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Clover love, plus explanatoria

Posted on 2006.11.13 at 12:52

Last week we got the three-group Synesso up and running. Thursday was the Clover's first run. Thursday night we had a friends-of-Grumpy cupping with Andrew Barnett of Ecco. Saturday night, the Counter Culturinos were in the house. Peter Giuliano presented three high-contrast, bombtastic coffees, including Aida's Grand Reserve, an astonishing peaberry blend from the farms of Aida Batlle on the leeward slope of the Santa Ana volcano of El Salvador. (Also on the table, a molasses-thick PNG, the "Red Mountain," which Daryn B. and I were speculating might make a great single-origin espresso... stay tuned for that).

(More pics on flickr.)

On a separate note, it seems I may have gotten myself into a bit of trouble with my last post. I said I had a revelation about "mediocre" espresso. What do I mean?

Well, first of all (Steve and Gee) I certainly don't mean that the espresso we get is by any means mediocre. I love our espresso; I obsess over it, and when it doesn't taste good, I smack myself in the temple with the spouts of my portafilter, cause it's almost always my own damn fault.

All I can say is that espresso has a long way to go. Specialty coffee in general, of course, has a long way to go as an industry. And that's a good thing for all of us, because it gives us all something to do and something to work on. But, specifically, espresso has got to be one of the most misunderstood culinary corners in all the world. It's so new (what is eighty years of European (and, what? ten, fifteen years of American?) espresso expertise compared to a thousand years of Japanese tofu preparation or even a hundred years of American hot dog grilling?). I've got an awful lot of respect for the city fathers of this industry, even if it doesn't come across that way sometimes. But the deeper I get into this game the more I realize how little we actually know about what we are doing. There are some indisputable truths (like the water's gotta be hot, and the pressure's gotta be high); there are some generally accepted nostrums which are usually true but not always (like "African coffees make bad single-origin shots," or "never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line"); and there are some rather dubious ideas floating around that most people reading this blog will spot as anti-shibboleths, and which seem to disprove any Dawkins/Gladwell theory on the superiority of persistent memes (such as "espresso must be dark roasted," or "the customer is always right, even when she wants a 20-ounce no-foam, sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino.")

There needs to be much, much more communication between roasters and baristas. A lot of the geek-energy of the industry is devoted to the developing relationships between green-buyers and farmers, and rightly so, goddammit. But I am putting in my own two cents for more coolingtray-to-grouphead communication. Sample roasting a few pounds of Harrar doesn't make me a specialty roaster, and pulling a handful of doppios a week doesn't make a roaster a badass barista. I'm lucky to have the ear of some pretty awesome roaster-guys, and they are listening to my suggestions (and vice-versa), but the very excitement this kind of contact produces shows just how desperately needed it is in general.

I know it might seem like I am dodging the issue of "mediocrity." I guess all I wanted to say was that we can all get a hell of a lot better, which is of course nothing that Nick Cho or Mark Prince or Billy Wilson or Tonx or freaking Shantideva hasn't said before. Have I dug a deep enough grave for myself yet? Just bury me already.

Here's a quote that honestly has nothing to do with the above dissertation that I just want to share with anyone who was fool enough to read through this entire sticky post:

Homer's inner child (pointing to mouth): "Food goes in here."
Homer, responding to inner child: "It sure does."


(Anonymous) at 2006-11-14 14:37 (UTC) (Link)
good points all around really, and even if it has been said before, there's never a good reason to say things can't be better. i also agree with the need for improvement in counter-roaster communication. no matter how many shots of espresso i pull, the baristas serving the public are going to pull more. getting and giving constant feedback on the how, the what, and the why of a coffee is really key in achieving greatness.

(Anonymous) at 2006-11-14 22:25 (UTC) (Link)
Beware of creating an alternate set of "memes."

"Alternative" or "independent" are only purely so until a second person agrees with you.

There's a wave out there... let's call it Wave 3.1 (three-dot-one)... that is, in my opinion, a perversion of the Third-Wave concept... one where in an attempt to distance themselves from what is perceived as 1st or 2nd wave thinking, there is a rush to establish a new beach-head of rules, standards, and axioms.

Rules, standards, and axioms are good things, but the problem is that too many out there seem to be rushing.
(Anonymous) at 2006-11-15 19:10 (UTC) (Link)
hey daniel,

looks like you're having lots of fun. can't wait for you to make it back home for the holidays so we can drink some beer and talk coffee!!

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