#60 – Specialty Coffee: all the information is here. What are you gonna do next?


(leer en español)

I would like to talk here, or to start talking, it is better, let’s put it like that – start talking about what was in my head for a while last couple of weeks. To share with you, and to initiate that conversation.


It is not gonna be the tips about the barista routines or reviews of the espresso I had lately.


It is gonna be about information, competition and growth in Specialty Coffee Industry, in one particular side of it – roasting.


As you probably know, I am based in Lisbon, Portugal, which is just entering the world of the specialty coffee, and becomes a birthplace of some new roasters.


The specialty is going to boom here in the next two years, I would dare to say. At which level – we don’t know yet, it depends on too many factors. The quality of the coffee specialists presented on the scene, their inner motives, their understanding of quality, of specialty as it is, their palates, their constant training – and their ability to communicate all of it to the local customers.


All these things influence the quality of the coffee roasters we will get by the end of the period – will they be just local, will they be known in Europe, or, who knows, even worldwide, and for a good reason?


And I focus primarily on the coffee roasters, because for me coffee should be seen like bread. We don’t import bread from other places, we bake our own. Local roasters are the mirror of the specialty coffee “situation”, in my opinion, because it requires a deep understanding of coffee at every level, from one side, and on understanding the specific character of the local consumption, on the other side. That kind of “marriage” between understanding the product and understanding the customer.


So my question here is this one.


Question to myself, and to you. Gladly, we already passed those times when roasting coffee was seen as a mystery, artisan process, that is out of our control, that you have to have a gift to be doing, and when roasters were hiding their profiles (if they had them, of course) – for nobody else to repeat.


This is in the past, as David Schomer’s Barista Bible.

Now we get together in the Roasting camps, share, learn, talk.

What we are having know is the opposite. It is the abundance of the information. It is open, it is there, you can take it. Just to give you an example, you can enter Google, right now, and check out the profiles of the World Coffee Roasting Championship. Just check it out. They are there.


Books? Easy. Articles? In a matter of seconds. You want to know about Coffee Chemistry? Barista techniques? Roasting strategies? Harvest Calendar? No. Problem. At. All.


All this info exists, it is real, sometimes it is free, sometimes it is not – but what is important – it is available. You can easily pay some money, and take a roasting course or webinar with Scott Rao or Willem Boot. It will make you feel special, yes. If you are attentive – you will take out something for yourself. Like thousands and thousands of other coffee specialists who took the same course as you and read the same books.


So what should we be waiting, logically? Right. More well extracted espressos, because more baristas discovered refractometers. More well developed roasts, because everybody now is minding the ROR.


So… Let’s suppose it is happening. Roasts are getting less flat and turn out sweeter and sweeter. Espressos are getting less sour, and become more complex, and much more stable from barista to barista.


What will distinguish the roaster A from the roaster B? They bought the same machine, they read the same books, they took the same course, they have the same, or similar, coffee importer, they try to apply the same roast strategy.


And let’s imagine the ideal situation, attention, and suppose that both roasters don’t commit classic “mistakes” – like getting coffee almost to the second crack when it tastes roasty and smoky and looses all the character, or flat roasts, or gourmet coffee that is presented like if it were specialty. None of that.


Why should we choose roaster A? Why should we choose roaster B? What is the difference between them, in the end of the day?


Do those famous “background” factors enter the game now more than before? We buy because the package is nice? Because they put on the bags nice stickers? Because it is blue (pink, black, golden, etc)? Because their instagram is trendy? How do we become to believe who is the best? Who worths our money? Is it enough just to “sell it right” for us to believe it is good? Do we actually make informed choices? Or like sheeps go after the shepard, we go after anyone who proclaims that he is the best?


I was thinking about my choices. The roasteries I love, I am curious about, I would like to try.  I am not a regular consumer, of course, I am into that from head to toes, but still…


There is category of ones that I tried once, and never tried again. I understood what I wanted to understand, I did not feel any connection, I did not feel any personality behind it, I haven’t tasted anything of the exceptional quality I would have liked to taste again. I tried, and left it.


There are some roasteries that have no public figure in the lead, at least the one that I know of, but after trying them, I tasted the quality and the honesty. I felt that they are buying quality coffee, and paying a price for it, I felt that they are taking care of how it is going to taste. I remember them. I will buy again, if I will want anything solid to drink.


There is a third category of the roasters, those ones I have a steady image of in my head. I buy the personal story. I buy the character. I buy the image of the person who is leading that company, or roasting for that company. And what is indicative, some roasteries I like contradict each other. But what do I buy? I buy strong personal opinion, courage to be different, I am attracted to values that this person communicates. I am attracted to the integrity.


I guess this is my answer until now. We have all the information available, just reach your hand and take it, it is yours. Everything can be the same. Machine, package, origins, even roast style. So why you buy from roaster B, not A?


I was told last week that what cannot be copied is style. I would go further. I would say that’s the integrity.


And it is funny, that look like we made a circle, and came to the same place where it all started. Like back in the days our grandparents were buying coffee from a local roaster they personally knew, now we buy freshly roasted beans from those ones who we like, or identify with.


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