Flat, Stale, and Very Profitable: Thoughts on Light Roasted Coffee

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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another_jim
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#1: Post by another_jim »

William Ukers, back in the 1920s, cupped several medium roasted Colombian Typicas over the course of
a year. By the time they had completely staled, they all tasted much the same, like a pleasant mix of
cocoa and caramel, with no identifying flavors, good or bad. It did not much matter if the coffee had
started out wonderful or flawed, this is where they all ended up. Stable maximum entropy for medium
roasts is a brew with caramel and cocoa flavors.

Italian roasters take advantage of this, selling a large selection of blends that stale into these flavors. By
adding robusta, which creates crema even when totally stale, they make sure it works well for espresso,
no matter how old. Some blends are a little lighter, to retain some nut flavors, some a little darker, to get
some tobacco ones. But the principle remains the same - create a pleasing taste profile for stale and
stable coffee.

Light roasts are no different. They too stale to a stable state. In their case, that stable state is sugar, dried
fruit, bread and nut flavors, with a subdued acidity - think gummy bears, light cookies, or trail mix.
There is nothing wrong with liking staled, comfort food coffees. Done right, they are a delight. But they
lack the pop, detail, and room filling aromas of a great or terrible fresh coffee. Now, most fresh coffees
are not grand or terrible, they are fairly subdued as well, and don't lose much when going stale. That is
why they are or should be cheap.

That brings us to the mystery. Why are light roasted coffees, designed to be drunk stale, more expensive
than an Italian blend or a random supermarket coffee? It's cheaper to roast light and the coffee loses
less weight. Therefore. a generic light roast, designed to go stale, should sell for less, not more, than a
medium or dark one. Are trail mix, gummy bear, and sugar cookie flavors somehow rare and expensive?

The answer to this mystery is us. We expect an extraordinary experience from a light roasted coffee; and
fresh light roasts are often delightful. But they are also more acidic than fresh medium or darker roasts;
and they can also have edgy, unripe fruit or nut flavors. So we let them stale for two, three, or even four
weeks, to smooth out their edges, and to finally receive a miraculous gummi bear flavored god shot.

Hobbyists dominate the coffee internet, so people researching coffee think we are on to something. The
result is vast price disparity, in which stale light coffees go for five to ten times as much as stale medium
or dark roasts. Part of it is that only specialty coffees, rather than commodity ones, are used in light
roasts. But does that really show in the cup or shot? Most specialty coffees rate at 82.5 to 87.5 points.
They are nice, but nothing special. This is true whether they are roasted light, medium, or dark. Most of
the light roasts I get, despite being advertised and talked about as something special, are in this
everyday 82.5 to 87.5 point range. They will have a nice sweet and sour pop when fresh, and fade into
trail mix and gummi bear flavors when stale. Yet we continue talking about these coffees as if they were
something extraordinary.

I think we need a reset. I think we need to be able to say that this or that coffee is just one more generic
light roast. Say that now, call a light roast boring and ordinary, and the response will be that you are
doing something wrong. Around 80% to 90% of the coffees I get are ordinary and boring; this is true
whether they are medium or dark roasted and sold at regular prices, and it is also true when they are
light roasted and sold at breath taking prices. It's time to stop being intimidated, and to confidently
apply our regular standards of taste.
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Almico
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#2: Post by Almico »

Present company excluded of course, but at 63 years old I have had to come to accept that I can no longer see with the same sharpness or hear with the same acuity as I used to. I have no reason to believe my sense of smell and taste isn't nearly what it was 20 years ago.

It's a doggone shame that I can finally afford the audio system of my dreams, but can't hear much of what you pay for in such a system.
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#3: Post by baldheadracing »

The market seems to be correlating green coffee quality and roast level. A coffee that scores high (say 88+) on the cupping table seems to be almost always be offered in roasts that are towards the lighter end. Thus, people make the false causation that lighter is better. (Then there are novel processes, which seem to always be sold as light roasts at a premium.)

High-quality coffees that seem to shine in not-so-light roasts, for example, some island coffees (Jamaica, Cuba, perhaps Hawaii) just don't have a market in America at the price that other country's consumers are willing to pay, e.g., the Japanese market. (I realize there is an American embargo on Cuba, but there isn't much difference between the Jamaicans and Cubans that I've had. As an aside, the embargo makes high-quality Cubans relatively inexpensive in Canada.)

Regardless, roasting lighter means less mass lost during roasting, so more profit for the roaster. If people are willing to pay more for coffee roasted light, and those roasts in and of themselves are more profitable, then why wouldn't a business in that market roast lighter?
-"Good quality brings happiness as you use it" - Nobuho Miya, Kamasada

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#4: Post by drgary »

I'm going to play devil's advocate. I will offer several questions and observations.

1. Where did the light roast fashion begin? Did it start with cuppers highlighting many origin flavors in cupping roasts? Did it start with people trying to emphasize the origin flavors in high grown, heirloom coffees?

2. There has been much discussion, encouraged by people in forums like ours, to emphasize grinder quality. Awhile back, people noticed that flat burr grinders like the Mazzer Major tended to produce sweeter espresso. Then there was Matt Perger's winning WBC performance using an EK43 flat burr grinder. These developments fueled a specialty market for hyper aligned, large flat burr grinders and many have touted their advantages in pulling sweeter, flavor nuanced shots with very light roasts.

3. Many coffee enthusiasts have come to enjoy very light Oslo style roasts. Back in 2010, I tasted a very exotic natural coffee, Panama Esmeralda gesha, roasted by Tim Wendelboe, and it blew away everything else on the table with his fireworks of wonderful flavors that only improved as it cooled in the bowl. I have found, on occasion, similar flavors in far less expensive Ethiopian coffees. I have found these somewhat elusive to roast, but put that down to my slowly improving set of roasting skills. Also, I believe that the freshness of greens is critical to their displaying delicate, floral and fruity flavors.

4. I believe that it is unfair to attribute the trend toward lighter roasted coffee as primarily driven by money because there is less weight loss. That trend seems to emerge, at least, in my limited observations, from hobbyist roasters, aiming for weight loss similar to that sound in Oslo style roast.

5. I also somewhat disagree with the characterization of the long resting time needed for some light roasts to label them as stale. I remember long ago, chemist Robert Pavlis raised a question with me about whether coffee resting does more than offgassing of roasting constituents, such as carbon dioxide, and actually reflects a more complex set of chemical changes that allow flavors to develop. I would think that something may go on with slow oxidation that not only decreases sharp acidity but also allows for molecular changes that develop desirable flavors, long before staling begins the way Jim describes above. And also, I think that he is exaggerating a skeptical point of view to fuel this discussion.

6. I think that Jim is bringing out two trends with which I agree. One of them is the light roasting of less than stellar coffees, because in a light roast, defects and aging greens clearly show themselves. Also, there is decreased popularity of properly roasted coffees where a medium roast can develop flavors that do not require very expensive large, flat burr grinders, ultra precise espresso brewing or more resting for the flavors to appear.
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#5: Post by Almico »

another_jim wrote: I think we need a reset. I think we need to be able to say that this or that coffee is just one more generic
light roast. Say that now, call a light roast boring and ordinary, and the response will be that you are
doing something wrong. Around 80% to 90% of the coffees I get are ordinary and boring; this is true
whether they are medium or dark roasted and sold at regular prices, and it is also true when they are
light roasted and sold at breath taking prices. It's time to stop being intimidated, and to confidently
apply our regular standards of taste.
Speaking only for myself I have gone from milk based drinks to straight espresso/americanos and black drip coffee only over the past several years. In that time I have gone from 10-20s into 2C to 10-20s before 2C to where I am now which is 1:00 +/- 10s beyond 1C depending on the coffee.

I have come to really enjoy very light coffees, even as espresso. I use conical burr grinders at home and Mythos flats at the bars. I use old school lever machines only. Point being I don't jump through hoops to try and make light coffee less jarring. I enjoy it for what it is. I tend to go 3:1 instead of 2:1 on my ratios, but that's about it.

The espresso I drink at the bars and serve customers is Agtron 50/54. The espresso I drink at home is Agtron 90. I like them both.

I have tried several very expensive coffees and while they were stellar, the laws of diminishing returns are in full force. My thrills come not from spending $100 a pound for green coffee, but from finding a $6-7 coffee that is 98% as good.

That gets me to the real point. If all I drink is very good coffee, at some point, very good coffee will get boring, no matter how light it is roasted. You can only go so light. Like an 82*, 50% humidity sunshiny day in SanDiego (yawn), too much of a great thing becomes unremarkable.

Any time I want a reset I can go into almost any coffee shop or try any one of 1000 roasters' wares and relax in the gratitude that I have solved the coffee dilemma. For me at least.

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#6: Post by malachi »

This is a really interesting topic. Thanks a ton to Jim for being willing to raise it.

I have a somewhat unique perspective on this whole issue for a number of reasons.

First, as most of you know I was a coffee professional and have a strong network in the coffee business world. I understand the perspectives of coffee pros, and can ask them direct questions when needed.

Secondly, I was working in coffee at the pivotal period of time when people first started taking light roasted espresso seriously - and can talk to the history from personal experience.

Third, I've been completely away from the coffee scene since 2019 - only re-engaging in the last few months. As a result, I am free of a lot of the emotional context, ego, and dogma issues that always crop up in coffee.

Fourth, I don't live in America, and thus see all of this from a a bit of a remove.


For context-setting, I'm talking here about light roasted espresso. Light roasted coffees have been around for a very long time, and to be honest there isn't a ton of disagreement about the topic (at least among coffee professionals).


I first encountered truly light roasted espresso in 2005 at the Nordic Barista Cup in Iceland. It was an extraordinary experience - but the espresso itself was more interesting and exciting than good. A year later, however, things had evolved. At the World Barista Championship - and then at the "after party" that Stumptown threw - I had the chance to taste some exceptionally good espresso, which was light roasted. For the most part, this was all coming from Scandinavia - but there were also a number of light roasted single origin espressos at the Stumptown Single Origin Shoot-Out.

The combination of these three moments (the Nordic Barista Cup, the WBC, and the Single Origin Shoot-Out) radically accelerated the popularity of both light roast espresso and single origin espresso. Even so, it's unlikely that this would have had the same impact as it ended up having were it not for the Internet and Social Media. Coffee personalities ranging from Tim Wendelboe to James Hoffman and others started promoting a new, modern style of espresso - and their content was aimed directly at the professional baristas who either competed, or wanted to compete along with those professional baristas who were looking at transitioning into roasting or running coffee businesses.

The problem, however, was simple. As Tim Wendelboe said to me in San Francisco in 2008, "almost all light roast espresso is undrinkable. Roasting espresso light is very hard - and most roasters do not have the skill to pull it off." From shots that tasted like hot cranberry concentrate to ones that would do double-duty as paint strippers - this period in professional coffee was very challenging. I remember cupping coffees with a bunch of coffee professionals in San Francisco in 2009. We invited a professional sommelier (who loved coffee) to join us. There was once coffee where, upon tasting it, he took us (and the coffee industry) to task. "This is not good tasting. This is sour. You can talk all you want about 'sparkling acidity' but this is flat-out sour. People don't want sour coffee. You need to stop trying to push sour coffee on us." It was an eye opening moment for many of us.

Over the next few years, coffee roasters became more and more proficient at light roast espresso - and the days of flat-out undrinkable shots declined. What was interesting though, was that while the roast defects declined - the espresso was still very acidic and often, dare I say it, sour. The response from coffee professionals was to own this taste. Rather than trying to change the roast, or "age" the coffee, or anything to make the flavour profile different - they proclaimed that this new flavour profile was a good thing. The message became, "light roast espresso is better because it is a more accurate expression of the green coffee itself - rather than a mix of the coffee and the roast."

Now... three side comments about this. First - this mirrors the endless battle within the restaurant scene between those who believe that the job of a chef is to (as derisively put by Tony Bourdain once), "put a fantastic peach on a plate" and those who believe that a chef needs to transform the ingredients to do their job well. Secondly - the power of Social Media was particularly important at this period of time. All the professional baristas followed the same people - so when all those people started saying, "if you're not doing light roast espresso you're out of date" there was a mad rush to copy the style. Third - this also brings up the long-debated and highly divisive question, "is espresso a beverage or is espresso a way of preparing coffee."

This drove a huge wedge into the coffee industry - as many (often more established) coffee companies doubled down on "espresso that tastes good" while most of the newer and younger professionals migrated quickly to "light roast or die."

The problem was (as predicted by the sommelier) that most customers wanted good tasting espresso. So the trend setting, modern baristas quickly pivoted away from espresso entirely - claiming that it was an inferior preparation method, and adopting various new methods, tools, and approaches for brewing coffee. This was quite effective as a brewed light roast coffee (assuming the green is of high quality and you don't screw up the roast) is a lovely thing. Suddenly we had brew bars instead of espresso bars and various coffee pundits declared that "espresso was over."

So this brings me to about 5 years ago - right before I dropped out of the coffee scene entirely. I had become jaded by the clout-chasers, depressed by the trendiness, and most of all as a former chef I just simply couldn't deal with the idea that some sort of abstract philosophical issue like "degree of roast" was of higher priority than how the end result tastes.

Coming back onto the scene now, I've noticed a few things.

First - there is a huge disconnect between the way the professionals see light roasted espresso (and coffee in general for that matter) and how hobbyists see it. Professionals embrace the flavors and experiences of light roasted espresso and defend them as "better" whereas it seems like hobbyists are looking to figure out ways to transform the flavor and experience into something that is more enjoyable for them. Something, as Jim so elegantly puts it, "like a gummy bear."

Second - professionals have (often grudgingly) accepted that espresso is part of their job. Sadly, many seem to either now view it as a way to dispose of inferior coffee they would never sell for use brewed - or simply accept it as a "necessary evil" but put minimal care and love into. In my opinion, it is harder to find good coffee to make espresso with now that it was 15 years ago.

Third - coffee has become very expensive. Now... I'm going to say something that will not make me popular. Coffee, especially truly good coffee, was criminally underpriced for decades. It's only now that truly good coffee is starting to be priced in a manner which makes sense. The problem is that the huge price increases at the high end of coffee have also lifted prices on coffees that are simply not that good. I have no problem paying a very high prices for a truly extraordinary Cup of Excellence level coffee. It's when we get to the "better than commodity but certainly not special" coffees that I have a problem. Paying a ton of money for some perfect, micro-lot, Gesha that changes my view on coffee? Fine. Paying 80% of that for a rather generic Guatemalan coffee? Not okay.

Fourth - there is still all the clout and ego and status and identity involved, and there is still the Internet and Social Media. This means that some people would rather sell, use, and buy coffees that make them feel, seem, and look "cool" than sell, use, and buy coffees that they like. To me, some of the "age your light roast espresso" thing seems rooted in this issue. To be honest, if you want the espresso flavour profile described by Jim it would be far easier to buy a medium roast espresso blend comprised of a high quality Brazil, a high quality Ethiopian natural, and maybe a little high quality Guatemalan coffee to add sweetness and up the fruit.

Fifth - people are, have been, and will always be herd animals. Once a ton of people start saying something is true - it becomes true. Coffee is no exception to this reality.


Finally, if it's okay with y'all, I'm going to respond to a few comments from this thread. Mostly these are attempts to break the echo chamber or share some history - but a few are specific comments that I think need more discussion.
another_jim wrote:Hobbyists dominate the coffee internet, so people researching coffee think we are on to something.
So... I'm afraid I have to disagree with this. I have always felt that coffee hobbyists over-estimated their impact on the coffee industry and coffee roasters in particular, but given the sensitivity of this opinion I went and asked a bunch of current coffee professionals. And I was validated. I'm afraid that the responses ranged from "Honestly, I'm sorry but I don't pay attention to those people" to "there are maybe 1000 of those people in the US - we serve 1000 people on a busy day" to "more trouble than they are worth." Coffee hobbyists are passionate, and active, and engaged. And they are profoundly impactful when it comes to each other - and to vendor and manufacturers of equipment targeted at them. But to coffee roasters, hobbyists are not a significant influence I fear.
another_jim wrote:Most of the light roasts I get, despite being advertised and talked about as something special, are in this
everyday 82.5 to 87.5 point range.
To me, this is one of the key points here. If the message is that some light roast espresso is a super special green coffee or blend of super special green - then it cannot be made with average speciality grade coffee. And it certainly cannot be priced as if it were a special CoE coffee. To me, this is where the focus should be. It's not a question of light roast or not - it's a question of special or not. And simply roasting an ordinary coffee lightly does not make it special.
drgary wrote:Where did the light roast fashion begin? Did it start with cuppers highlighting many origin flavors in cupping roasts? Did it start with people trying to emphasize the origin flavors in high grown, heirloom coffees?
Cupping was definitely a big part of it, but as noted above I fear much was about trends, philosophies, newness, social media, and being cool. Now... that's for light roast espresso. As noted at the start, light roast coffees have been around for a very long time.
drgary wrote:There has been much discussion, encouraged by people in forums like ours, to emphasize grinder quality. Awhile back, people noticed that flat burr grinders like the Mazzer Major tended to produce sweeter espresso. Then there was Matt Perger's winning WBC performance Using an EK43 flat burr grinder. These developments fueled a specialty market for hyper aligned, large flat burr grinders and many have touted their advantages in pulling sweeter, flavor nuanced shots with very light roasts.
Honestly... as much as I respect Matt Perger, this is not historically accurate. Trying to couple the migration to flat burr grinders from conical ones with the trend towards light roast espresso is very forced. The migration to flat burr grinders had a lot more to do with the general performance of those grinders vs the conical ones (across all types of coffee) than anything else. I would argue that ease of use and decreased heat issues also had more impact than roast degree on this shift. My home grinder history is a pretty good snapshot of the trend here. I went from a DRM in 2006 to a Robur in 2009 to an Anfim in 2012.
drgary wrote:Many coffee enthusiasts have come to enjoy very light Oslo style roasts. Back in 2010, I tasted a very exotic natural coffee, Panama Esmeralda gesha, roasted by Tim Wendelboe, and it blew away everything else on the table with his fireworks of wonderful flavors that only improved as it cooled in the bowl.
That's an unfair example. The Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha was a truly special coffee, and the reason it was special had absolutely nothing to do with roast degree. I've cupped it at a cupping roast degree, I've cupped it at a light production roast degree, I've cupped it at a medium roast degree, and I've pulled shots of it at a Full City roast. It stood out from the crowd in every single situation, at every single roast. The Esmerelda Gesha is an example of a coffee that I would pay obscene amounts of money for - and wouldn't have a moment's regret.
Almico wrote:That gets me to the real point. If all I drink is very good coffee, at some point, very good coffee will get boring, no matter how light it is roasted. You can only go so light. Like an 82*, 50% humidity sunshiny day in SanDiego (yawn), too much of a great thing becomes unremarkable.
Really?
I have to admit that the perfect weather and gorgeous surroundings here in Kauai never get old, and never become unremarkable. After 30 years of Kauai, I still stop alongside the road at least once a day to stare at something with wonder.

IMHO, there is no such thing as "too much of a great thing." And that isn't just for beautiful places or perfect weather - but also for coffee.
another_jim wrote:I think we need a reset. I think we need to be able to say that this or that coffee is just one more generic
light roast. Say that now, call a light roast boring and ordinary, and the response will be that you are doing something wrong. Around 80% to 90% of the coffees I get are ordinary and boring; this is true whether they are medium or dark roasted and sold at regular prices, and it is also true when they are light roasted and sold at breath taking prices. It's time to stop being intimidated, and to confidently apply our regular standards of taste.
Yes.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!!!

If folks can stop acting like a not good coffee is somehow special simply because of roast degree (or influencer endorsement, or price, or rareness, or hype) it would potentially change coffee for the better.

Do not settle for disappointing espresso.
Trust your taste.


To everyone who got all the way through this massive diatribe and is now reading this - thank you. I appreciate your patience and tolerance.
What's in the cup is what matters.
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#7: Post by luca »

There's just so, so much to explore here, and we can really go on forever, but first up let me pause to appreciate the wonderful writing of all of the previous posters here.

I'll try to keep it brief to a few thoughts and come back and add more.

For starters, I utterly agree that consumers need to be willing to simply trust themselves and point out that what is in front of them does not taste as described. The sad truth is that over the time Chris and I worked in, retired from, disengaged and re-engaged with the coffee industry, a lot has changed. The tiny coffee roastery 20 years ago was a pie in the sky fantasy, where small Australian roasters basically had to beg importers and roaster manufacturers to deal with them. Today, there are vast armadas of companies competing to supply coffee, equipment, packaging, software, labour and "consumables" to tiny roasters. The barriers to entry have fallen dramatically. Tiny coffee roasteries can hire their entire plant and equipment, or even subcontract out the entire business. Coffee importers provide tasting notes that can easily be copy pasted, together with origin photos to the farms, so that even the least experienced, most under-capitalised roasting business can look like a slick, multi-continent operation, and retail consumers certainly don't have the ability to work out who is swimming naked. And whilst social media marketers and roasters can copy paste importer tasting notes, they can't copy paste experience or a frame of reference, and nobody seriously holds any of them to account for fanciful claims. Even if roasters do have skills to describe their coffee reasonably, usually the best a consumer can hope for is that they will give a fair description of the nice characteristics of the coffee, but they will invariably omit anything that sounds unpleasant. So it's not surprising that coffee marketing is an arms race to come up with ever more fanciful and ludicrous taste descriptors.

The concept that is missing in this discussion is the framework against which one judges roasts. I'd argue that if filter brews turned bright pink and espresso turned deep blue, there would be far less consumer confusion online. After all, champagne and bordeaux are both "wine", but nobody argues they are substitutes, or that bordeaux is inferior because it doesn't have bubbles. Yet with coffee, consumers talk about filter and espresso roasts as though they are generally substitutable. Each needs to be judged for its own purpose.

I think, and hope, that it's pretty uncontroversial to say that generally lighter roasts are more distinctive than darker roasts. Distinctiveness here means that two green coffees at the same roast level taste more different from each other as lighter roasts than they do as dark roasts. Jim makes the point here that some light roasts are just bad, and of course this is the case. Yes, there are certainly light roasts that are insufficiently developed and do not really develop much distinctive flavour. So there's some measure of "how long is a piece of string" here. But if you posit a good filter roast and a good espresso roast that is darker, you'd generally expect the filter roast to have more of the distinctive aroma associated with the green coffee (as opposed to the flavours introduced by roasting darker). It is this distinctiveness that is supposed to be the rationale for higher prices.

There are certainly a number of ways where consumers can be let down:
*As Jim says, the extent of the distinctiveness of different green coffee can be exaggerated.
*Many roasters just plain fail to execute the roast levels well.

These are argument against bad light roasters, not bad light roasts. But whilst I, personally, like light roasts, I am absolutely not a light roast apologist or defender of the industry. Last year, I got some friends together and we cupped 20 light roast kenyan coffees, including 12 from local Australian roasters. We wanted to find the best kenyan coffees early on, so that we could buy lots. Our conclusion was that not a single one of the DOZEN Australian filter roasts was of acceptable quality for us to want to buy. Not one! It was laughable how most of them were ashy and bitter. You would have thought that even if the roasters were inconsistent, you would get at least one acceptable roast out of 12 inadvertently!

It is certainly true that there are lots of light roasts out there that are sour and acidic. But let's not let anyone off unscathed here. Coffee is a tradeoff; you get to pick the bunch of compromises that you like the best, but don't bury your head in the sand and think that the coffee that you like is unimpeachable. Just as Chris' somm pointed out to his room full of coffee professionals drinking their kool aid that the light roasts were unpleasantly sour, medium and dark roast fanciers have to acknowledge that their roasts are usually very bitter, and not very distinctive.

And, as a final thought for now, as to "stale", the question, as with everything, is "against what criteria"? If it is at its optimum drinking window, tasting the best and delivering the best results against the relevant criteria, it's not "stale". If you're saying that you have to wait longer in time after roast for a light filter roast than you do for a dark espresso roast, so what? That doesn't make it stale.

... more later... ?
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#8: Post by malachi »

luca wrote:And whilst social media marketers and roasters can copy paste importer tasting notes, they can't copy paste experience or a frame of reference, and nobody seriously holds any of them to account for fanciful claims.
This is, perhaps, the single most important sentence in this entire thread to-date.
Thank you Luca for perfectly communicating the pain so many of us feel - and the root cause of so many of the issues we're raising.

And to make it all worse - not only does nobody hold them accountable, there are influencers who instead promote them.
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#9: Post by luca »

Chris, thanks for the kind words. I'm sort of veering a little off topic here, but I hope this anecdote will be useful to readers. I'm somewhat ignorant, but I'm told that the Ethiopian government, or some other species of powers that be, has recently introduced a differentiated tier of minimum prices (good on them) that give different prices based on processing method (boo, hiss). Anaerobic naturals have the highest minimum prices, followed by regular naturals and "washed" (well, presumably eco pulped) get the lowest tier minimum prices. So a local roaster of mine released a limited release, special, premium priced anaerobic natural. All good so far.

So my local roaster described the anaerobic natural ethiopian coffee by reference to fresh fruits and florals. And I thought to myself "What? That's crazy, most anaerobic naturals are more fermented and boozy, so I avoid them at all costs. I've got to try this." So I bought it and it was dried out, fermenty and boozy, and, I hasten to add, a delightful example of this. But it was most certainly not fresh fruits and flowers. So I took it back to the shop and said to the manager "hey, what gives, this is described as all clean fresh fruits and flowers, but it doesn't taste anything like that." And the manager said "the bag says it's an anaerobic natural; you are supposed to know that anaerobic naturals are never clean and they're always fermented and boozy." And I said "yeah, that's exactly why I bought it, based on your description, precisely because your tasting notes told me it wasn't! You are supposed to be the experts here, not me, and if I'm supposed to know that it's dirty, boozy and fermented because it's an anaerobic natural, then you certainly should also know that and shouldn't be writing something different on the label!"

Anyway, I ended up getting a call from the roaster, who gave me a refund.

(Lest I sound like a total tightass, I generally give roasters a total free pass on ordinarily priced coffee, in that if I feel misled, I won't raise it with the ... but I do usually just slide them onto my personal blacklist. But I am no longer willing to extend the same courtesy where the roaster asks for a significantly elevated price. And I sympathise with them that in this instance, they are price takers, but that doesn't give them licence to mislead consumers to make it sound like a totally different coffee than what it is. If they think that a fair and reasonable, true description of the most obvious characteristics of the coffee will make it sound unappealing to consumers who are asked to pay a price premium for it ... well they should reconsider whether they should be buying it and selling it at that price. And, at any rate, experience suggests the contrary - coffees described as boozy and wild seem to fly off the shelves at premium prices! So what's the big deal with describing them reasonably to us?)
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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luca
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#10: Post by luca »

malachi wrote:And to make it all worse - not only does nobody hold them accountable, there are influencers who instead promote them.
There are some practical steps that readers can take to protect against this. They just have to work out if the influencer is credible. The easiest way to do this is to search for what others have written about the coffee and it will quickly become apparent if someone's tasting notes have been copy pasted. Similarly, I'd argue there are probably few very good roasters who literally copy paste the importer's spot offering tasting notes, so if you dump the online coffee descriptions into google and it becomes apparent that that is what has happened, that's a bit of a red flag.

My general rule of thumb for anything that anyone writes online is to assume that they have a frame of reference and preference for coffee that I don't like, and to therefore assume that what they have to say is not useful to me, until I've established the contrary.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes
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