Unavoidable inconsistency of coffee brewing and tasting

This year’s Portuguese Aeropress Championship is over, and here I am, a week later, feeling like writing about it, or, better said – about the shocking realisation that I experienced during the preparation stage, and that is giving me some food for thought now. 

We all know that coffee making is made of balancing multiple varibles, and hitting all of them, getting all of the factors right, makes up that delicious cup of coffee in the end. 

Everything matters, from the amount of water in your kettle to the material your vessel is made from, from the mineral content of your water to the outside temperature and humidity. There are just so many variables to juggle. Probably too many to be consistent.

My goal this year was simple – I wanted to make a fool-proof recipe, easily repeatable at home by people with no previous experience, and using as little coffee as I possibly could (ended up with 13 grams, last year it was 11). And I didn’t want to use the concentrate and bypass recipe, partly because it meant one more variable – more possible inconsistency, partly – because it meant using the same recipes that we saw for the last 5 years

Knowing that there are just so many varieties that are participating in a process, I understood 2 things

First – you may do your best focusing on changing just 1 variety and thinking that you are exploring how that one thing influences the brew (let’s say temperature) – but coffee brewing is not linear, it is a system with many factors, so you should not only focus on one variable, but also making sure that everything else, and I mean it – literally everything else – is staying the same. And we are talking about hand brew here – how on earth is it to be 100% consistent when you are pouring the water from the kettle slightly differently each time? 

Controlling everything else. Meaning the factors as the temperature of the aeropress pre-making coffee, the shape of the spoon you are stirring the coffee with, the direction of stirring, the exact amount of water in the kettle, how long the water has been heating, for how long you’ve been rinsing the filter, with what kind of water…. You may continue, the list goes on and on.

Do you see my point?

Coffee making is hugely inconsistent by default, probably less than the process of roasting coffee (super hard to control and repeat the profiles, requires working out a system and sticking to it, and being as pedantic as only you may be – and even this doesn’t give you any guarantees).

The second thing I understood is even more demotivating. And what can be more demotivating than our incapacity as baristas to brew 2 identical cups of the same beverage for our clients, you may think? 

Well, our incapacity to evaluate the taste of these beverages consistently. 

Yep. 

We are not only not brewing or roasting consistently, we are totally under the influence of dozens of factors when we are tasting the coffee we brewed. Your physical state, the order of the drinks, their temperature, the food you ate before, how hungry or thirsty you are, the brand of your tooth paste, for girls – the day of your cycle etc…

It not only takes an enormous effort to be consistent when brewing, only to arrive at the stage of tasting them and failing there for a reason unknown to you

Today I feel especially powerless about this fact – simply after noticing, once again, that I never like the taste of my first coffee of the day. Never. Does not matter which coffee it will be – it won’t taste good to me, almost to the point of not choosing good coffees to be my first ones. I need to drink it to be able to enjoy my second one. As simple as that. That’s why before any tasting I need to drink coffee first – otherwise I know I won’t be just to the coffees I need to evaluate or taste that day. This is one particularity I am aware of, something that I discovered after noticing that if I cup without drinking coffee first – I will punish the first cup. ANY first cup. 

The question here is… How many more particularities does each one of us have when talking about tasting coffee? Are we aware of them? 

As human beings we are impressively inconsistent by default, and then add to it inconsistency in coffee roasting and making… 

I don’t know if we should fight it or embrace it. Probably embrace it first, then try to deal with it, facing our limitations, know our bodies when it comes to tasting (especially when judging some sort of competitions when you need to deliver a steady result and other people depend on you). 

But it is obvious for me more than ever before, after a month and a half of repeating one coffee recipe with one method of preparation, tweaking one variable at the time – coffee is a system where it is almost impossible to change one variable without changing another one. And if you think that you don’t – probably you are just not tracking it. Like the amount of water in a kettle. Or the temperature of your brewing vessel. 

As frustrating as it may sound,  I believe that there is still a chance to transform this inevitable inconsistency into some sort of motivation for the next championship. That is something that moves me, actually. How to create a stable system, or something as close to it as it may be. 

P.S. And imagine that, I brewed immersion, not even pour over.

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