Coffee is a very interesting culinary product. I say it is culinary because there are a multitude of flavours in coffee depending on the terroir (where the coffee is grown), the processing method (how the coffee is processed from cherries to green coffee), the roast degree (how the coffee is roasted, from light to dark, put simply), and the brewing method and parameters (how the coffee is prepared to yield a beverage).
Coffee to a roaster or barista is like flour to a baker. It starts as a simple bean and ends as either an average cup or an amazing brew. The things in between ultimately define what comes out as an enjoyable, gastronomic beverage. A well roasted, well brewed coffee highlights and honours the flavour of the coffee itself.
Like any culinary product, preparation method and flavour are a matter of personal preference. What would be your answer to this question, “What is your favourite coffee like?”
Think about that for a minute and try to find a few descriptors or feelings that you associate with your favourite cup.
Is it creamy and chocolatey, like bittersweet chocolate?
Is it milky, like a warm cuddle in the morning?
Is it like tobacco, smoky and pungent and quite dry in the mouth?
Is it when someone you love makes it for or with you? (Awww.)
Is it balanced with just the right ratio of milk and espresso?
Is it like a slap on the face to get you out of dreamland? (Haha!)
“I like my coffee strong,” is what I usually get when I ask that question. But what is a strong coffee? It could mean a dark roast, or it could mean more coffee solids in the cup. Does it become “too strong” if it’s offensively bitter for you and undrinkable. But could this offensively bitter and undrinkable coffee be someone else’s favourite cup? I bet it could well be, somewhere in the world!
The other usual response I get is, “This coffee is too light, I like a strong, dark coffee.” But again, what is a light coffee? Is it coffee that’s not bitter? Is your cup too milky when you use it in your usual brewing method? Do you perceive it as having a sour taste? Could it be brewed or prepared better? Is there too little coffee in too much water or milk? Can you taste the coffee itself?
So you see, there could be many factors affecting the flavour of your brew. Many things that can be tweaked to yield a cup that highlights the inherent flavour of the coffee, honours the people who grew, harvested, processed and transported it. (Yes, that’s the right thing to do!)
In many situations too, what I like could be what you don’t like, not because the coffee is inadequate or different, but because we are different. We were raised in different environments, we enjoy and take comfort in different foods, we are just wired differently. Our memories of food flavour and aroma have been formed from when were little, and that alone affects our preferences, our likes and our dislikes.
And so in this inclusive and loving community of ours, could we rather say, “I like my coffee this way, like creamy bittersweet chocolate, because it keeps me going, it reminds me that I’m about to start a great day. It lingers, like a welcomed acquaintance, but keeps like an old friend. It gives me energy, and it makes me happy.”
Now that’s a great start in appreciating a cup of coffee! Happy brewing everyone!