How drinking stale coffee and kombucha possibly makes us worse specialty coffee tasters

cafe sin mentiras

Is it true that we are educating ourselves to like or to hate different types of food?
Is it possible that by drinking bad coffee we become less, not more, sensitive to its quality?
Can it be that drinking kombucha makes us more prone to not considering overfermentation in coffee being a defect?

I was about to talk about it in my instagram stories, just throwing some questions into the air, pondering, thinking out loud – but then I understood that it is too complex for a story – but definitely a good topic to talk about.

It is all started with 2 things – Lucia Solis podcasts and kombucha that I have in my kitchen.

I was listening to one of the episodes of her podcasts that I simply enjoy and find incredible, and sometimes, once in a while, she allows herself very gently to express her opinion about some topics (always saying that it is just her opinion, nothing more, although that’s what we, listeners, want listening to Lucia – her opinion :)) – and very frequently they are about habits of coffee consumption, not necessarily about science.

So she was mentioning that we shouldn’t drink bad coffee because we are getting to like it. We teach ourselves to like it.

And being honest I’ve never seen it from this perspective.

I am not drinking bad coffee at the moment, lockdown and I haven’t been out for a while, but back then, when were allowed to wander around without any particular destination in mind (ok, covid jokes, let me do it one more time, and it is over, I promise), I drank that portuguese espresso.

Why, you ask me.

Cause it is bad in so many ways – robusta, torrefacto, badly roasted, cheap, defects, old, espresso machines that have never been cleaned, etc. Why. Socializing, and getting to know the habits of locals, and just having something hot in my hands when sitting on the esplanade and it is almost 7 and you are about to watch the sunset.

There were many reasons, and none of them was the taste of coffee. Coffee was just present there, not being the main hero.

Like if I had two facets – one of the coffee professional, who is trained to evaluate the taste and quality, and the other one – just a person who watches the sunset, having a pastel de nata with an espresso.

I guess with her phrase, that we are teaching ourselves to like bad coffee, she in some sense ruined for me that experience, and coffee will just be my work from now on.

Or not.

But I’ll definitely be more careful with what I am drinking – to stay sharp.

The other issue that Lucia brought up was getting to like stale or old coffee.

And this one is a thing, actually.

Imagine that you buy a bag, and you drink it throughout a month and a half. Imaginary situation, of course. Depends on how it is being stored, somewhere around 3-4 weeks after the roast date you’ll be entering the territory of stale coffee. The questions are: first, will you notice it? Second, how to avoid it?

My way – I always divide 250 bags in two portions, and freeze the half. Now.

But before I was almost getting to like stale coffee – there is no way out, if you think about it. You bought the bag, it was not cheap, you remember how it tasted in the beginning, so you already have expectations – and your brain doesn’t want you to feel disappointed. So what does it do? Gives you a strange mixture of your expectations, memories, the price of the coffee – and voila, you are already into drinking stale, and not even aware of it.

Our minds are evil XD

The third thing that got me thinking was about acetic acid and kombucha.

The taste of acetic acid in coffee has both bright and not so bright sides. It is pretty common in dry processed coffees, and gives them their charm, but when it is too much – here you have it, a defect.

And it is not positive anymore.

So I like kombucha, I make kombucha, I drink kombucha. Although a few kombucha cultures contain lactic bacteria, they are really very few. Kombucha’s SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is mainly a combination of a various species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae among others), and acetic acid bacteria.

If you are making kombucha at home, the thing is that fermentation is happening all the time, you have to feed the SCOBY for it not to die, and you give it sugar and tea, which are lately transformed into yes, acetic acid, among other things. You can slow it down by putting kombucha that you consider ready in the fridge – but it is a living culture. It will continue to ferment.

Yesterday I had a coffee that definitely was overfermented – and I noticed it and I didn’t enjoy it. So I still got it, I guess. But good to be aware of it. Good to be aware of your habits and sensations – it prevents you from training yourself as Pavlov’s dog, into liking things you are not supposed to like.

But there is just one more thing I wanted to mention today. The last thing, but not the least important.

I think coffee professionals are forgetting to drink regular coffee. And it wouldn’t be a problem at all, by itself, but the thing is that first, they start to consider solid sweet normal coffees “boring”, and therefore not deserving to be highlighted, and second, they are getting further and further from the consumer.

Because coffee drinker is pretty far from the coffee taster. Think about it.

The question here is – who does consume more?

The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

And the truth is – coffees that are rare, and crazy, and exotic, and mind blowing – they are also tiring, they are also too loud, if comparing it to music.

People are looking for ambient music, a soundtrack for their morning and afternoons, and yes, once in a while they want something different. But they always come back to good, to simple, to solid, to sweet.

Barista, or anybody who works with the customer, should be extremely careful to not to impose her opinion when the question is not the quality, but simply preference. Because “Kenyan” coffee in these terms is simply not better than “Nicaraguan” (and I write them in parenthesis to emphasize that I’m generalizing by naming them so, simply by the country of origin).

So I’ll leave it like this for today.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what do you think

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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