People have a lot to say about their passions for coffee, myself included. Because coffee is indeed an addictive caffeinated beverage and there is plenty of physiological and neuroscientific study to show why our brains and bodies love it, it makes sense that we feel the need to gush about our adoration for a beverage.
Some coffee growers are just as passionate as coffee roasters, preparers, and aficionados, gushing just as profusely about their crops. This also makes sense; if you’ve ever owned a piece of literal earth you know how giddily proud it makes you feel.
But maybe there’s just a little too much passion, and maybe it’s getting in the way other things that are there. Based on my recent personal experience, but I think it’s worth a few minutes to examine the benefits of dispassionate coffee, of objectively looking at coffee we don’t feel warm and fuzzy about.
The biggest example of this is probably Robusta. People tend to have a knee jerk reaction to even hearing the word, a reaction that may not be as proportionate to Robusta’s variation in quality compared with Arabica as people think. Robusta does taste decidedly less pleasant than most Arabica, but it’s also not entirely evil.
Within Arabica, though, I’m admittedly passionate about coffees from the countries I’ve been to. I love Colombian coffee because drinking it brings me back to the finca and sancocho con arepas. I love Costa Rican coffee because the smell alone reminds me of some of my favorite people and places on earth. Panamanian coffee tastes like Casco Viejo and Boquete all at once. These origins pass muster in traditional quality tests too, but they are my go-to coffees not because they are objectively superior, but because I have a passion for them that is decidedly biased by factors that are entirely separate from taste.
Since I began working with Ally Coffee and am learning the ropes of my new role as a trader, I’ve started drinking more and more coffee from the rest of the coffee world beyond the Nicaragua to Colombia swath. Ally is based in Brazil, so of course I’ve been cupping coffees from Brazil. Up until this past year I had only had maybe one or two memorable cups of Brazilian coffee ever, but even then I didn’t pay close enough attention to remember exactly what they were.
But after trying more and more Brazilian coffees and learning to reign in my passion in order taste objectively, I’ve found coffees that taste truly incredible and surprising. Somehow, fervor had crept in the way of objective judgment and kept me from looking closely at the world’s largest coffee producer. Sounds crazy, but that’s what passion does.
Love and loyalty are good, but so is an open mind. I’ve never a day in my life understood Sumatran coffee or had a cup that I loved. But at SCAA this year I tasted a table full of Sumatran coffees that blew me away. Suddenly that flavor profile made sense. I knew the people presenting the coffees and was afraid I would be as underwhelmed as usual by a region that, in comparison to Central America and Colombia, has none of the coffee attributes I was most passionate about. But I approached the table ready to take notes, to really find out what was there. I was rewarded with a vibrancy as bright and complex as that of Latin American coffees, but in the form of fantastic flavors from the opposite end of the spectrum. How do you compare Costa Rica tangy tangerine with Indonesian peppery Siracha? You can’t; and being too passionate about one can cause the other to go unnoticed.
It’s easy to fall in love with something and then glorify its qualities and profess to love only that. It is decidedly more difficult to objectively approach things that have mixed reputations and judge them for what they really are. The best thing about being obligated to try new things and learning to understand more coffee origins is that it has taught me to calm down and taste what is really there, especially when it totally disproves biases that had no business existing in the first place.