Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Varietal Language of Coffee

I grew up with the same coffee that many of you did. Somewhere between something that was mountain grown, and the local cup of Joe that could have been substituted for paint thinner. This was the time when coffee mumbled. Unintelligible mutterings that continue to linger in many dank holes today... but let us go back....

There was this generic coffee flavor that we linked with all coffee. Aromatic, yet bitter, deep, but unremarkable, character, yet sameness. Whether it be the standard Colombian or something exotic like Kenya... it pretty much all tasted the same. And when it was different, we tried to mirror that sameness by matching the preconceived coffee flavor in the dark recesses of our mind by flattening out the bitters, sharp tones, and burnt staleness by a glob of sugar and a plop of milk. As we created some artificial semblance of coffee like flavor, we were satisfied that we could take something that was unpalatable and make it... well, recognizably average.

There are a growing number of farmers, roasters, and coffee professionals that hear the bean speaking to them. At first, it was some coded language, but it was the farmers who first understood that although the beans shared a common history, they had all developed their own language. Coffee speaks to us, but not in words, or sounds, or symbols. Coffee speaks to us in flavors.

As we listen to what the bean is telling us, we can learn, through cupping, and by maintaining a varietal roast what stories they have to share. The history of the cultivar, the feeling of the land, the heart of the farmer, the care of the millers and the sorters, the science and skill of the roaster, and the love and passion of the barista all combine to tell the story of each coffee to the world.

Each cup we serve speaks volumes, and like a pristine first edition, we savor every word as it linguistically flavors our tongue. So when you have a moment to savor the unspoken word of coffee, educate yourself by the cup and pass on your knowledge to others by sharing a taste of the varietal language of coffee.