Understand the Process

John P

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Jan 5, 2007
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Salt Lake City
Les Roka writes:
The concept and context of process intrigue and captivate me when I write many articles. In this post by John Piquet at caffe d'bolla, he talks about process in achieving coffee excellence.
Of note:
'I think if I had to list these factors it would be: talent, dedication, and experience. And when I talk about dedication, I think you can use the word “dedication” as a more serious sounding replacement for the word “passion”. You can't be dedicated to a thing without loving or enjoying that thing. And the dedication isn't simply to the craft. It's a dedication to the result of the craft, which is excellent coffee. With dedication and experience, you can always be above average to really, really good. But in my experience, without some inherent skill, aptitude or talent for the craft, you will never be exceptional.'

Understand the Process


The best way to achieve coffee excellence? Understand the process.


Process is important. “Understand the process,” I say. But what does that entail? Is “process” simply a set of steps you follow to accomplish a task correctly — In this case brewing coffee?


Yes.


So, we're done then?


No, we're not. Because as straightforward as it should be, to everyone's dismay (not really) there are few professionals who get it right. What are they not doing right and WHY are they not doing it right?




Let's start with: What is the process?



In a nutshell: Start with properly roasted, quality, fresh, (whole) coffee beans. Understand correct dosing (coffee:water ratio) and particle size. Use correct dosing for chosen brewing method. Grind fresh with a good, adjustable burr grinder. Use water within (generally) specific TDS parameters. And brew! Then taste and adjust until it's just right. All of these steps are taken in order to produce a specific result — excellent coffee.


Now let's work through these “simple” things and see where the problems are.


Quality coffee — Now there are cupping scores and tasting notes in respect to the green coffee. So, as a coffee roaster it's simple to get your hands on quality beans. And I would suppose that most coffee shops who are making a claim of craft, artisanal, or “Third Wave” coffee are, in fact, sourcing quality green.


Properly roasted — Here is where we need to take a closer look. Because as I have often said, the higher the quality of your green, the more complexity within that specific lot, the more skill it takes to roast it.







So, what does “highly skilled” as a roaster mean? Is it about experience and dedication? Is it about talent?



I think if I had to list these factors it would be: talent, dedication, and experience. And when I talk about dedication, I think you can use the word “dedication” as a more serious sounding replacement for the word “passion”. You can't be dedicated to a thing without loving or enjoying that thing. And the dedication isn't simply to the craft. It's a dedication to the result of the craft, which is excellent coffee. With dedication and experience, you can always be above average to really, really good. But in my experience, without some inherent skill, aptitude or talent for the craft, you will never be exceptional.


So the first weakening of the process is with the roasting? What is the talent level of your roaster? How many hours of work have they put in? How many varietals from how many regions have they roasted? And how many years have they been doing it? Whether YOU are the roaster or your shop does the roasting, or you bring in your beans from somewhere — in which case you have to ask all these questions about their roaster — the likelihood is perhaps your coffee program isn't on as solid a ground as you were led to believe or that you are leading others to believe.


Now, I could really stop there, because the roasting of the coffee is probably the most important step in the coffee making process.


But let's assume the roasting is spot on.


Correct dosing is a known thing, so there's really no excuse for getting that wrong Look up “Gold Cup” standards or SCA brewing standards. Coffee science doesn't change.




Grind size is a generally known thing that you specifically tune to your coffee and your taste.


The same can be said for water chemistry.


Brewing technique? That takes a bit of skill. It takes some practice. And of course the goal again... excellent coffee.


So the reasons for not executing excellent coffee?


Either you don't know how. Or you don't care to know how. Often it's both.




If you care about the prestige of sourcing excellent coffees, but don't take the time to make sure you have a highly experienced roaster who can create sweetness and dynamic complexity and balance and mouthfeel in your coffee — then what?


Well, what happens is if the fundamentals of your coffee program are not rock solid, the smaller details, like brewing parameters or water chemistry are going to be an afterthought as well.


Or do you try to unknowingly take short cuts? You have a refractometer of some sort, you measure TDS to perfection... you dial in temperatures precisely, and what you do is end up chasing numbers instead of following flavor.


Great coffee, excellent coffee, exceptional coffee is not the result of following a set of numbers.
Exceptional coffee is the result of understanding the process with the end goal of a delicious cup of coffee. This means fundamentals of brewing and this means following the flavor.






It's really simple. Everyone should be able to do it.



You should be able to do it. So why aren't you?
 
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JumpinJakJava

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Dec 12, 2011
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Thomaston, CT
Oxford Dictionary-
ap·ti·tude



  • 1. a natural ability to do something: "he had a remarkable aptitude for learning words"
  • 2. suitability or fitness: "aptitude of expression"

Alex, do not sell yourself too short. For certainly according to the definition of aptitude, you
are truly suited in the world of coffee. No one should question your fitness in it either.
I have enjoyed this thread, even though I have been away from the forum as of late.

Desire, Passion, Dedication.

I do agree with John that desire and passion may be synonymous,
but I also see that passion keeps the desire fervent, and vice versa.

Repetitiveness with great attention for a better outcome, leads to skill.

So we keep trying to hone our skills!
 
OP
John P

John P

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As this is my thread, I would like a quick re-direct to a more professional conversation.

Brewing excellent coffee is not a monumental task, but if we are honest about the level of execution in the industry, we would have to say, "The level of quality execution is low."

Think of coffee shops you go to, think about where you work, maybe even take a hard look at yourself - if you have a position to control such things. There needs to be a lot more conversations about how, as an industry we can continue to raise the bar. I also think that it is crucial that we make a clear distinction between those that are actually working to deliver something of quality, something that would be representative of your city, something that you would be proud to bring a visitor to and say, "This is the best our city/town/State has to offer." And there are those who are clearly not delivering anything resembling quality coffee, nor do they claim to be... and that's ok. But for those who have excellence, craft, Third Wave as their mantra and who are clearly not delivering that -- those places are harming the industry greatly. As I mentioned in my original post - some people don't know HOW to execute excellence, and others DON'T CARE. That's sad. That should be embarrassing to the industry. And it should be highly embarrassing to those who fall into those categories.


Why is that? And what, as an industry can we do to have a more results (quality) oriented industry? As professionals, it is OUR job to lead the industry, to lead the customers. It's our job to educate and elevate. Have some pride in what you're doing. Have standards. and hold those people accountable who are dishonest about their standards, about their level of execution, about their level of "craft". It's harmful to the industry to ignore these things.

How do we effectively work towards being better? And Why don't we have more honest discussions with each other about the industry's shortcomings when it comes to producing a quality, respectable product?
 
OP
John P

John P

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...a more professional conversation

It's quite telling when nothing substantive, critical or otherwise, is offered. Whining does not forward the conversation.

:coffee1:
 

almico

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Feb 17, 2015
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As someone about to convert my current coffee knowledge and experience into a live and in prime time coffee bar, I'll chime in.

A very wise person once told me:
"you don't need to compare yourself to anyone else;
you don't need to compare yourself to the way you're supposed to be;
you just need to compare yourself to the way you were yesterday, and if you're a little better today, you're doing just fine."

Are you saying everyone should care as much about coffee as you seem to? Why? Hold people who don't accountable? How? Coffee police? Are you saying only people that meet your standards of knowledge and dedication should be allowed to sell coffee? I'm not sure how to forward a conversation that seems to be a non-starter.
 
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MillCityRoasters

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Jun 25, 2014
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Minneapolis, MN
How do we effectively work towards being better? And Why don't we have more honest discussions with each other about the industry's shortcomings when it comes to producing a quality, respectable product?

Probably because brew quality is largely subjective and, although your posts are doubtlessly well meaning, they are also frequently perceived as alienating and condescending. Discipline without love is torture. If you want to lead, meet people where they are at and share with kindness and humility.

I've personally never tried any of that, but I'm told it works wonders.

Steve
 
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MillCityRoasters

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Minneapolis, MN
Ensoluna, I think John is probably a pretty good guy and passionate about quality. Ego? I cannot judge, but I greatly admire the fact that John uses his name and his company name in his posts.

The next time I'm in Salt Lake and looking for a good cup of coffee, Caffe d'bolla will be my first choice.
 

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