Thresholds of deliciousness

February 23rd, 2010

I’ve been thinking more and more about the tiers of tastiness when it comes to not only coffee, but any food or drink.  I think this was probably triggered by the whole aerating thing.

Having tasted coffee that had been aerated, as well as coffee brewed with aerated water, against a standard brew there had been a noticeable difference: an improvement.  Surely, then, this would be something to do in a cafe setting?  If it is going to improve the experience for the consumer, then one would be foolish not to, right?

What my brains keeps asking is whether or not they’d notice?  Without the comparative brew, how would they know that it was incrementally better than it otherwise would have been?  If all theatre of preparation was removed and they were served the finished product on its own, would they notice something was better than it had been before?  Better than expected? Maybe even the best ever?  This has left me thinking about the divisions or tiers of sensory experience in coffee.  I was very happy drinking slightly underextracted,  somehwat updosed cups of coffee because my memory of taste was poor and this was – as far as I could tell – tasty.  Out of isolation, compared to a fuller extraction from a slightly lower dose, these cups suddenly faired very poorly.  I couldn’t really understand how I had enjoyed them so much.

When I visit a cafe, sit down and drink a cup of coffee – how good does it have to be to be enjoyable?  More importantly – how much better does it need to be for any and all consumers to notice an improvement and to have a better experience.

We can all agree that espresso machine technology right now is chasing the next increment, and it seems to be pressure that is being looked to to deliver it.  It will need to be a big jump, because our human shot to shot variation tends to remain within the window of tasty for most customers and we know how big that shot to shot variation is.

It has been, in my short coffee career, the raw product that has taken the most noticeable leaps forward – be it in exploring different varieties or improving processing.  People have had distinctly, remarkably better coffee and as a result have (by and large) been willing to pay a little more for it.

The same is probably true for most foods.  Reading through a Heston Blumenthal recipe you can be in no doubt that the method behind creating the ratio of aged to fresh pizza dough is based on rigorous comparative testing but if you skipped the step of resting half of it for a day to improve flavour, at the expense of elasticity, and just used fresh there is a good chance that it will very delicious.  It is perhaps doubtful that you would, in an isolated instance, get  distinctly more enjoyment out of it without a better or worse benchmark.

This doesn’t mean I think we should give up.  On occasion we manage to make planets align, all the details falling into place, and we have a truly memorable, exceptional experience.  I suppose with the Trifecta looming we should evaluate exactly what we expect from it – because I don’t think it is designed (from my very, very limited understanding) to create better tasting coffee any more than the Clover was designed to make better tasting coffee. 1 The customer shouldn’t be looking for signs that say “Trifecta brewed coffee here”, because it isn’t going to be the machine that creates a new tier of deliciousness.  This is in no way meant to be negative about the machine – I look forward to the opportunity to play with one, to experiment and to drink some coffee from one.  I don’t really think a lot of false hype will really help here either, but hopefully you get the point I am trying to make before I somehow dig myself into a hole…

Back on topic – for all the love we have for technology as an industry, if we look outside it seems to be that service, engagement and interaction are better avenues to explore to yield a noticeably better experience for the customer in our cafes.

  1. It looks like it is built for speed, repeatability and control but at best we can only hope that it makes the resulting liquid taste like the coffee we started with.  ↩︎

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