I’m on my way to Guatemala to visit some of the people we buy from (14th of January 2009). The bad thing about visiting our growing partners, is the travel to and from, it’s never an easy flight or an enjoyable one. Listen to me the world traveller, complaining again, don’t get me wrong I love being at origin, but I hate all airlines and all airports.
This one is no different, but the one thing I do like it the time to contemplate think and develop ideas.
One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is wine and its relationship to coffee. Within coffee circles its clique to use this analogy, and for a time I too stood with that crowd that mocked at the thought “coffee should be its own thing, they are too different” it goes on and on. And to an extent, I do agree with this crowd, I think coffee is a huge culinary gourmet item, and should not live in the shadow of something else. But I’m also a realist, for coffee to become this specialist product it needs to be compared to something for people to get concepts and for it.
My enjoyment and understanding of wine has been increasing of late, and my reading of it has improved (I still know nothing but I’ve started). But the more I read and understand, the more I would love coffee to develop some of the wine ideas. When I say this I don’t mean verbatim, as that’s a square peg in a round hole, but to develop extend, and perhaps even make better.
I’ve jotted down some ideas below arguments for and against if you please. By no means everything I have ever thought about put some of the more salient points.
Points for not using the wine Analogy.
1. Coffee should be able to use its own model
2. Because coffee processing doesn’t end at the vineyard, it is too technical and too many links in the chain for the coffee to change, be different. To many people and too volatile for it to use the wine model.
Points for using the wine Analogy.
1. All wine is, is a beverage we drink that gives us a taste experience. We should use the wine model because it’s a crop that’s cultivated with care and skill and then drunk to be tasted and enjoyed.
2. The French don’t grow coffee, this is a lot of the reason within wine circles and for me the breaking of this monopoly has improved the wine culture in the UK. Coffee has many more facets and no deep meaningful history with just one country. You could argue Brazil or Colombia do have some history and to an extent Ethiopia, but no one place has the exclusive rights for the finest coffee in the world (the notion that this is Jamaica has long since been disproven).
3. Coffee doesn’t get you drunk, to some a downside I know but it’s a drink that can be enjoyed by many on in excess. Ok I hear you all from here screaming caffeine, but I don’t think I’ve ever been worried about driving home after a coffee tasting or having coffee at friends, I can not say the same about wine.
4. We have a blank sheet of paper, We don’t have of carry the baggage of any other sector, but cherry pick the parts we like and can use.
5. Coffee does not compete with others with such close links like wine and doesn’t compete where you wouldn’t want to mix them (real ale, Whisky, Brandy, vodka, rums the list can go on). In fact the few that do compete with coffee actually compliment and can be enjoyed together(tea, chocolate). I speak from experience that I do not like mixing real ale with wine and Whisky.
6. The more I’ve gotten into the wine tasting and understanding, the more I love the way that wine has grasped the use of varietals and descriptors to excite punters. I see this as one of the most exciting areas of both coffee and wine, but the wine guys to date have done a better job of educating. Why can I go to my local corner shop and by a merlot from Napa Valley, but not a Bourbon from El Salvador?
7. The hard work of setting down the ground rules, lots of the education about tasting and enjoying and vocalising this has been done by the wine boys, this should and can be exploited.
8. We either sit around and do nothing or do something, but as an industry the coffee world needs to do something.
On saying all of this I don’t think it will ever happen. The coffee market is too fragmented, there are too many different sectors filling there own part of the market and for the whole the coffee drinking public still drink more instant than anything else (certainly in the UK market). But I know at Has Bean we do a lot of work with Varietals, tasting notes, cupping scores, terroir, provenance and getting to know of the personalities behind the growing of the coffees, all things inspired from the wine links, and I hope to do more. Encouraging people to try coffee side by side and try varietals from the same farm, working with packaging ( I think our zip lock bags have proved a worthy small extra cost).We have also experimented with packing as we did a couple of years ago with the Brazil Terrazina, this is somewhere we need to do so much more work.
I just hope that coffee will be taken more seriously as a culinary item and not just another beverage.