusion of the roast.  These flavors are then a latent possibility that lies within the roast, but they must be coaxed out by appropriate grinding and brewing or infusion in order to become conspicuous.

Buckley
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TheRealScubaSteve
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 2:43pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

You make a good analogy with individual perception of color in relation to a certain taste. The sample bag I tried did not list any flavor profile as it was handwritten. I may have subliminally decided I could see where blueberry taste comes into the coffee based on forum readings for beans - perhaps that roast (which I did consider buying) actually listed blueberries as a flavor profile as well.

While confusing at first, I think it is certainly helpful in establishing acidity levels from extremes such as a strawberry or blueberry compared to say, grapefruit. I certainly learned that I did not appreciate such a "bright" flavor in that test espresso. Of course, my skills and equipment leave much to be desired. It'll be an interesting and fun path to continue testing, especially when by new PF basket comes in so I can try it again bottomless. I made three different espressos with three different beans and then topped off each shot with hot water. It's amazing to me how much the flavors change. Much to learn, but it should be fun.

Steve

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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CoffeeRoastersClub
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 7:11pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

z0mbie Said:

It seems more and more coffee shops are using more descriptors to sell their coffee.

Do you think this is pretentious  or helpful?

I have always loved coffee for what it is.. Coffee. Not strawberries and blueberries and chocolate and licorice and...etc.

Is this tend of describing coffee like this actually doing the industry more harm than good?

Posted February 22, 2014 link

I see no benefit for the industry when the vast majority of coffee drinkers sit back after reading some of the descriptors, scratch their heads in ridiculity, and laugh at it all.

Len

 
"Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water." ~The Women's Petition Against Coffee, 1674

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SamTonin
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Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 7:49pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

The descriptors used are handed down from the green bean suppliers, who are usually given them by the farmers. The specialty coffee industry uses these descriptors to identify the characteristics and potential flavour profile of any given crop.

As you can see by the coffee flavour wheel, there are many descriptors.

I like to compare it with the wine industry, there are similar descriptions on many fine wine bottles. Whiskey too, uses similar flavour descriptors, but you'd more likely find words like, black pepper, spice, or sometimes orange rind.

The difference is that cheap wine, whiskey or coffee, tastes like wine, whiskey or coffee. In comparison, the well farmed, professionally roasted and expertly made, by generations of farmers, roasters who test until they get it right and baristas who go the extra mile to ensure that they're well trained, this community has produced the highest quality product possible. And it has arrived at your cafe, into your hands.

It's not pretentious, it's quality.

 
My micro-roastery is up and running, be sure to check it out! www.beanofatree.com.au
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steamer
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Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 8:59am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

Cupping, there it is said. Someone who drinks Starbucks, will never taste the berry in Ethiopian that they might sell. The flavors come out in the roasting. I for one do like the idea of what there might be. The grapefruit I taste when I roast JBM tells me I got it right. Having been to Jamaica and had the coffee right then and there, thats what I brought back. The blueberries I tasted when I had it correctly roasted and brewed. Citrus to chocolate it all comes down to proper brewing and roasting.
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T_Rick
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Posted Fri Feb 28, 2014, 10:42am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

SamTonin Said:

It's not pretentious, it's quality.

Posted February 22, 2014 link

Most everything we drink is always described as something it's not.  Wine, whether good or bad, will be described as something else.  Good wine can have all kinds of spices and fruits and etc. notes, and bad wine will have all kinds of vinegar and fruit juice notes.  And beer, well, beer is on a whole other level above, imho. My favourite beer tastes exactly like fruitcake.  And I hate fruitcake. Go figure.

Coffee descriptors don't bother me generally.  I have a problem with the varying quality and experience of the roasters who use them.  If a coffee is described as tasting like blueberries, I'll look for that when I drink it.  If I don't catch that flavour, I don't really care if the coffee tastes good to me.  When the roasters know what they're doing, I can usually pick up the flavours they say are in the cup, and that can be fun and interesting. Part of the fun of participating in a cupping is having people say what they're tasting and comparing notes.

The thing that grinds my gears when I read a long, drawn out description for a coffee, and the product in my cup is anything but.  I seem to be seeing more and more roasters that people rave about who describe their coffees like they hold the most complex flavour profile imaginable, but then the overwhelming character of the coffee is pucker your mouth lemonade because the roaster is part of this new wave of "blond coffee" or whatever.  Last year I was gifted a 6 month coffee subscription from Transcend Coffee, and it soon became a joke for my wife and me when the coffee would arrive - we'd read the inviting description of flavours - apricot, blackberries, spices, etc. etc., read the lovingly written profile on the farmer, and then sit and marvel at how the roast just killed all the romanticism of what we just read.  Six months of lemonade.  Every month.

So yeah, if the quality is behind the description, then it usually works out.

 
T-Rick

BOOKMAN: "You buy a jar of Folger's Crystals, you put it in the cupboard, you forget about it. Then later on when you need it, it's there. It lasts forever. It's freeze-dried. Freeze-dried Crystals."
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acasabia
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Posted Fri Feb 28, 2014, 9:11pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

In many cases... it's absolutely pretentiousness. I've been in crap cafés serving months old coffee beans with notes of saffron and lavender (more like dry roasted garbage).

However, for people who pay attention, who use good coffee, and who treat it properly, these descriptors serve a purpose. Obviously the coffee tastes like coffee, thats a given, and thats a shitty review. We use descriptors to provide a profile for the coffee, brighter notes, sour notes, darker, smoother, whatever. But thats not enough, what kind of brightness is it? is it a citrus? like an orange, or sour like lemon? is it a berry: dry like a blueberry, or dark like cherries? is it dark: like chocolate or molasses?


For me, I like a coffee that brings up notes of dried cherries, chocolate, and sweet citrus like orange/tangerine.

Obviously it all tastes like coffee. Obviously many places are just throwing things around to sound better than they are. But these descriptors are the only normalizing factor we have for something as subjective as taste. So if a few people want to abuse the system to talk up their product so be it. If you can appreciate the purpose of these descriptions, you will know when people are talking out of their ass.

If you never tasted these yourself, you haven't gone about it in the right way. Sit down, smell the dry grinds, sip the coffee and concentrate. Coffee is a complex and often overwhelming taste, so much so that many people simply dislike it (super tasters often hate it). There is a lot going on so try and tease it out. Really picture the different flavors in your mind and you will see how well, or how poorly they fit. if you have them in the house, give them a smell. There is a whole field of neuroscientists investigating how we relate flavors to memory, and how we process taste.

Anyway Im sure you get it.

Have fun, and always remember, it's coffee.

 
Anthony C

Currently pulling:
Path Coffee Roasters (PortChester, NY) Feather in cap espresso.

Cold Brewing:
Gimme! (ithaca, NY) Moca Java

http://coffeeandneuroscience.wordpress.com/
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