A short while ago, David Schomer posted this on his blog, and James Hoffmann responded with this. The argument of Schomer’s article, that citric qualities tasted in espresso, indicate a “defective” espresso roast, doesn’t sit well with me. I agree with what Hoffmann said in his response, that the flavours we choose to highlight in a coffee through roasting, for espresso or otherwise, are personal preference. There is no such thing as the right way or the wrong way to roast a coffee, and the moment we begin to look at roasting in this way, using labels such as “defective” as Schomer does to describe other styles, we lost the exciting nature of our product. In his article, Schomer states that “lemony flavours” and citric acids are varietal traits not yet developed in the roast. These, Schomer says, are characteristics in the espresso, indicative of a “defective espresso coffee”. I won’t get on my digital soapbox here, all I will say is that I see good quality acidity as an essential component in making up the full experience of a coffee, and it is especially important in building our overall perception of sweetness.
That being said, Schomer’s opinion on blending that made me think more about the practices within our community as a whole. His attitude toward blends and single origins/estates is by no means new or original, but it is something that I think needs to be discussed. For Schomer, it’s like this: at Vivace, only blends are served through the espresso machines, no single origin/estates. His explanation is that he wants more than one flavour in his espresso, and this I agree with. I too, want more than one flavour in my espresso, but the solution does not have to be compulsory blending, perhaps instead selecting different coffees for this purpose. Let me put it this way: if I order an espresso at a café, I always expect it to be a blend, unless I am told otherwise. Why is this? Because the person behind the counter thinks that this is what I will be happy with. The ‘House Blend’, I have found, can usually be described with a combination of these descriptors: balanced, sweet, chocolaty, caramel, nutty, and full bodied. This is the flavour profile expected by the majority of customers, even if they don’t know it, and notice how “lemony flavours” isn’t on that list. So because of this, blends are designed, by default, to meet these expectations, and in turn, this is what is served, and thus, the cycle is formed.
I believe we are missing a golden opportunity. Espresso culture, being so big, is the perfect avenue for us to demonstrate what our product is all about. We have better coffee now than there ever has been before, and there are more people drinking coffee now than ever before too. We need to utilize this situation, and represent ourselves better. I understand that we cannot alienate new customers, and I’m not saying we should serve City Roast Pacamaras to unsuspecting pedestrians all day, but there has to be a middle ground. How about a single origin/estate with notes of biscuit on the main grinder? Or a ‘House Blend’ with a distinct raspberry flavour? Some little point of difference that will let customers know, without needing to be told, that not all coffee is the same.
I would like to make it clear here that I am not trying to criticize David Schomer. What he serves is entirely his business, and I respect that, but the point is that labelling one roast style as “defective”, or saying single origin/estate espresso can never be more than one flavour, is damaging to the industry. We can only explore the potential of specialty coffee if we have customers who want to do the same. Telling customers that ‘lemony espresso equals bad roast’ can only stunt our progress, and their experiences. Convincing people that not all coffee tastes the same is hard enough already, don’t you think?