A strange realisation

I haven’t been in coffee for that long. I know it was 2003, but I can’t really remember when. I didn’t think I was starting anything momentous at the time.

One of the reasons I love coffee, and there are many, is the learning. The last seven years have been pretty intense, and a constant education. I know it potentially sounds a little glib and contrite but I genuinely think each successive year I’ve been in coffee I’ve learned more than all the previous years combined. No doubt that each year the scope has gotten wider, and the percentage of what I know compared to what I ought to will probably continue to shrink.

How can you not love an industry like this?

20 Comments A strange realisation

  1. Nathanael May

    I completely agree – every new coffee company I work for, I realize how little I knew at the previous one – I started at the “cappuccino cart” in Disneyland 10 years ago, sure that I was making the world’s best cappuccinos on a Nescafe Super Automatic machine.

    I know better now.

  2. Tumi Ferrer

    So true. I remember the moment I realized how improbable (really) it is that the next cup of coffee I’d be having would be delicious – because there is so much that can go wrong.

    It’s kind of like conception – a thing that mustn’t go uncelebrated.

  3. Clearfish

    I totally agree. I started in the industry in 1995 for a large European roaster but due to their reliance on the retail market although I thought I knew a fair bit it pales in to insignificance to what I learn and hope to learn every month let alone year these days. I must admit though, there is now such an openness in the industry (I’m sure this is the same in many industries now compared to 10/15 years ago, partly facilitated by the internet). It used to be the case that companies were afraid to share information so as not to lose the magic secrets of buying, roasting, brewing etc, but now there seems a genuine thirst for knowledge, which leads to greater learning. This, in part, is due to people like yourself, who learn by sharing and listening rather than locking away their secrets for themselves. Long may this approach continue and the more real, relevant and usable information that can be imparted to the coffee drinking public the better.

  4. Brett

    Just had a conversation about this with a customer today, attended my first barista competition on Sunday and the people I met there blew me away with their passion and knowledge.

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  6. Lance

    I agree too. We are all also lucky that even with green coffee price rises and tough world economic times most of us are in work still. Lets celebtate it. I started out selling coffee to coffee shops in London and wanted to do something more. I entered a Barista competition for a bit of fun and a challenge and it opened up a whole new world of avenues, friends and learning. Lets keep banging the drum!

  7. Jay C.

    Having worked in several fields and industries over the years, I can say that this Path of Learning and Discovery is certainly not limited to the coffee industry. In fact, just like any industry, the coffee industry can be a dead end and limited for many people.

    Meaning that it really is about the individual and that person’s desire to learn, expand and explore, along with the (perhaps) “luck” of falling in with the right crowd of similar minded individuals.

  8. Daniel McDonnell

    You need a pretty high end black to beat an espresso when good. Tasted the TW blend without brazil beans in it, and it was another game. More fruit, no more throwing darts on a board.

  9. Daniel McDonnell

    Speciality coffee can never be a trademark. I think that’s the root to your confusion, and of course mine. A bottle of coke is perfect, because you can either hate it or love it for what it is..

  10. Jay C.

    You know, I think Daniel McDonnell’s comment is quite interesting. Regardless of the ingredients and their condition each season, Coca-Cola is always the same. Same goes for Coca-Cola’s Georgia brand of coffee beverages. And same goes for champagnes like Moet. Regardless (or perhaps in spite of) the changing crop conditions year to year, these companies produce a product that demonstrates uniform flavor consistency from year to year.

    Correlate this to our coffee biz and we’ve seen a major push towards “seasonality” and these so-called espresso “projects” whose flavor profiles meander across the spectrum – meaning that you never really know what you are going to get week to week.

    While this kind of approach can produce interesting and exciting results, I wonder if this is also not just an excuse for craft? To create a blend year in and year out that maintains flavor consistency is a difficult prospect. Yearly crop changes, crop availabilities, bean degredation and a litany of issues come into play to hinder the effort yet someone with craft can produce a blend that is consistent even with these factors in play.

    While the celebration of individual coffees and seasonality is laudable and an amazing exploration, I wonder if we’re getting away from the craft of blending simply because we’re getting lazy, want it easier and are spinning it under the label of “seasonality”….

  11. learning always

    A whole other journey in coffee is to play around with growing your own (if climate permits) and experiencing the labour it takes to produce a kilo of barely palatable green coffee. RESPECT to coffee farmers everywhere.

  12. Benjamin Schellack

    Jay and Daniel,

    Consistency in a product is a laudable goal. It was THE laudable goal at the height of modernist thinking; there was a time when “taste of place” was a bad word (“you can take a product out of a place, but it’s damn hard to get the place out of the product”). That goes for other products besides coffee: food, architecture, art, education, politics, heck even religion and fonts!

    The focus on seasonality and terroir reflects a different mind set. Personally, it reflects a concern for coffee growers and a belief in the quality of our SO coffees. It is also possible, however, that for many SOE is just a convenient way to circumvent the craft of blending.

    Then again, what specialty coffee company doesn’t blend at least some of their coffees? I know of none.

  13. Daniel McDonnell

    If you blend different colors they become brown or grey, so the best you can do is to keep the beans brown.

  14. MichaelB

    Amen to that. I try to never stop seeking. When I think I know, I don’t know. When I don’t know, I know. Ya know?

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