This post is by Alec Leslie, writer and owner of Beans and Bikes Blog.
Coffee BeansCoffee, and its associated culture, has metaphorically exploded over the past decade. There was a time, apparently called the year 2000, when coffee culture comprised of drinking an over-roasted or highly heated beverage from a white cup adorned with a green logo. This period, occasionally known as the second wave of coffee, concerned itself with the social aspect of coffee, and the provenance of a bean and the myriads of potential flavours were lost.
As an aside, the first wave of coffee focused on globalising coffee as a convenient and marketable product and was based around freeze-dried, instant coffee. It is unfair to overly criticise either of these waves as they have proven to be incredibly popular and certainly have their place within society. However, neither of these waves will hold much interest for you if your interest is piqued by the nuances of roast types, brewing methods, characteristics of washing methods or the particular tastes of beans from an array of geographical locations.
Entirely predictably, these factors, and many others aside, fall under the banner of third wave coffee, where marketing and commercial capacity are seen as a result of the product rather than the over-arching reason for production. Third wave coffee concepts can be seen behind brew-bars, Chemex wielding baristas and coffee notes detailing processing type, elevation of growing location and tasting notes when drunk solo or complemented by milk. The tasting and extracting process has, in many places, driven individuals to source an array of beans and seek out the most exciting manner in which to present them to the fortunate consumer.
So, if commercial coffee has moved from a spoonful of grains mixed into hot water and milk, through a social and society-pervading experience and into an environment where frequenters of coffee shops can choose, or be advised about, the bean, brew-method and precise type of beverage, then what does that indicate about the current state of the coffee market. In order to suggest answers to this question, only third wave establishments will be considered, as it is in these locations that coffee is being pushed forward and investigated with rigorous care and high levels of enthusiasm.
Initially, espresso machines appeared to dominate, but more forward thinking coffee shops now provide the user with a chance to choose between filter and espresso coffee, a range of beans and an array of brewing methods. There are a couple of possible explanations to this.The first is that this been consumer-led, with individuals researching coffee, acquiring knowledge and thus requiring a more diverse experience whilst another explanation could involve the baristas themselves. The high levels of passion shown across the industry could be driving quality onwards and upwards, with baristas keen to show their level of understanding, knowledge and professionalism. The inevitable consequence of this is a more thorough (or possibly even a slightly intimidating) exploration of the beans at hand and a vast range of derivatives open to the caffeine-seeking consumer.
If this is the current state of the coffee market, then what does the future hold? As always, next steps are notoriously difficult to predict; however, having sat in at least four coffee shops over the past month, I would like to wager a few vague, caveat-ridden, yet balanced, suggestions.
Often, consumers possess a vague grasp of coffee types, taste-profile and brew method, but this level of understanding is generally outstripped by the sheer number of options available; particularly when allied with the occasionally outrageous tasting notes.
At cupping events, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a particular flavour falls on the berry or citrus side of the fruity spectrum, let alone classifying it as Brazil-nut or macadamia-nut like. As such, the tasting notes can muddle, rather than clarify, the drinking process. A clearer method could involve a sliding scale involving four major taste classifications: sweet, nutty, fruity and spicy, combined with a mouth-feel scale stretching from rich to insipid. As long as there is a degree of standardisation across the industry, coffee-drinkers across the experience spectrum could ensure that they can select their drink with a degree of surety.
This is where a relatively new arm of the industry comes in. As well as desiring more novel experiences whilst going for a coffee, individuals now have access to a dizzying number of producers who will roast, or acquire, beans to order. This opens up a world of opportunities with home-brewers able to select the provenance, roast and processing method, if they are willing to shop around and research thoroughly - or, more than likely, using the tasting notes to purchase one which aligns with their taste preferences.
Again, and for previously mentioned reasons, this can confuse as much as it informs. Therefore, if a company could classify, describe, procure and provide a range of carefully selected coffee beans, the benefits to the user could be huge. Further to this, future selections could then be based on prior experiences and brewing experiences. Imagine, a range of classified, consistent coffee beans that could be chosen at will and analysed in a clear and consistent manner.
This is where Coffee Clothing Collective comes in. Having chosen a range of carefully considered range of coffee, thus taking out the laborious chore of trawling through a staggering range of coffee bean providers, and described them with a level of consistency, they are facilitating a customer oriented home-brewing culture that will surely aid and assist those with a passion for, and interest in, the art (or science) of coffee brewing. Until an industry-wide programme can be implemented, customers are reliant on roasters, distributors and providers to ensure the quality of beans on offer. Having been in contact with Coffee Clothing Collective, I can certainly vouch for their passion for their product, and I am sure that this will enable them to provide consistently excellent beans.