Tag Archives: taste

Taste and Judgement (Draft)

This post isn’t ready to be written. So this is just a placeholder. But, given my RERO mantra, I guess I should still publish it as a “placeholder” of sorts.

I recently served as judge in the Canadian Barista Championship (CBC), here in Montreal. That championship is the national competition pitting against one another baristas (espresso artists) from regional competitions. Rules and regulations (PDF) for this championship closely follow those set by the World Barista Championship (WBC).

Participating in this event, I got to think about taste, evaluation, (inter)subjectivity, coffee, Montreal’s culinary scene, and food culture generally.

Some videos from the event are available, through the event organizer’s uStream channel.

The event was blogged by Anthony Benda. Despite being busy preparing for his café’s grand opening, Anthony managed to give an excellent performance during the championship, especially on the first day. I wasn’t on the panel of judge for his performance but I have reason to believe that Anthony’s performance was really quite good.

I also got to think about my own involvement in such events.

Being a judge at barista championships is still somewhat new to me. I judged during the Eastern regional championship, back in June, and this was my first national championship. I still think that the “barista judge” label fits and I did mention it on occasion, with lots of disclaimers. Most judges at that event were coffee professionals of one type or the other (from equipment distributors to barista champions). My impression is that, despite my limited experience and my somewhat indirect connections to the coffee industry, I was accepted as a peer by other judges.

More importantly, I sincerely think that the judging at this competition was exceedingly fair. My strong perception is that we achieved a high degree of consistency in our judging, both at an individual level and through the group. A large part of what I perceive to be a resounding success comes from the work of WBC’s Brent Fortune, who trained and calibrated the judging team.

One thing I kept thinking about was how different barista judging is from judging homebrewed beer. I haven’t acted as a homebrew judge myself but many of my friends have and I proctored an exam for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Put simply, homebrew competitions are stricter than barista championships. And I mean this to imply that BJCP competitions are in some ways less reasonable than barista championships, though the WBC could learn a thing or two from the BJCP.

Barista championships are based on fairness and impartiality. Though it’s mentioned on occasion, “objectivity” isn’t the core principle in judging. Not emphasizing “objectivity” allows for a sensible approach to tasting since, after all, tasting is as subjective as any other form of sensory perception. In other words, acknowledging the subjective nature of tasting brings realism to WBC-style competitions.

The reason I emphasize the “subjectivity” issue is that homebrewing competitions seem to exist in a radically different world, a world in which “objectivity” is an absolute goal. Though the BJCP style guidelines may allow for some room for variation in judging beer aroma, appearance, flavour, and mouthfeel, the main approach is object-based and a direct connection between a judge’s experience and precise measurements of the beer’s characteristics is assumed. Several homebrew judges do use the term “objective” fairly frequently and “subjectivity” is a “bad word” in many of the homebrew circles which give a lot of weight to those homebrew competitions.

One thing I find fascinating about this distinction between WBC and BJCP competitions is that, to some extent, the coffee professionals are less, well, “anal” than the homebrewers. The level of technical expertise may be as high in both domains. The drinks themselves are comparable on many levels, including in terms of chemical complexity. But the approaches taken to evaluate those drinks are radically different.

I also got to think about the connections (actual and potential) between Montreal’s strong beer scene and its renascent coffee scene. It certainly was fun to have beers at Benelux with a number of participants in the Canadian Barista Championship, including coffee writer Felipe Gonzalez. Myriade’s grand opening, on Monday, will likely serve as an opportunity for me to discuss Montreal’s coffee scene in more depth.

Of course, any of this could be the start of a long monologue on my part. But it’s probably better if I leave this post as it is, to serve as a placeholder for further discussion of taste, evaluation, subjectivity, coffee scenes


Manufacturing Taste

In a comment to my rant on naysaying, Carl Dyke posted the following link (to a Josh Ellis piece from 2003):

Mindjack – Taste Tribes

The piece itself is rather unremarkable. Although, it does contain comments about a few things which became important topics in the meantime such as recommendation systems and the importance of music listeners for individual artists. I’m not too concerned about the piece and I realize it’s “nothing new.” It mostly made me think about a number of things about which I’ve been meaning to blog.

I could react to the use of the term “tribe.” And there are obvious things to say in terms of social groups (family resemblance, community of experience, community of practice, communitas, homogamy, in-group knowledge, social network analysis, etc.).

But I guess my take is at the same time more personal and more cultural.

Contrary to what my Facebook profile may lead some people to believe, I am not a fan of anything or anyone. I’m not saying that I don’t like things or people. I do. In fact, I pretty much like everyone. But fandom isn’t my thing. Neither is fanboyism. So I don’t relate so well to Ellis’s description of networks based on appreciation of a band. Sure, in the past, I’ve participated in similar groups, such as online discussions about one of my favorite tv shows (which still has a fairly active online fanbase). And I did join several Facebook groups about things or people I like. But my personal attitude makes me react rather negatively to fanclubs and the kind of “taste-based community” Ellis so regrettably called “taste tribes.”

Nobody’s fault but my own. I just feel these groups tend to be too restrictive, too inward-looking and, well, too opinion-based.

I’m too much of a social butterfly to spend much time in any one of these groups. My engagement to a group of people can run deeply and my allegiance and faithfulness are sometimes rather strong. But I don’t like to restrict myself to certain groups.

Maybe I’m an “alpha socialiser” after all.

The cultural dimension also seems quite important to me, but it’s harder to explain without giving off the wrong signals. Not only do I react to what I perceive to be abuses of “pop culture references” (in part because I find them exclusionary), but I perceive a kind of culturally significant attachment to individual “cultural items” (“media,” as Ellis seems to call them) in “English-speaking North American popular culture.” I’m not saying that this tendency doesn’t exist in any other context. In fact, it’s likely a dimension of any “popular culture.” But this tendency is quite foreign to me. The fact that I conceive of myself as an outside observer to popular culture makes me associate the tendency with the common habits shared by a group I’m not a member of.

I’m sure I’ll post again about this. But my guess is that somewhat shorter blog entries encourage more discussion. Given the increasing number of comments I’m getting, it might be cool to tap my readership’s insight a bit more. One thing I’ve often noticed is that my more knee-jerk posts are often more effective.

So here goes.

Dismissive Naysayers (Rant)

Ok, I must really be in a ranting spree… 😉

Feels kind of good. 🙂

Don’t worry, it won’t last. 😎

So… Why is it that people occasionally seem forced to be dismissive with people who like something that they themselves happen not to like? You know, in culinary articles, movie reports, political rallies, book reviews… Quite frequently, a negative description of a cultural item will read like “if you like this, you must be an idiot.” Instead of the more useful: “I don’t like this and I think it’s flawed in some ways but if you’re in the mood for this kind of book/meal/movie/experience, you might enjoy it. I respect your tastes, I just don’t share them.”

Now. Some people who know e might think I’m talking about them. I’m not. Really, I’m not talking about anyone in particular. Not even about a category of people. I’m just describing a behavior. At least, I’m trying to.

Even though this is (yet another) rant, I don’t think I’m even really complaining about this kind of behavior. I’m just talking about it. Venting, yes, ok. But not really whining/complaining/dismissing. I know it sounds like something else, but I’m pretty sure I know how I feel about the whole thing. No, I don’t particularly enjoy this behavior. But I can deal with it. I’m fine. I don’t want to eradicate the behavior. I just elucidate.

I’m mostly talking about my puzzlement at this behavior. IMHO, if you don’t like something, there’s really no use in ruining it for other people. I mean, is it supposed to be funny, or something? Is it a way to brag about having a sophisticated palate, about being well-read, about having attained a high degree of media literacy?

Now, I’m sure I’ve done exactly the same thing on occasion. If I don’t enjoy it too much from other people, I hate it coming from my own sorry self. It just doesn’t correspond to my way of thinking about basically anything. If I’ve done it, I guess it might have come from a weird dynamic in which I entered by mistake. Not that it’s an excuse. I don’t need an excuse for something which is not inherently bad. But I do want to understand what’s going on.

I keep wondering how people would react when they are told something like “you’re an idiot for loving a person like this.” That, I’m pretty sure I never said to anyone. If I ever did, something really strange must have happened. But it does happen occasionally. And I wonder how people feel because it might be a path to awareness. Not that an appreciation of “a thing” is in any way similar to an attachment to a human being. But the dismissive sentiment seems to me relatively similar in both cases.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the whole thing. Maybe I just don’t get it and some people just have “superior taste” about everything than anybody else and when they say “it’s bad,” it really means that there’s no way to ever appreciate this thing in any context if you’re a worthy human being. Sure, it’s possible.

I just prefer being an hedonist. 🙂

And I prefer venting occasionally. Not on a regular basis. 😉