COFFEE VERSUS WINE
With the advent of the Third Wave of Coffee, coffee is increasingly being given the respect it deserves. The coffee versus wine debate is one that seems to be occurring more frequently and it’s fantastic that people are beginning to notice some of the similarities between the two beverages.
While in certain regards they are very different, they actually share a lot of key fundamentals. Both have an agricultural foundation and their qualities are significantly affected by numerous environmental, cultural and technological factors. Coffee and wine are both sipped and sniffed for pleasure (unless you drink wine just to get drunk and/or drink coffee solely for the caffeine buzz) and are integral parts of many cultures around the world. They enhance meals and special occasions and both offer a fantastic array of different flavour and variable for your palate to enjoy. The question posed for many years was how to get people excited about coffee and how to get them to take it seriously? Wine has a very rich and famous history which has helped it become appreciated all around the globe, unfortunately the same cannot be said about coffee.
The simple fact remaining is that in general, the public still view coffee as a basic commodity that offers little variation in taste. However as I mentioned before, perceptions are changing, and rightly so.
Many wine connoisseurs might balk at this statement but coffee actually has more flavour notes than wine. Many people’s faces drops when I tell them that statement (especially my French friends!). Coffee has more aromatic and flavour compounds than wine. It’s a fact that many sommeliers might not want to admit but coffee is much more complex than people perceive it to be. The reason for the common misconception is that the majority of the coffee that people drink is either instant, or low in quality. In wine terms it would be like drinking very cheap wine that has the potential to give you a pretty terrible hangover the next day. There are professionals in the coffee industry that taste coffee on a routine basis in a similar manner that wine sommeliers taste wine. In coffee speak this is known as cupping.
In comparison coffee and wine are not that dissimilar. The main thing that separates the two is the fact that there are more people that are educated on wine compared to coffee. How long this will be the case remains to be seen but the gap is slowly diminishing.
For all the complexities that accompany wine tasting, coffee can rival them. If you pick up a bag of coffee beans from one of the better roasteries in London, they all have a brief description on the front of the flavour notes and characteristics of the coffee, exactly like the description you’ll see on the back of a wine bottle.
What further adds to coffee’s complexity is the fact that during the process from bean to cup, there are innumerable ways and opportunities for the coffee to be ruined. Once you have your green coffee bean, coffee is subject to three vital steps: roasting, grinding and brewing. If one step is done badly, it will ruin the cup of coffee presented before you. Furthermore, unlike a lot of wine which can age for a number of years, coffee is much more ephemeral and should be ideally consumed no longer than a month post roast. This is why when you drink a truly great cup of coffee, it is something to celebrate!
Remember that some people drink coffee, some people taste coffee, and some people do both, much like people’s habits regarding wine. So, next time you drink a cup of coffee, have a think about any flavour nuances you might pick up on and whether or not you like them. Let the coffee swirl around your palate and let the taste do the talking. I would recommend that you do this with high grade coffee made with expertise from an independent because once you start adding flavours like hazelnut syrup etc, you start masking the taste of coffee and its flavour in the drink might get lost.
To wrap up, while the coffee industry is behind the wine industry in many aspects, it’s definitely closed some gaps. Standards are constantly being raised at every step from bean to cup and consumers are recognising that and in turn are beginning to demand higher standards. Coffee shops are recognising this and even new chains are emerging which have adapted to these consumer preferences.