Monday, March 31, 2014

Peter Guiliano Was Right, Part 2

I just can't resist sharing this bit of breathless excitement from Sprudge. It really does go to show the kind of progress the Third Wave has made since the bad old days when all anybody cared about was making a buck by adulterating coffee.

No doubt coffee farmers worldwide are rejoicing at this kind of dialed-in focus on coffee flavor nuances.


  1. I'd like to know your thoughts on the other item on Sprudge today: the "nanolot" of coffee from Bolivia, grown at 2500 meters, of which Less Than A Full Bag was harvested. Intelli is selling it in 50g bags, with labels made on letterpress. Frankly, I don't understand any of this . . .

  2. Thanks for the head's-up Robert. I have no doubt the coffees in that sampler are superb. They certainly should be, at $20 per 50 grams - not even enough to make a full pot on the Technivorm brewer featured in the article.

    If coffees of this sort were offered in the context of menus of excellent value, first-rate coffees that the consumer can afford to drink on a daily basis I'd have no problem with them. Equally important, it seem to me, is communicating to customers over and over that there is NO linear correlation between the price per pound and quality or enjoyment - merely a correlation to rarity.

    Obviously Intelligentsia could care less what I think, and their track record for snobbery and overpriced coffee certainly means they're just about the last place I'd expect to see exceptional coffees like this featured in a sustainable, reasonable context that helps build a consumer market for great coffees.

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  4. I don't always agree with you Kevin, but I think (I think?) I agree with you here on latte art championships. ;)

    More seriously, my ultimate concern in coffee is introducing more and more consumers to quality in the cup. I'm not in this to cheerlead roasters, baristas, companies selling coffee. I'm about introducing consumers to better coffee in the cup through their own (the consumers') means.

    Fortunately, a big side effect of this "mission" is that I do get to champion good roasters. I do get to champion baristas doing the right things. I do get to champion farmers working to advance coffee growing science and quality.

    But by the same token, my "championing" isn't blind or universal. If you'd being a fluffery, I'll call it fluffery. If you're being (or are perceived as being) elitist or exclusionary or pretentious, I'll call these things out, because these things don't improve the quality in consumers' cups - all they are, are kinda just a big circle jerk.

    I used to be really enthusiastic and an early champion for barista competitions. Why? For one reason - the mission statement (never realised) of "bringing the message of quality coffee and espresso to the general public". The WCE doesn't seem to care about this mission statement. I don't even know if it is still part of the WCE's mission statement.

    Anyway. I agree with you, if you're being sarcastic ;) If not, well then I just opened up a debate.

  5. Hi Coffee Geek,

    Yes, pure sarcasm and we're on the same page here.


    I get the sarcasm, of course. But be careful before you dismiss latte art too quickly. There is a whole discipline of sensory science- called crossmodal- that studies how our senses affect each other. What you hear and see can strongly influence what you taste. There is a mountain of evidence about this, which is increasing all the time. I feel fortunate to have interacted a bit with Dr. Charles Spence, who leads this kind of research. Here's an article about how color affects how people react to food:

    If color can have such a strong effect, do you have any trouble being open to the notion that a beautiful visual presentation- latte art, beautiful cup, beautiful environment, has a positive effect on the perceived flavor of the beverage? And isn't perception what matters? Isn't this a way the barista actually ADDS quality to the coffee (in contrast to the oft-chortled idea that roasters and baristas can only subtract quality)?

    But this is long-winded. Among my people we say "Si mangia prima con gli occhi e dopo con la bocca." and that's enough.

  7. Hi Peter -

    I don't disagree with you in the slightest, and am excited about the research you've shared.

    I don't have the right ethnicity in my last name, but I'm a huge Italophile from way back, and the presentation of coffee at my favorite bars in Italy ALMOST makes up for the execrable quality of a lot of the coffee used. "Set and Setting" as we old LSD "tasters" used to say.

    In the old days at Starbucks there was an upstart roaster by the name Torrefazione Italia that used to give Howard Schultz fits by stealing our best wholesale customers, and a big part of the sell was this: they gave the customers hand-painted, correctly-sized demitasses and cappuccino cups to serve the coffee in - and it tasted better!

    Your people - at least in the Motherland - also say that espresso is "poco ma buono" and the question for us then becomes (or remains): how do we elevate the perceived status, value and prospective delciousness of an actual (unadulteread) cup of single-origin coffee to that of an artistically decorated caffe latte? It helps a lot if the cup it's served in is beautiful, but in my experience what is vitally important is aroma, in particular, that says very clearly "this is coffee? I've never smelled let alone tasted anything like it." As Ed Behr said in "Art of Eating" around 30 years ago, "the flavors professional coffee tasters dote on are naturally occurring fruit flavors. Consumers don't know coffee can have such flavors."

    So: top washed Ethiopians and Kenya auction lots, top dry-processed Ethiopians and the occasional un-baggy Yemen, and Panama Geshi for the rich folk. How do we get those experiences into more cups more often in a way that is a win financially for farmers, roasters, baristas and consumers?

    As always Peter I enjoy our exchanges and I so appreciate your acute intelligence and your deep love of coffee.