#51 – (Non)generalization


(Leer en Español)

Sat down with the idea to write about one thing, ended up thinking about another.

Thinking a lot about crema last days, does the color matter? Do the stripes matter? I mean, we all know something about it, from old school standarts. OR how overextracted and underextracted espressos probably look. I am curious to find out about well extracted ones. I just would like to check my doubts, regarding the taste and TDS mainly, if there is any connection between them and the color of crema. How does it influence the taste? Probably gonna run an experiment soon, just out of curiousity.

But now a quick intervention about the phrases regarding coffee that I heard which brought up more questions from my part than answers, and why I don’t think they make sense, for me, at least. All of them has to do with the accuracy of sensory evaluation.

Specialty coffee has a lot to do with sensory evaluation.

And funny enough it has a lot to do with marketing as well – all that instagramming, bragging that “my specialty is more specialty than your specialty”, “our coffee is the best”, sexy expensive machines, etc…

I find it important to say, that people are still operating those machines, first. Skills still matter.

And then – one more time, specialty coffee is all about sensory evaluation. If there is a skill that is obligatory – it is cupping. And what is cupping? It is the ability to evaluate the taste, the sensory experience of a drink called coffee, blind. Basically, the ability to distract from everything else, and trust your judgment, and be as unprejudiced as possible.

So, some phrases that actually has to do with sensory evaluation, and made me think.

“This coffee has the acidity of Ethiopian coffee”

Almost a year ago I had a guest, who actually was definitely into coffee in some way, who came to have an espresso. And after drinking it, he shared his evaluation very confidently with my bosses. When I heard it, it left me absolutely astonished. “This coffee has the acidity of the Ethiopian coffee” (btw, it was pulped natural Brazilian Mundo Novo).

My internal questions, which arose almost immediately, were: And how is the acidity of the Ethiopian coffee? All the coffees coming from Ethiopia have the same acidity?

I understand that probably what he meant was “this coffee has high, pronounced acidity, and for my taste it is too bright, and lacking balance” –  I suppose that, taking in consideration common Portuguese taste, that is still present.

But you understand me, right? Anybody who cupped different Ethiopians understands me. You can say that Ethiopians sometimes doesn’t have a big body, they are more on the side of floral notes, lime and bergamot, sometimes even spices, depends on the region and processing – but regarding the acidity, even if you try very hard, you cannot make them seem equal. Or am I missing something?

I don’t know. “Acidity of Ethiopian coffee’ doesn’t say anything to me, except for the fact that it is a more complicated way to say “high acidity”. Let’s be more accurate in our sensory evaluation.  If you feel like evaluating, evaluate intensity, evaluate quality.

And the other one, that I heard two times last weeks, and I couldn’t agree back then, and I understand that I still cannot.

“It tastes like Brazilian coffee”.

Brazil is huge. Has different coffees. Specialty and commercial. Usually naturally processed, but not always. Lots of experiments last years, lots of surprises. What do you mean by “brazilian coffee”?

Nice body? Low grown? Low acidity? Generic coffee taste?

I understand that it is a generalization based, again, on sensory experience, but all my being calls for more precision.

Probably “brazilian coffee” means catuai, or mundo novo varieties, widely grown there. Probably it means pulped natural processed coffees. Probably means mild acidity.

Let’s just be more accurate, in our judgements, in our descriptions?

It is the only thing we have left: to agree on our vocabulary, trying to be as precise as possible in our descriptions, training our taste, trying to avoid generalizations and expose ourselves constantly to different sensory experience to widen our sensory memory. Because if it is not the taste, we will be just left with the image of specialty coffee as something hipster and trandy, but without something important in its core.

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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