Pucker Up Espresso Lovers

When creating the overall tone in an article, a few key points are generally worth repeating. Put together, these can either weave a fabric of opinion or a shroud of negativity. On occasion I am not really sure which it is – for example this recent piece in The Observer, titled Hot Shot: the story behind the great global coffee revolution, by Jay Rayner, which begins:

Coffee shops have taken over our high streets, supported by a never ending supply of connoisseur addicts. Jay Rayner meets some of the major players taking the revered bean to even greater heights, and asks whether they are ruining his favourite espresso

Early in the piece Rayner describes a beautiful looking espresso, which tastes a little, let’s say, less than perfect:

The taste, however, is wrong. Very wrong. It’s fiercely acidic, a sour hit that makes my lips pucker up like a cat’s bum

That initial impression was London in 2012, with the article published in June this year. It would appear many sour espresso’s have been consumed by the author between then and what is sitting squarely in front of him now. Further, we hear how the burgeoning speciality coffee industry with it’s lighter roasting profiles is (perhaps forever) changing the way our beloved beverages taste across the board.

I don’t believe this is unique to London, given the changes I have seen across Brisbane’s cafés in the past 12–18 months. Although, within a two block radius of my CBD office, there are 3 such cafés, whereas 5–6 times as many (at least) serving “traditionally” roasted espresso. Those serving more traditional style espresso are not going away as far as I can tell (and good for them), and you only need look at the ongoing patronage of the bigger name chains to see that. You may wish to avoid the throngs queueing at these newer cafés, walk right up to the counter at one of the others and order (though possibly a little harsh, message intended in that sentence).

I’m a little curious as to why the author paints a picture of ‘espresso ruined’ across virtually an entire city. I would have thought a city the size of London perhaps may have a few cafés to choose from, many of which would serve espresso with a more “traditional taste”. Perhaps I am wrong on this point.

As far as this ‘new taste’ is concerned? Personally, I enjoy it, along with the variety of espresso now offered not only between different establishments, but also within the same café – often weekly. The more ‘typical’ darker roasted espresso? I enjoy that too – mostly. If espresso can be too acidic, there is just as much (if not more) being served that is more bitter than I care to describe. The continuum works both ways. I can however, see the author’s point of view, as there have been times where I have found the amount of acidity present in some espresso to be perhaps be a little high for my taste. Ironically, the most striking example of this came from one of my own roast batches, which you can read about in my most recent What’s Brewing post.

When it comes down to personal taste, as with anything – food, drink, art, comedy… all a matter of opinion is it not? Why does all scotch not taste the same? I assume it’s because there are those who enjoy flavours of smoke and peat, others sweetness and honey. Or am I missing the point? Are sweetness and honey flavours ruining my favourite scotch? Oh, that’s right, I just buy the one I like. Great to have choices.

Although Rayner makes a valid observation, I question whether the overwhelming negativity and gloom ensure it comes across as too much of a whine to really be of value.

~ PD.

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