Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Question was posed:

"What is Specialty Coffee?"

John Says...

Although great strides have been made in the industry, the sad fact is the term "Specialty Coffee" has lost its meaning, and 'Artisan Coffee' is nearing the same state. When Specialty Coffee started, many think of Starbucks and Peets as the forerunners. Others think of what George Howell did in Boston in the 70's and 80's the true forerunner to 'Specialty Coffee'.

Is Specialty Coffee the Starbucks model?
Is it about focus on blended, syrupy, gimmicky, profit first drinks? Is it about being a cool "coffee shop"? Is it about the 'Third Place' or is it about the coffee at the 'Third Place'?

Or is Specialty Coffee something more? Is it about craftsmanship, about elevating coffee to a new level? Is it about understanding the bean, how the various flavor elements found in different varietals can be combined together in a grand symphony of flavors? Is it about truly understanding why we fresh grind, dose a particular amount, distribute uniformly and tamp uniformly? Is it about CoE coffees, and Is it about "coffee as a culinary experience?" Is it about customers' smiles coming from what's in the cup, rather than what the barista are wearing?

Whatever the term has become, "Specialty Coffee" should truly be about Special Coffee!
I think there should be a definite distinction between the average "coffee shop" and "Specialty Coffee". Specialty Coffee should not be about frappaccino type drinks, 32 ounce lattes, or the latest copycat Starbucks drinks. Specialty Coffee does not need gimmicks such as sexy barista, funky furniture, Organic jalapeno lattes, double punch Tuesdays, BOGO coupons, balloon animals, etc.

Specialty Coffee should be about what the 'average' coffee shop looks to for inspiration. As an industry do you want to be a host of Starbucks wannabees competing on who can create the tallest whipped cream on their banana caramel double fudge (half-caf)latte? Or do you want to be something that both proprietors of old and new can aspire to be? Specialty coffee should not pretentious or exclusionary. Excellence welcomes all who care to champion the quality cause and wield her cup. Specialty Coffee should mean something other than a fancy catch-phrase. Specialty Coffee should be about raising the bar. And if this is so, why do so many aspire to be average, or fail to even see the where the bar has been raised?

All of us barista, shop owners, roasters, and coffee enthusiasts should be leading the industry to the best of our ability, helping it progress, and living up to the embodiment of what Specialty Coffee can be.

On Brewing Into the Cup

The Question was asked by George:

Q: While reading and learning, I've ran across statements that indicate the quality of the shot is better if brewed directly into the serving cup. So my question is, how many of you brew into the serving cup, shot glass, or brewing pitcher. Does any of the three have advantages over the other?

John Says..

I believe it's a must. I wouldn't frequent a place that as a practice brews into shot glasses and transfers. To me, it shows a lack of understanding of espresso. The essence of espresso--the body/flavor/mouthfeel, etc. all result from having proper crema.

If you transfer, there is too much loss of crema. This results in a significant loss in taste and body, as well as makes it more difficult to do proper latte art.
Even with the gallons of milk some shops like to shove into their drinks, it makes a HUGE difference. These are still espresso based drinks, and if the base is not perfect, it will resonate throughout the drink.

Secondly, it's an unnecessary step. Why brew and transfer?
More dishes to wash (I hate washing MORE dishes!!), and you lose a good portion of the thing (espresso) you just went to the trouble to make. What is AWFUL is those who do decide to use this method, who reuse the same shot glasses instead of grabbing fresh ones for every drink. At least make the effort. This ultimately is the fault of the owner. The barista, for the most part, will only do as they are trained. The world-class barista will always question methodology and seek a better way.

BUT if you are not fresh grinding per drink, with fresh roasted beans, and doing all the other things that are necessary at a minimum to make proper espresso drinks--it really doesn't matter--go ahead transfer away, no one will know the difference.

asking implies caring. And that is the right path to be on. Every day is a new day to improve.