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Discussions > Espresso > General > If I wanted...  
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eastbaysanfranman
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Posted Fri Feb 28, 2014, 10:17pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

I think the easiest way for people to pick up the complexities of properly brewed, fresh coffee is to stick their nose right over the cup and to take a big whiff. This is what wine tasters do before they take a drink. I think open minded people would be amazed at how much of a sensory experience coffee can be. Many times I can smell so many different nuances i don't find in the cup. Then, take a taste. See if you can find the same flavors on your tongue. At the back of your tongue maybe? I got a chance to try the renowned Hacienda Esmerelda at the new Tierra Mia coffee shop in Oakland the other day. At first it was so hot i could not taste much but I could tell there was some definite complexities to this coffee. Usually when it's this hot I can't taste much of anything. Then, as it cooled the most amazing flavor overtook my mouth, orange flower water, in a definite and really neat way. Usually I do not care much for coffee when it is described as "citrusy" as that usually means that the coffee is bright. Too much brightness in coffee is offensive to my palate as I usually go for more full bodied, chocolaty, caramely, nutty, cherry like brews. But this special cup of coffee was not too bright at all. It was unique in that it was EXTREMELY citrusy and also very well balanced with a very nice body to it. The florals, as it cooled more became more pronounced and I started tasting rose as well as other flavors I do not even know how to describe. (It was like a bouquet). So here's the thing, some people just do not care about all of this. Either that or they have not had a chance to try different brews which were fresh and well prepared. I admit, many times I cannot taste the descriptors put on a label. At the same time, someone who tastes the Esmerelda may not taste orange flower water. (I doubt it though) But we just try our best to describe, well... it just taste like (blank) as there is no other way to describe the sensory experience we are having. People like me are more than willing to pay over a buck an ounce of beans and actually consider this hobby an extremely good value for what we receive. Just look at how much people are willing to pay for the same type experiences for a bottle of wine- a multi(billion?) dollar industry. Sure it can get you drunk, but so can Jose Cuervo. I, not everyone, happen to enjoy the caffeine buzz I get from my beloved hobby. I freakin' love coffee man. Feel me?
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NobbyR
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Posted Sat Mar 1, 2014, 3:05am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

What we call flavor is a complex sensation composed of taste (salty, sweet, bitter, sour), smell (aromas like caramel, fruity, chocolate, etc.) and mouthfeel (hot, oily, watery etc.). One way to analyse the complex aromas of coffee (or wine, or whisky, or cigars etc.) is to simply describe what tastes simmilar. Some aromas can be found in a lot of different food, sometimes they're even chemically the same. So, these cupping notes can be quite justified.

 
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"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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brianl
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Posted Tue Mar 4, 2014, 7:39am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

I found the descriptions a good ballpark before I knew all the regions. I agree that it 'cheapens the experience' as this is what coffee veterans taste and the normal folk wont necessarily taste it and think its hogwash.
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CMIN
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Posted Tue Mar 4, 2014, 9:02am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

T_Rick Said:

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.

Posted February 28, 2014 link

Yeh beer I can totally break down, even sometimes telling the hops used etc. Good bear almost always taste like it's descriptors, i.e. an Coffee Oatmeal Stout will taste like well... coffee, oats, malts, chocolate etc lol.

Coffee, I just generally know what taste good and what doesn't to me. Descriptors mean nothing to me. I had someone one day that was like don't you taste the berries, and the fruits the strawberry really comes through, and the light chocolate undertones. In my mind I was like what are you smoking, doesn't taste anything like what you said no smell like that either hahaha. I can tell chocolate notes though, I had a recent batch of Metropolis Redline and it was a complete chocolate bomb as a shot and in milk almost tasted like chocolate milk.
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thedotben
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Posted Sat Mar 15, 2014, 1:17pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

Great conversation guys!

On the one hand, some roaster worked very hard to create a particular coffee experience. They sought after certain taste notes and worked to extenuate those flavors. It would be wrong to then just ignore all that effort by not describing the coffee at all.

On the other hand, probably the majority of customers simply don't care. They just want something that "tastes good," whatever that might mean to them. Giving them too much information can be overbearing and actually steer people away from trying a coffee when it seems too complicated.

But of course,  even those people can learn and grow and experience something new. Although  they may know what they consider to "taste good" sometimes those are the best customers to get excited about coffee but showing them what it is that makes it appealing to them. Maybe it turns out they enjoy the acidity in coffee and from that new recommendations can be made. It's some of those types of people who become the best and most enthusiastic of consumers.

As a coffee professional,  I think what I am taking away is perhaps a balance is best. Find a way to describe what was trying to be attained with the coffee,  but not in a way that excludes people from enjoying or relating to it. Telling someone that it tastes like steamed skins of a prune doesn't really invite people into that experience.

Maybe being a little more vague is better. Instead of saying it tastes like mango with grapefruit acidity in the finish...  Just say it has some tropical notes and let people discover it themselves. Point them in a direction but see what they get out of the coffee.

When you get too specific,  people feel disappointed when they don't get it. But when you are vague,  then whatever they experience is never wrong. Because that's the truth. If you can taste it...  Then it is there. That's all that matters.
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CoffeeRoastersClub
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Posted Sat Mar 15, 2014, 1:48pm
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

thedotben Said:

Great conversation guys!

On the one hand, some roaster worked very hard to create a particular coffee experience. They sought after certain taste notes and worked to extenuate those flavors. It would be wrong to then just ignore all that effort by not describing the coffee at all.

On the other hand, probably the majority of customers simply don't care. They just want something that "tastes good," whatever that might mean to them. Giving them too much information can be overbearing and actually steer people away from trying a coffee when it seems too complicated.

But of course,  even those people can learn and grow and experience something new. Although  they may know what they consider to "taste good" sometimes those are the best customers to get excited about coffee but showing them what it is that makes it appealing to them. Maybe it turns out they enjoy the acidity in coffee and from that new recommendations can be made. It's some of those types of people who become the best and most enthusiastic of consumers.

As a coffee professional,  I think what I am taking away is perhaps a balance is best. Find a way to describe what was trying to be attained with the coffee,  but not in a way that excludes people from enjoying or relating to it. Telling someone that it tastes like steamed skins of a prune doesn't really invite people into that experience.

Maybe being a little more vague is better. Instead of saying it tastes like mango with grapefruit acidity in the finish...  Just say it has some tropical notes and let people discover it themselves. Point them in a direction but see what they get out of the coffee.

When you get too specific,  people feel disappointed when they don't get it. But when you are vague,  then whatever they experience is never wrong. Because that's the truth. If you can taste it...  Then it is there. That's all that matters.

Posted March 15, 2014 link

I had some beans from a vendor and if I can recall it was Kenya AA Rumikia Blackberry.  When I cupped it I searched for the blackberry note and found it, faint as it was.  To be honest if I did not have the precognition that it was going to be there I never would have sensed it.  

I mentioned in the past that beans should have a specialized Cupping Notes statement for those that enjoy searching for the notes, and a more generalized statement for those that don't have that experience or who could care less.

Len

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 12:51am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

So your title for this thread is almost a word for word quote by my Dad, Gary Prince, who sadly passed away last September. I miss him lots, but this was one of the most memorable things he ever said to me with regards to coffee, and he even repeated and expanded upon it on a CoffeeGeek Podcast I had him on as a guest.

But what the quote really reveals is the gulf in quality that exists in the coffee my Dad grew up with, and the coffees we're so fortunate to have today. The quality quotient in coffee has come monster jumps since the 1950s, 1960s, heck even the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, coffee was kind of homogenized... blended to neutral tastes, and derived most of its "flavour" out of the roast profile, not the actual beans' full potential.

Today, we have the benefit of serious artisan roasters. We have the benefit of advanced farming techniques. We have the benefit of advanced, scientifically grounded processing techniques. We have the benefit of better storage, better transport, better packaging for the green coffee. And a lot more.

These benefits have changed coffee dramatically. From the time the George Howells, the Erna Knutsens and the Alfred Peets first really rolled out the concept that coffee could be "specialty" and that flavours in coffees were indeed not only regional, but cultivated and exposed through better roasting techniques (all in the early 1970s) to the 1990s and 2000s when we got to, in greater numbers, "taste blueberries" in that cup of Kenya, coffee has seen monumental shifts in the quality quotient.

It is not snobby or elitist to point out blueberries, taste blueberries, experience a hint of blueberries in our cup of coffee today. It's a sign that we're drinking fantastically better coffee today than anyone did 40 years ago, and a sign that we're enjoying the best of the crop - our small enthusiast audience, which grows every day.

Mark

 
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Buckley
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 3:37am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

Thank you for putting it in great perspective, Mark.
Buckley
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canuckcoffeeguy
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Posted Sun Mar 30, 2014, 11:14am
Subject: Re: If I wanted blueberries I'd eat blueberries....
 

This just happened.

Even my 5-year-old son can detect fruit notes in a single origin Ethiopian. He doesn't drink coffee, of course, but I asked him to smell it. I offered no hints or leading information and then asked him, "What does this smell like?" He replied without hesitation, "raspberries!".

That's remarkably close to the roaster's description:

"This is our Canadian-exclusive coffee from Keffa Coffee Importers. It is a naturally-processed lot picked by the inhabitants of one of the smallest villages in the Borena district in Sidama"...."This coffee has very intense sweetness and a very creamy body. We detect a wonderful strawberries and cream aroma, with more fruit in the cup balanced by chocolate. The sweetness lingers in the finish."

Go figure.
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Wed Apr 2, 2014, 12:49pm
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?

Posted February 22, 2014 link

Helpful.

z0mbie Said:

I have always loved coffee for what it is.. Coffee.

Posted February 22, 2014 link

Don't we all?

z0mbie Said:

Not strawberries and blueberries and chocolate and licorice and…etc.

Posted February 22, 2014 link

OK, so you describe the difference between the SO espresso from __________ and the one from ____________ . . .

z0mbie Said:

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

Posted February 22, 2014 link

No, on the contrary -- it's doing more good.

Look at it this way:  Let's say I have never in my life -- even as a little kid -- tasting a chocolate bar.  (I know, but let's pretend.)  Describe it to me:  how does it taste?  Go ahead.  I'll wait . . . .

If you're like most people, you might say, "Well, it's chocolatey," to which I'd reply but I've never tasted chocolate, so I don't know what that means.

"Well, it's sweet."  You mean like honey?

"It's creamy."  Like whipping cream?

"It's like vanilla."  OK, now I'm confused:  if I take vanilla extract, pour some into whipping cream, and add honey -- it's going to taste like chocolate?!?!?!

Now that was a Hershey bar . . . but what if I were talking about Valrhona?

The point is you cannot describe a taste -- you can only make allusions to the flavor of something, and then only if it's a shared experience.

Using terms like blueberries, or chocolate, or citrus, etc., etc. to describe a particular coffee is an attempt to not only do the impossible (describe a taste), but also to differentiate Coffee A from Coffees B, C, D, E, F . . . .

Makes total sense to me.

 
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