Drowning, not waving.

I’ve recently read 2 pieces that, to me, were unintentionally related.

James Hoffman’s Hipsters, Coffee And Authenticity”, questions the perceived aloof Baristas & customers associated with a “Modern” coffee culture, whilst Alan Frew’s April 2014 newsletter questions “Solutions in search of problems”.

Like others in the coffee industry, I’ve also been well and truly guilty of focusing on detail, trying to control process to the ‘enth degree, and looking for complexity in everything.

Although I’m a firm believer in having a comprehensive understanding of the brewing process, and how to affect the results, I don’t think it really needs to be over complicated in application during service. Certainly not when it comes to efficiently serving consistent quality.

If you assume that the Barista is using quality coffee, and it’s roasted (and perhaps blended) to suit the application (espresso, espresso in milk, filter etc.), then there’s a simple process to follow.

  • Appropriate Dose + appropriate water volume @ appropriate temperature + appropriate brew time + appropriate extracted volume = tasty coffee

There are a bunch of established standards for preparing coffee, and when I follow the standards, I’ve found that the cup is tasty. These “Standards” have been around for decades, and they’re “Standards” because they work. If some aren’t reinventing the wheel, they’re certainly reinventing ways of describing a wheel turning. Whenever I’ve used a refractometer to diagnose my brewing, it just confirms that I got it right (and so did the Roaster).

I also find it amusing that when Baristas are preparing “Brewed” coffee, they are fastidious with dosing and following brew recipes to achieve designated brew formulas and extraction yields. Digital scales are the norm (and refractometers are desirable kit). However, why is it that when it comes to espresso, those same Baristas want to dose by sight, or rely on timed grinders? Some even refuse to use volumetrics, arguing they’re able to produce more correct and more consistent extractions visually (you’ve got to be kidding???). A traditional dosing chamber is far more efficient AND more consistent. Use of digital scales for espresso in a busy bar is too slow, as is pre weighing for the now popular EK43, and if you’re using a blend, grind on demand is more likely to produce inconsistent dosing of that blend and its required balance of components.

Unfortunately, this attitude of grind on demand at all costs has pervaded customers’ perceptions. Some in our industry tell consumers to avoid cafes who don’t grind on demand for every cup. Surely it’s more important to focus on correct dose, extraction volume and extraction time than coffee that was ground 5 or 10 minutes ago.

It really does seem to be more about the theatre, and the perception of quality, rather than the substance.

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