Coffee is much like mom’s cooking. Not our moms, of course. One day it’s five-star and the next it’s dog food. We’ll loyally consume whatever she puts on our plate. However, for the most part, her quality jumps all over the map. Said simply, consistency is rarely something we can count on.
Consistency is one of the greatest hurdles to jump in the coffee world. Frankly, it’s a hurdle that even the most successful companies are still knocking-over in the race. Unlike many other beverages for which quality and consistency can be insured before bottling, coffee happens in real time. Whether it’s on the farm, during milling, processing, shipping, roasting, or in the hands of a barista, a million things can go wrong that will skew a desired end result.
Each step in coffee production is surprisingly fragile when excellence is the set standard. From seed to sip, coffee undergoes an impressive amount of handling to become the beverage we love and consume daily. The attention to detail and cautionary measures that must be taken at every step each demand a textbook’s worth of description, at least. So, in order to keep this article a “light read”, I’ll simply overview a reality that makes an excellent cup of coffee so elusive.
Once a coffee cherry is picked its flavor potential is at its’ peak. What does this mean? It means that from that second, all the way until when it’s brewed or extracted, the quality can only degrade. Because of this the farmer, miller, processor, roaster, and barista do not improve upon the coffee at any point. Them handling it properly only means that they have managed to not loose any (or very little) of the quality that nature had already invested in it.
In what’s a largely fragmented industry, how easy do you think it is to ensure that proper handling is practiced at every level? The answer? Not easy at all! When each person involved is more concerned about the profit they’ll make off the next guy than the quality of product itself, one can only imagine the compromises they will be willing to take. Such short cuts and cost saving techniques are plentiful. And because of it, exceptional coffee is not.
What’s important for coffee drinkers to understand about exceptional coffee is that it doesn’t come from a great café or a roasting facility. It comes from a great farm. And after it leaves that great farm, it can only get worse. The best way to conceptualize this is by understanding that a barista or roaster cannot make a bad coffee good, but they sure can make a good coffee bad.
And what’s the take away? You might be asking yourself. It’s that the coffee you love one day may very well be unrecognizable the next, because the many parties involved in creating that cup more often than not have mismatched priorities or ignore creating replicable procedures to control consistency in their own business.
Only those people/companies who commit themselves from the very beginning (the seed) to the very end (the sip) and track measurable steps that ensure a desirable result can honestly claim quality and consistency to be integral to their product.
~Sebastian L. Scholl: Contact