By S. Lynch
A few days ago we hosted a coffee and wine tasting event (Vine & Grind)- a real punch in the palate, but it got us thinking, yet again, about the similarities between coffee and wine.
Well, we talk about them both in terms of varietals, the coffee cherries are ripened like grapes. They’re harvested and then processed. In fact when you start to compare the processes behind their production that’s when you realise the amount of effort that goes into producing a good drink. And perhaps the accepted reverence we have for wine as a society should be afforded to coffee.
The comparison between coffee and wine isn’t new but it does help you to understand why people (including us) get so upset when you add milk to your filter coffee. Before you even taste it. Like grapes, there are remarkable differences between coffee beans. Once you’ve tasted this you quickly lose any sort of empathy for those who still think of coffee as that one flavour. For a lot of people it’s still the shiny black beans that are blended to give same results each time. Coffee ice cream. Coffee cake. Kahlua. They all have “that coffee taste”. It’s what Instant coffee smells like, (but never actually tastes like.)
But then I’m ignorant when it comes to wine. I couldn’t describe to you the difference in flavour between Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja.To me red is red, in the way coffee is coffee for others. I'm a hypocrite. I understand this, and maybe given enough time and enough wine I might learn a thing or two. I just choose not to because it doesn’t interest me, but I wouldn’t go to a Cave à vin in Burgundy and ask for "just a normal wine."
Why? Well, probably because there hasn’t been any period in history where wine has been freeze-dried, powdered and then granulated for you to add water to, call it wine, and then accept it as the standard. Wine has never had to deal with such a wide spread loss of dignity (if you disregard the whole anti-freeze fiasco.) Powdered mashed potato never caught on for long. Why on earth is Nescafe still around? I blame Anthony Head.
But we have gotten over the whole instant thing I guess. Now, in this culture of back-to-roots, artisan-bread eating, craft beer-drinking, G2 supplement knitting aspirational living, independent Coffee houses are the hot trend. And so it follows, coffee is engulfed by a blinding cloud of nerdish snobbery. It’s easy to see why; making good coffee becomes a craft, something to obsess over. A skill set to admire. (Particularly if you have a fondness for shiny machines and pseudo science experiments.)
But this intimidates everybody else, to the point where they think they’ll be laughed at or haughtily derided if they don’t know what brew ratios or micro-foam are. (And they might be right if I've had a particularly long day.) So follows a backlash. Somebody will ask if they can “just get a normal coffee” And maybe it's not because they don’t “get it” but because they’re quite rightly exhausted by it all. All these butchered Italian terms.
Sometimes they just need caffeine to get rid of the headache.
Well anyway if you can deal with the large amounts of contradiction and hypocrisy in this post, here is a very general, not at all overwhelming flow chart of some of the main variables affecting what you’ll taste when you order your coffee. Right from the origin to the bar. Hope you like it. (It took flippin ages, hence why the weekly blog update was late by a couple of days.)