Coffee Tolerance

Indulge me here.

Coffee has been something I’ve had in my life for at least the past three decades. I enjoy it in all its forms from sweetened with milk to pure, unadulterated black. I’ve also ranged on the coffee-snob-scale from tolerant to pure, unadulterated asshat. I’d like to think that I’ve entered a new tolerant phase.

I have one person to thank for the coffee tolerance, James Hoffmann. I stumbled across his YouTube channel close to a year ago and I’ve joyfully followed him down the rabbit hole of the third wave coffee movement. Because of that, I was able to pick up a kit to participate in The World’s Largest Coffee Tasting earlier this month. It changed the way I think about coffee. The image heading this page is from my kitchen as I prepped to grind the beans.

The shared experience with over ten thousand people was surprisingly comforting and educational. I learned far more about taste than I ever thought I would. Honestly, I’m one of those people that really want to taste the same thing as the pros taste, florals and jam and spices, but my tongue has only ever told me, “Mmm. Coffee. Good.”

The five coffees that were part of the tasting were selected and ordered to give someone like me a chance to taste the big things I was missing – acidity, sweetness (the idea of it anyway), body, and finish. The real surprise was the robusta which was leathery and tobacco-y and tasted like a better version of most diner coffee. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t bad. When tasted with the other four arabicas, their flavors jumped out. I was able to pick out subtle differences that eluded me just minutes before. It opened me up. I never would have considered using baseline coffee to taste others and open up their richness.

As luck would have it, around the same time as the announcement of the WLCT, I was introduced to a local roaster – Cacophony Coffee. In the past couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure to try six different varieties from around the world. Now that I know a tiny bit more about cupping and what I’m looking for in regards to taste, I’m going to compare them more objectively. Or, for me anyway, subjectively.

I’d say that I was going to use James Hoffmann’s scientific approach, but to say that I’m not a scientist is a bit of an understatement. I routinely change multiple variables with glee. I’m also lazy enough that I don’t want to set up a blind taste test. So, in the next few days, I’ll grind up the Sumatra and Brazil from Cacophony and compare them against a baseline and see if I can taste something different. I think I’m going to use Duncan Donuts original (no shame y’all) for the comparison. I know that it’s not a single origin robusta, but good luck trying to find a roaster with that in their list. I figure the DD is common and widely available (and because I have a tub of it laying around). Many people have probably given it a try, it’s easy to find, and it has a consistent flavor.

I’m also going to try and get away from the pro flavor notes because I don’t taste them. Who knows what I’ll come up with. With James’s inspiration, I hope the descriptions of the commercial coffees will be more tolerant, objective, and fair. Gods know that we need more of that right now.


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