Thursday, November 01, 2007


people talk about "fruit" all the time in reference to coffee. roasters and cuppers, especially, are particularly vocal offenders. as a retail coffee consumer it can understandably be daunting and a little bit intimidating hearing such nomenclature. to be sure, every area of study has its jargon but coffee descriptions can seem a touch over the top at times. and i seriously think that to be a good cupper is necessarily precluded by being a good vocabularist. with an alleged estimated 800+ identifiable flavor characteristics in coffees it's no wonder the two skill sets go hand in hand.

i know this because as both a roaster and a webtailer i am forever digging into the recesses of my tastebuds' memories for appropriate descriptor layovers for this new coffee or that. and while the bottom line is that in relation to good, clean fruit, good coffees have it and bad coffees don't, truthfully, there are layers upon layers of flavor complexities that the better coffees out there possess in spades. finding ways to capture lingually the essence of a substance that--quite literally--covers that very lingual muscle is an ever-elusive, ever-rewarding journey.

to that end, it makes imminent sense to your humble blogger that having a deep arsenal of "fruited" vocabulary can only come with an ongoing search for, well, more fruits to taste. real fruits. fruits you've tasted time and again (and can thus pull out when it's time to describe a coffee) and fruits you never knew existed. maybe that's the other layer to this onion of a scenario: maybe the reason a roaster or cupper begins to use the same fruit descriptors repeatedly is because he is only eating the same fruits repeatedly. over time, it becomes a little like the (old) adage that when the only tool you have in the toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

enough philosophizing. i've been buying weird, exotic fruits over the last several weeks with an eye (and a tongue) toward expanding my grasp of "fruit" as a coffee descriptor and refining my understanding of the sugar/sweet components in coffee--or, more appropriately, perhaps, how the brain perceives sweetness in coffee.

having access to a good produce market helps. dried up starfruit and bruised persimmons will never do. that's why--hate to say it, but--a place like austin-based whole foods is so helpful. they've been instrumental in this ad hoc learning journey of mine. not only do they stock a large assortment of traditional fruits, but they also bust out the fruits you've never even thought you've heard of hearing about. and let's not even get started on their extensive line of bulk dried fruits for everything from explosively sweet thompson flame raisins to curious acai and dried goji berries. (can't even begin to describe those. go. taste 'em for yourself.)

you're getting that the syllogism is simple: expand the base of knowledge your tastebuds have around the kinds of sugars that most prominently display themselves in fruits (of which coffee is one) and you'll likely be a more proficient cupper and thus able to identify more readily what is and is not a defect, overripe, etc. the goal is clear. it is to grow and mature as a coffee taster for the sake of unlocking ever more of coffee's myriad secrets. keeping sight of that goal each step will help the careful observer reference and categorize one's learnings into actionable thoughts and processes in the march toward greater coffee knowledge. couple that with a standard tool like the cupper's flavor wheel and you're arming yourself with knowledge at the cupping table that can help you better make those decisions of which coffees (if any) to buy and how best to market them after you buy them. it's both defensive and offensive in that sense. many wholesale dollars are riding on your decisions. many more potential retail dollars hang also in the balance. and between the two of will be able to act with greater confidence as it pertains to sweetness and "fruit" in the cup.

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