That phrase is spoken countless times across the country on a daily basis. But did you ever stop to think, where did this coffee come from?
About seven years ago I started paying more attention to my coffee. It helped that I passed a new coffee shop, Strange Matter, on the way to work. Cara, the owner, was willing to share some of her knowledge, including recommending two classic books on coffee. The World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffman and Coffee with Tim Wendbelboe. While I preferred the lab portion of class each day in Cara’s shop, I highly recommend both books if you’re interested to learn more about coffee.
One of the first things I learned about drinking better coffee, go to a third wave shop and do NOT order by saying light, medium or dark roast. At this type of shop, you read the menu for the day, review the tasting notes, and place your order by bean type. The tasting notes description may remind you of doing the same with wine, chocolate, or bourbon. The first time I took my wife to Strange Matter, despite preparing her for the new ordering process, old habits die hard, and she ordered a medium roast. After the barista gave her a look of disdain, and a little coaching from me, she successfully placed her order!
We continued our coffee journey and sought out a more formal coffee education opportunity. So, my wife and I spent five days at the Espresso Academy in Florence, Italy. Class was from 8:30am to 6pm, an immersion program if you will, with a different curriculum each day. Let’s just say if this lobbying career doesn’t work out, my certification as a barista is my back up plan!
We learned a lot about the coffee bean, extraction, how to properly taste (cupping) and evaluate coffee as done in competition, how to roast, brewing methods, and barista duties. Of the 30 people who came through the school that week, most attended for a day or two, and we were the only people from the United States. There were six of us who attended the full week. We became fast friends and have stayed connected on a group chat. Participants were from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Cambodia, Ukraine, South Korea, Italy, Columbia, China, and Japan. Coffee truly is a worldwide drink. It was a life lesson that when people focus on what they have in common, our differences really disappear.
In case you don’t have time to read the books or spend a vacation at coffee school, here’s a few insights to get you started:
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