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Coffee As Art: To me coffee is like a piece of art. Similarly to how music can take you to a place of comfort and ease and how a painting can bring you to awe with its visual intricacy and wealth of expression, coffee has its own personality and beauty to express.
There is a story-like quality to drinking a cup of coffee. There is a beginning where the coffee is piping hot and only certain flavors present. It can be almost like water, mild but enigmatic, for how the coffee will progress is still unknown. As it slightly cools, changes and flavors will start to slowly evolve, like a hint of caramel or a faint note of citrus, and further developing the “plot,” so to speak. As the coffee continues to cool and oxidize in the air, more twists and turns come about by having more flavors appear and meld together to create new interests and complexity. As it nears the end of the cup, the coffee can reach its climax with all of its components coming together into one beautiful masterpiece, showing all that it has to offer!
However this is only one story line. There can be an unfortunate story where coffee starts out super bright and exciting, but as it cools the flavors fizzle away into something flat and uninteresting. My favorite coffee story was when I had a Panama Don Pepe Geisha from Equator Coffees, where the coffee started out extremely mild and enigmatic but then at an instant the coffee developed the Geisha’s quintessential jasmine floral note and an acidity that was so uniquely like Pinot Noir it blew my mind (given I just came off of a weekend of wine tasting up in Sonoma County). It was like an unexpected turn of events, like in Fight Club when we find out Tyler Durden was only the alter ego of narrator, giving a whole new perspective and interest to the movie. And with thousands of coffee farms, thousands of roasters, and unique brewing styles, the stories are endless.
“It was an unexpected turn of events, like in Fight Club when we find out Tyler Durden was only the alter ego of narrator, giving a whole new perspective and interest to the movie. With thousands of coffee farms, roasters, and unique brewing styles, the stories are endless.”
The experiences of beauty cause myself to constantly search for the highest potential for what coffee can offer. Coffee is emotionally, sensuously, and intellectually provoking, making it a complete aesthetic experience. Taste is challenging because it is ephemeral and not tangibly objective. I will get milk chocolate and papaya, while someone else gets honey and apricots. It is hard to determine a “wrong” answer, for based on our palate and tasting experience they could both be equally valid.
There will be the science nerds who say there are compounds from the actual food (i.e strawberries) in the coffee, which would create more objectivity of tasting notes, but that can be beside the point. For me the creativity and connections are what make it fun; I can use the experience and my imagination to develop my feelings about the coffee, for in the end it is all about feeling.
The best coffee descriptions are the ones that have no relation to flavors or other foods. For example my favorite description was by my one friend describing a Colombian coffee also from Equator Coffees where she said, “It’s like the good girl in high school, or a well-refined lady. Demure and unassuming, not extra-extra, but very beautiful.” Sometimes the whole point of art is to go beyond what is simply present and tap into your creativity source. You have to read between the lines and make the connections that mean the most to you.
“I will get milk chocolate and papaya, while someone else gets honey and apricots. It is hard to determine a ‘wrong’ answer, for based on our palate and tasting experience they could both be equally valid.”
While coffee has this pure aesthetic quality for me, where I won’t drink coffee unless it has something worth paying attention to (I actually wish coffee had less caffeine so I could drink more of it and not feel the repercussions… Caffeine is powerful and it is important to treat it with respect), not every one will taste what I taste. My focus and attention over the years have allowed me to hone in on certain details and flavors in coffee. It all takes a lot of practice, and I am nowhere near mastery of tasting. It also varies much between people. Some people who have never drunk good coffee can pick up on things I have never been able to.
But the most important thing to improving your palate is your own attention and interest to drinking your coffee. Experience is powerful, and with the right amount of love and focus, you will see that crème brulee and apple crisps are not figments of other people’s imagination, but of yours.