Yes, but is it tasty?

Tasty. I love that word. Its like delicious but slightly less camp. It implies, to me, more than simply tasting good – it implies moreishness and comfort, perhaps even satisfaction.

Those of you I encountered on my roadtrip, and Stephen especially, will be sick of this particular rant/”philosophy”.  I will start with food, because food is wonderful and I suppose that it is the best metaphor (is it possible to write about coffee without endless metaphors?).

I think most of the time we eat because we are hungry but we aspire to eat something tasty.  Be it tacos (look, I am obsessed – leave it), a great steak or a beautifully cooked lasagna, this is undeniably great food but entirely different from a plate of food Wylie Dufresne may serve you, or something Adria may conjure.  They, of course, are not even vaguely alone in plating up dishes of food that are to be eaten and enjoyed by the head more than the heart.  Food where the pairings of ingredients are spot on, clever and interesting and it undoubtedly a pleasure to eat but isn’t food you crave.

Most customers approach coffee from a very functional point of view.  It is needed, for chemical comfort or just as part of routine and of course (you hope) for pleasure.  However, a lot of the time it feels like we are looking for the cups that are intensely unusual, complex and of course interesting.  Coffees from Idido, for example, are incredible – full of intense fruit flavours and treading the fine line of wild beautifully.  They are coffees that taste nothing like coffee.  I love them for what they offer as well as what they suggest coffee is capable of.  However, first thing in the morning as I stumble down the stairs, or when I duck into a cafe out from the cold I want coffee to do something else for me – I just want it to be tasty.  It is cups of coffee like this that will become benchmarks of our nostalgia.

I love cupping, I love the ritual and I love pushing myself in an area I see a huge room for improvement.  However I am often in fear that certain coffees are glossed over because they aren’t blockbusters.  Yet at home I am yearning more and more for tasty.  Which is odd, as I had been (not so long ago) hell bent on a path of discovery and a search for the blockbuster type coffees.  This morning I brewed a Chemex of coffee (better than any chemex as I had been grinding too fine – thank you to Kyle G for fixing that) and it was so very tasty.  I don’t think it was as good as the coffee could be – I know the co-op well and the coffee is capable of extra-ordinary fruit – this cup was just balanced and rounded and perhaps lacking in complexity but still immensely enjoyable to sip at as I wrote a few e-mails and caught up on the feeds.  I didn’t want to have to think about it, I just wanted good coffee.  I do worry that coffees like this will get left behind in our exploration of coffee’s boundaries.

6 Comments

  1. James,

    What you speak of here is something that I might call “easy drinking” in that although many of our customers do occcasionally enjoy being challenged by what they might taste, in most cases they want something they can enjoy another cup of. I think a lot of coffee professionals (and geeks)can get stuck in finding something that will just blow them off the table, when in fact the public may be looking for something comforting. In the States this is not all that different from the idea of so- called “comfort food” like a grilled cheese sandwich or a great chocolate chip cookie or an ice cold well-crafted Mexican lager in the middle of Summer (perhaps enjoyed with a taco filled with simple but great ingredients-under say the Cooper Tire sign just off the 2 Freeway). None of these are typically challenging or intellectual, as some of the chefs’ food you have listed, but they sure are very tasty, and more often than not, well-loved by almost everybody. I think these types of coffees, those that are balanced, well rounded, sweet AND approachable will always find a place on the tongues and in the hearts of our customers.

  2. I believe there is room in our market for all different types of coffee. We are brewing on a clover and have a turn over of 4 or five coffees every couple weeks. When choosing what to offer we must keep this in mind, different people have different needs.

  3. I think that you have touched on a fundamental point that may get lost in our explorations. Taste, simplicity, and the environment – ie- the space/cafe, the vessel/cup which you drink out of, music and company that is shared obviously heighten the experience. For me the best coffee experiences that I have ever had never conjured up thoughts of unripe cherry, sauteed butter, and tanned leather. Rather, I felt an unordinary sense of melancholy, quietness, simplicty.

  4. I have a customer who often talks about this concept, or something similar, he’s a lawyer whose office is in the same building as our cafe/roastery. Often the subject comes up when he’s at the tail end of a long week (he’s often at the office around 5am, and doesn’t normally leave till around 6pm or much later).

    He’ll come in talking about the stressful parts of his week, and the things that are going wrong, but he’s so articulate in communicating the anticipation of his americano, holding the warm cup, tuning out from the world, sipping the perfect brew that just makes it all ok again. Some of these conversations really remind me why I’m a barista, that ability to bring comfort with a truely tasty brew, to make someones worries disappear, at least until they step outside the doors again…

  5. I know that I tend to go through buying cycles where I return to a favourite that I know has a great chance of being ‘tasty’ and the comfort factor plays a role here. Comfort is what also drives the franchise end of the coffee business I think, people go back daily to what is familiar (although perhaps not ‘tasty’).

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