Welcome to the weekend!
Winter is here, especially in Wellington, so what better than to kick off your weekend with a sweet warm Morning Brown, turn on the electric blanket and read some reckons from me.
The coffee scene is snobby
That’s a bit of a bold statement, but hear me out…
This post was inspired by a great event I went to a few weeks back. Across New Zealand, people gathered to try six different coffees, processed in six different ways, and guess what we tasted.
The processing methods had different and obvious impacts on the flavour of the coffee [more on that in a later post]. It was all very educational and fun, but it got me thinking - if I was brand new to coffee, and not in the safe hands of a expert coffee communicator in Logan Collinge, would I be put off?
The complexity of what we were being guided through got me thinking - if I walked into a cafe, would feel like an idiot for not understanding the differences in a coffee grown at different altitudes? If I had a mochaccino instead of a single-origin long black, would the barista see me as a noob?
For some, the answer would be yes. And that sucks.
Time for a dinner party
For me, it feels like specialty coffee is where wine was back in the 70s and 80s - a world for the chosen few who had the money and had the time and 'expertise' to enjoy it.
You can picture it - people all dressed up at someone’s house, some Mingus on the record player, a dozen wines on the table with the host talking about how long you have to let the wine breath before you drink it. You know, like this:
This faux snobbery and attempt to look better than your neighbor had the effect back then of putting people off the wonderful world of wine. It made people feel like you had to be a certain class, a certain caliber of human to get it. It meant a box of wine was the vintage of choice for much longer than it needed to be (love a box of wine though).
I see this happening across the coffee scene, and its disappointing to see those same mistakes being repeated again.
Only you know what ‘good’ tastes like to you
Some people in the scene, not just in the industry and but those who think they’re ‘foodies’ or ‘tastemakers’, are putting people off great coffee. They’re getting too wrapped up in the excitement of newness, of pushing the boundaries of greatness, of being in the cool club for ‘getting it’.
They’re trying to redefine what people should think ‘good’ is. But, taste is such a personal thing, only you know what ‘good’ tastes like to you.
The goals is to share the amazing, wondering and tasty world of coffee to everyone, instead of forcing people to hide in a corner - right? So, some real thought needs to go into how people are talking about coffee, about what makes one coffee a more enjoyable experience over another, without making people feel stupid.
Because, wine is wine, coffee is coffee, and beef is beef.
I love BP mince and cheese pies
Nothing beats a mince and cheese pie, especially from the petrol station. Its great. It has everything you need in life.
But we also know that an expertly prepared eye filet with new season baby potatoes sautéed in duck fat with lovely little micro greens is also good. Hang on, wow can that be?
One is cheap and contains a questionable amount of meat (a pie must be 25% meat to be a pie…) one is expensive and quite obliviously high quality. But they're both great. Because they both have their place. They both serve a purpose and have a time. Sometimes you want one over the other - and that’s really okay.
And that should also the case for coffee.
How can someone stand there and say that a supermarket coffee at $2.50 a bag is BETTER, than a $150 per kilo coffee, if they are equally as enjoyable to you?
They not better than each other - they're just different.
Sometimes you need a coffee injection to the blood stream and you turn to what your nana has in the cupboard, and sometimes you want an experience that you’ve never had. Sometimes you want something in the middle.
People shouldn’t fear being publicly shamed for daring to also drink coffee that Heft Meer Mmmmm.
Okay then hotshot, what should we do?
Everyone has a part to play here, particularly faceless YouTubers, but it’s baristas who have the opportunity to make the biggest difference on the ground.
It’s a lot of pressure on baristas - not only do they need to make killer coffee, they need to have a killer eye for people who aren’t across the ins-and-outs of the scene so they can adjust their communications accordingly.
Instead of asking if someone wants to try something ‘better’, ask if they want to try something ‘different’. Instead of explaining a process as ‘experimental’, talk about it as a ‘new’ way of doing things. Instead of asking people if they get the hints of ‘strawberry, stone fruit and sharp acidity’, ask them what they taste and if it’s enjoyable. Cos that’s what really matters. Do they enjoy it.
Simple communication and plain English takes a lot of effort, and it is really hard to take a step back and remember that not everyone is an expert or as deep into things as you. But it will mean that more people end up on the awesome coffee buzz in the long run.
Educational events play a massive part
The events put on by the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association are awesome, and the tasters series are a great example of this.
I learnt a lot at this event, and it was designed in a way that we could focus on the techy stuff, and then apply it to what we were tasting in the cup. It was amazing and I’d recommend anyone who loves ANY sort of coffee to check them out.
This is an observation of the scene as a whole, not of specific people
It would be easy to read this and think I’m directing this to the coffee people I interact with on the regular.
Wellington has a great, welcoming, warm and loving coffee scene that does embrace people and tries to cut out the snobbery, and our baristas are excellent at communication (which is why three of the six 2021 NZ Barista Finalists were from the Capital).
This wasn’t always the case though, as I’m sure some would agree. When the ‘third-wave’ of coffee hit, the hipsters came out and you felt like you needed a beard, a checked shirt and a moleskin to get into it. I even wrote about it on my old blog back in 2014 - check out the terribleness of that blog!
This is as much a criticism directed at me as other people deep into the scene. I used to be like that. It took me a while to get over my excitement at discovering something new to figure out that my enjoyment of coffee is gained from just drinking coffee with my mates. Whether its the nameless plunger coffee at work, the coffee bags at my folks, or a gesha brewed on a V60 - they’re all awesome in the right company.
Coffee pods can go to hell though
I still hate coffee pods though and it’s a hill I’m prepared to die on.
There are other ways of preparing coffee that is easier, cheaper, more enjoyable and BETTER FOR THE DAMN ENVIRONMENT than Nespressos.
Reusable pods are a thing now though… that might change.
Great coffee on the internet
There’s some coffee cats on the social who are the embodiment of what’s wrong with the way coffee is communicated. Luckily, there are some excellent ones who cut through the crap to bring everyone along with them. Check out:
Leroythecoffeegeek - Instagram
Thanks for reading!
Keen on your thoughts on this. Have I totally missed the mark? Am I right? Have I put you off coffee by calling your brew poos? If so, I’m sorry.
Have a great weekend. Keep warm. Keep scanning. Rewatch the cricket.