Category Archives: cafés

Judging Coffee and Beer: Answer to DoubleShot Coffee Company

DoubleShot Coffee Company: More Espresso Arguments.

I’m not in the coffee biz but I do involve myself in some coffee-related things, including barista championships (sensory judge at regional and national) and numerous discussions with coffee artisans. In other words, I’m nobody important.

In a way, I “come from” the worlds of beer and coffee homebrewing. In coffee circles, I like to introduce myself as a homeroaster and blogger.

(I’m mostly an ethnographer, meaning that I do what we call “participant-observation” as both an insider and an outsider.)

There seem to be several disconnects in today’s coffee world, despite a lot of communication across the Globe. Between the huge coffee corporations and the “specialty coffee” crowd. Between coffee growers and coffee lovers. Between professional and home baristas. Even, sometimes, between baristas from different parts of the world.
None of it is very surprising. But it’s sometimes a bit sad to hear people talk past one another.

I realize nothing I say may really help. And it may all be misinterpreted. That’s all part of the way things go and I accept that.

In the world of barista champions and the so-called “Third Wave,” emotions seem particularly high. Part of it might have to do with the fact that so many people interact on a rather regular basis. Makes for a very interesting craft, in some ways. But also for rather tense moments.

About judging…
My experience isn’t that extensive. I’ve judged at the Canadian Eastern Regional BC twice and at the Canadian BC once.
Still, I did notice a few things.

One is that there can be a lot of camaraderie/collegiality among BC participants. This can have a lot of beneficial effects on the quality of coffee served in different places as well as on the quality of the café experience itself, long after the championships. A certain cohesiveness which may come from friendly competition can do a lot for the diversity of coffee scenes.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that it’s really easy to be fair, in judging using WBC regulations. It’s subjective in a very literal way since there’s tasting involved (tastebuds belong to the “subjects” of the sensory and head judges). But it simply has very little if anything to do with personal opinions, relationships, or “liking the person.” It’s remarkably easy to judge the performance, with a focus on what’s in the cup, as opposed to the person her-/himself or her/his values.

Sure, the championship setting is in many ways artificial and arbitrary. A little bit like rules for an organized sport. Or so many other contexts.

A competition like this has fairly little to do with what is likely to happen in “The Real World” (i.e., in a café). I might even say that applying a WBC-compatible in a café is likely to become a problem in many cases. A bit like working the lunch shift at a busy diner using ideas from the Iron Chef or getting into a street fight and using strict judo rules.

A while ago, I was working in French restaurants, as a «garde-manger» (assistant-chef). We often talked about (and I did meet a few) people who were just coming out of culinary institutes. In most cases, they were quite good at producing a good dish in true French cuisine style. But the consensus was that “they didn’t know how to work.”
People fresh out of culinary school didn’t really know how to handle a chaotic kitchen, order only the supplies required, pay attention to people’s tastes, adapt to differences in prices, etc. They could put up a good show and their dishes might have been exquisite. But they could also be overwhelmed with having to serve 60 customers in a regular shift or, indeed, not know what to do during a slow night. Restaurant owners weren’t that fond of hiring them, right away. They had to be “broken out” («rodés»).

Barista championships remind me of culinary institutes, in this way. Both can be useful in terms of skills, but experience is more diverse than that.

So, yes, WBC rules are probably artificial and arbitrary. But it’s easy to be remarkably consistent in applying these rules. And that should count for something. Just not for everythin.

Sure, you may get some differences between one judge and the other. But those differences aren’t that difficult to understand and I didn’t see that they tended to have to do with “preferences,” personal issues, or anything of the sort. From what I noticed while judging, you simply don’t pay attention to the same things as when you savour coffee. And that’s fine. Cupping coffee isn’t the same thing as drinking it, either.

In my (admittedly very limited) judging experience, emphasis was put on providing useful feedback. The points matter a lot, of course, but the main thing is that the points make sense in view of the comments. In a way, it’s to ensure calibration (“you say ‘excellent’ but put a ‘3,’ which one is more accurate?”) but it’s also about the goals of the judging process. The textual comments are a way to help the barista pay attention to certain things. “Constructive criticism” is one way to put it. But it’s more than that. It’s a way to get something started.

Several of the competitors I’ve seen do come to ask judges for clarifications and many of them seemed open to discussion. A few mostly wanted justification and may have felt slighted. But I mostly noticed a rather thoughtful process of debriefing.

Having said that, there are competitors who are surprised by differences between two judges’ scores. “But both shots came from the same portafilter!” “Well, yes, but if you look at the video, you’ll notice that coffee didn’t flow the same way in both cups.” There are also those who simply doubt judges, no matter what. Wonder if they respect people who drink their espresso…

Coming from the beer world, I also notice differences with beer. In the beer world, there isn’t really an equivalent to the WBC in the sense that professional beer brewers don’t typically have competitions. But amateur homebrewers do. And it’s much stricter than the WBC in terms of certification. It requires a lot of rote memorization, difficult exams (I helped proctor two), judging points, etc.

I’ve been a vocal critic of the Beer Judge Certification Program. There seems to be an idea, there, that you can make the process completely neutral and that the knowledge necessary to judge beers is solid and well-established. One problem is that this certification program focuses too much on a series of (over a hundred) “styles” which are more of a context-specific interpretation of beer diversity than a straightforward classification of possible beers.
Also, the one thing they want to avoid the most (basing their evaluation on taste preferences) still creeps in. It’s probably no coincidence that, at certain events, beers which were winning “Best of Show” tended to be big, assertive beers instead of very subtle ones. Beer judges don’t want to be human, but they may still end up acting like ones.

At the same time, while there’s a good deal of debate over beer competition results and such, there doesn’t seem to be exactly the same kind of tension as in barista championships. Homebrewers take their results to heart and they may yell at each other over their scores. But, somehow, I see much less of a fracture, “there” than “here.” Perhaps because the stakes are very low (it’s a hobby, not a livelihood). Perhaps because beer is so different from coffee. Or maybe because there isn’t a sense of “Us vs. Them”: brewers judging a competition often enter beer in that same competition (but in a separate category from the ones they judge).
Actually, the main difference may be that beer judges can literally only judge what’s in the bottle. They don’t observe the brewers practicing their craft (this happens weeks prior), they simply judge the product. In a specific condition. In many ways, it’s very unfair. But it can help brewers understand where something went wrong.

Now, I’m not saying the WBC should become like the BJCP. For one thing, it just wouldn’t work. And there’s already a lot of investment in the current WBC format. And I’m really not saying the BJCP is better than the WBC as an inspiration, since I actually prefer the WBC-style championships. But I sense that there’s something going on in the coffee world which has more to do with interpersonal relationships and “attitudes” than with what’s in the cup.

All this time, those of us who don’t make a living through coffee but still live it with passion may be left out. And we do our own things. We may listen to coffee podcasts, witness personal conflicts between café owners, hear rants about the state of the “industry,” and visit a variety of cafés.
Yet, slowly but surely, we’re making our own way through coffee. Exploring its diversity, experimenting with different brewing methods, interacting with diverse people involved, even taking trips “to origin”…

Coffee is what unites us.

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Homeroasting and Coffee Geekness

I’m a coffee geek. By which I mean that I have a geeky attitude to coffee. I’m passionate about the crafts and arts of coffee making, I seek coffee-related knowledge wherever I can find it, I can talk about coffee until people’s eyes glaze over (which happens more quickly than I’d guess possible), and I even dream about coffee gadgets. I’m not a typical gadget freak, as far as geek culture goes, but coffee is one area where I may invest in some gadgetry.

Perhaps my most visible acts of coffee geekery came in the form of updates I posted through diverse platforms about my home coffee brewing experiences. Did it from February to July. These posts contained cryptic details about diverse measurements, including water temperature and index of refraction. It probably contributed to people’s awareness of my coffee geek identity, which itself has been the source of fun things like a friend bringing me back coffee from Ethiopia.

But I digress, a bit. This is both about coffee geekness in general and about homeroasting in particular.

See, I bought myself this Hearthware i-Roast 2 dedicated homeroasting device. And I’m dreaming about coffee again.

Been homeroasting since December 2002, at the time I moved to Moncton, New Brunswick and was lucky enough to get in touch with Terry Montague of Down Esst Coffee.

Though I had been wishing to homeroast for a while before that and had become an intense coffee-lover fifteen years prior to contacting him, Terry is the one who enabled me to start roasting green coffee beans at home. He procured me a popcorn popper, sourced me some quality green beans, gave me some advice. And off I was.

Homeroasting is remarkably easy. And it makes a huge difference in one’s appreciation of coffee. People in the coffee industry, especially baristas and professional roasters, tend to talk about the “channel” going from the farmer to the “consumer.” In some ways, homeroasting gets the coffee-lover a few steps closer to the farmer, both by eliminating a few intermediaries in the channel and by making coffee into much less of a commodity. Once you’ve spent some time smelling the fumes emanated by different coffee varietals and looking carefully at individual beans, you can’t help but get a deeper appreciation for the farmer’s and even the picker’s work. When you roast 150g or less at a time, every coffee bean seems much more valuable. Further, as you experiment with different beans and roast profiles, you get to experience coffee in all of its splendour.

A popcorn popper may sound like a crude way to roast coffee. And it might be. Naysayers may be right in their appraisal of poppers as a coffee roasting method. You’re restricted in different ways and it seems impossible to produce exquisite coffee. But having roasted with a popper for seven years, I can say that my poppers gave me some of my most memorable coffee experiences. Including some of the most pleasant ones, like this organic Sumatra from Theta Ridge Coffee that I roasted in my campus appartment at IUSB and brewed using my beloved Brikka.

Over the years, I’ve roasted a large variety of coffee beans. I typically buy a pound each of three or four varietals and experiment with them for a while.

Mostly because I’ve been moving around quite a bit, I’ve been buying green coffee beans from a rather large variety of places. I try to buy them locally, as much as possible (those beans have travelled far enough and I’ve had enough problems with courier companies). But I did participate in a few mail orders or got beans shipped to me for some reason or another. Sourcing green coffee beans has almost been part of my routine in those different places where I’ve been living since 2002: Moncton, Montreal, Fredericton, South Bend, Northampton, Brockton, Cambridge, and Austin. Off the top of my head, I’ve sourced beans from:

  1. Down East
  2. Toi, moi & café
  3. Brûlerie Saint-Denis
  4. Brûlerie des quatre vents
  5. Terra
  6. Theta Ridge
  7. Dean’s Beans
  8. Green Beanery
  9. Cuvée
  10. Fair Bean
  11. Sweet Maria’s
  12. Evergreen Coffee
  13. Mon café vert
  14. Café-Vrac
  15. Roastmasters
  16. Santropol

And probably a few other places, including this one place in Ethiopia where my friend Erin bought some.

So, over the years, I got beans from a rather large array of places and from a wide range of regional varietals.

I rapidly started blending freshly-roasted beans. Typically, I would start a blend by roasting three batches in a row. I would taste some as “single origin” (coffee made from a single bean varietal, usually from the same farm or estate), shortly after roasting. But, typically, I would mix my batches of freshly roasted coffee to produce a main blend. I would then add fresh batches after a few days to fine-tune the blend to satisfy my needs and enhance my “palate” (my ability to pick up different flavours and aromas).

Once the quantity of green beans in a particular bag would fall below an amount I can reasonably roast as a full batch (minimum around 100g), I would put those green beans in a pre-roast blend, typically in a specially-marked ziplock bag. Roasting this blend would usually be a way for me to add some complexity to my roasted blends.

And complexity I got. Lots of diverse flavours and aromas. Different things to “write home about.”

But I was obviously limited in what I could do with my poppers. The only real controls that I had in homeroasting, apart from blending, consisted in the bean quantity and roasting time. Ambient temperature was clearly a factor, but not one over which I was able to exercise much control. Especially since I frequently ended up roasting outside, so as to not incommodate people with fumes, noise, and chaff. The few homeroast batches which didn’t work probably failed because of low ambient temperature.

One reason I stuck with poppers for so long was that I had heard that dedicated roasters weren’t that durable. I’ve probably used three or four different hot air popcorn poppers, over the years. Eventually, they just stop working, when you use them for coffee beans. As I’d buy them at garage sales and Salvation Army stores for 3-4$, replacing them didn’t feel like such a financially difficult thing to do, though finding them could occasionally be a challenge. Money was also an issue. Though homeroasting was important for me, I wasn’t ready to pay around 200$ for an entry-level dedicated roaster. I was thinking about saving money for a Behmor 1600, which offers several advantages over other roasters. But I finally gave in and bought my i-Roast as a kind of holiday gift to myself.

One broad reason is that my financial situation has improved since I started a kind of partial professional reorientation (PPR). I have a blogpost in mind about this PPR, and I’ll probably write it soon. But this post isn’t about my PPR.

Although, the series of events which led to my purchase does relate to my PPR, somehow.

See, the beans I (indirectly) got from Roastmasters came from a friend who bought a Behmor to roast cocoa beans. The green coffee beans came with the roaster but my friend didn’t want to roast coffee in his brand new Behmor, to avoid the risk of coffee oils and flavours getting into his chocolate. My friend asked me to roast some of these beans for his housemates (he’s not that intensely into coffee, himself). When I went to drop some homeroasted coffee by the Station C co-working space where he spends some of his time, my friend was discussing a project with Duncan Moore, whom I had met a few times but with whom I had had few interactions. The three of us had what we considered a very fruitful yet very short conversation. Later on, I got to do a small but fun project with Duncan. And I decided to invest that money into coffee.

A homeroaster seemed like the most appropriate investment. The Behmor was still out of reach but the i-Roast seemed like a reasonable purchase. Especially if I could buy it used.

But I was also thinking about buying it new, as long as I could get it quickly. It took me several years to make a decision about this purchase but, once I made it, I wanted something as close to “instant gratification” as possible. In some ways, the i-Roast was my equivalent to Little Mrs Sommers‘s “pair of silk stockings.”

At the time, Mon café vert seemed like the only place where I could buy a new i-Roast. I tried several times to reach them to no avail. As I was in the Mile-End as I decided to make that purchase, I went to Caffè in Gamba, both to use the WiFi signal and to check if, by any chance, they might not have started selling roasters. They didn’t, of course, homeroasters isn’t mainstream enough. But, as I was there, I saw the Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton, a “hand-cranked” coffee grinder about which I had read some rather positive reviews.

For the past few years, I had been using a Bodum Antigua conical burr electric coffee grinder. This grinder was doing the job, but maybe because of “wear and tear,” it started taking a lot longer to grind a small amount of coffee. The grind took so long, at some points, that the grounds were warm to the touch and it seemed like the grinder’s motor was itself heating.

So I started dreaming about the Baratza Vario, a kind of prosumer electric grinder which seemed like the ideal machine for someone who uses diverse coffee making methods. The Vario is rather expensive and seemed like overkill, for my current coffee setup. But I was lusting over it and, yes, dreaming about it.

One day, maybe, I’ll be able to afford a Vario.

In the meantime, and more reasonably, I had been thinking about “Turkish-style mills.” A friend lent me a box-type manual mill at some point and I did find it produced a nice grind, but it wasn’t that convenient for me, partly because the coffee drops into a small drawer which rapidly gets full. A handmill seemed somehow more convenient and there are some generic models which are sold in different parts of the World, especially in the Arab World. So I got the impression that I might be able to find handmills locally and started looking for them all over the place, enquiring at diverse stores and asking friends who have used those mills in the past. Of course, they can be purchased online. But they end up being relatively expensive and my manual experience wasn’t so positive as to convince me to spend so much money on one.

The Skerton was another story. It was much more convenient than a box-type manual mill. And, at Gamba, it was inexpensive enough for me to purchase it on the spot. I don’t tend to do this very often so I did feel strange about such an impulse purchase. But I certainly don’t regret it.

Especially since it complements my other purchases.

So, going to the i-Roast.

Over the years, I had been looking for the i-Roast and Behmor at most of the obvious sites where one might buy used devices like these. eBay, Craig’s List, Kijiji… As a matter of fact, I had seen an i-Roast on one of these, but I was still hesitating. Not exactly sure why, but it probably had to do with the fact that these homeroasters aren’t necessarily that durable and I couldn’t see how old this particular i-Roast was.

I eventually called to find out, after taking my decision to get an i-Roast. Turns out that it’s still under warranty, is in great condition, and was being sold by a very interesting (and clearly trustworthy) alto singer who happens to sing with a friend of mine who is also a local beer homebrewer. The same day I bought the roaster, I went to the cocoa-roasting friend’s place and saw a Behmor for the first time. And I tasted some really nice homemade chocolate. And met other interesting people including a couple that I saw, again, while taking the bus after purchasing the roaster.

The series of coincidences in that whole situation impressed me in a sense of awe. Not out of some strange superstition or other folk belief. But different things are all neatly packaged in a way that most of my life isn’t. Nothing weird about this. The packaging is easy to explain and mostly comes from my own perception. The effect is still there that it all fits.

And the i-Roast 2 itself fits, too.

It’s clearly not the ultimate coffee geek’s ideal roaster. But I get the impression it could become so. In fact, one reason I hesitated to buy the i-Roast 2 is that I was wondering if Hearthware might be coming out with the i-Roast 3, in the not-so-distant future.

I’m guessing that Hearthware might be getting ready to release a new roaster. I’m using unreliable information, but it’s still an educated guess. So, apparently…

I could just imagine what the i-Roast 3 might be. As I’m likely to get, I have a number of crazy ideas.

One “killer feature” actually relates both to the differences between the i-Roast and i-Roast 2 as well as to the geek factor behind homeroasting: roast profiles as computer files. Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. And, somehow, it’s quite unlikely that Hearthware would add such a feature on an entry-level machine. But I seriously think it’d make the roaster much closer to a roasting geek’s ultimate machine.

For one thing, programming a roast profile on the i-Roast is notoriously awkward. Sure, you get used to it. But it’s clearly suboptimal. And one major improvement of the i-Roast 2 over the original i-Roast is that the original version didn’t maintain profiles if you unplugged it. The next step, in my mind, would be to have some way to transfer a profile from a computer to the roaster, say via a slot for SD cards or even a USB port.

What this would open isn’t only the convenience of saving profiles, but actually a way to share them with fellow homeroasters. Since a lot in geek culture has to do with sharing information, a neat effect could come out of shareable roast profiles. In fact, when I looked for example roast profiles, I found forum threads, guides, and incredibly elaborate experiments. Eventually, it might be possible to exchange roasting profiles relating to coffee beans from the same shipment and compare roasting. Given the well-known effects of getting a group of people using online tools to share information, this could greatly improve the state of homeroasting and even make it break out of the very small niche in which it currently sits.

Of course, there are many problems with that approach, including things as trivial as voltage differences as well as bigger issues such as noise levels:

But I’m still dreaming about such things.

In fact, I go a few steps further. A roaster which could somehow connect to a computer might also be used to track data about temperature and voltage. In my own experiments with the i-Roast 2, I’ve been logging temperatures at 15 second intervals along with information about roast profile, quantity of beans, etc. It may sound extreme but it already helped me achieve a result I wanted to achieve. And it’d be precisely the kind of information I would like to share with other homeroasters, eventually building a community of practice.

Nothing but geekness, of course. Shall the geek inherit the Earth?


Canadian Barista Championship: 2009 Results

  1. Kyle Straw, Caffè Artigiano, Vancouver, BC (663 points)
  2. Anthony Benda, Café Myriade, Montreal, Qc (627 points)
  3. Chad Moss, Transcend Coffee, Edmonton, AB (610 points)
  4. Robert Kettner, Fernwood Coffee Roasting, Victoria, BC (601 points)
  5. Spencer Viehweger, JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, Vancouver, BC (592.5 points)
  6. Joel May, Fratello Coffee Roasters, Calgary, AB (576.5 points)

Barista’s Choice (Reggie Award)

Anthony Benda, Café Myriade, Montreal, Qc


Beer Eye for the Coffee Guy (or Gal)

Judged twelve (12) espresso drinks as part of the Eastern Regional Canadian Barista Championship (UStream).

[Never watched Queer Eye. Thought the title would make sense, given both the “taste” and even gender dimensions.]

Had quite a bit of fun.

The experience was quite similar to the one I had last year. There were fewer competitors, this year. But I also think that there were more people in the audience, at least in the morning. One possible reason is that ads about the competition were much more visible this year than last (based on my own experience and on several comments made during the day). Also, I noticed a stronger sense of collegiality among competitors, as several of them have been different things together in the past year.

More specifically, people from Ottawa’s Bridgehead and people from Montreal’s Café Myriade have developed something which, at least from the outside, look like comradery. At the Canadian National Barista Championship, last year, Myriade’s Anthony Benda won the “congeniality” prize. This year, Benda got first place in the ERCBC. Second place went to Bridgehead’s Cliff Hansen, and third place went to Myriade’s Alex Scott.

Bill Herne served as head judge for most of the event. He made it a very pleasant experience for me personally and, I hope, for other judges. His insight on the championship is especially valuable given the fact that he can maintain a certain distance from the specifics.

The event was organized in part by Vida Radovanovic, founder of the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show. Though she’s quick to point to differences between Toronto and Montreal, in terms of these regional competitions, she also seemed pleased with several aspects of this year’s ERCBC.

To me, the championship was mostly an opportunity for thinking and talking about the coffee world.

Met and interacted with diverse people during the day. Some of them were already part of my circle of coffee-loving friends and acquaintances. Some who came to me to talk about coffee after noticing some sign of my connection to the championship. The fact that I was introduced to the audience as a blogger and homeroaster seems to have been relatively significant. And there were several people who were second-degree contacts in my coffee-related social network, making for easy introductions.

A tiny part of the day’s interactions was captured in interviews for CBC Montreal’s Daybreak (unfortunately, the recording is in RealAudio format).

“Coffee as a social phenomenon” was at the centre of several of my own interactions with diverse people. Clearly, some of it has to do with my own interests, especially with “Montreal’s coffee renaissance.” But there were also a clear interest in such things as the marketshare of quality coffee, the expansion of some coffee scenes, and the notion of building a sense of community through coffee. That last part is what motivated me to write this post.

After the event, a member of my coffee-centric social network has started a discussion about community-building in the coffee world and I found myself dumping diverse ideas on him. Several of my ideas have to do with my experience with craft beer in North America. In a way, I’ve been doing informal ethnography of craft beer. Beer has become an area of expertise, for me, and I’d like to pursue more formal projects on it. So beer is on my mind when I think about coffee. And vice-versa. I was probably a coffee geek before I started homebrewing beer but I started brewing beer at home before I took my coffee-related activities to new levels.

So, in my reply on a coffee community, I was mostly thinking about beer-related communities.

Comparing coffee and beer is nothing new, for me. In fact, a colleague has blogged about some of my comments, both formal and informal, about some of those connections.

Differences between beer and coffee are significant. Some may appear trivial but they can all have some impact on the way we talk about cultural and social phenomena surrounding these beverages.

  • Coffee contains caffeine, beer contains alcohol. (Non-alcoholic beers, decaf coffee, and beer with coffee are interesting but they don’t dominate.) Yes: “duh.” But the difference is significant. Alcohol and caffeine not only have different effects but they fit in different parts of our lives.
  • Coffee is often part of a morning ritual,  frequently perceived as part of preparation for work. Beer is often perceived as a signal for leisure time, once you can “wind down.” Of course, there are people (including yours truly) who drink coffee at night and people (especially in Europe) who drink alcohol during a workday. But the differences in the “schedules” for beer and coffee have important consequences on the ways these drinks are integrated in social life.
  • Coffee tends to be much less expensive than beer. Someone’s coffee expenses may easily be much higher than her or his “beer budget,” but the cost of a single serving of coffee is usually significantly lower than a single serving of beer.
  • While it’s possible to drink a few coffees in a row, people usually don’t drink more than two coffees in a single sitting. With beer, it’s not rare that people would drink quite a few pints in the same night. The UK concept of a “session beer” goes well with this fact.
  • Brewing coffee takes a few minutes, brewing beer takes a while (hours for the brewing process, days or even weeks for fermentation).
  • At a “bar,” coffee is usually brewed in front of those who will drink it while beer has been prepared in advance.
  • Brewing coffee at home has been mainstream for quite a while. Beer homebrewing is considered a hobby.
  • Historically, coffee is a recent phenomenon. Beer is among the most ancient human-made beverages in the world.

Despite these significant differences, coffee and beer also have a lot in common. The fact that the term “brew” is used for beer and coffee (along with tea) may be a coincidence, but there are remarkable similarities between the extraction of diverse compounds from grain and from coffee beans. In terms of process, I would argue that beer and coffee are more similar than are, say, coffee and tea or beer and wine.

But the most important similarity, in my mind, is social: beer and coffee are, indeed, central to some communities. So are other drinks, but I’m more involved in groups having to do with coffee or beer than in those having to do with other beverages.

One way to put it, at least in my mind, is that coffee and beer are both connected to revolutions.

Coffee is community-oriented from the very start as coffee beans often come from farming communities and cooperatives. The notion, then, is that there are local communities which derive a significant portion of their income from the global and very unequal coffee trade. Community-oriented people often find coffee-growing to be a useful focus of attention and given the place of coffee in the global economy, it’s unsurprising to see a lot of interest in the concept (if not the detailed principles) of “fair trade” in relation to coffee. For several reasons (including the fact that they’re often produced in what Wallerstein would call “core” countries), the main ingredients in beer (malted barley and hops) don’t bring to mind the same conception of local communities. Still, coffee and beer are important to some local agricultural communities.

For several reasons, I’m much more directly involved with communities which have to do with the creation and consumption of beverages made with coffee beans or with grain.

In my private reply about building a community around coffee, I was mostly thinking about what can be done to bring attention to those who actually drink coffee. Thinking about the role of enthusiasts is an efficient way to think about the craft beer revolution and about geeks in general. After all, would the computer world be the same without the “homebrew computer club?”

My impression is that when coffee professionals think about community, they mostly think about creating better relationships within the coffee business. It may sound like a criticism, but it has more to do with the notion that the trade of coffee has been quite competitive. Building a community could be a very significant change. In a way, that might be a basis for the notion of a “Third Wave” in coffee.

So, using my beer homebrewer’s perspective: what about a community of coffee enthusiasts? Wouldn’t that help?

And I don’t mean “a website devoted to coffee enthusiasts.” There’s a lot of that, already. A lot of people on the Coffee Geek Forums are outsiders to the coffee industry and Home Barista is specifically geared toward the home enthusiasts’ market.

I’m really thinking about fostering a sense of community. In the beer world, this frequently happens in brewclubs or through the Beer Judge Certification Program, which is much stricter than barista championships. Could the same concepts apply to the coffee world? Probably not. But there may still be “lessons to be learnt” from the beer world.

In terms of craft beer in North America, there’s a consensus around the role of beer enthusiasts. A very significant number of craft brewers were homebrewers before “going pro.” One of the main reasons craft beer has become so important is because people wanted to drink it. Craft breweries often do rather well with very small advertising budgets because they attract something akin to cult followings. The practise of writing elaborate comments and reviews has had a significant impact on a good number of craft breweries. And some of the most creative things which happen in beer these days come from informal experiments carried out by homebrewers.

As funny as it may sound (or look), people get beer-related jobs because they really like beer.

The same happens with coffee. On occasion. An enthusiastic coffee lover will either start working at a café or, somewhat more likely, will “drop everything” and open her/his own café out of a passion for coffee. I know several people like this and I know the story is quite telling for many people. But it’s not the dominant narrative in the coffee world where “rags to riches” stories have less to do with a passion for coffee than with business acumen. Things may be changing, though, as coffee becomes more… passion-driven.

To be clear: I’m not saying that serious beer enthusiasts make the bulk of the market for craft beer or that coffee shop owners should cater to the most sophisticated coffee geeks out there. Beer and coffee are both too cheap to warrant this kind of a business strategy. But there’s a lot to be said about involving enthusiasts in the community.

For one thing, coffee and beer can both get viral rather quickly. Because most people in North America can afford beer or coffee, it’s often easy to convince a friend to grab a cup or pint. Coffee enthusiasts who bring friends to a café do more than sell a cup. They help build up a place. And because some people are into the habit of regularly going to the same bar or coffee shop, the effects can be lasting.

Beer enthusiasts often complain about the inadequate beer selection at bars and restaurants. To this day, there are places where I end up not drinking anything besides water after hearing what the beerlist contains. In the coffee world, it seems that the main target these days is the restaurant business. The current state of affairs with coffee at restaurants is often discussed with heavy sighs of disappointment. What I”ve heard from several people in the coffee business is that, too frequently,  restaurant owners give so little attention to coffee that they end up destroying the dining experience of anyone who orders coffee after a meal. Even in my own case, I’ve had enough bad experiences with restaurant coffee (including, or even especially, at higher-end places) that I’m usually reluctant to have coffee at a restaurant. It seems quite absurd, as a quality experience with coffee at the end of a meal can do a lot to a restaurant’s bottom line. But I can’t say that it’s my main concern because I end up having coffee elsewhere, anyway. While restaurants can be the object of a community’s attention and there’s a lot to be said about what restaurants do to a region or neighbourhood, the community dimensions of coffee have less to do with what is sold where than with what people do around coffee.

Which brings me to the issue of education. It’s clearly a focus in the coffee world. In fact, most coffee-related events have some “training” dimension. But this type of education isn’t community-oriented. It’s a service-based approach, such as the one which is increasingly common in academic institutions. While I dislike customer-based learning in universities, I do understand the need for training services in the coffee world. What I perceive insight from the beer world can do is complement these training services instead of replacing them.

An impressive set of learning experiences can be seen among homebrewers. From the most practical of “hands-on training” to some very conceptual/theoretical knowledge exchanges. And much of the learning which occurs is informal, seamless, “organic.” It’s possible to get very solid courses in beer and brewing, but the way most people learn is casual and free. Because homebrewers are organized in relatively tight groups and because the sense of community among homebrewers is also a matter of solidarity.  Or, more simply, because “it’s just a hobby anyway.”

The “education” theme also has to do with “educating the public” into getting more sophisticated about what to order. This does happen in the beer world, but can only be pulled off when people are already interested in knowing more about beer. In relation with the coffee industry, it sometimes seems that “coffee education” is imposed on people from the top-down. And it’s sometimes quite arbitrary. Again, room for the coffee business to read the Cluetrain Manifesto and to learn from communities.

And speaking of Starbucks… One draft blogpost which has been nagging me is about the perception that, somehow, Starbucks has had a positive impact in terms of coffee quality. One important point is that Starbucks took the place of an actual coffee community. Even if it can be proven that coffee quality wouldn’t have been improved in North America if it hadn’t been for Starbucks (a tall order, if you ask me), the issue remains that Starbucks has only paid attention to the real estate dimension of the concept of community. The mermaid corporation has also not doing so well, recently, so we may finally get beyond the financial success story and get into the nitty-gritty of what makes people connect through coffee. The world needs more from coffee than chains selling coffee-flavoured milk.

One notion I wanted to write about is the importance of “national” traditions in both coffee and beer in relation to what is happening in North America, these days. Part of the situation is enough to make me very enthusiastic to be in North America, since it’s increasingly possible to not only get quality beer and coffee but there are many opportunities for brewing coffee and beer in new ways. But that’ll have to wait for another post.

In Western Europe at least, coffee is often associated with the home. The smell of coffee has often been described in novels and it can run deep in social life. There’s no reason homemade coffee can’t be the basis for a sense of community in North America.

Now, if people in the coffee industry would wake up and… think about actual human beings, for a change…


Mon Café Vert: séparer le bon grain de l’ivraie

Il y a déjà quelques semaines, j’ai acheté des grains de café vert (pour torréfaction maison) grâce au site MonCafeVert.com (MCV):

Mon Café Vert – Café Vert, Torréfacteurs maison, Café vert bio et Équitable.

Avant même de commencer à torréfaction, j’avais un bonne impression de cette entreprise.

Tout d’abord, la boutique en-ligne est relativement bien construite. Pas nécessairement d’un point de vue visuel (je suis pas très sensible à ça) mais d’un point de vue ergonomique. Les diverses sections du site sont clairement identifiées, le panier d’achat se met à jour automatiquement, le contenu affiché n’est pas trop «envahissant»… La boutique accepte les paiements par Paypal, ce qui est assez utile (malgré les frais). Interac en-ligne serait encore plus pratique, à mon avis.

La description des diverses variétés de café semble adéquate, bien que j’aurais personnellement aimé un peu plus de détails (origine plus précise, lavé ou naturel…). Les neuf variétés de café disponibles semblent suffisamment  différentes les unes des autres pour permettre des mélanges intéressants. Dans l’ensemble, les prix sont somme toute assez raisonnables.

MCV distribue aussi des cafetières piston (Bodum) et des torréfacteurs maison. Les torréfacteurs maison sont difficiles à trouver dans le commerce local et MCV les offrent à des prix raisonnables.

Un des plus grands avantages, d’après moi, est le fait que MCV soit une entreprise montréalaise. Pour diverses raisons, j’essaie le plus possible de faire des achats locaux et d’éviter la livraison. MCV offre la livraison gratuite à Montréal et Laval. Je préférerais pouvoir aller chercher le café directement, en métro, mais j’apprécie ce service offert par MCV.

D’ailleurs, c’est ce qui m’a le plus impressionné de MCV: non seulement ai-je obtenu la livraison gratuite à domicile pour une commande de moins de 40$, mais cette livraison a été effectuée dans des délais remarquablement courts et de façon personnalisée. Du service comme ça, c’est impressionnant!

D’ailleurs, c’est la qualité du service qui me pousse à bloguer au sujet de MCV et à faire référence au «bon grain»: du service pareil, ça mérite une reconnaissance amicale.

Ce qui m’a poussé à compléter l’expression usuelle dans le titre, c’est le fait que les grains de certaines variétés de café (le Djimmah, en particulier) sont moins bien triés que ce dont j’ai l’habitude. J’ai torréfié ces cafés à plusieurs reprises et j’ai été obligé de retirer un assez grand nombre de grains après torréfaction, ce qui est plutôt rare. Dans l’ensemble, je dirais que les grains sont d’assez bonne qualité et j’obtiens d’assez bons résultats dans la tasse. Mais j’ai obtenu de meilleurs résultats avec des grains de café vert achetés ailleurs.

N’empêche, avec un tel service, je peux pas me plaindre. Je me dois simplement d’être honnête.


La Renaissance du café à Montréal

J’ai récemment publié un très long billet sur la scène du café à Montréal. Sans doûte à cause de sa longueur, ce billet ne semble pas avoir les effets escomptés. J’ai donc décidé de republier ce billet, section par section. Ce billet est la dernière section de ce long billet. Il consiste en une espèce de résumé de la situation actuelle de la scène montréalaise du café, avec un regard porté vers son avenir. Vous pouvez consulter l’introduction qui contient des liens aux autres sections et ainsi avoir un contexte plus large.

À mon humble avis, l’arrivée de la Troisième vague à Montréal nous permet maintenant d’explorer le café dans toute sa splendeur. En quelque sorte, c’était la pièce qui manquait au casse-tête.

Dans mon précédent billet, j’ai omis de comparer le café à l’italienne au café à la québécoise (outre l’importance de l’allongé). C’est en partie parce que les différences sont un peu difficile à expliquer. Mais disons qu’il y a une certaine diversité de saveurs, à travers la dimension «à la québécoise» de la scène montréalaise du café. Malgré certains points communs, les divers cafés de Montréalais n’ont jamais été d’une très grande homogénéité, au niveau du goût. Les ressemblances venaient surtout de l’utilisation des quelques maisons de torréfaction locales plutôt que d’une unité conceptuelle sur la façon de faire le café. D’ailleurs, j’ai souvent perçu qu’il y avait eu une baisse de diversité dans les goûts proposés par différents cafés montréalais au cours des quinze dernières années, et je considère ce processus de quasi-standardisation (qui n’a jamais été menée à terme) comme un aspect néfaste de cette période dans l’histoire du café à Montréal. Les nouveaux développements de la scène montréalaise du café me donne espoir que la diversité de cette scène grandit de nouveau après cette période de «consolidation».

D’ailleurs, c’est non sans fierté que je pense au fait que les grandes chaînes «étrangères» de cafés ont eu de la difficulté à s’implanter à Montréal. Si Montréal n’a eu sa première succursale Starbucks qu’après plusieurs autres villes nord-américaines et si Second Cup a rapidement dû fermer une de ses succursales montréalaises, c’est entre autres parce que la scène montréalaise du café était très vivante, bien avant l’arrivée des chaînes. D’ailleurs, plusieurs chaînes se sont développé localement avant de se disperser à l’extérieur de Montréal. Le résultat est qu’il y a probablement, à l’heure actuelle, autant sinon plus de succursales de chaînes de cafés à Montréal que dans n’importe autre grande ville, mais qu’une proportion significative de ces cafés est originaire de Montréal. Si l’existence de chaînes locales de cafés n’a aucune corrélation avec la qualité moyenne du café qu’on dans une région donnée (j’ai même tendance à croire qu’il y a une corrélation inverse entre le nombre de chaînes et la qualité moyenne du café), la «conception montréalaise» du café me semble révêlée par les difficultés rencontrées par les chaînes extrogènes.

En fait, une caractéristique de la scène du café à Montréal est que la diversité est liée à la diversité de la population. Non seulement la diversité linguistique, culturelle, ethnique et sociale. Mais la diversité en terme de goûts et de perspectives. La diversité humaine à Montréal évoque l’image de la «salade mixte»: un mélange harmonieux mais avec des éléments qui demeurent distincts. D’aucuns diront que c’est le propre de toute grande ville, d’être intégrée de la sorte. D’autres diront que Montréal est moins bien intégrée que telle ou telle autre grande ville. Mais le portrait que j’essaie de brosser n’est ni plus beau, ni plus original que celui d’une autre ville. Il est simplement typique.

Outre les cafés «à la québécoise», «à l’italienne» et «troisième vague» que j’ai décrits, Montréal dispose de plusieurs cafés qui sont liés à diverses communautés. Oui, je pense à des cafés liés à des communautés culturelles, comme un café guatémaltèque ou un café libanais. Mais aussi à des cafés liés à des groupes sociaux particuliers ou à des communautés religieuses. Au point de vue du goût, le café servi à ces divers endroits n’est peut-être pas si distinctif. Mais l’expérience du café prend un sens spécifique à chacun de ces endroits.

Et si j’ai parlé presqu’exclusivement de commerces liés au café, je pense beaucoup à la dimension disons «domestique» du café.

Selon moi, la population de la région montréalaise a le potentiel d’un réel engouement pour le café de qualité. Même s’ils n’ont pas toujours une connaissance très approfondie du café et même s’il consomme du café de moins bonne qualité, plusieurs Montréalais semblent très intéressés par le café. Certains d’entre eux croient connaître le café au point de ne pas vouloir en découvrir d’autres aspects. Mais les discussions sur le goût du café sont monnaie courante parmi des gens de divers milieux, ne serait-ce que dans le choix de certains cafés.

Évidemment, ces discussions ont lieu ailleurs et le café m’a souvent aidé à m’intégrer à des réseaux sociaux de villes où j’ai habité. Mais ce que je crois être assez particulier à Montréal, c’est qu’il ne semble pas y avoir une «idéologie dominante» du café. Certains amateurs de café (et certains professionnels du café) sont très dogmatiques, voire doctrinaires. Mais je ne perçois aucune  idée sur le café qui serait réellement acquise par tous. Il y a des Tim Hortons et des Starbucks à Montréal mais, contrairement à d’autres coins du continent, il ne semble pas y avoir un café qui fait consensus.

Par contre, il y a une sorte de petite oligarchie. Quelques maisons de torréfaction et de distribution du café semblent avoir une bonne part du marché. Je pense surtout à Union, Brossard et Van Houtte (qui a aussi une chaîne de café et qui était pris à une certaine époque comme exemple de succès financier). À ce que je sache, ces trois entreprises sont locales. À l’échelle globale, l’oligarchie du monde du café est constituée par Nestlé, Sara Lee, Kraft et Proctor & Gamble. J’imagine facilement que ces multinationales ont autant de succès à Montréal qu’ailleurs dans le monde mais je trouve intéressant de penser au poids relatif de quelques chaînes locales.

Parlant de chaînes locales, je crois que certaines entreprises locales peuvent avoir un rôle déterminant dans la «Renaissance du café à Montréal». Je pense surtout à Café Terra de Carlo Granito, à Café Mystique et Toi, Moi & Café de Sevan Istanboulian, à Café Rico de Sévanne Kordahi et à la coop La Maison verte à Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Ces choix peuvent sembler par trop personnels, voire arbitraires. Mais chaque élément me semble représentatif de la scène montréalaise du café. Carlo Granito, par exemple, a participé récemment à l’émission Samedi et rien d’autre de Radio-Canada, en compagnie de Philippe Mollé (audio de 14:30 à 32:30). Sevan Istanboulian est juge certifié du World Barista Championship et distribue ses cafés à des endroits stratégiques. Sévanne Kordahi a su concentrer ses activités dans des domaines spécifiques et ses cafés sont fort appréciés par des groupes d’étudiants (entre autres grâce à un rabais étudiant). Puis j’ai appris dernièrement que La Maison verte servait du Café Femenino qui met de l’avant une des plus importantes dimensions éthiques du monde du café.

Pour revenir au «commun des mortels», l’amateur de café. Au-delà de la spécificité locale, je crois qu’une scène du café se bâtit par une dynamique entre individus, une série de «petites choses qui finissent par faire une différence». Et c’est cette dynamique qui me rend confiant.

La communauté des enthousiastes du café à Montréal est somme toute assez petite mais bien vivante. Et je me place dans les rangs de cette communauté.

Certains d’entre nous avons participé à divers événements ensemble, comme des dégustations et des séances de préparation de café. Les discussions à propos du café se multiplient, entre nous. D’ailleurs, nous nous croisons assez régulièrement, dans l’un ou l’autre des hauts lieux du café à Montréal. D’ailleurs, d’autres dimensions du monde culinaire sont représentés parmi nous, depuis la bière artisanale au végétalianisme en passant par le chocolat et le thé. Ces liens peuvent sembler évident mais c’est surtout parce que chacun d’entre nous fait partie de différents réseaux que la communauté me semble riche. En discutant ensemble, nous en venons à parler de plusieurs autres arts culinaires au-delà du café, ce qui renforce les liens entre le café et le reste du monde culinaire. En parlant de café avec nos autres amis, nous créons un effet de vague, puisque nous participons à des milieux distincts. C’est d’ailleurs une représentation assez efficace de ce que je continue d’appeler «l’effet du papillon social»: le battement de ses ailes se répercute dans divers environnements. Si la friction n’est pas trop grande, l’onde de choc provenant de notre communauté risque de se faire sentir dans l’ensemble de la scène du café à Montréal.

Pour boucler la boucle (avant d’aller me coucher), je dois souligner le fait que, depuis peu, le lieu de rencontre privilégié de notre petit groupe d’enthousiastes est le Café Myriade.


Café «troisième vague» et café «à l’italienne»

J’ai récemment publié un très long billet sur la scène du café à Montréal. Sans doûte à cause de sa longueur, ce billet ne semble pas avoir les effets escomptés. J’ai donc décidé de republier ce billet, section par section. Ce billet est la quatrième section après l’introduction et des sections sur divers types de cafés à Montréal: «à l’talienne», «à la québécoise» et «troisième vague».) Cette section est une tentative d’explication de la «Troisième vague» par contraste avec le «café à l’italienne», sans référence particulière à Montréal.

En tant que phase dans l’histoire du café, la «Troisième vague» (“Third Wave”) est basée sur une philosophie du respect, une forme d’humanisme. Sans être nécessairement alter-mondialistes, les partisans du Third Wave ont à cœur le sort de tous ceux qui œuvrent dans le domaine du café, quel que soit leur statut. Étant données les grandes inégalités entre producteurs et consommateurs de café, le sens de justice des “third wavers” est surtout tourné vers l’amélioration des conditions de travail liées à la production du café dans des régions défavorisées du Globe (la «Périphérie» de Wallerstein). C’est un peu les mêmes «bonnes intentions» qui ont permis aux «cafés équitables» de capturer l’imagination de plusieurs Européens et Nord-Américains. Mais la Troisième vague va beaucoup plus loin dans la direction du respect humain. Il ne s’agit désormais plus de fixer un prix plancher et quelques normes de travail, au sein de comités formés pour la plus grande part d’étrangers à la production du café. Il s’agit, en fait, de transformer le café en un produit culinaire sophistiqué «au même titre que le vin».

L’imaginaire du vin revient souvent dans ce contexte. On parle par exemple de «domaine» (“estate”) au même sens que pour le vin. La notion d’«origine» (par exemple dans “single origin”) correspond plus ou moins à celle de «terroir» (mais avec certaines résonances au niveau du «cépage»). Les mélanges de café, généralement conçus par les torréfacteurs, ressemblent un peu aux «assemblages» en contexte œnologique. La dégustation du café s’inspire parfois de celle du vin et le rôle du barista ressemble parfois à celui du sommelier.

Comme pour le vin, l’idée de base est de mettre en valeur les qualités intrinsèques du produit de base (le raisin ou le grain de café). Dans plusieurs cas, le café provenant d’un lot spécifique d’un domaine particulier est utilisé seul, même en espresso.

De prestigieuses ventes aux enchères (Cup of Excellence) sont organisées à chaque année pour des lots de café sélectionnés lors de compétitions nationales et certains de ces cafés obtiennent des montants extraordinaires. Ces montants étant directement versés aux propriétaires du domaine ayant cultivé ces cafés, certaines plantations de café dont certains produits ont su répondre aux exigences d’acheteurs de café obtiennent des montants élevés pour une part de leur production et leurs statuts ressemblent de plus en plus à celui de grands vignobles.

Au-delà de ces enchères annuelles, les partisans de la troisième vague tiennent à raccourcir la chaîne qui va de la production des grains de café à la dégustation du café. Ainsi, plusieurs torréfacteurs (y compris certains dont le café n’est pas distribué à large échelle) entretiennent des rapports directs avec les producteurs de café. Le voyage vers une région où le café est cultivé (“trip to origin”) est presque considéré comme un rite de passage, par les Third Wavers. Un peu comme dans les produits maraîchers et de boucherie, la ferme à l’origine de chaque produit d’alimentation peut être retracée avec précision. L’idée du rapport humain est donc mise de l’avant.

Chaque café de la troisième vague est donc tourné vers la compréhension du café. Même dans des chaînes de cafés assez étendues, cette notion de comprendre le café dans son moindre détail est transmis à chaque employé. Puisque plusieurs employés de cafés sont de jeunes étudiants et qu’il y a beaucoup de roulement dans ce milieu, le «message» est transmis à de nombreuses personnes et la troisième vague déferle dans diverses villes.

Dans une certaine mesure, il y a une «façon troisième vague» de faire le café. Pas qu’il s’agisse d’une méthode vraiment standardisée, mais il y a divers facteurs dans l’art du café qui sont influencés par la Troisième vague, surtout dans le cas de l’espresso.

Le facteur le plus évident: la fraîcheur. Si la fraîcheur a une grande valeur pour presque tout style de café, elle est devenue une véritable obsession au sein de la Troisième vague. Et ce, à presque toutes les étapes. Une fois séchés et triés, les grains de café vert se conservent assez longtemps. Après avoir été torréfiés, par contre, les grains de café ne conservent leurs arômes que s’ils ne sont pas attaqués par l’oxygène. Au cours des sept à dix premiers jours après la torréfaction, du gaz carbonique s’échappe des grains de café, empêchant l’oxygène de pénétrer dans les grains. Après quelques jours, les grains de café cessent d’expulser du gaz carbonique et deviennent extrêmement sensibles à l’oxydation. Les opinions divergent et les estimés varient mais, selon certains partisans de la troisième vague, la majorité des arômes de certains cafés semble disparaître en dix jours après la torréfaction (malheureusement, je n’arrive pas à trouver de référence à ce sujet mais cette notion est souvent discutée). Selon certains, aucune méthode de stockage ne réussit réellement à conserver la fraîcheur du café au-delà de quelques jours. Les torréfacteurs de la troisième vague indiquent donc la date de torréfaction sur leurs paquets de café et s’assurent que leurs cafés sont distribués très rapidement. Les torréfacteurs italiens, eux, peuvent entreposer leurs grains torréfiés pendant des semaines voire des mois avant qu’ils soient utilisés pour préparer du café.

Une fois moulu, le café se dégrade beaucoup plus rapidement que sous forme de grains. Une notion assez commune dans le milieu Third Wave est qu’il ne suffit que de quelques minutes pour que certains cafés perdent leurs arômes les plus fins. La méthode de préparation du café est donc basé sur la «mouture à la minute». Pour l’espresso, la quantité de café nécessaire à préparer deux cafés (en une seule fois, avec un bec double) est la quantité maximum de café qui peut être moulue à la fois. Le contraste avec les baristas italiens est frappant puisque ceux-ci préfèrent moudre une grande quantité de café, les doseurs de leurs moulins étant conçus pour distribuer environ 7 g de café moulu par compartiment lorsque tous les compartiments sont pleins. (J’ignore combien de compartiments ces doseurs comportent mais le simple fait que le café soit moulu à l’avance semble une hérésie pour les partisans de la troisième vague.)

L’arôme du café comporte de nombreux composés volatils et, surtout dans le cas de l’espresso, ces composés se dissipent très rapidement à l’air libre. Après avoir été «tiré», un espresso troisième vague doit donc être servi très rapidement. Aussi extrême que cela puisse paraître, un délai d’une minute peut faire une différence significative dans le cas de certains cafés. Les arômes les plus éphémères du café sont souvent ceux qui procurent une expérience plus intense et c’est parfois la sensation procurée par ces arômes qui fait du café troisième vague un objet d’admiration. Les autres méthodes de préparation du café sont généralement moins sensibles à l’effet du temps. Un «café piston» (fait avec une cafetière piston), par exemple, évolue pendant qu’il se refroidit et certains arômes ne se dégagent qu’après quelques minutes. Mais si toute méthode de préparation du café peut être utilisée par des partisans de la troisième vague, c’est l’espresso qui constitue, selon les third wavers, l’apogée du café.

L’espresso à l’italienne est servi et consommé assez rapidement. Mais les arômes qui s’en dégagent sont généralement plus durables que pour l’«ultime espresso troisième vague». En fait, l’espresso à l’italienne tire plusieurs de ses arômes de la torréfaction: rôti, chocolat, noix, grillé, fruits secs… Le café de la troisième vague possède souvent des arômes qui proviennent plus directement de la variété de grains de café: épices, bleuet, agrume, tomate, fraise, cerise, abricot…

Tous ces points de comparaison entre la troisième vague et le café à l’italienne sont liés au passage du temps. Il y a d’autres distinctions. Par exemple, l’espresso à l’italienne comporte souvent une certaine proportions de grains venant de l’espèce Coffea canephora de caféier: le «café robusta». Les cafés de cet arbuste sont très généralement considérés comme de bien moindre qualité que ceux du Coffea arabica (le «café arabica»). Le robusta, peu coûteux, est le café de la consommation de base, à l’échelle globale, et non celui de la dégustation respectueuse. Les torréfacteurs italiens utilisent un peu de robusta dans leurs mélanges, à la fois pour le maintien de la crema (l’émulsion au-dessus de l’espresso) que par goût pour une certaine amertume durable. Au cours de la Troisième vague, le statut du robusta a changé quelque peu mais la plupart des torréfacteurs se réclamant de ce mouvement parlent du robusta d’une façon assez négative. Outre les caractéristiques gustatives du café produit avec une proportion de grains robusta, la méthode habituelle de culture du Coffea canephora (procédés industriels, mauvaises conditions de travail, manque de contrôles de qualité…) va à l’encontre de l’esprit Third Wave. S’il existe des «bons robustas», cultivés avec autant de soin que pour l’arabica, les torréfacteurs de la Troisième vague ne tiennent pas à les connaître.

À cause des caractéristiques propres au café utilisé, l’espresso de troisième vague nécessite généralement un contrôle très précis de la température. Alors que les mélanges à espresso italien tolèrent des larges écarts de température sans changer trop de goût, certains cafés d’origine unique utilisé pour l’espresso troisième vague a un goût très différent s’il est réalisé à moins d’un demi-degré Celsius de sa température optimale. D’ailleurs, la Troisième vague est aussi une tendance à l’utilisation d’outils très précis et à une passion pour l’exactitude. En ce sens, la Troisième vague fait beaucoup penser à la culture geek qui, elle aussi, prend sa source dans une certaine portion de la Côte Ouest.

Autre aspect important de la préparation du café troisième vague, c’est un jeu très particulier sur la mouture et le dosage du café. En fait, beaucoup de baristas de la Troisième vague ont tendance à «surdoser» (“updose”) leurs portafiltres d’une proportion bien plus grande de café que ce que voudrait une norme italienne. La technique de dispersion du café moulu dans le portafiltre et l’«écrasement» (“tamping”) de ce café moulu à l’aide d’un instrument dédié (le “tamper”) font l’objet de multiples discussions et d’un apprentissage approfondi. A contrario, certains baristas italiens n’«écrasent» pas le café moulu dans le portafiltre.

Comme l’espresso italien est généralement doté d’une certaine amertume, l’ajout d’un peu de sucre à un espresso italien est relativement commun. Il existe des Italiens (et d’autres amateurs de café) qui voient d’un assez mauvais œil l’ajout de sucre dans l’espresso, mais le goût de l’espresso à l’italienne est souvent réhaussé par quelques grains de sucre. Sans être anti-sucre, la troisième vague est orientée tout entière vers «le café en soi». Un café doit, selon eux, pouvoir «parler de lui-même». Comme avec de nombreux thés de qualité, l’ajout de sucre à un café Third Wave (peu importe la méthode de préparation!) diminue certaines saveurs plutôt que de rehausser le goût du breuvage.

Bien entendu, la Troisième vague permet la préparation de breuvages à base de lait (“milk-based”) comme le Latte macchiato, le cappuccino et le caffè latte. D’ailleurs, l’ajout du lait à ces breuvages est souvent effectué sous forme de «dessins» basés sur le contraste entre la crema de l’espresso et le lait. Pour certains, ces dessins (le “latte art”) est même un facteur important permettant de reconnaître les baristas de la Troisième vague puisque, pour être réussis, ces dessins nécessitent un soin particulier, entre autre dans la créaction d’un lait «soyeux», plein de microbulles. Par contre, la tendance troisième vague est de diminuer le plus possible la proportion de lait dans ces breuvages. Dans ce contexte, la qualité d’un espresso est souvent perçue comme supérieure à celle d’un macchiato qui est perçue comme supérieure à celle du cappuccino. Le latte, bien que devenu très populaire, est parfois considéré comme un mal nécessaire et plusieurs baristas se gaussent des chaînes de cafés qui ont fait du latte un breuvage avec une très grande quantité de lait. En compétition de barista, un critère déterminant pour l’évaluation d’un cappuccino est que la saveur de l’espresso ne soit pas masquée, renforçant encore l’idée troisième vague de mettre le café à l’honneur. Il est commun, dans la Troisième vague, de parler de grains de café (mélange ou «origine unique») qui ne conviennent pas dans les breuvages avec lait. En général, le café à l’italienne s’agrémente très facilement de lait et, dans certains cas, ne prend son sens que dans un breuvage à base de lait.

J’ai mentionné plus haut une distinction entre arômes de torréfaction et arômes de variété. En général, plus plus le degré de torréfaction est élevé (plus les grains sont foncés), plus les arômes «variétaux» disparaissent, surtout en fonction de la pyrolise. Les cafés italiens sont en général d’une torréfaction très foncée et, dans certains cas, les arômes provenant de la variété de café disparaissent complètement. En général, le café troisième vague est donc plus complexe que le café à l’italienne du point de vue olfactif à cause de la torréfaction elle-même. Certains torréfacteurs de la Troisième vague sont même tellement obsédés par les torréfactions «légères» (plus pâles) que certains de leurs cafés ont des saveurs que plusieurs trouvent déplaisantes. Mais, en général, le café troisième vague est conçu pour être balancé, complexe et «propre».

C’est d’ailleurs une caractéristique fondamentale de l’esthétique Third Wave qui est présente dans les règles des championnats de baristas. Le goût de l’espresso doit être «balancé» en ce sens qu’aucun des trois goûts fondamentaux du café (sucré, amertume, acidité/”brightness”) ne peut être dominant mais qu’il doit y avoir une dynamique entre au moins deux de ces trois goûts. C’est un peu difficile à expliquer mais très facile à percevoir. Et un espresso extraordinairement bien balancé est une véritable œuvre d’art.