Received a real fun, barn-burner of a question this week: what are your top 3 pet-peeves in coffee? Now, let’s start with a disclaimer: my answers in no way reflect Cut Coffee or its ownership. And I really do not like being too negative, so I am going to focus on the wording of pet-peeve – as opposed to say major annoyances *cough cough snotty service* or structural criticisms of the industry *bro culture cough*. So, again, these are totally subjective and just my personal coffee grievances.
NUMBER ONE: STINK POTS
My greatest love in coffee is batch brew. A well extracted cup of drip is perfection. You get all the intricacies of origin and a sense of the roast philosophy with clarity and balance. Or … you get compost. Those earthy, distracting, and musty flavours created by a dirty pot. If we go all the way back to the 1934 book “the Chemistry of the Coffee Bean”, we know that the fats in coffee will stale and go “musty and rancid”. So any of the oily elements left behind in a cup, pot, or cloth filter will impart these notes. The solution? Glass lined pots and proper cleaning! We swapped over to glass lined pots at HQ this year and – wow – what a difference. Cannot recommend them enough.
NUMBER TWO: BUSTED FOOD PROGRAMS
So much of coffee history is wrapped up in the ritual and ceremony of early mornings, breaks from the office, or the enjoyment of the warm afternoon sun. Typically, sweet treats offer a crucial counterpoint to the coffee cup. There is a lot of industry standards like croissants, cookies, or muffins. I would say all these sugary goodies pair perfectly with a strong dark roast. To recall the past dispatches on taste, sweet and bitter are complementary and actually make each other better. The only problem is: I do not want dark roast.
So you might be saying, ‘Lee, stop complaining and have a dang cookie with that batch brew you love so much’. Well I would but when coffee is perfectly developed, it is syrupy sweet. And therein lies the problem with a huge chuck of third wave food programs. The drink has changed but the food remains the same. Sweet and more sweet does not work as well as say sweet and sour or sweet and salty. If you look to coffee mechas like Melbourne, offerings like avocado toast with radish or microgreens bring creamy, bitter, and buttery umami tastes. Solution to my second pet peeve? Ditch the limp almond croissants and dull chocolate chip muffins and go for salty sausage rolls, donuts filled with sour berry jam, egg and arugula on a sharp cheese biscuit or essentially anything that breaks those tied pastry molds.
NUMBER THREE: TASTE QUANTITY VS FLAVOUR QUALITY
The alternate title here is goddamn bergamont. In the past couple weeks I have seen ‘coconut water’, ‘allspice’, ‘herbal’, ‘red wine’, ‘rhubarb’, ‘bitter lemon’ and ‘tomato’ on coffee labels. While I always pontificate for a plurality of roasting approaches and philosophies, I would consider each of these notes as missteps in profiling. Part of it stems from a conflation of a lot of taste (especially quantities of sour) with actually well articulated flavours (qualities of balance).
Great coffees will quietly reveal their origin. As I endlessly repeat, roasting for sweetness is the key to properly unfurling the complexity of terroir. It works against the forces that universalize coffee. It prevents the one-dimensional char of dark roast and the sour and grass of underdevelopment. These taste notes stick in my craw because they allude to heat application that was too aggressive, a lack of inner bean development, or the watery blandness of baked coffee.
The solution I suggest: we work to separate the novelty of identifying tastes from appreciating great flavour profiles. Coffee loves to compare itself to wine and food cultures but often ignores one of their central tenants: balance. Taking hyperbolic and reactionary positions that are opposed to any taste, like a the hint of bitterness, runs counter to coffee’s possibilities and ignores its entire history. In other words, let us stop accepting things like bergamot and seek better roasts.
Again, these are totalllllyy my personal pet peeves. Please don’t @ me about almond croissants. But do let me know your pet-peeves: firstname.lastname@example.org