I don’t know if you noticed, but our coffee drinking habits are changing with the growth of speciality coffee.
We are lucky to be in a special period known as the Third Wave of coffee.
The First Wave was when coffee became available for the masses in the 60s and more of us took to drinking it. The Second Wave was when big companies and the likes of Starbucks dramatically improved the quality and started making it more of a pleasure to drink coffee.
The Third Wave is where we’ve moved on to appreciate the quality, tastes and the production of a great cup of coffee. We can now choose the regions, varietal, process and taste profiles. We love speciality coffee.
Coffee Has Stepped Up in the Same Way That Wine Changed
Years ago we had French and German wine. Common wines (that we could remember the names of) were Blue Nun, Black Tower and Liebfraumilch (is that how I spell it?). French wines had forgettable names outside of a Chateau Lafite.
We chose by the price and label as we had no idea what was in it.
Now we have our favourite types such as a Malbec from Chile, a Californian Zinfandel or an Aussie Shiraz. We understand that Le Piat D’Or may taste nice enough but that it is a cheap blend that we would probably not take to impress friends at a dinner party.
And, if we spend £15 at the supermarket, the wine is likely to be a lot better than the £4.99 one with “Selected for Sainsbury’s” on the label.
If we take someone out on a date to a restaurant we have to avoid the cheap end of the wine menu and know that the good stuff costs more than the main course.
Coffee Is Getting the Same Treatment
Cafes used to serve coffee that was so strong you could stand your spoon up in it. Or so weak you were not sure if you got tea.
Now we spend more on a coffee in Costa or Starbucks or Cafe Nero that we do on a pint down the pub. In fact, pubs are shutting down in droves and coffee shops are breeding like rabbits.
But, despite fancy names such as a flat white, pumpkin spiced latte, or macchiato, the coffee is still bland and plain. Made for mass market appeal. Like ordering vanilla ice cream or the “house” wine.
At home, our tastes are also becoming more sophisticated. We are moving on from instant coffee to “real coffee”, aka ground or whole beans.
And, many have even moved on from the supermarket selection. Sure, Lavazza and Illy sound exotically Italian and are often priced a little higher to convince us that they are better. Or Taylors of Harrogate have names such as Lazy Sunday to tempt us.
But, we are becoming aware that these are just blends, not speciality coffee. Like the lower end of the wine selection. These are the frozen sausages of coffee where all sorts of beans are mixed together (who knows what meat is in a frozen sausage?) and then roasted to a point where the roast level overcomes the taste of the bean.
Basically, Replace Roast Level with “How Burnt?”
You’re not going to see a “roasted on” date printed on one of those bags and, considering how fast coffee goes stale once ground, who knows how old it is once it finally gets onto the supermarket shelf.
And we are more aware that huge coffee companies with the famous name buy their coffee via the commodities market at the lowest possible price where middlemen traders make the money and the farmers live in poverty. (I heard that Costa pays 40p per kilo.)
Fairtrade has its problems but, as quality is not part of the system, it can create an overproduction of low quality coffee that people don’t want to buy and this makes it even worse for the other farmers. It’s not speciality.
How About the Taste?
This is where the big changes are happening right now.
Like with our wine, we now want to know what to expect in the taste.
I’ll explain more about our changing tastes on another day but, if you want to see a selection of the speciality coffee variety available today, click this link and read some of the descriptions.