Mocha Madness Dribbles Down the Side of the Cup

Monin.Flavored.SyrupsIn only the last 20 years or so, coffee sommeliers have begun rivaling their wine-tasting counterparts in specialization and mystique. Our coffee this morning is described on the package as “offering a burst of cherry, almond, and lavender with a soft oak finish.”

Indeed, it went well with bacon, the true test of any breakfast blend, in our humble estimation. And it’s fun to experience so many varieties of coffee. We’re lucky to live in a Golden Age of Java, benefitting from better growing techniques, more free trade growers, and more diversification and experimentation, and a better understanding of coffee’s almost infinite potential.

But to many tongues, coffee is too bitter to be consumed, pure like wine from a bottle. That’s one reason most coffee drinkers have deeply personal and often very particular ways of fixing their fixes.

The Bittersweet Tale of Gustatory Calyculi and Joe

Many take their coffee like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction: Lots of cream, lots of sugar. And they won’t take it any other way. We’ve seen baristas visibly shaken when a customer, without even thinking, reaches for the sugar. But in defense of the unwashed masses, coffee has always been tolerated for its bitterness. Adding sugar or other flavors to cut the dominant flavor of coffee was how the Turks first introduced the magical beverage to Europe.

On the other hand, we’ve never seen anyone spoon 5 lumps of sugar into their chardonnay before toasting. Wine comes bundled with sweetness, often the dominant taste on the palate. People everywhere have sweet teeth (and as a result, often no teeth), but on a flight-or-fight-or-faint scale, something with a bitter taste sends throbbing primordial signals to people that what they are consuming may their last morsel.

Red color coupled with bitter taste may explain why coffee’s caffeinated goodness was such a late discovery and coffee drinking a late invention and why it was sometimes met with official condemnation when it first appeared.

Surfing on the Fourth Wave of Java

So we feel for the emerging coffee sommeliers. They’re up against a full industry of coffee flavorings, all designed to make the drinker forget what coffee really tastes like. But given the continuing popularity of instant coffee and non-dairy creamers—with artificial almond amaretto no less—kind of tells us that many people don’t think of coffee as gourmet anything, much less find hints of cherry on their supermarket blend.

No doubt people are more sophisticated when it comes to coffee these days, which some are calling the “Fourth Wave of Coffee.” We’re not sure what the first three waves were, only that we caught some awesome curls. And took them black.

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