Becoming a specialty coffee connoisseur

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by ZiggyPastorius, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. ZiggyPastorius macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #1
    Hey everybody, I've been thinking for the past year or so about this prospect.

    The father of my mother's girlfriend is a beer connoisseur who travels around the country (mainly in the Midwest), visiting Microbreweries and trying their various specialty beers and such, and I have been thinking about becoming a coffee connoisseur myself. I LOVE specialty coffees. Lattés, Mochas, expresso, et cetera...specialty coffee drinks are amazing. If I was well-off in my mid life, and someone said "Here's $100,000 (or $50,000 or whatever) for being a good person. Use it on anything you want, but no "necessities" (like cars, housing, et cetera..) some people may choose gambling, et cetera...I would choose to travel around the entire country (hell, maybe even go to like Europe or something), and visit three coffee shops a day and a concert every night. That would be my dream vacation. I love specialty coffee, and it is breaking me ;) Too good not to spend money on.

    Anyways, I want to know if anybody could consider themselves some sort of coffee connoisseur, or if anybody could help me figure out the kinds of things I need to know in order to be a connoisseur of specialty coffees. Some things I thought of for starts are: knowing the process of making the various drinks (lattés, Mochas, et cetera), knowing the differences between different coffee beans/where they come from/what makes a quality bean/et cetera...Stuff like that. I have no idea what it takes to be a connoisseur, but I love these drinks so much, that I want to try it.

    Thanks, guys!
     
  2. Consultant macrumors G5

    Consultant

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2007
    #2
    Work at starbucks for awhile.

    Why don't you ask the beer connoisseur? I suspect he's had either
    family background
    education
    connections
     
  3. OutThere macrumors 603

    OutThere

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2002
    Location:
    NYC
    #3
    I've worked in a coffee shop for four summers. I can make all the drinks and can easily tell when the baristas don't know what they're doing when I taste an espresso (or other drink) bought elsewhere, but I still feel that the majority of people who claim to be able to discern the flavors of beans from different parts of the world are pretentious blowhards.

    Read about how you're supposed to make espresso and the various drinks it is used in, then go to a few stores and watch them make it. You'll quickly learn how easy it is to tell when they've tamped the coffee poorly or pulled too long of shots.

    If you're really into it get a part-time job at a little coffee place (not starbucks) and learn how to use the equipment. You could even try some different brands of espresso in the machines to see the difference.
     
  4. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #4
    Educate yourself and your palate by trying out as many different coffees as you can. As with anything else, of course, you can become a connoisseur, but even connoisseurs have marked preferences and quite often, these change over time. What you like now, may not be what you will like in a decade or so. Travel, and taste. Read what you can lay hands on about coffee.

    As with vineyards, grapes and wines, the flavour of coffee beans depend on a number of variables; the actual country, altitude, aspect of the slope itself, (east/west), soil, sunshine, water, etc. These, too, can vary from year to year, altering the flavour of the crop. I'd suggest a visit eventually to the coffee-house culture of Europe (it's been a feature of many of the western European and central European societies since the 17th century).

    I'm a coffee lover, too, so I share your enthusiasm. History can offer some interesting illustrations of fellow enthusiasts. Philosopher Immanuel Kant once growled that he liked his coffee "as black as the devil and as hot as hell", while the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte once mused that the two most important things in life were "sex and coffee", adding a rider to the effect that "while I don't think I could live without sex, I know I would die without coffee."
    Cheers and good luck.
     
  5. Cynicalone macrumors 68040

    Cynicalone

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2008
    Location:
    Okie land
    #5
    Avoid Starbucks if your serious about learning about coffee, give your local roaster a try.

    Here is a shameless plug for a friend who roast's coffee locally

    http://www.primacafe.com/index.php
     
  6. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    Joined:
    May 19, 2002
    #6
    If you have the palate and can distinguish the subtle differences you can move up in the tasting world.

    Or you can go and get trained by the companies, industry, etc.
     
  7. ZiggyPastorius thread starter macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #7
    Thanks for all the feedback, guys!

    I don't really know how great my "palate" is, so to speak. I live in a pretty small area, but there are two really good local coffee shops here, and I've been in the process for a while of trying every single drink they make. Not quite successful yet, but I'm constantly finding out what drinks I like the best and what doesn't work so well, et cetera. My current favourite/recommendation: Amaretto Caffé Latté. I had a 20oz. cup of this flavour of Latté the other day from a local place called "Marcella's," and it was very good. Next on my list is a raspberry Mocha. I'm more of a latté person, so I have yet to learn much about how Mocha works, but it appears (from what I see?) to be pretty much the same except with chocolate (plus some subtle differences).

    This is what I thought, too, with the first reply...I don't really consider Starbucks to be an accurate portayal of fine coffee ;)

    Thanks for the link, by the way. I'll check it out.

    This is what I'm currently working on :) Mainly these two local coffee places (I've already started comparing similar/the same flavours from each one to see how they stand up), but I'm trying to try everything they offer. I suppose I'll just have to read up on coffee beans and probably get my own set of home brewing tools to try out different beans for myself.

    And when I heard that quote, the first thought that came to mind was from Mindless Self Indulgence: "I like my coffee black just like my metal" :p

    I may do this during college. Right now I have my part-time job at Subway and don't need/want another one, but perhaps during college I'll see about getting a job at a local coffee place. Anyone know about some good coffee shops in Boston?

    I'll ask him next time I see him (Thanksgiving).

    As for working at Starbucks, no thanks :p

    Thanks again for the advice, everybody! Guess it's time to start reading!
     
  8. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2002
    Location:
    Jobs' Spare Liver Jar
    #8
    http://coffeegeek.com/

    And drink lots of coffee.

    Start with a press pot and move to espresso later. When you're more familiar with tasting concepts like body and acidity, you'll learn to manipulate the output of your press with simple variables such as temperature and brew time.

    Then you'll be ready to explore the dizzying and more advanced concepts of espresso. Find a quality grinder and decide if you want to go semi-auto or lever with your espresso machine. By the time you get this far you'll know what you want.

    In my limited experience, the best (in order):

    Panama Esmeralda Geisha (head and shoulders above anything else)
    Jamaica Blue Mountain
    Kona

    Be prepared to pay around $50/lb.

    But those are the true standouts, the phenomenal cups you remember fondly long after. I've had excellent (and more affordable) beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Guatemala, too.

    The freshness of the roast is important. Some folks buy beans green and roast them at home to time it properly.
     
  9. ZiggyPastorius thread starter macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #9
    Wow! So thorough :) All that stuff seems so foreign to me, as I'm more of a coffee drinking enthusiast, but, I will definitely check out that link and hopefully within a few years, my knowledge will have atleast gone up somewhat.
     
  10. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

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    Jul 23, 2002
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    #10
    A nice press pot can be had for $40 and world-class, freshly roasted coffee for around $15/lb or less.

    Espresso making, to be really worth your time and money, is easily going to require an equipment budget of over $1000. Stick with the coffeeshop shots until you're comfortable spending that kind of money on the hobby.
     
  11. gauchogolfer macrumors 603

    gauchogolfer

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  12. OutThere macrumors 603

    OutThere

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    Dec 19, 2002
    Location:
    NYC
    #12
    It definitely does get expensive quickly...where I work we have a $12,000 Nuova Simonelli espresso machine and a $900 grinder, forget the cost of the micro-roasted coffee we put in it...
     
  13. CalBoy macrumors 604

    CalBoy

    Joined:
    May 21, 2007
    #13
    OMG! I LOVE that coffee!

    I have it every time I go downtown (and sometimes it's an excuse to go downtown :p :eek:).
     
  14. kretzy macrumors 604

    kretzy

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2004
    Location:
    Canberra, Australia
    #14
    I've worked at a gourmet coffee shop for the last 6 months so I've learnt quite a bit about making good coffee.

    There are a few things you can look out for when you want to judge the quality of a coffee.

    The taste is obviously important, a good coffee should have a naturally sweet aroma/flavour. If it tastes burnt, either the roast they're using is bad or the barista let the shot sit too long in the machine before extracting it. Keeping the beans fresh is important and they should only be ground just before use (they go stale after about 7 minutes!). Also once a shot is extracted, the milk needs to be poured straight away or it loses a lot of the flavour.

    The other really important aspect is the milk. Steamed milk should always be well combined and glossy looking - not big bubbles. If you can hear lots of frothing noises, the barista doesn't know what they're doing. You should only hear that sound initially when the milk is being stretched. The rest should be pretty much silent to combine the milk and bring it up to temperature (65ºC). If the milk's too hot it has that nasty taste/smell.

    I'd say those are the most important things to look out for. Hope that was a little helpful/informative. :)
     
  15. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    Dec 27, 2002
    Location:
    Location Location Location
    #15
    I'm sorry, but if you want to do this for a living or something, you'd have to know EVERYTHING. You like drinking coffee? So what? So do I. I love my daily cappuccinos.

    If you like coffee and don't know dick about coffee, you're just a consumer like everyone else. If you LOVE coffee and don't know dick about coffee, you're just a consumer that coffee companies make more money from. ;)
     
  16. ZiggyPastorius thread starter macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #16
    Er, well, thank you for being so blunt about it. However, this doesn't tell me anything I don't already know.

    First of all, I'm 17. I made it very clear that I am NOT a connoisseur and I want to work towards becoming one later in life as a hobby. This is why I was asking people the kinds of things I need to know to acquire that sort of expertise. I know very little right now, but I want to learn more as I go on, which means spaced out learning (as I have more of a life than just coffee drinking) and small steps. Right now, I'm trying to develop my palate AMAP as people have mentioned, and will work on learning more using the recommendations everyone is giving.

    Thanks, everyone, by the way. Even if I don't respond to your post specifically, rest assured I am reading it and taking a few notes :p

    Thanks Kretzy...food for thought! Or coffee for thought, I suppose :) Either way, stuff I'll keep in mind as I learn the process.
     
  17. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #17
    The problem with living in a pretty small area with 2 really good coffee shops is that you're mostly familiar with the taste coming from those 2 coffee shops. You'll need to somehow broaden the variety available to you somehow. Otherwise, what you think are 2 "really good local coffee shops" is that they may not be as great as you think. ;)
     
  18. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

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    Jul 23, 2002
    Location:
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    #18
    For some reason the milk seems to be the most difficult part to nail down. Part of the key is to order the smallest drink on the menu. A steamed milk drink should be 8 ounces, not 12.

    I'd suggest you stop wasting money on amaretto and raspberry mocha drinks. It's like trying to learn wine by guzzling box wine or cigars by puffing on Swisher Sweets.
     
  19. ZiggyPastorius thread starter macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #19
    Very true.

    What should I be focusing on, then? Just pure expresso?
     
  20. kretzy macrumors 604

    kretzy

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    Sep 11, 2004
    Location:
    Canberra, Australia
    #20
    Well knowing that there's no such thing as expresso would probably be a good start. ;)
     
  21. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #21
    *smacks forehead*

    Espresso, damn it!

    What's next, is someone going to ask for tips about becoming a cheez connoisseur.

    I think you should concentrate on knowing the espresso-based coffees. That's what most people go for anyway. Don't just stare blankly at the board when you order a coffee. Know the difference between a short black, long black, ristretto, macchiato, cappuccino, cafe latte, etc, before you try to become a tasting expert. Without gaining this knowledge first, there's really no point at all in continuing.
     
  22. ZiggyPastorius thread starter macrumors 68040

    ZiggyPastorius

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2007
    Location:
    Berklee College of Music
    #22
    Wow, I feel really dumb now...:eek:

    So, let me see if I have a few short basics down right...

    If I go to a coffee shop and I get a cup of "Espresso," that's going to a coffee drink made with any type of bean wanted, that's made by putting hot water through fine-ground coffee powder?

    An Espresso Americano is the same type of drink, only half water, half espresso?

    A long black is like that, but is water with two shots of Espresso added (not the other way around)?

    A short black is the same, except one shot?

    Ristretto...*thinks* with a Ristretto, you make the coffee come in contact with the water for a shorter period of time? (Some further explanation would be helpful)...

    And a caffé Latté is Espresso with milk, without the froth like cappucino has? And the milk is always steamed?

    This is just me scrounging the internet for a few minutes to find some vague definitions of the drinks...If anyone can point out where I'm wrong with those short definitions, elabourate, or let me know some books/resources I can use to learn more, that'd be appreciated :) Thanks.

    Also, guys..please take it somewhat easy on me..I know I'm pretty ignorant on the subject at the moment..but I'm trying! :eek:
     
  23. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #23
    I agree with pseudo brit, and also with psuedobrit's subsequent, post, where you point out that a good press pot can cost $40 and good coffee around $15. It is well worth it. Jamacia Blue Mountain is really superb, (never even came across Panama Esmeralda Geisha - what a fantastic name! - must look out for it), and agree re Kona.

    You don't have to spend thousands to enjoy a decent espresso; the Italians make great little espresso pots - tough, sturdy, and they make great coffee - say, Bialetti, - which do not cost a fortune, last forever, look superb, make great espresso (it takes about 10-15 minutes, a bit of a bummer if you are bleary eyed about to rush to work, but without equal if you have a few minutes to spare).

    Re coffee itself, I'd also further agree with pseudobrit re the flavoured coffees, amaretto, raspberry, etc. They are not real coffees, they are the coffee version of alcopops (drink real vodka, or real wine, instead of such saccharine rubbish). Don't touch them; drink real coffee instead, i.e. espresso, cappuccino, latte, and if you feel the need for additional sweetness, add a spoon or two of sugar. The problem here (maybe I should say situation seems to be) is that most people's tastebuds have a fairly strong preference for sweetness when we are younger. When I was a teenager, I preferred lemonade in my beer, orange juice in my brandy, and had a marked preference for sweet German wines. (Not coffee; that's been a love of mine since forever, i.e. childhood, inexplicably.). Most of us start off drinking sweetish rubbish; wine, beer, and coffee are all learned tastes. I'll bet that the first time most of us tasted them, our mouths and tongues puckered and our lips curled. Sourly.

    Start out trying all of the coffee beans you can lay hands on. Roasting them yourself is probably a step too far when you start out, but if you invest in a coffee grinder (a small electric one costs about €25-30 - they make a great Christmas present, or birthday present if you want one), it means that you can grind them yourself, and that does make a difference to the taste and freshness.

    Cheers and good luck
     
  24. pseudobrit macrumors 68040

    pseudobrit

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Jobs' Spare Liver Jar
    #24
    I would suggest learning to appreciate fine brewed coffees.

    Home espresso drinks don't make much sense from a financial standpoint, and as you're 17, I imagine your budget is limited to a figure substantially less than what is required to get into the worthwhile equipment.

    It will take at about two years of home-pulled shots (assuming you stop buying coffeeshop drinks altogether – and part of the allure of coffeeshops is the social experience you won't get at home) to recoup the money you save from not paying by the cup for someone else to do it for you.

    In my experience, there is too much variation in what you get at a shop to hone an appreciation for the art of espresso.

    A Bodum Chambord pot is about $40 and should last years.

    This is the best coffee I've ever had (I'm drinking a cup right now :D), and a relative bargain considering their JBM is $80/lb. There may be local roasters in your area offering much cheaper single-origin beans, so by all means don't feel that you have to buy one brand or another.

    Bring your water to 200-205°, stir, steep for four minutes, press and serve. Mmm.
     
  25. blackfox macrumors 65816

    blackfox

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2003
    Location:
    PDX
    #25
    ziggy, I am frankly outclassed in coffee knowledge by some who have already posted (such as PB) - but to reiterate/expand upon:

    1. Start simple. Try decent varieties of different roasts (eg light, medium, dark) - though drip machines, french presses and the like. Move slowly, and try to understand the importance of freshness, timing, portions and methadology.

    2. Move on to Espresso. Repeat.

    Step one is significantly cheaper - but both will be fun.
     

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