Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Of coffee and its masters...

Yesterday I got to take a tour of the Parisi Coffee factory/plant/office where a friend of mine works. He was nice enough to give me a tour and try to teach me in brief the ways of coffee... which are many and varied and mostly over my head. Coffee serves to wake me up in the morning but someday I would like to learn to appreciate the taste which apparently has 700 components compared to the meager 400 for wines. I wonder how many flavor components a good brewski has? I have another friend who's Bro-in-law works at Boulevard Brewery so mayhap another private tour lay in my future.

So anyway I started the tour with a cup of Rwandan coffee. Now granted I've only recently started drinking coffee without sugar and cream (and that is on and off), but this cup was actually enjoyable to my noobish tastebuds. I learned that two coffee beans come from a single cherry like fruit. I got to witness (well hear) something called 'cracking' where during the roasting process the sugar molecules are actually splitting and creating a sound similar to popcorn popping as they carmalize on/in the bean. Of course I am probably getting this all wrong... like when Tim Taylor is explaining a newly learned "Wilson" concept to his wife Jill. Anyway I was impressed with how much goes into making a good cup of coffee. One day I will try their espresso... one day.

This morning (actually as I type) I'm enjoying a taste of Ethiopia... Also quite good! Thanks Gregory for the free lb. (They always give you the first taste for free don't they? Once you are hooked then they know you'll be a lifelong customer.) Now that I am an "expert" of African coffees I'm ready to move on to the Americas. Actually I think this bag will last me a while, but I'm looking forward to tasting their other many varieties. I will for the sake of the blog pretend I could taste the subtle differences and nuances between the Rwandan and Ethiopian coffee... But not really. Perhaps one day I will "arrive", but for now it's all just good coffee.


The Irascible Neufonzola said...

"I wonder how many flavor components a good brewski has?"

I'd say vastly more than either coffee or wine...not just as a partisan, but as a simple recognition of how much more variation is inherent in the category of beer. While wine varies slightly in the variations between grapes of different regions, and coffee has "varietal" distinctions as well (plus an added step of how the beans are roasted), that level of variation is equivalent to only component of beer...say, hops. A brewer can use any of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of regional varieties of hops, each with different flavour, aroma, and bitterness, and he can combine them in any combination, and add them in whatever quantity he desires, and when they are added during the boil (or after) strongly affects the imparted flavours and character. And that is just one characteristic...

Malted barley can be kilned in such a way as to provide all varieties of flavour, and colour. There are equally as many variations of barley, and then you add other grains like wheat, corn, rye, rice, etc. Add to that other possible additives such as brown sugar, molasses, honey, fruit, flavourings, etc. And unlike wine, which tends to focus less on "recipes" and more on a single varietal of grape, the statistics start to get crazy when you look at all the permutations of a recipe.

And lastly, the yeast...not an issue with coffee, but beer yeast varies much more within itself than wine yeast, which has much more subtle variations.

I've nothing against wine or coffee (I drink untold quantities of the latter during the work week, God bless those toiling workers in the mountains harvesting beans), but I think, despite my partisan nature as a brewer, that beer rules the day when it comes to variations. Even if you just took the tiny country of Belgium, there is more variety in their indigenous beer styles than in the entire world of wine, or even coffee.

The winos and caffeine addicts are going to be gunning for me now, eh? ;)

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Oh, and as a clarification...in some certain styles, namely the American lager, there is precious little variation. So I could see some people exposed predominantly to this style thinking I was full of beans. But from rauchbier to doppelbock to lambeek to IPA to russian imperial stout to koelsch to mild ale to porter to...etc, there are so many other styles.

Percussivity said...

And the battle of the bewilderingly complex beverages begins... and my work here is complete. I think I shall sit back and enjoy a Sprite which has only 4 flavor components... the bubbilitude, the sweetness, the finish and the after-belch bouquet.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

A lot of people discount the after-belch bouquet; there are the "spitters" that when judging lemon-lime sodas simply nose the glass and swish a small amount around in their mouth, but since they don't actually swallow the taste sample, they miss out on the unique variations inherent in the after-belch bouquet.

I find 7-Up a trifle heavy on blancmange, aniseed, and horsehide in the nose, covering up the more subtle aspects of lavender and acetone that make it so unique. However, Sprite seems much more balanced, marrying aromas of chamomile and plum pudding with a robust mouthfeel and an excellent, long lasting after-belch finish.

Percussivity said...


Hey man... your blog is getting cold!

grk said...

Wow. I forgot to tune in on Mike's leaning the other night. Esteemed Mr. Neufonzola, allow me to agree with your claims and observations in a less than scientific manner.
I shall comment not in the defense of coffee, but in light of it, and in the interest of the overall taste bud perception and comparison.

All shifting and morphing with origin, percentage and preparation, I wonder about the basic compounds and reactions that occur in the fundamental parts. Are we talking about sugars and starches here? What is the breakdown of all them barleys and malts and hops and such? I would agree beer has more complex components when combined together. Is that indeed what you are saying, good sir?

I am definitely interested in the difference in flavor profile between hops vs barley vs malts etc. Help me beer partisan, won't you? I know the difference in what I taste, however, I don't know what I am tasting.

Coffee and beer, can they be compared in complexity? Wine and coffee, I can see, for the major components are of similar DNA. But beer and coffee is not unlike comparing a piece of cheese having less complexitythan a bacon cheeseburger.

I am curious about the difference in the fore-mentioned components of beer. Can you help?

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

"But beer and coffee is not unlike comparing a piece of cheese having less complexity than a bacon cheeseburger."

That's probably a great way of putting it! Wine, cheese, and coffee have a relative purity about them, because they focus on a base ingredient, with its regional variations and subtle differences in process. Beer on the other hand is, as I have established in my excessively verbose manner, very complex. I've been brewing for about...lets see, 2.5 years, and I'm still learning about the science behind it. A winemaker has to have good soil and be a good tender of his vineyard, but once he harvests the grapes, his choices are pretty basic; crush the grapes, pitch some yeast, and leave the rest of the work to his single-celled sugar-digesting employees.

You could actually say the same thing about malt whisky...the process to making whisky in Scotland is all about the same. Barley malt dried over peat fires, mashed into a simple wort and fermented, then distilled twice and aged in oak barrels for a number of years. The process is basically the same in each of the distilleries throughout Scotland, but the styles are as unique and regional as the wine regions in France, and each distillery has their own flavour profile throughout their different bottlings. Irish whiskey varies in a few points (no peat fires, and it is typically triple distilled) but it is essentially the same process, but a very different style.

So with coffee, wine, and scotch, for example, the "recipe" is less important than subtle variations in ingredients and process, whereas in beer, recipe formulation is the key part. The former is like a steak, where it is what it is and the only things that set it apart is the quality of the beef and how exactly it is cooked, and the latter is like a shepherd's pie, where any number of ingredients can be used in a number of possible quantities, and a thousand different cooks may make theirs a thousand different ways. Ask a thousand different cooks to grill a steak medium rare, and you'll find some variation, sure, but a lot of those steaks will taste about the same.

(wonders how many more confusing metaphors I can throw in here)