In the lab

When love and hate collide

angel barrera | 2019-04-09

These last weeks we have witnessed some articles quite strict, from some journals, as well as some comments from coffee well known professionals, criticizing some aspects involved on the current third wave of coffee.

First and the article that started all. David Lieberman sent a hard punch against the rudeness that he said faced in some coffee shops on the US; his very critic article touched some other points, such as the light roasts for the espresso… (To read the full article: http://blogs.ocweekly.com/stickaforkinit/2013/11/third-wave_coffee.php )

Then, on the same line, Sara Deseran wrote an article titled Coffee Gone Sour, which was on the same line of criticizing the light roast for espressos…

And finally, someone very well known on the coffee sector as it is Willem Boot, wrote on his facebook, that he actually “prefers sweetness as a concept for the flavor profile of coffee and kindness for the general coffee experience”.

Then, to finish, a last article was published, called “Do me a favor, stop buying bad coffee”. This article, intended moreover to make consumers to be aware on the quality of coffee that they consume, and in the other said, stated how hard it is for baristas sometimes to face a market not caring on listening to them.

Nothing is just black or white. But we think that the most important of all is not losing the point… We can’t attack ourselves, all the persons involved in improving the current coffee consumption…when outside, we have people treating coffee like if it was just rice or no matter which commodity product… when we have people stocking low quality grains for years and years in humid warehouses ready to be taken to the dark side of the roast, of the moon, of Oz, etc… when we have people selling coffee like if it was just selling socks.

Why do we want to improve the quality of coffee consumed nowadays?

I’m sure we all have respectable reasons to want to do it. In my case for example, my dad being a producer, my main reason, is because I know by experience that if we buy better qualities in origin, WE PAY THEM MORE. And there’s not a way that can be bad. In what is the handcraft roasting sector, I have had it also clear, the “terroir” coffees are the ones that artisans are able to work and that the industry would never be able to touch.

Then, there are some problems that the current trend seems to face in some places, or in some perceptions.

One for example, is that specialty coffee shouldn’t be elitist. As a whole in a chain, we need to pay fair prices to producers, which at the same time can be fair to roasters so it can finish in a fair price to the consumers. What’s the point otherwise? And elite would never do a change, or at least, one of those changes that count. We need to be able to touch more and more consumers buying good coffee. That’s the only way we can have a considerably massive effect on the sector. We can’t dream to think that all the industry would in a moment move to doing superior and special coffees, but if we can imagine that in the future, at least we would be able to clearly separate those bags going on 3 minutes roasting to those going for a handcraft long roasting, I think we would have reached a life project… And how to do it, how to actually touch more people, is perhaps one of the tough problems we have ahead… I agree that we need to educate consumers on good & qualitative coffee, but perhaps we haven’t all find the right way to do it. It takes time, and it takes patience. If we are too rude on doing it, we would just scare consumers, we would make them think that having a good coffee is something complicated, not easy to get; when actually, it should be a kind discovering experience for them. And there is a rule in business which can be tricked, but never forgotten: we do not own consumers truth.

Then is what’s concerning light & dark roasts… This is certainly a subject that can be argued for hours and hours. There are two points that need to be stated on that:

The first: every extraction method need a different roasting, as well as it does for the grinding. We can’t say that a roast would matches a coffee prepared for a filter such as V60 or Chemex, and at the same time, for an espresso.

Then the second and perhaps the most important: we need to educate and push a consumer to having a better coffee. But we can’t impose to them only what we like.

I would like to finish with a couple experiences I had myself, the first one from my country, El Salvador, of which I’m always proud of talking about. In El Salvador, as many coffee producing countries in the world, the coffee consumed is normally of the lowest qualities. It was like that, for years and years, until one day, when a young couple decided to try to change that. Viva Espresso was the first truly specialty coffee shop in El Salvador, buying the best coffees of the country, and even including cup of excellence winning coffees on their menus.

How did they do that?

Avoiding, of course, not to talk about the huge efforts of any kind they need to do in order to achieve as well as their unquestionable quality, I will always remember Federico (founder) and any single one of their baristas (including a world barista champion on their team), with a smile on their faces, talking without stopping to Salvadorians about the magic of their undiscovered treasure that they had just waiting for them on their garden!

Then, the second one, a conversation I (let’s say accidentally) heard on a third wave Spanish coffee shop. A woman, around the 60 years old, was saying to her friends that she loved to come to this coffee shop, because first, it was from a roaster they know very well from town, and secondly, that was also the favorite of her daughter, and they normally came together. I guess these guys were able to beat any elitism.

There is an old 90’s grunge song, that I always liked, which said “…and I changed, by not changing, at all”. We do not need to change; we just need to learn how to listen.

What do you think?

Angel, for the Belco team

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