Confessions of a Speciality Barista #1: Coffee Notes Don’t Mean Much to the Average Person (Or in th
I’m starting this confessional series off with a very controversial topic - well hey, start as you mean to go on as I say. This series will be dedicated to certain aspects of the coffee industry which those involved in the industry don’t usually tell you. I know, interesting right? Most of the time, we aren’t meant to tell you, so I feel like I’m disobeying the secret services of coffee by revealing this insider knowledge.
So to start off this series, I thought I would focus on what is, in my opinion, one of the most controversial areas of the speciality beverage industry: coffee notes.
Now, I know speciality baristas are going to hate me for this article, because people love to feel knowledgeable and clever in their field - being a barista is no exception. However, after being in the industry for 5+ years now and working in some very high profile areas of the industry (and discussing this controversial topic with prominent baristas) I thought I would crack to it and reveal what me, and many others, believe is the case. Do you know what that is?
You can’t taste coffee notes in your average cup of coffee, no matter how ‘fancy’ it is.
I’m ready to be ganged up on similarly to the way Theresa May is being targeted in Parliament from her peers.
To be honest, I have a feeling this will lead to in some ways a sigh of relief from both the coffee lover and barista alike. There seems to be heavy pressure placed upon both the barista and consumer to identify the individual tasting notes present in each bag of speciality coffee, and this just isn’t the case.
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t any notes to it whatsoever. You will be able to distinguish between a fruitier light bodied cup of coffee to a more traditional espresso which heavily comprises of chocolatey notes. But just hear me out: you cannot taste that slight hint of blackberry jam tarts next to the rhubarb and custard predominant notes in your latest filter. Well, unless you’re highly trained in the art (and I still remain skeptical).
The only exception to this seems to be cupping. Working with companies who have also roasted their own beans, I have spoken to many individuals (who shall remain unnamed for their protection against pretentious-stroke-defensive coffee hipsters) who believe this is the case. The coffee notes on a package are there to provide an in-depth analysis of the flavour notes of the coffee, but do not guarantee that you will taste these in your average cup of coffee. Instead, these notes will be found in the ‘cupping’ process, and not much else.
Arguably you could say a lot of this is for marketing techniques, but i’m not that cynical nor skeptical of the coffee industry.
The Third Wave coffee scene is a prominent industry in the consumer market today, and so it should be. It’s a beautiful industry crafted with excellence from highly trained individuals. However, whenever this is the case, there is always the worry that pretentious show offs may emerge and try to make the industry their own in a classification much similar to that of wine tasting. If you can’t taste the notes of an individual beverage, you are not as ‘clued up’ on the structure of the beverage unlike themselves.
Therefore, I hope by providing this little insight into the coffee industry I’ve taken a weight off of your shoulders. You don’t need to be able to identify tiny flavour notes of a coffee to be an expert, and you can enjoy your coffee even if all you can translate your cup into so far is a ‘light’ or ‘dark’ roast. Creating coffee is a community effort, and this is the most important thing. I’d hate to see individuals bringing the name of the industry down purely because they wish to be seen at the ‘top’ of their league compared to others.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and have a wonderful day. And remember - keep sipping those cups of coffees.