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The Art of Accessible Coffee

As a roaster, I spend many an hour thinking about fantastic, exciting coffees to source. Coffee that challenges perception of what coffee can taste like. Coffee that challenges my experience as a roaster and cupper. Coffee that I feel proud to showcase to my peer group. However, experience has taught me that this can sometimes go against what my customers really need or want (relative to their journey into speciality coffee).

I roast coffee for two quite different audiences – retail and wholesale. Roasting for retail is where I can confidently enjoy experimenting with roast profiles and sourcing*. Yes, I’m restricted by what coffee is seasonally available, but most other constraints are left behind. I can find micro-lots that challenge. Roast in ways to accentuate fruit qualities. Roast to maintain brightness of acidity and clarity. However, this currently represents the smaller proportion of the volume of coffee I sell. I am not in any way suggesting that coffee I roast for wholesale is not exciting, more that it needs to be accessible to a wider audience. More often than not, an audience who may not yet be aware that coffee can show flavour beyond ‘bitter’ and ‘strong’.

This used to trouble me. However, over recent times, I’ve come to accept that it’s OK to chase more accessible flavour profiles. Not everyone wants to be challenged each time they pull an espresso shot. Not everyone wants to brew by filter, not add milk and not wait until the perfect temperature to drink. Many people (like I did when I took my first foray in to speciality coffee) need a ‘comfortable’ transition. This has become my new challenge. Source, roast, cup and sell exceptional coffee that’s accessible to everyone*

* My retail mix is derived from those who are already aware of speciality coffee (internet searches etc), or have bought from me face-to-face and are engaged in talking to the roaster.

** This doesn’t mean that I will now disregard those exceptional lots that blow me away on the cupping table. More that I’ll use the higher volume of accessible coffee to facilitate sourcing even more ‘exclusive’ coffees.


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Coffee Dogma

“Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. It serves as part of the primary basis of an ideology or belief system, and it cannot be changed or discarded without affecting the very system’s paradigm, or the ideology itself.”

I am often asked what recipes to use for espresso, pour over and cafeti√®re. My answers a described through numbers. I roast to profiles. These profiles are refined to those suitable for ‘filter’ and ‘espresso’. I use Cropster, a VST refractometer, scales, water with a certain chemistry and a stop watch. I log all my roasts. I track roastery conditions before, during and after each batch. I log quite a lot of my in-house brews – what was the TDS, time, grind size, brew method. I produce and store a whole bunch of data.

What am I getting at? There is an awful lot of discussion about brewing technique on the internet. A lot of these techniques have begun to introduce numbers. These numbers have been derived from ‘gadgets’ that can be purchased and used by anyone who has the required budget. The result of which, is that I find a number of people in my peer group brewing to numbers. The same can be said of roasting for that matter. I too fall foul of this when approaching a new coffee. I lean towards the numbers to give me the result that I’m after and tend to trust that those numbers, or boundaries, will yield something tasty. Invariably this is correct. The numbers will get us in to the ball park in which we’re seeking. It will guide us towards producing something tasty.

So what’s the point? Taste. You must taste the result. Brew or roast by numbers, but taste. Taste the output. 20 – 25% development time may be a prescribed recipe, but 15.5% may taste better. 20% extraction yield may be seen as the median and therefore the most balanced brew by number. However, 18.2% may taste better.

When experimenting with profiling of any description. First taste, then measure the results. Brew/roast forward based on which taste better, irrespective of the number.