Tiffin Project

Coffee Vernacular

by Colter Jones on September 25, 2011

Post image for Coffee Vernacular

(Image by: Brian W. Jones)
The way that we package and present coffee says a lot about our approach towards the beverage. As a barista I like to have as much information as possible about my coffee, but I can definitely understand how a smattering of information can seem pretentious to the common customer who just wants a delicious coffee. Flavour descriptors can be a powerful tool in order to convey the profile that a certain coffee offers, but they can also be overused, too specific, or weird for the sake of weird.

Recently someone showed me a bag of coffee with the tasting note “home-made cherry cola” on it, and then another from a completely different region of Central America with the same description. Perhaps the brain trust in charge of labeling the packages were just craving some cherry cola? Brewing coffee is a science, but tasting coffee is an art that depends on the language that we use to describe our subjective experience. If we resort to lazy usage of buzzwords like “home-made” and carbon copying descriptions of very different coffees, how can we ever expect to educate coffee consumers? I’m not sure how homemade cherry cola tastes because I’ve never had it. It’s good old fashioned high fructose corn syrup for me.

Since I’ve been in the coffee industry there has always been a tendency for companies and coffee professionals to draw comparisons between coffee and wine. In order for farms to qualify for a program such as the Cup of Excellence they are required to create an estate name much like a winery would have both an estate name and logo for their bottles. The system works very well from a retail standpoint because it denotes quality and elegance in the same way that a wine bottle does, but it leaves out the name of the farmer who is ultimately responsible for the quality of his operation. Recently, I have seen a trend towards companies labeling their coffees by the producer and not by the manufactured name that they have given to their farm. If you went to a grain farm in Saskatchewan you would name the farm after the people who own it. Why is coffee different? Farming is a very personal occupation that requires assuming all the risk of producing a crop, and including the farmer in the conversation is a small way of recognizing that.

Naming the farmer and the region that the coffee was produced in brings us closer to understanding a little bit more about where coffee comes from. I recently went to take a coffee class from Mie Hansen who had me label a map of the coffee producing nations in Central and South America. I knew most of them but there were a couple that I didn’t know. I am just now starting to learn not only the specific regions that coffee is produced in, but also the countries? I’ve been in the coffee world for a long time and only now do I feel that I’m starting to learn more about the importance of the entire journey that coffee takes before it reaches the consumer. I believe that we can help to encourage coffee knowledge by being conscientious of the information that we supply to the customers who love the coffee that we serve. Notice that I didn’t say OUR coffee. That’s a start.

~ Colter Jones

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: