Coffee Rating Caveats |

Coffee Rating Caveats

We need this section because evaluating coffees has very different implications from evaluating wines, beers or cigars.The reason: Coffee is a continually changing collaboration rather than a fait accompli in a bottle or box. Good wines get put in bottles in the winery, usually by the same people who grow the grapes and produce the wine. Although wine changes while inside the bottle, that change is reasonably predictable. On the consuming end, all that needs to be done to enjoy a wine is to properly store the bottle, open it, pour the wine (in some cases after a proper interval), taste it, then carry on about what you're tasting.

Coffee, on the other hand, is subject to a globe-spanning sequence of operations by a succession of people stretching from grower to consumer-brewer, people who live in different parts of the world and don't even know one another's name, much less work at the same winery.

The whole thing is kicked off by someone who grows and picks the coffee fruit. A second party (usually) buys the fruit and removes the soft, fruity parts from the seeds, then dries the seeds (now called beans), two steps together known as processing and both crucial to the ultimate quality and character of the coffee.

The processor usually sells the dried beans to a third party, the exporter. The exporter may blend beans from different processing mills before bagging and shipping them. He even may do exotic things to the beans, like aging or monsooning them.

A fourth party imports the coffee into the consuming country, though in most cases he spares it any further manipulation, confining himself to passing judgment on it and selling it to a roaster.

At this point the coffee is subjected to perhaps the single most influential act of all: roasting. The roaster also may blend beans from a variety of crops and regions.The retailer (by my count we're now on our fifth active collaborator) performs a simple but very significant service: handling the coffee sensibly and selling it before it gets stale.

Finally, the consumer (the sixth actor in the coffee drama) buys the coffee, grinds it (usually), and finally produces an actual beverage. But we're not even finished here, because the friend the consumer/coffee brewer just invited in to share this meticulously grown, processed, roasted, blended, and brewed coffee may be moved to dump an ounce or two of white liquid into it, not to mention a spoonful of one of seven or eight different possible sweeteners, all with differing effects on the final beverage ...

Thus, by the time it is drunk, a coffee has been subject to at least seven momentous processes carried out by seven potentially unrelated parties resident in anywhere from two to four parts of the world. Coffee is not bottled or boxed. It's not just bought, opened and drunk. It's a multicultural, transoceanic, culinary work-in-progress. Which is why I like writing about coffee, a beverage that lives and changes and lets everyone from grower to consumer to step up and take a creative whack at it.

But beware of buying coffee simply by name instead of taste. Because next year's Clever-Name-Coffee Company's house blend may be radically different from this year's blend, despite bearing the same name and label. The particularly skillful coffee buyer or roaster who helped create the coffee you and I liked so much may have gotten hired elsewhere. Rain may have spoiled the crop of a key coffee in the blend. The exporter or importer of that key coffee may have gone out of business or gotten careless. And even if everyone (plus the weather) did exactly the same thing they (and it) did the year before, the retailer this time around may have spoiled everything by letting the coffee go stale before you got to it. Or you may have messed things up this year by keeping the coffee around too long, brewing it carelessly, or allowing a friend to pour hazelnut syrup into it.

Everything that appears on this site is merely a starting point for experiment and dialogue, no more.