Morning coffee

January 18th, 2009

I have a confession to make:  I used to, in a very snobbish way, hate the idea of a coffee being an “after dinner coffee” or a “morning cup”.  I thought it was one of those really stupid ways of selling coffee – like how supermarkets use the word “strength” to communicate how dark a roast is.  1

In recent conversations someone has said to me that they love a certain coffee, but not first thing in the morning.  Maybe mid-afternoon instead.  Initially I didn’t get it.  My very narrow mind assumed that good coffee was good coffee and that the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun shouldn’t have too much impact on how that coffee, my tongue and my brain all got along.

I remember doing an espresso tasting for a wine magazine a year or two ago now.  We tasted the espressos blind – the coffees rushed quickly into our room from the roasters themselves, set up on their own machines just outside the door.  I was excited to taste coffees like this, with other professional tasters and I remember my frustration when the journalist kept asking which espresso we had tasted would go best with chocolate cake, or would be best after dinner.  “This is irrelevant!” I thought, “I want to talk about how these espressos taste!  I want to talk about which come from clean, tasty green coffees, about which have been carefully and intelligently roasted.”  Except they weren’t interested in that.

I’ve written before that sometimes independent cafes are so desperate to be nothing like the chains they despise that they occasionally miss out on some of the smarter ideas and concepts that the chains use very effectively – having spent a lot of time and money researching and developing them.  I know a lot of us in the coffee industry are acutely aware that we drink coffee with a slightly different mindset to most consumers, and that we buy coffees in a different way too.

Does it devalue a great single varietal, single estate coffee to say that is great with breakfast?  If we say that it is a great morning cup are we missing a chance to say that it is an heirloom bourbon, a honey process coffee, part of only a 10 bag lot or that it has really nice red apple and red grape flavours in it?  Which is the most important piece of information to most consumers?  How are they going to enjoy that bag of coffee?  I’ve talked before about how the size of the promise we make is linked to the speed we build up trust with the consumer, but what about when we lose control of how the coffee is brewed?

I have become aware recently that I often talk about coffees in a different way, based on my own choices.  There are some coffees that almost require a little intellectual engagement – they are challenging and interesting and worthy of discussion.  There are also coffees that I drink when I don’t want to think about it, I just want to be satisfied and have a simple delicious cup.  2  Instead of talking about morning coffees – is there any value in talking more about why a coffee might be appreciated in the morning, to emphasize the tasting/sensory part more than the ritual part?

Last of all – what is your favourite coffee to drink around lunchtime and why?

  1. That still does make me angry, and a bit frustrated.  It is probably the most common misconception – that the coffee itself has something to do with the strength of the cup.  ↩︎
  2. We’ve touched on chuggability before…  ↩︎

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