This one will not be a practical post, and neither it will be technical, or anything close to that. I have some of those coming after, but today I am gonna be talking about myself. Not humble, but honest 🙂
This place came to life because I was thinking about a platform to be putting in words what I am thinking about, the challenges I meet with every day working in the specialty coffee industry, and also as a way of motivating myself to be constantly evolving. (And, surprisingly, challenging myself with writing is doing that job)
The name came out as something funny, at the moment I was not thinking much about how to name my blog. Curiously, with time it got some additional meanings that happened to combine well with my personality and my vision of the area. And this is official, my blog and my project itself is called “Café Sin Mentiras“, literally “coffee without lies“.
My desire was to be talking openly about specialty coffee – about tecnical aspects, cultural, about the evolvment of the industry – but defining clearly what is specialty and what is not. To not to talk bullshit, or about hipster appearance, or second wave that pretend to be specialty while roasting coffee to charcoal state. None of that. I wanted it to be sin mentiras.
Since I don’t remember when I am using this definition of specialty coffee (taken from this video), by Ben Kaminsky, which I find expressing the best way the core of specialty.
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 what exactly does that mean?
It means that if you (having a trained palate) cannot distinuguish the specialty in taste (high quality of picking, origin, variety, terroir, processing) – it is not specialty. Badly roasted, badly brewed coffee – IS NOT SPECIALTY.
I am not selling sexy expensive machines, and I don’t have any affiliation with the brands.
I have always believed that first come the hands, the skills. Then – open mind. After that – stability of your day-to-day operations. And then, at 5, 6, 7th place – equipment. That is the reason why back in the days I was able to be serving decent espresso at the Faema. Because there was nothing else left, machine did not have technology to mask my mistakes. So I had to work my ass off, every single time, working with what I had.
The same with the roasting equipment. The secret lays in knowing the machines you are working with so well that you become the one with it. It is about working with what you have, and making the maximum out of it. I strongly believe in that.
It is about outgrowing the equipment. Understanding where it doesn’t suit you. But before you achieve that level – there is a long way to go.
Technology changes every month, I am not saying every year, and the equipment costs big money. Of course there is a lot of guys making money on selling you new improved models, grinders, brewers, etc, it is their business.
It is not a secret that most probably you will not be working on the top equipment (or it will be top, and in a year will become old). And you know what? You don’t need to.
It is not the equipment that does the job for you, it is you who know the machines you are working with so well, that you make it all work.
It is not Giesen who roasts – it is the roast master who spent hundreds of hours to learn how to operate it. And if it is a good professional – he is still learning. It is not La Marzocco who brews the coffee – it is the barista behind it. Not the BUNN – the guy who adjusted it, or, better, who is adjusting it, every morning.
And the list can contunue and continue…
It is stupid to be bragging about the equipment the coffee shop has. Those are the “mentiras” I am almost allergic to. Shiny new machines will not do the job for you. On the other side, there is no need to be killing yourself over the fact that your machine has no volumetrics. Values more to have a person who operates them who is constantly learning, and invest in this person.
We all know these “false specialty” coffee shops, the instagram is full of them – expensive equipment everywhere, thousands in machines, roasters, design, well presented instagram page, expensive aprons for the baristas, lot’s of comments “the best coffee in the city”, “the best place to grab a filter”…
And in the end you come there, drink a coffee, and if you have receptors on your tongue, and don’t let yourself to get blinded by all the money ivested in the design – you feel, let’s say softly, fooled. Because after all that investment the coffee they serve is still a pretty mediocre crap
But they are on the map, no doubt.
There is another “mentira” I am getting crazy about sometimes. Making all that “noise” about serving specialty, all that promotion, titles, big names, etc – and then you come, try the coffee (yeah, you see, everything comes to simply trying it yourself) – and it is super dark roast, not only dark, but classical burnt outside, underdeveloped inside, bitter and sour at the same time. Yes, probably it was specialty in green, but it quickly stopped to be it after roasting, and putting variety, and origin, and processing on the packaging will not change the reality of it being, yes, again a “mentira”.
Not measuring (damn!) your espresso. One more mentira. If you don’t measure – you don’t know what you are serving. And you are definitely not serving specialty anymore. Period. The more origins you have in the menu – the more you have to adjust, to be adjusting throughout the day. Knowing that, would have you still choose to serve 4 origins, or prefer to limit yourself with maximum 2, but well done?.. The answer is obvious.
Roasting. Another topic. Underdeveloped roasts that taste like grass and sour as hell – is not specialty. Specialty is not about roasting lighter. Specialty is about developing the roast the way you can feel the origin/variety/processing. And then your customers refuse to drink underdeveloped sour espressos – and you switch to the dark roasts, or roasting low grown Brazil, (
or roasting dark low grown Brasil) because “they are just not ready”. No, my dear. They are just not liking the espressos that make their jaws hurt like pure lemon juice, and there is no faut of theirs in it.
I created “Café Sin Mentiras” to be talking about the Specialty Coffee free of these “mentiras”. Probably many will not like me, or my approach. But I am kinda used to that, so no trouble, I am already considered some sort of strange person 🙂
To be a place free of the “hipster” vibe, or bragging about doing the same tulips again in the huge bowls, or an ode to the expensive machine or endless selfies with the roaster as the only way to show what you are doing, or charging others for the barista classes, while never in your life measuring a TDS or weightening an espresso. Without things like that.
Because Specialty has a lot to offer, really a lot, and the most interesting things are connected with those people who work their ass off to innovate, to create something new, learn, get better, non stop, who shut up and work, and see the huge way that they have to go to grow – for me specialty is about that. At every level – farming, owning a coffee shop or roastery, being a barista, a roaster, etc. I met those people, in every area of the specialty coffee, these people exist. I am friends with some, I admire them . It is about working your ass off, for real, no time for bragging, no shit, you see clearly how many things you still need to improve. You find them constantly.
And the best Specialists I met in the industry, those who inspire endlessly, the ones on which shoulders everything stands on – are like that. Sin mentiras. Always striving to be better, always finding the ways to improve. Strict, humble, with a lot of work they planned for themselves, with no time to lose. Involved in the battle to be better, under their own very high standards, much higher than any industry ones. Attention, it is very different from the desire to seem the best, to show off.
This is the way I am aiming to be as well, professionally and personally. Like those people I admire. Sin mentiras.
I know that we live in the world of marketing, and it is more than enough for the majority to proclaim something online, and 99% of people will believe, and take it as it is, not putting on test the flavour, the quality; the approach. For them the image will be enough. But there is that 1% who will not. So probably for that 1% is worth doing things well. At least for me it definitely worth it.