Monday, February 13, 2012

Step 1: Getting Our Feet Wet

Okay, team. This is our first foray into specialty coffee.  I've said it before - we're going to dive right in.  (But are we actually?)  What if we're afraid of the deep end?  What if the water's a little too cold?  Should we just plunge ahead and figure it out when we're completely submerged?  Sure, that's an option, but if you don't feel like doing a cannonball, I'm not going to push you in.  In fact, I'm actually a big proponent of the slow and steady work up.  First things first, go ahead and pat yourself on the back for making it this far.  You've decided to delve into the unknown and try something new.  Step one is to get acquainted with whatever new you're experiencing.  No, that doesn't mean Wikipedia.  It means, "Go out and actually get acquainted."  Listen up, this is how we're going to get our feet wet.
So you're an occasional coffee drinker, and by occasional I mean you pound back a mug or two when it's two in the morning, that deadline's coming up, and you've got nothing.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, if I asked you what you want in a coffee, you would probably say, "I want a dark, rich, hearty roast."  But in reality, only 25 to 27 percent of you truly want a "dark, rich, hearty roast."  Most of you like milky, weak coffee, so that's probably what you're sipping on come the middle of the night before the project is due.
My first bit of advice is "branch out from what you know," and when I say that I really am calling you to branch from what you know.  If you really like milky coffee, you're probably not going to order an espresso the next day and exclaim, "Damn, this is tasty!"  Instead, maybe start with a well made latte. (If you like sugar, put some in, but don't get too used to it because we're going to wane you off soon.)  A good latte is basically about 1 part espresso to 3-4 parts steamed milk.  Try the smaller 8oz latte so that the coffee stands out a bit more (whether you get a small or large, it's probably the same amount of espresso). So while we're not going to jump into the deep end quite yet, we're still getting in the water.
Now comes the post mortem.  What did you think?  More than just good or bad - how was the experience and why?  Did you want to spit it out after the first sip?  Did it start growing on you?  I recommend starting a journal the capture your experiences so you can see how they evolve over time.  Bring it with you.  It might seem silly to write about your latte as you drink, but looking silly and having a well-documented experience is better than looking cool with an empty journal.  I'm starting one of these.  They're great journals for coffee.
I would recommend frequenting the same establishment and getting familiar with whatever coffee-related beverage you started with.  After several times having the same drink, you should be expecting a certain taste when you bring it to your lips.  That signals that you should be trying the same drink at different establishments.  Can you distinguish between ABC's latte and XYZ's latte?  How? Do you have a preference of one over the other?  If so, why? Once you can answer all these questions, we're ready to move on to Step 2.  If you're learning coffee too, what kind of drink did you start with?  If you're doing your own thing, what was your first step?

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