can my coffee be better?

This post is actually somewhat inspired by a recent rant. I do like a good rant, and Karl Purdy delivered a fine one on the Forkncork forums following the Irish Barista Championships. Karl’s a good guy, and as many are no doubt aware has played a big role in moving quality in the coffee scene in Ireland forward. I completely understand his sentiments, he is one of a very small number of people in Ireland who are keeping pace with international Speciality Coffee standards. By very small number, I would say, count on one hand, with fingers to spare.

His penultimate sentence stuck with me:

And to the all the so-called expert f&w journalists out there, would you please accept that there is still some things to learn – quite a lot actually.

This applies to everyone, not just journalists. Expertise in a way is relative. There are points when I would have perceived myself as having some level of coffee expertise, and when I look back now, it is with abject embarrassment. I knew pretty much nothing. What I thought I knew was a combination of some truths, plenty of lore, a dash of conventional wisdom, and more utter nonsense than I would have thought possible. Even now, I feel that if I were studying for a degree in coffee, I would be only out of the first class in the first semester of the first year.

I’m entering into platitude territory here, but it is as true for coffee as it is other fields – the more you learn the less you know.

Part of the responsibility for the slow rise of quality in Ireland is of course charged with the audience, though much also lies with those of us who want to proliferate these ideas and our ability to communicate better coffee.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of demographic makes up the readership of my blog, I suspect to a degree I am preaching to the choir. However, if you are reading this, and work in coffee (in Ireland, but would apply elsewhere), as a retailer, or roaster or at any step contributing towards producing coffee, I would ask that you consider this question:

Can my coffee be better?

Again we come back to relativity. The answer to this question depends on the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had – that’s your benchmark, against which you compare everything else. So I would suggest making sure your benchmark is set at a good level. This is your practical assignment. Go to 3FE for an espresso or a filter coffee, or get Karl to make you a cappuccino at Coffee Angel, even grab a cheap flight (volcano permitting) over to London and visit a few of the many excellent coffee bars there.

Having done this, and it is a most important step, ask yourself:

Can my coffee be better?

If you find that it can, and you are perhaps somewhat surprised, do not worry. There’s no magic involved, no trade secrets, and there has never been such ready access to all the information required to get there as there is now. The most important thing is that you want to get there, and are willing to learn. Also feel reassured that to get to this realization you probably possess an enormously valuable tool for this journey, a palate.

If you find instead that your coffee actually rocks having made this comparison, please drop me a line via the contact page, or leave a comment. I would love to taste your coffee.


5 thoughts on “can my coffee be better?

  1. Quite right Howard. I shall leave it there, however, just so people know which word is banned. Future breaches will not be tolerated.

    You should know better Julie.

  2. Just catching up on your last few posts, so I’m sorry this is a late comment. That said, I’m surprised there aren’t more comments for this one – I found it quite profound.

    Regarding the shared responsibility of the consumer for a better cup, how far do you go in asking this question in person in a cafe (without sounding like a smart arse)?

    Have you ever said to a barista (known or stranger), ‘I think your coffee could be better’?

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