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Coffee As Wine: Growing up in a wine family, I see many parallels as well as differences between the firmly established wine industry and the rising connoisseurship of coffee. Wine was the first product within the food and beverage industry to be elevated to spectacular heights of connoisseurship and attention, and has paved the way for many other products like coffee be appreciated for high quality.
Now, I want to emphasize that coffee is not and will never compete with wine, for they are two entirely separate beverages with almost antithetical settings of consumption. Coffee is designed for gearing up in the morning while pairing well with mild and sweet foods. Wine on the other hand is ideal for relaxing in the evening and with the massive diversity of wine it can pair well with all types of foods. However both are excellent with great company, particularly with wine since it can be lonely and quite intoxicating to drink a bottle by yourself.
Despite the inherent differences, there are stark similarities. Grape vines and coffee shrubs take around 5 years reach full production of their fruit and produce for several decades. Both plants tend to develop more interesting characteristics when grown on mountain slopes than in valleys.
“Despite the inherent differences, there are stark similarities.”
And most importantly, both plants are highly susceptible to the terrior of the growing region. Terrior is a French term specifically used for vineyards to explain the unique characteristics of one vineyard to another, emphasizing differences in soil, climate, and topography. It can be baffling how one vineyard can produce such better wine than another vineyard right next door! And contrasting completely different regions such as Burgundy, France and California can be as clear as night and day to an experienced taster.
“Grape vines and coffee shrubs take around 5 years reach full production of their fruit and produce for several decades.”
The same case goes for coffee. Kenyan coffees are starkly different from Ethiopians which are starkly different from Central Americans which are starkly different from Indonesians. Subtleties arise when you delve into different mirco regions, like Kochere versus Kaffa, and Antigua versus Huehuetenango, but there are definitely noticeable differences that do affect overall quality and pleasure. And, just like wine, there can be differences between farms separated by only a couple miles.
Furthermore, wine and coffee have some sort of “processing” after the fruit is harvested, which imparts some sort of style. Obviously since the fruit juice of grapes is the desire product for wine and the seed of the coffee cherry is the desired product for coffee, the processes cannot be juxtaposed. However the fact that a particular processing method like aging a wine in certain barrels for a certain time period can drastically affect the quality of a wine, the same is true for picking a processing method for coffee.
“And, just like wine, there can be differences between farms separated by only a couple miles.”
To clarify coffee processing, the goal of processing coffee is to remove the skin, pulp, and mucilage from the seed in order to dry and store the raw coffee safely. There are three primary methods: wet, dry, and honey. It is nearly impossible to mistake a dry process for a wet process, just how stainless steel aged Chardonnay is very different from new oaked Chardonnay. Also the practices within processing, such as cleanliness and care, have dramatic ending results for both coffee and wine. Luckily with the big push for specialty coffee, coffee processing worldwide has improved tremendously over recent years.
While there are these interesting similarities between wine and coffee, a huge diverging point is that coffee is an agricultural product that has to be roasted and then brewed while wine is made at the winery and is ready for your consumption when it is released.
The roasting/brewing aspect of coffee actually gives a similarity to beer making, which has also seen an explosion in connoisseurship. A big downfall to coffee is that the roasting and brewing preparation are nearly as important as the farm production, for coffee is made “three times.” A brilliant coffee can be totally ruined when brewed, which leaves a lot of responsibility to the brewer. Wine is convenient because a professional makes all the important decisions and the consumer simply has to open the bottle and enjoy.
While being totally different and unique in their own ways, coffee and wine do share some characteristics that create much diversity and excitement when drinking. Wine is the kingpin of the taste sensory world, and has been the pioneer for much of the connoisseurship community, such as 100 point review systems, tasting wheels, and tasting notes, but coffee has its own niche and with more appreciation and focus going into coffee quality, the closer coffee can come to reaching its prophetic potential.
“A brilliant coffee can be totally ruined when brewed, which leaves a lot of responsibility to the brewer”