Grape and Bean in The Post

Grape and Bean, Big Bear, and Murky all get coverage in The Washington Post today in an article by Michaele Weissman, author of the new book God in a Cup. Weissman’s book covers the new wave specialty coffee industry from seed to cup, profiling the people at Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and other roasters, along with baristas, farmers, and importers. Though perhaps too personal at times, it’s an interesting and sympathetic look at our sometimes weird and obsessive subculture. Definitely recommended.

Comments

  1. Barzelay says:

    I sat in Ritual Coffee the other day, studying. The whole time, I was pleasantly distracted, watching a guy roast beans. He was intent on what he was doing. He stood in front of a huge, metal drum, checking various gauges and tweaking knobs and levers. It took him maybe half an hour for each batch. During the roasting of each batch, a line would build up. Each time, toward the end of the roasting, there would be three or four customers standing by the roaster, staring in reverence and expectancy at this guy roasting the coffee. Then the batch would finish. Out of the roaster, into a bin, into some bags. The roaster guy wrote the date on them, and then handed them directly to the waiting customers.

    That was serious freshness, and serious dedication, on the part of the roaster and, to a surprising degree, the customers.

    Similarly, I happened to be on Blue Bottle’s website last night. I was reading about cold-brewed coffee and wanted to read what they had to say about their New Orleans style iced coffee. Anyway, I noticed that for many of their beans, they would state that they prefer always to brew them “at day 4-5″ after roasting. That kind of precision is amazing. I have seen firsthand that there are no shortage of people in the Bay Area willing to pay a premium for that kind of care, as well undergo other hurdles (i.e. waiting in extremely long lines, paying cash only, taking the bus instead of MUNI because a kiosk is not near a MUNI station, foregoing the pleasure of sitting down because the establishment does not have tables, or because all the tables are taken, learning arcane rules of how to order and what not to adulterate your drink with, etc.). I wonder, though, how many of the people who go through all of that can really tell the difference. I do not doubt that there are people in the city, a handful anyway, who can tell even the slightest difference between brewing an espresso on day one versus day four versus day ten. But I cannot believe there are enough of them to sustain the several high-end coffee businesses in the city.

  2. Nick Cho says:

    “I wonder, though, how many of the people who go through all of that can really tell the difference. I do not doubt that there are people in the city, a handful anyway, who can tell even the slightest difference between brewing an espresso on day one versus day four versus day ten. But I cannot believe there are enough of them to sustain the several high-end coffee businesses in the city.”

    But if you’ve taken the responsibility to serve high-quality coffee, then it doesn’t matter whether people notice or not, does it? It’s about personal and business integrity then.

    Most folks don’t get how bad “bad coffee” can be. It’s not just about the cup of coffee itself. “Bad” coffee companies sometimes lie about what the coffee is that they’re selling (labeling it Colombian when it’s not), and try to pass off cheap, rejected-lot coffees as high-quality. Why? Because they believe customers can’t tell the difference!

    Not to mention, you’re right that people probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but they’d probably be able to if they tasted them side-by-side. Standards and policies aren’t there for their own sake, they’re there for the customers.

    -Nick Cho, murky coffee

  3. Barzelay says:

    Well, I had started to answer my own implied question, but realized that my comment was getting too long. I had typed something about how a company that takes such care to brew on day 4-5 is likely also to take care in every other step of the process. Precision in every aspect of the process easily could add up to a difference that your average person could discern.

    Plus, with coffee, as with many other goods, people buy into an aura of quality as much as they buy into quality they can actually perceive. If Blue Bottle is “the best coffee in town,” and everyone knows it, it doesn’t really matter whether I can tell the difference between theirs and Starbucks’. I want quality, and I’m gonna go wherever I think has it. But the question of who makes quality stuff is as affected by reputation, branding, and other extrinsic factors as it is by how the coffee tastes. Does that make us all posers if we drink “better” coffee even though we’d be happy with crap coffee? Probably, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I aspire to improving my palate, and the best way to do that is to get familiar with quality food and drink.

    So yeah, I understand the lure for the customers, and I understand the artisanship for the roasters and baristas.

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