This is a long post mostly about my coffee journey. I offer no particular
coffee tips, but it is not really Off Topic. Read or delete at your will.
Boy, oh boy, I think Floyd hit this one right on...except it took me a long
time to find that there is not one "archetype." There was, however, that
magic cup that set me straight.
Many folks on this list and all around this ol' world generally try to use
the opinions and skills of others to help them define the way things are
supposed to be (or supposed to taste like, with respect to coffee). This is
the way most humans work and have worked for thousands of years. It's one o=
the things that have allowed humans to succeed and flourish. We use the
knowledge of others and, especially, of others in the past to allow us to g=
forward into new things, making improvements and learning new things. We
don't have to re-experience everything that our ancestors experienced in
order to learn them for ourselves.
Along my own path of the pursuit of coffee wisdom, I would find a "great
cup" at some restaurant or Mom & Pop diner and then tried to reproduce it o=
my own: better beans, different coffee maker apparatus, additives, etc.
I rarely achieved the effect.
Then...[musical stinger here: Duhm, duhm, Du-u-u-uhm...] Seattle happened
and a host of coffee enterprises began to spring up across this great land.
Since they were becoming popular (like a wildfire is popular in the
prairie), I figured they must make really great coffee. THEY would know wha=
it was supposed to taste like. When Starbuck's (registered trademark,
copyrighted, and all rights reserved here and abroad) came to my region, I
jumped on that ship and thought I would sail to coffee heaven.
I was confused and disappointed. THIS is what good coffee is supposed to
taste like? THIS is what I am supposed to like? Hmmm...the stuff I brew at
home is "weak" by comparison and maybe this astringent aftertaste in the
back of my mouth is a "good" thing.
OK, so I believed the lie and bought their stuff: "Give me a Grande
double-shot, extra caramel, add some vanilla, 3 turbinado sugars, no foam,
I tried their straight espresso, but couldn't see the point. Strong, bitter=
syrupy coffee in a tiny cup. It irritated the back of my throat.
To reproduce the stuff I was drinking at the big name shops, I:
+ started adding more coffee to the basket in my drip machine (stronger =
+ bought a whirly-blade grinder (I thought finer = better);
+ switched over to whole beans only (I thought whole bean = fresher);
+ started buying only Shiny-Oily-Dark-Dark-Dark beans (I thought darker =
+ got a Moka pot and learned how to boil/scorch coffee so that it tasted an=
felt like pretty much the same stuff I was getting at *$.
+ got a French press and learned to "enjoy" the coffee sludge that was
present in the last 1/3 of every cup;
In a short time, I was able to pretty much reproduce the *$ experience for
regular coffee and most of their espresso drinks - and at a much lower cost=
But, so what? I wasn't really "enjoying" the coffee, I was simply ramping u=
my coffee snob attitude.
Then two things happened a few years apart that unsettled my coffee world -
all for the better.
1. I traveled to Costa Rica.
2. I was introduced to Sweet Marisa
In Costa Rica, I was on a scientific/educational trip, so our accommodation=
were simple to spartan. We had coffee every morning made in a noncommercial
drip machine or pour-over set-up. Our hosts used either Café Britt (a Cost=
Rican brand commercial coffee) or some other relatively locally produced
coffee. Once place in Santa Elena roasted the coffee just down the street
from where we were staying and supplied the hotel (loose term) where we
stayed in Monteverde.
I had only one dark, bitter, disappointing cup of coffee during my travels.
All the rest had a slightly nutty flavor and was "sweet" (but not with
sugar). I enjoyed my first cup of "black" coffee in Costa Rica. It was
completely different from my Seattle-chain-store experiences. I loved it
and came home with 10-lbs of Café Britt claro (light/medium roast) and some
oscuro (dark roast) stuff from Monteverde.
Now my goal was to find out why this stuff tasted so much better. Lighter
roasting and freshness seemed to be two major factors, so that was my new
quest. My home-brewed coffee improved with better coffee, but it was
difficult to find fresh beans that weren't dark roasted and oily.
Then a friend told me how he was roasting coffee in his popcorn popper of
all things! I dug out my old Poppery I and he gave me some Costa Rica Dota
and I tagged along with him on a Sweet Maria's order where I picked up some
Harrar Horse Lot #30, Yemen Moka, & some Huehuetenango.
Those of you who have been roasting a while will appreciate the good fortun=
I had in roasting these coffees as a newbie. All of them tolerated a fairly
wide range of roast while producing really good cups.
My first roast was the Costa Rica Dota. I let it go just into 2nd crack
(since I never heard this before, I had to hear it before I knew I was
there) and let it rest 24 hours. It was pretty good and I was excited that =
could actually do this. I had roasted enough to last a few days. I noticed
it did seem to get sweeter and smoother with more rest.
On my second roast, I made up a mélange of City, Full City, & Full
City+/Vienna roasts of the Horse-30. I was tickled to find a stone in the
greens. How quaint. I think I still have it sitting on a shelf to remind me
that my coffee is grown, picked & handled by real people half-way around th=
world. I let the roasted coffee sit three days before I tried it. It was
really good. On the 5th day, however, I could tell something was different
when I was grinding it. It smelled sweet and fruity before brewing. Then th=
blueberries exploded on my tongue during the end of the first sip and got
more intense as the cup cooled!
...and I was totally hooked.
In the last 2 years I have experienced coffee sensations that have made me
smile with deep satisfaction, caused me to laugh out loud with surprise and
joy and have even resulted in big "woo-hoo!" whoops when I nailed a
roast/rest just right. My wife (a non-coffee-drinker) thinks it is hilariou=
- and a bit strange - that I could get so excited over a "simple" cup of
So how is coffee SUPPOSED to taste?
My journey has enlightened me on how it should NOT taste, but as to how is
Well it all depends on:
+ The kinds (origins) of beans; each origin should taste different from the
+ The style of roast; each latitude brings out or hides different flavor
+ The style of preparation of the coffee drink; espresso is fundamentally
different than French Press
+ Whether you are wanting a dessert or simply something to fill your mouth
+ Whether you are wanting an "experience" or simply need a caffeine fix;
+ The kind of cup you drink out of; it really does make a difference to the
"experience" as we have all learned
+ the expectations of the taster; this is the "biggie"! If I ever produce a
cooking show, it will not be an arrogant "This is the right way to do it"
show, but one where the range and latitudes of methods and such will be
displayed and embraced. I will title it: "It's a Matter of Taste"