Coffee and Wine

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.

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  1. […] UPDATE:  Steve Leighton posts on Coffee and Wine. […]

  2. Interesting post Steve. Taking the topic slightly sideways, as a relative newcomer to the world of quality coffee, and also being a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I can see a lot of overlap between the two. Certainly, I find them extremely complimentary, and often enjoy a dram & a cup alongside one another. Not only that, but the descriptive references in tasting notes for whisky and coffee are equally fun to play with. Essentially, I find myself enjoying the world of coffee for the same reasons I enjoy great whiskies.

    One problem I see though is that the same coffee bean can result in a very different taste for any two people due to roasting/brewing differences, and perhaps that could limit coffee appreciation at that level to the more geeky/technical type person, whereas a certain bottling of single malt should be comparable to the last drop. I suspect it’s also simply the case that most people, probably without knowing it, are just accustomed to drinking bad coffee (I know I was!).

    Anyway, how about an “In My Mug” whisky/coffee episode? 🙂

  3. Ahmen Mark, I too was a member of the Malt Whisky society (my membership lapsed) but I still enjoy a dram at the end of the night.

    I love the tastings notes from the Society, and agree there is a lot of cross over.

    In my Mug/Glass, I like that idea a lot I could do one every night 😉

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  5. Claus Thøgersen 16 January, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I see absolutely no reason to go for the wine comparison. First of all the wine market is still snobbish, it has gotten better or less worse but it is for me at least a serious turnoff for the whole thing. Yes there are sensible people in the wine business, but too many people are still of the opinion that you can only drink certain wines, often the most pricy ones, and the ones haled by a few wine writers. In the serious coffee world it is still allowed and often encouraged that you take your own stand, in the homeroasting world obvious since we control the roast.

    If we need to go with other drinks why not beer? The beerworld has not yet gotten all the highpriced beers that the wine world has. Yes it is coming mostly pushed by the American and a few European actually a few Danish breweries, but I hope it can be kept to a minimum.
    Coffee and beer shares important tastes, like chocolate and bitterness, at least bitterness as I know Wine is seldom and found not desirable.



  6. Claus

    I find the idea of the Beer and the whisky model and the wine model all attractive or at least parts of them. Cherry picking from what we like and need is a great idea. I hadn’t really thought about beer before but that’s a great call.

    And one thing is for sure that the snobbery is not welcome at all, something that must not be allowed to sneak into the market place.

    Good points

  7. talking of wine steve…have you had ‘Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel?’ mmm yummy.
    also for a fantastic french cahors region wine… ‘chateau pineraie’ is a must try. snobbery here by the way 🙂

  8. There are elements of the wine, whisky and beer industries that can be cherry picked from and adapated or used as a baseline to develop a coffee tasting model.

    The Wine Tasting Chart is a good example of where the wine model has been used to great effect to develop a tool for use in the wider community.

    Wine and Whisky are perceived as snobbish and to an extent coffee is as well, but this is due to lack of education and the infancy of the coffee industry.

    In 2, 5 or 10 years time we will be in a much different state with greater understanding of coffee and the bean to cup process throughout the population.

    Now is our chance to make a difference and set a precedence…

  9. Interesting thread and conversation. I ended up here from jimseven’s post on the subject.

    I used to be into wine (even looked at vineyards in the South of France to buy) but soon after that I got into beer. What I love about beer over wine is that the price point (generally) provides me an aesthic access into so many different experiences.

    Similary, I believe this also applies for coffee.

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