Espresso as excuse…

I was posting on a “blog” (has no better term come up yet?) about the idea of Single Origin espresso, and thought I would make my points here… The question James Hoffman posed was roughly, “Do we think less of a coffee if it does not work both as brewed and as SO espresso.” Or something like that… and I don’t really have any response to the original post because I think it’s a miss. If a coffee doesn’t work well as a SO espresso, I think nothing less of it. I also don’t assume I am the only person that could make it work a espresso; if I can’t maybe someone can. But if it is so difficult, why force it?

I would flip this on it’s head, and I will, since I don’t live in an espresso-centric universe: Is it a failure of my tasting ability to say a balanced and “restrained” coffee is only good for espresso? Am I unfair to say, “you are pretty boring, mr. coffee, but maybe as espresso …”

Then again, if we all follow the logic of Kevin Knox, espresso was a conspiracy by Italians who had no good access to good acidic coffees to make up for the soft character of low-growns by giving them some punch in a pressurized brewing process. Espresso, in that frame of reference, is a “fix” for mediocre coffee. And to go further, imagine if you could invent a machine to make so-so coffee taste better, instead of the reality of the roast machine which can only make coffee taste worse by improper use, rather than improve the character. In my view, coffee can only be ruined in all the hundreds of processes from crop to cup. Is the espresso machine the exception?

So I guess it depends on how you frame the debate: If you believe espresso is the most pure form of coffee preparation, this point is anathema to your views. For that person, espresso must be able to fully express the outstanding character of a great green coffee, or the green coffee simply can’t be good. But we know there are many great green coffees that simply do not work packed into a portafilter! In the changing landscape of coffee, how do we find a way to judge quality while moving fluidly between brewing processes, so that there are multiple types of “excellent coffee” based on how they ultimately would be tasted by the person who actually ends up running it across their palate. In that way, to be able to represent a coffee at it’s best, we can’t just be “espresso people” or “brewed coffee” folks.

I think I am losing my train here, but one last point that matters I think: coffee drinkers vary greatly in terms of how conservative they are. In the past, I felt the espresso drinker was the least adventurous of all, wanting consistent blends roasted consistently darker. SO espresso has changed that, but still I find many people resistant to the varied experiences of SO espresso, which can not be held to the same norms as “balanced” espresso flavor profiles of well-designed blends. I personally will accept thin espresso if the flavors and aromas are exciting and unique, for example. So aside from if it’s brewed coffee or espresso preparation, the issue now hinges more on how adventurous is the palate. -Tom

PS: The original blog post is here.

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