Process is important. “Understand the process,” I say. But what does that entail? Is “process” simply a set of steps you follow to accomplish a task correctly – In this case brewing coffee?
So, we're done then?
No, we're not. Because as straightforward as it should be, to everyone's dismay (not really) there are few professionals who get it right. What are they not doing right and WHY are they not doing it right?
Let's start with: What is the process?
In a nutshell: Start with properly roasted, quality, fresh, (whole) coffee beans. Understand correct dosing (coffee:water ratio) and particle size. Use correct dosing for chosen brewing method. Grind fresh with a good, adjustable burr grinder. Use water within (generally) specific TDS parameters. And brew! Then taste and adjust until it's just right. All of these steps are taken in order to produce a specific result – excellent coffee.
Now let's work through these “simple” things and see where the problems are.
Quality coffee – Now there are cupping scores and tasting notes in respect to the green coffee. So, as a coffee roaster it's simple to get your hands on quality beans. And I would suppose that most coffee shops who are making a claim of craft, artisanal, or “Third Wave” coffee are, in fact, sourcing quality green.
Properly roasted – Here is where we need to take a closer look. Because as I have often said, the higher the quality of your green, the more complexity within that specific lot, the more skill it takes to roast it.
So, what does “highly skilled” as a roaster mean? Is it about experience and dedication? Is it about talent?
I think if I had to list these factors it would be: talent, dedication, and experience. And when I talk about dedication, I think you can use the word “dedication” as a more serious sounding replacement for the word “passion”. You can't be dedicated to a thing without loving or enjoying that thing. And the dedication isn't simply to the craft. It's a dedication to the result of the craft, which is excellent coffee. With dedication and experience, you can always be above average to really, really good. But in my experience, without some inherent skill, aptitude or talent for the craft, you will never be exceptional.
So the first weakening of the process is with the roasting? What is the talent level of your roaster? How many hours of work have they put in? How many varietals from how many regions have they roasted? And how many years have they been doing it? Whether YOU are the roaster or your shop does the roasting, or you bring in your beans from somewhere – in which case you have to ask all these questions about their roaster – the likelihood is perhaps your coffee program isn't on as solid a ground as you were led to believe or that you are leading others to believe.
Now, I could really stop there, because the roasting of the coffee is probably the most important step in the coffee making process.
But let's assume the roasting is spot on.
Correct dosing is a known thing, so there's really no excuse for getting that wrong Look up “Gold Cup” standards or SCA brewing standards. Coffee science doesn't change.
Grind size is a generally known thing that you specifically tune to your coffee and your taste.
The same can be said for water chemistry.
Brewing technique? That takes a bit of skill. It takes some practice. And of course the goal again... excellent coffee.
So the reasons for not executing excellent coffee?
Either you don't know how. Or you don't care to know how. Often it's both.
If you care about the prestige of sourcing excellent coffees, but don't take the time to make sure you have a highly experienced roaster who can create sweetness and dynamic complexity and balance and mouthfeel in your coffee – then what?
Well, what happens is if the fundamentals of your coffee program are not rock solid, the smaller details, like brewing parameters or water chemistry are going to be an afterthought as well.
Or do you try to unknowingly take short cuts? You have a refractometer of some sort, you measure TDS to perfection... you dial in temperatures precisely, and what you do is end up chasing numbers instead of following flavor.
Great coffee, excellent coffee, exceptional coffee is not the result of following a set of numbers.
Exceptional coffee is the result of understanding the process with the end goal of a delicious cup of coffee. This means fundamentals of brewing and this means following the flavor.
It's really simple. Everyone should be able to do it.
You should be able to do it. So why aren't you?