A Conversation with a Coffee Aficionado
Josh Estey is a well known professional photographer/videographer based out of Jakarta, Indonesia. He is American and originally from Florida. We met in 2010 at the Green School in Bali, Indonesia where our children were attending school. My first F.R.E.A.K. Cafe opened at the school in 2011 and after Josh, a passionate coffee lover, became a regular customer, we began to have in-depth conversations about coffee covering all aspects of production. This particular conversation was an email exchange.
Josh: Are you saying, unlike wine, the location has less to do with the taste of coffee beans than folks like to claim? I ask because the whole industry of fine wine production is based around this idea of soil and microclimates contributing to particular grapes character. Is this not so with coffee from your experience?
Asher Yaron: That is exactly what I am saying (wait… maybe not unlike, I don’t know enough about wine but my experience and discovery about coffee could be applied to wine because it is based on a fundamental principal, that processing makes a much bigger taste difference than soil composition). With coffee I believe that it is possible to bring out flavor characteristics depending upon how the coffee is harvested, processed (dry, wet, or “giling basah”, semi-wet), and roasted. I can make the same coffee from the same location taste a dozen VERY different ways. Dry process and wet process produce VERY different coffee flavors, light roast and dark roast produce VERY different flavors. Green unroasted coffee that is 1 month after harvesting produces a VERY different flavor than coffee that is stored in its green state for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc. With all these factors it is virtually unlimited the amount of varieties of flavors that can be produced, FROM THE SAME SINGLE ORIGIN COFFEE! (In fact, from harvest to harvest there will be variations just in the way the cherries are grown, rain and sun and temperature changes occurring at different times).
Josh: I understand the fresh roasting and consumption within 3 days. I did a cupping of some highly regarded beans last month. The same beans and roast were 7 days old and 2 days old and there was a noticeable difference. So I believe in the freshness element as you taught me so long ago at Green School. But realistically I’d say home brewing should aim for within the week of roasting given things like transport, location, and your personal intake of coffee at home each day. Wouldn’t that be fair? Couldn’t we argue that picking and processing methods have just as much to do with a particular beans flavor profile as the location/soil of the plant? Heck, wouldn’t it be possible to find an amazing Robusta (stay with me now) if it was treated in a similar fashion (quality control assurances) as high-end Arabic? (I realize I am walking on some controversial ground there.)
Asher: I purport that there is a quality in coffee that is more important than the varieties of flavors one can produce using these different methods. This quality is not even acknowledged or understood and has not been studied yet. This quality is the ENERGY, the chemicals in the coffee that are created through the roasting process. There are over 1,000 different chemical compounds (I have read this numerous times and don’t know how that figure was achieved) that are created when green coffee is roasted. If the coffee is roasted darker, more of these compounds are burned up, hence the lack of complex flavors (Starbucks is a good example of being able to kill many of these complex substances). As soon as the roasting process is over, these chemicals, in the form of gases, are leaving the porous coffee bean and 40% of these substances is already gone after just 24 hours. Over the next 7 days the remaining 60% is “de-gassed” (the word should be “decomposed”). This is why when you drink coffee that is fresh roasted (within 24 hours) and compare side-by-side with coffee that is 3 days or 7 days old, you can FEEL the difference in terms of the energy or buzz. These are the active brain chemicals that are still present which, I believe, affect parts of the brain that have to do with inspiration, creativity, happiness, bliss. Essentially allowing us to connect with our own divinity, soul, God-force energy.
Robusta – I have experimented and tried to work with this variety without success. Robusta is much easier to grow, has greater yields, easier to store, and has 2 times the caffeine of Arabica. The abundance of caffeine, for me, is unbalanced with the other chemical substances and because of this produces a very different effect on consciousness. The buzz is a distracted, jittery, unfocused buzz that is in some ways the exact opposite of the Arabica buzz. I think this is why Arabica became the preferred coffee in Arabia where the first experimentation of coffee on consciousness was initiated… and I must say that I agree with the findings that were discovered at that time… and, I am sure that this experimentation was all done with fresh roasted coffee.
Josh: One of the most amazing things was a video I once saw of some food show host getting espresso’s pulled by the Marzocco “Slayers” espresso machine creators in their workshop. Every shot they pulled was different and created totally unique profiles using the same bean. So once again, the stages of variables and effects of input at different levels in the process have huge influence over every cup a person drinks. I think you’d agree to this and are advocating single location coffee with various roast and brewing profiles to create a whole range of experiences from a single bean. Am I correct?
Regarding a new way of profiling flavors, I’m fascinated. I do not know enough about the Raw Food movement to add any insight, but how do they rank food? I know professional food tasters have “sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.” Now most roasters and coffee folks rank their coffee’s based on flavor profiles because it is terminology everyone can understand. In fact it’s very subjective as each person’s palate varies from hour to hour, but it’s a guide to help us understand what to expect. Can you create a new system of ranking coffee? Can the average person taste the buzz or energy you refer to? Is it something science can measure with a device? How can you get to the “Fourth Wave?” I ask because I want you to find that new place in coffee’s development and lead people there. I think it’s a great idea. But here is my problem with the coffee industry in my very very humble and naive observation; It’s over anaylzed, criticized and fetishized. It’s coffee, damn it. It either tastes good or doesn’t. Telling me I am going to find lemon, cauliflower, chocolate and gold ore with a clean finish leaves me wondering what I did wrong if I didn’t taste the cauliflower. Yes it’s a dramatic example, but one I am sure you see with the whole third wave. I get appreciating the intricacies, the process and the subtleties, but does the general public need to or even care? Isn’t a good fix really what matters. A taste that you say, “damn that’s good” and come back the next for?
Asher: YES, exactly you are correct, that is precisely what I am saying. And the focus in the Barista world is that it’s about the espresso machine! There is a much bigger difference from when that coffee is consumed, from an energy and brain chemical perspective, than the difference the machine can produce. If they focused on the difference between 12 hours after roasting and 24 hours after roasting, the difference is more dramatic. Instead they accept the idea that coffee needs to “degas” (decompose) between 3 days and 2 weeks after roasting, that somehow it is “unstable”.
I agree that we need a new system of description of all food, not just coffee. The raw food movement is about the energy in the food. Cooking food kills some of its energy. When you taste food that is raw you can definitely feel the energy of it and the taste buds come alive because they have not experienced the nuances of flavors because it’s living food. Most animals eat only live prey, they are taking in the energy of what they are consuming. When humans eat food that is alive and has the phytonutrients, it nourishes our bodies and minds and allows us so much more energy! That is the biggest factor when eating mostly raw food, energy levels increase substantially. I think the average person can taste and feel the difference in my coffee and it’s a more dramatic difference when compared side-by-side with “dead” coffee. Our taste and feeling when we eat something is to help us determine what is healthy and what is not. The feeling of the energy in what we eat or drink is much more powerful than those subtle tastes that you describe. I agree with you that the subtleties are missing the major essence that is in the coffee, the brain chemicals and energy that we get from fresh roasted potent coffee.The espresso machine is the highest form of coffee extraction. It is just not possible to get the same intense and potent experience with other brewing methods… but when using those other brewing methods with the freshest roasted coffee possible there is a dramatic difference from any brewing method using “dead” coffee”.