“Wanted”: Specialty without acidity. Desired? Possible? Tasty? And, more important – will it still be cosidered specialty?
I think I am one of those who write about what they see, on the basis of every day encounters and experiences. And everybody who works with specialty in Portugal for sure (and then comes Italy, France, etc) – they know exactly that feel when the cups are returned unfinished.
The feel of disappointment, devastation, and those questions to yourself “Have I done something wrong?”
And sometimes you did, and sometimes you did not. Sometimes you has not been attentive while pulling the shot – and it went too fast or too slow, and you didn’t reject it, and sent it to the table, and people there for sure did not like it, and for a good reason…
But let’s put this case apart. Let’s suppose you work well, stay on top of your grinder, and don’t send over-/under-extracted shots to the tables, when it happens.
What else can be the reason of rejection? (and is there anything that we can do with that?)
In the majority of the cases here the reason of rejection is the core of arabica coffee, and specialty arabica in general – acidity.
Here, and everywhere in this blog, I will be talking about specialty coffee according to the definition of Ben Kaminsky in this video.
The definition is “Specialty coffee – extracted coffee of any concentration, where by virtue of it’s flavor alone, one could derive some sense of that coffee’s high quality of picking, country of origin, variety, terroir, and/or processing.”
So we have a situation when people used to drink robusta for a long time, which in terms of acidity is close to 0, and then you come, serve (let’s suppose that serve well, a well-extracted shot) high grown (=potentially the most acidic) washed arabica, and think that people will praise you for that…
And of course they don’t.
The words “it is better than what you drink”, “it is high quality”, “it is gourmet” – they are not enough. A simple fact that your espresso is twice as expensive as the usual one is speaking not in your favour, and these words about “quality” don’t help.
What can we do now? I guess, engage. And try not to shock with the espresso – I mean, make sure that people are not expecting the traditional shot. That’s basically it. Take advantage of being in the trend, involve, talk…
It is not surprising that now we have a bunch of cafe owners, that want to have specialty, but don’t want to have acidity. Literally. They want to be in the trend, but they don’t want to risk and serve espressos with well defined acidity. Cause there is not enough demand for this type of espressos here yet. Smart move, if you think about it business-wise.
Being fashionable, in the lists of specialty places of the city, probably even roast their own coffee – but buy something lower than 85 points, with defects, low-grown, or a blend arabica-robusta. Step forward? Yes, cause coffee is freshly roasted. In other aspects – jut creates more confusion.
That kind of businesses harms the idea of specialty in the same way that Starbucks Flat White does – they blur the boundaries of the concepts. In this case, they blur the boundaries of specialty coffee, using the big name for the purpose of being in the trend, and serving lower quality instead. Nobody will notice, after all.
The truth is, it is unavoidable. If coffee is high grown, it will be acidic. More acidic, or less – it will depend on the elevation, variety, soil conditions – but it will never taste like robusta. The acidity will be, and if you are lucky enough to taste the coffee roasted well, and having no defects – the acidity will be balanced with sweetness.
Acidity in coffee is not something people are used to here. But that doesn’t mean that we should change the whole conception of specialty coffee, to suit the situation better.
And for those who work in the industry, I think there is no other way – but buying quality green beans, roasting it to bring up the best in it, and serving it measuring in and out, stable and consistent. Acidity is not our enemy – after all, nobody complains about the acidity in wine – it is the special characteristic, feature. It does not mean that espresso has to be sour – nope. It means we need to do our best at the stages of choosing quality beans, putting all our skills in roasting, and every morning adjust the espresso to get the perfect shot. And ony after all that we can talk about the customer appreciating espresso. When you give him something good, when you did not escape from your responsibilities of serving a good product, not just an image.