Perhaps the largest shift from ‘normal’ coffee, is that the product (and I would argue everyone in the chain from farmer to consumer) is treated with a whole lot more respect.
To understand what I’m on about, let’s have a look at the classic comparison with wine.
Let’s start with the not-so-tasty stuff. We’ve all drunk some cheap-and-nasty at some point. When I was studying in France, I would often seek out an affordable option for a night out, the ‘best’ being a 5 litre mini-barrel for 6€. When it tastes like sweetened vinegar, why does anyone bother drinking it? Rhetorical question really.
Cheap wine gets you sauced for less.
Cheap coffee? I would imagine that many a cup is, like cheap wine, forced down for practical reasons, only this time for caffeine.
Cheap coffee gets you wired for less.
In contrast, consider a delicious bottle of wine that is enjoyable to drink and keeps you topping up your glass. What’s different? At the risk of sounding like someone who knows what he’s talking about, here we’re talking terroir, the vineyard’s care of the vines, harvesting at the right moment, and after that it has plenty to do with how the wine is processed. It will more than likely come from one vineyard, rather than a collection of grapes from various sources chucked together.
The fact that we’re enjoying the nicer wine means we’re no longer reluctantly swigging it down for the sake of getting some alcohol in the blood.
With good coffee, the experience shift is the same – the caffeine kick is an added bonus that comes with a really nice drink, in the same way that getting light-headed isn’t the worst side effect of enjoying a nice bottle of rouge.
The comparison between speciality wine and coffee extends back to the source too.
Speciality coffee is well grown (and in the right place, at the right altitude, with the right climate…), carefully processed, nicely roasted and finally well prepared, so that the product at the end is something that offers an enjoyable and tasty experience, rather than a face-contorting, bitter punch in the mouth.
Because of the myriad of steps involved in the coffee process between farm and cup, there are so many variables and things to be looked after by different people, meaning that a well developed and tasty coffee has overcome a heck of a lot of hurdles to make it to your cup.
It’s hard to persuade anyone of how much better something can taste by writing about it. You can’t drink my words, after all. I just know that the first time I drank speciality coffee (shout out to Hot Numbers back home in Cambridge, UK), it blew my mind, and I would love as many people as possible to experience that too.
In that moment, sipping that espresso, a whole new world of coffee flavours opened up to me. I began to discover that coffee can be so much more than a bitter roasted flavour, but rather sweet, caramelly, fruity, citrusy, or nutty to name a few. There’s a whole flavour wheel for identifying the nuances in flavour and aroma that speciality coffee has to offer, and the differences from one to another can be truly surprising when they’re side by side.
This development of tasting notes is often related to the focus on ‘single origin’ that arises within speciality coffee – i.e. coffee of one particular type from one particular farm or area, selected and roasted to accentuate its individual taste profile. (Imagine an apple juice made from one type of apple rather than a mix – you’re experiencing how that specific type of apple tastes, not a generic apple flavour).
Give it a go. Track down an independent café near you which uses freshly roasted beans from a local roaster. Maybe they even roast them themselves – then you’re likely onto a real winner. *[Don’t know where to look? Send us a message!]*
Be open minded.
Try different coffees (beans) and different coffees (drinks).
Think about how it’s different to ‘standard’ coffee.
What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?
You’ll most likely find yourself enjoying coffee more.