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Awareness and Coffee Journalism

January 10, 2013

My intention was to write about feedback next but I have chanced across an article that I feel impelled to touch on first.

Now, all of my posts have recognised that the approach to coffee we take and the approach that defines speciality coffee is almost a hidden gem; that it is unknown to many, a surprise if you like.  I have often mentioned my epiphany moment in Melbourne, a moment that was ignited by a coffee from Kenya that displayed notes of strawberry and spice.  Part of my thought process that day was not only, “I desperately want to work with this kind of product and I want to taste more of it” but it was also: “why have I never had anything like this before?”

I think that conversing within our peer group and when serving people who are familiar with speciality coffee, it is easy to forget that there are still many journalistic articles and writings that provide the stark realisation that coffees’ reality as a product in its entirety is still a completely alien notion to masses of people. By this I mean people who are interested in coffee, interested enough to write about it.

The article that has prompted this particular article can be found here The premise for such an article is very interesting, but it lacks understanding of the product and is therefore of little use. It is also for the same reasons rather misleading.  It is a discourse based upon hugely shaky foundations.

The article should instead maybe ask the question “will mechanical processes take over from human process in the commodity commercial coffee market?”  The word artisanal is here proving to be another irritating word in coffee. Would people in speciality coffee or those that drink speciality coffee call the coffee described as artisanal in this article as artisanal? Coffee doesn't currently have a pop culture understanding that reflects its complexity.

More bracing here though, is how alien what we do (in speciality coffee) seems when reading such an article. Speciality coffee is so poorly represented and rarely understood in any valuable way.  I am sure the writer did not intentionally conduct a test that was not representative, but instead their understanding of coffee led them to think that the devised test and resulting conclusions were sound and reasonable.  It would seem to me that indeed the questions the writer is really interested in asking are those regarding the philosophy of taste( a big topic that requires far more research and exploration than was in this article).  It would also seem that they felt coffee seemed to suit the man-made vs. machine-made discussion that is the real focus of the article rather than artisan coffee, which has been hijacked to support these ideas.

As well as the poor nature of the test, there is the misunderstanding (often surprising and counter intuitive) that Michelin star restaurants have been approaching their coffee meticulously or with supreme regard and interest in the past.  The pod machine introduction in these restaurants doesn't tell us about the quality of artisan vs pod but tells us much more about the restaurants’ approach to coffee.  Anyone reasonably versed in coffee or having a depth of knowledge in coffee will be aware that coffee has long been an afterthought and a failing of nearly all great restaurants.

Reading this article, there is no wonder that coffee (artisanal or speciality coffee) is being ascribed with terms such as pretentious and elitist, if ideas of artisanal or speciality coffee are those that are represented in this article.  As the highly limited test purports to give the answer that “artisan” coffee doesn't deliver on the taste front but on the romantic front.  Indeed it is an interesting notion (one that I would strongly dispute is not the driving force of speciality coffee), but the test conceived does not even begin to explore the notion.  I could easily take the argumentative stand point that the test is so bad, that its inception is to serve solely as support for an existing theory on the subject.

Maybe this is all just an indicator of the youth of the kind of specialism in coffee that I am a part of.  The only thing that will change this is a wider awareness of what coffee is capable of, of what speciality coffee is about, that it is a more complex discussion than just hand artisan or Pod.  It is easy to forget when nestled so deep in the pocket of speciality coffee that this very pocket is itself rarely seen.


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