The other day when I was in Brew Lab I was looking over their coffee menu, they usually have four different coffees to choose from, I remember seeing a Sumatran on espresso and immediately thinking “that’ll be shit,” and quickly moving on to the next option. I didn’t think much of it at the time, after all this is a negative bias I’ve established against Sumatrans due to having several negative experiences with them in the past.
Fast forward to tonight when my friend Diana called me for a general chat and happened to mention she’d just been drinking a naturally processed Indian coffee. Again my immediate thought was of black pepper and funky tobacco tasting notes.”Eew,” was all I said in reply, to which she laughed saying that was her original reaction too but it was actually quite good, definitely interesting to say the least. Unfortunately my reaction will be common among baristas, is it fair to lose interest in a coffee based purely on its country of origin?
Having prejudices is something we’ve developed as a species to protect ourselves from food that may be poisonous or taste bad. It serves a purpose but also holds us back from experiencing greater diversity. I’d happily say yes to any washed Kenyan someone offers me but I won’t be overly surprised by the taste since I’ve had so many. On the other hand if I take the chance on a well processed Sulawesi coffee I may be blown away.
Your mind will unconsciously attach expectations of what a coffee will taste like based on your previous experiences. It’s up to our concious selves to remember that there are so many variables within variety, growing, processing and roasting that we should never really judge any coffee before tasting it. Every coffee and every hard-working farmer deserves a chance.
Maybe for trained coffee professionals these origins, and how they typically taste, are not suited to how we judge a “good” coffee. That doesn’t mean we should think of them as lower-grade or inadequate. There will always be customers who enjoy these big bold coffees and blends that will be bolstered by their presence. We may have ideas of Indians being a bit dirty or Brazils being boring but for someone else these may be their perfect coffee. Surely it is only fair to offer and taste them occasionally, if only to remind ourselves of the incredible diversity of the drink we serve. Particularly good examples of these origins can break the stereotype and give us an enjoyable and memorable experience.
So the next time you’re given the choice between a washed geisha from Colombia and a wet-hulled typica from Sumatra maybe don’t be so quick to judge and write-off the latter, you may be pleasantly surprised*.
*Fair warning though you may find it still tastes crap. Don’t blame me though, you really shouldn’t take the advice of some random on the internet.