Why Craft Coffee?
After a decade working in coffee shops, the most common phrase I’ve heard from “non-coffee” drinkers is "I love the smell, but hate the taste."
I’m not one to disagree with genuine, subjective feedback, but I will say that it doesn't have to be this way. Having spent years swigging down stale, black coffee, I can certainly empathize with the plight of the non-coffee drinker.
The mainstream American coffee experience seems to be split into two general categories:
Coffee is a strong, bitter, unpleasant yet necessary way to start the day.
Coffee is a two ounce shot added to a liquid dessert designed to keep us from napping under our desks all afternoon because we can’t even.
What if we could have a radically different experience with coffee? What if the worlds of flavor and aroma could finally collide in your cup?
That's what I do every day, and there's a lot of detail in what makes coffee desirable.
What’s in your cup?
First, coffee has to be picked with intention. Coffee is the seed of a fruit; it's first and foremost an agricultural product. Can you imagine how you would feel about bananas if you'd only ever eaten hard green bananas, or worse, spoiled bananas? It has to be picked with intention and stored properly.
The majority of coffee cherries are harvested by machines that aren't able to pay any special attention to whether the cherry is ripe before picking. This inevitably results in undesirable flavors, which have to be masked in the roasting process. The end product is often a robust, roasty, and bitter cup, only made tolerable with copious amounts of cream and sugar.
Now imagine a coffee farm that strategically plants their coffee trees at higher elevations, hires skilled coffee pickers who hand pick only the ripe cherries, and takes great care in processing the seeds to ensure stability before shipping to the roaster. High elevation coffee plants mature more slowly, allowing the plants to fortify their seeds, packing them full of sucrose and nutrients. After harvest, they are carefully processed, and closely interacted with until they’ve reached their ideal moisture content (around 11%). The seeds are packed in bags designed to protect them from environmental factors, since they have to float across the ocean to reach their destination in most cases.
Second, it has to be handled properly. Once the coffee from a farm like this arrives at the roasting facility, it is stored in a climate controlled environment to ensure that it maintains stability until it's ready to be roasted. Under these conditions, raw coffee can remain stable for up to 12 months.
Once the coffee is roasted, it has a much shorter shelf life. After this window expires, the coffee starts to degrade fairly rapidly. Once the coffee is ground, it starts to degrade within minutes. All of the flavonoids and aromatic compounds are released from their cellulose prisons once the physical structure of the coffee bean is deconstructed.
Third, it has to be brewed a certain way. Brewing is the final step of this meticulously guided process. The coffee needs to be ground appropriately for the brewing method, but it also needs to be uniform in particle size. If you brew coffee that is unevenly ground, parts of it will extract too quickly, and other parts too slowly. This will result in an uneven flavor profile, and could potentially ruin the cup.
A properly brewed cup of coffee should be sweet, balanced, and pleasing (even as the cup cools down to room temperature).
To all of my non-coffee friends who have been tricked by coffee that smells good yet tastes like burnt tires, it's never too late to seek out a different kind of encounter with the coffee seed.