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Goodbye to coffee

mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 10:38 AM

About six months ago I began to be aware of a change in the idea of what constitutes a good cup of coffee. I was probably hopelessly behind everyone else in realizing this, but I hadn't been keeping up with developments in coffee trends because I was busy drinking coffee that I really enjoyed.

When the coffee I was formerly enjoying (La Colombe Corsica) began to seem less than delicious to me, I started trying to find another source. First I spent almost $60 on a pound of Las Esmeralda Especial (apologies if I have misspelled one of the words), anticipating something glorious. When I tasted it I couldn't believe there were people who considered this a great, let alone good, cup of coffee. I wrote to the roaster to express my disappointment, and was told that their preference is for lighter, more acidic coffees. To me, that sounds like tea. I did find a miraculous Sumatra Marimau Tiger, probably the most delicious coffee I've ever drunk, but the roaster ran out of their supply and has not replenished it since.

Over the past 5 months on coffee roasters' sites I've fallen for descriptions of rich, strong coffee that will result from the "espresso roast" beans they sell, only to find, time after time, that there is a harshness and a tanginess that does not fit with my idea of what good coffee should taste like. It is always apparent just from looking at the bean that the coffee was only a medium roast, not dark. This is what espresso roast has become.

Today I found out for sure that it is all over for me and coffee. On the site www.coffeereview.com, it is stated plainly, in the July 2008 newsletter, that the trend is toward the lighter roasts and roasters do not want to produce the dark roasts now. When I complained to Ecco Caffe about the three "espresso" roasts I ordered, I was told that they could understand how their medium roast might be a shock to my system, if I'm used to dark roasts.

It's clear that my preference is no longer considered drink-worthy, so I can foresee the day when I will no longer be able to find a coffee that I enjoy. I see too that I must be in the minority, or else this trend would not be growing. This is a sad and unanticipated development.

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  1. o
    oryza RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 10:54 AM

    Nooooo... bad news for me too...

    But, scope out the ethnic stores for coffees like cheap green Yerga Cheffe... and roast yourself in a hot skillet over the stove. It's not terribly "precise" (not every bean will roast to the same degree or color), but it ends up tasting surprisingly good and fresh and rich.

    1. c
      chileheadmike RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 11:28 AM

      I've been roasting my own for years. I started out with an air popcorn popper and then moved up to a real roaster. While I prefer a lighter roast, you could roast it as dark as you like.

      http://sweetmarias.com/

      Nice folks, good coffee, as fresh as it gets, and much less expensive than buying pre-roasted.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chileheadmike
        mayiomoula RE: chileheadmike Sep 17, 2008 02:01 PM

        Good idea. Maybe it's come to that. Thanks!

      2. m
        Metalee RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 11:37 AM

        How delightfully dramatic this post is!

        (I prefer the darker roasts too)

        4 Replies
        1. re: Metalee
          mayiomoula RE: Metalee Sep 17, 2008 02:03 PM

          Well, I guess I do sound rather dramatic, but it's just a reflection of how I feel about coffee. I've always loved the stuff, and drinking my first cup in the morning was one of the great delights of the day. To think that because a new way of thinking about coffee has made what I love disappear is very sad. And I think all those medium-roast-, mild-flavor-, high-acid-loving people are just WRONG! And they have ruined coffee.

          1. re: mayiomoula
            w
            winedude RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 03:11 PM

            Phooey on all of that.

            Order anything from Peet's. They roast very dark, but not burnt. I prefer the coffees from Indonesia and the South Pacific, and love both the Maduro Blend and Garuda Blend. Also, Major Dickinson's Blend is their signature. All very dark, and very delicious.

            www.peets.com

            1. re: winedude
              goodhealthgourmet RE: winedude Sep 17, 2008 04:42 PM

              another vote for Peet's. and yes, Major Dickason's blend is excellent.

              1. re: winedude
                mayiomoula RE: winedude Sep 22, 2008 04:24 AM

                Thanks! I'll check them out. Fingers crossed, I'll find what I'm looking for.

          2. madgreek RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 11:41 AM

            I feel for you, but I'm with the majority. I almost always prefer a lighter roast.

            1. t
              treb RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 12:27 PM

              You're one step away from getting a great cup of coffee. I have a friend who blends and roasts his own, I mean awesome, it's the only way to go. So I'd suggest learning to blend and roast.

              1 Reply
              1. re: treb
                mayiomoula RE: treb Sep 17, 2008 02:04 PM

                Thanks, I will definitely consider it.

              2. b
                bulavinaka RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 03:38 PM

                I don't know if you've ever been down this road before, but some who like dark roasts truly enjoy Vietnamese or Southeast Asian coffee, commonly known as Ca phe den nong, which is widely consumed in most of Southeast Asia. I used to be a dark roast drinker, and still am to a certain extent, but have switched over to this type of coffee. It's normally a dark roast - often French roast - and sometimes mixed with chickory. The Vietnamese style coffee has a very deep and dark coffee flavor that is usually mixed with condensed milk where the drink is then called Ca phe sua da. If you haven't tried it, you can normally order it at Vietnamese eateries as well as some Asian coffee and tea houses.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cà_phê_s...
                http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/06...

                1 Reply
                1. re: bulavinaka
                  mayiomoula RE: bulavinaka Sep 22, 2008 04:23 AM

                  Thanks! That sounds like what I'm looking for!

                2. alanbarnes RE: mayiomoula Sep 17, 2008 04:24 PM

                  Sounds to me as though you may be conflating two different things: the darkness of the roast and the boldness of the beans. The darker you roast a bean, the more the cup reflects roast characteristics as opposed to varietal characteristics. Roast dark enough and you have charcoal, and it's going to taste exactly the same no matter what sort of beans you started with.

                  As to the type of bean, coffees that win cupping competitions tend to be fairly restrained and well-balanced. Sounds like you don't care for those so much, so you're probably better off avoiding Konas, Jamaican Blue Mountains, Panama Geishas, and all the other high-dollar stuff, at least for now. Coffees from Indonesia (Sulawesi, Sumatra, etc.) and India will tend to be much more bold. So will some Ethiopian and Brazilian coffees.

                  As to the roast, if you have bold-flavored beans to begin with you won't need to burn them. First, forget about "light," "medium," and "dark" roasts. One roaster's opinion of what a medium roast is will not necessarily be the same as another's. And "espresso roast" is completely meaningless. A knowledgeable roaster will be able talk to you about where the roast was terminated--usually after the end of the first crack (internal bean temperature ~400F) and the end of the second crack (internal bean temperature ~475F). (IMHO good beans should never be roasted all the way through the second crack. You might as well make a brew with ground-up Kingsford briquettes. But I'm opinionated that way.)

                  Also, if you're ordering roasted beans online they're probably dying by the time they get to you and dead by the time you finish the package. Green beans last a long time, but once you roast, flavor peaks within a day or two. After a week quality is pretty heavily compromised, and after two weeks--meh. So make friends with a good local roaster who won't mind checking roast dates and selling you a smaller quantity of beans once or twice a week. Or better yet, learn to roast yourself. A ~$2 air popper from the Goodwill will do the trick, but a ~$200 programmable fluid bed roaster will give you more control over the process and make less mess. I use and heartily recommend the Hearthware iRoast2.

                  Long and short, if you don't like the coffee you're getting, find a better source. And if you want complete control, it's easy enough to do it yourself.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes
                    mayiomoula RE: alanbarnes Sep 22, 2008 04:22 AM

                    Basically what I'm saying is that I can no longer find the kind of bean I used to be able to get to make the kind of coffee I like. I have been buying whole bean cofee for about 30 years, so I don't think I'm confused about what I want. I was getting what I wanted for 30 years, but that seems not to be possible anymore.

                    I do happen to be one of those who like dark, strong coffee. I have tried and do not like coffees like Kona and Jamaice Blue Mountain. They may be the best coffees, but for me they are not.

                    I have tried getting the beans from at least 5 different roasters in the past 6 months, with disappointing results. The only coffee of the many pounds that I bought that I actually enjoyed was Sumatra Harimau Tiger,which is now out of stock at the place where I bought it.

                    What prompted my post was reading the plain statement on coffeereview.com that roasters are now tending toward medium or light roasts. It's the new preference. This is dismal news for me. I will try home roasting, but I think I also have to accept, based on what you said and what so many coffee experts say, that I have never known what good coffee should taste like. Apparently what I have loved all my life is not really good coffee. If that is the case, then I can't call myself a coffee lover. If the tart, thin liquid that wins prizes is what coffee should be, I will have to find another beverage.

                    1. re: mayiomoula
                      alanbarnes RE: mayiomoula Sep 22, 2008 10:36 AM

                      I didn't mean to imply that you "have never known what good coffee should taste like." Not at all. I just wanted to call your attention to the distinction between flavors that come from the variety of coffee and those that come from the way it's roasted.

                      And the notion that you "have never known what good coffee should taste like" is silly. You liked the Sumatra Harimau Tiger when you were able to get it; that's really good coffee. And assuming you were getting it from Electric City, the FC+ roast is dark but definitely not burnt. (You hit FC+ when the internal bean temp is about 454F. Here's a good guide to roast terminology and temperatures: http://sweetmarias.com/roasting-Visua...

                      )

                      Nobody but you can dictate your tastes and preferences. Is it possible that you're letting other people's opinions play way too big a role in your evaluation of the State Of Coffee As We Know It? Okay, so lighter roasts are increasing in popularity. So what? That "tart, thin liquid that wins prizes" is just one thing coffee CAN be; what it SHOULD be in your coffee cup is up to you.

                      My post was intended to hopefully point you in the right direction for the next step: finding a coffee YOU like. In doing so, you're going to have to communicate with vendors unless you want to continue to play coffee roulette. And that communication will be facilitated by defining what it is you're looking for as precisely as possible. Your original post seemed to focus almost exclusively on the darkness of the roast. But there's more to it than that; it sounds to me like you want a full-flavored, bold, "earthy" coffee. You can roast Blue Mountain until it's charcoal and it will never deliver that flavor profile.

                      Based on your expressed preferences, I'd suggest a Sumatra Lintong roasted to full city plus. Electric City's website says that the Harimau (not an estate designation, it just means "tiger") comes from near Lake Toba, which would put it in the Lintong district. I'm currently drinking a "Blue Batak" Lintong, which I roast just a hair past full city. And although it's not the kind of stuff that's going to win cupping competitions, there's no doubt in my mind that it's really, really good coffee.

                      1. re: alanbarnes
                        mayiomoula RE: alanbarnes Sep 22, 2008 05:38 PM

                        The fact that lighter roasts are increasing in popularity means that it is becoming impossible for me to get the kind of coffee that I like. I am not letting other peoples' opinions influence me. Their opinions of what is good is affecting what is available to me.

                        1. re: mayiomoula
                          alanbarnes RE: mayiomoula Sep 22, 2008 06:17 PM

                          Engage in hyperbole much?

                          The current popularity of lighter roasts hasn't made it "impossible" to find dark-roasted coffee any more than the increased popularity of pinot noir has made it impossible to find cabernet. Yes, there are more choices available, and you're less likely to find something you like by blindly pointing at a bag of beans. Stop sniveling about it and educate yourself as to exactly what it is you like about a particular coffee so you can find more like it.

                          There are still plenty of dark roasts available. Especially when it comes to Indonesian coffees, which you claim to like. I defy you to find a commerical Sumatra that's roasted to less than full city. A few iconoclasts will use a lighter roast, but they're by far the exception.

                          If you're really looking for information, plenty has already been posted here. If you're just trolling, well, I suppose we all have to find our entertainment somewhere...

                      2. re: mayiomoula
                        scubadoo97 RE: mayiomoula Sep 22, 2008 01:21 PM

                        If your roaster can not do small batch to produce the level of roast that you like I strongly advise you to seek out one that can or consider home roasting. You can roast it to any level you want and only buy the beans that you like whether that be single origin or a blend.

                        Roasters have been leaning toward a lighter roast for espresso for a long time.

                        a quote from George Howell's Terroir Coffee Co.
                        " suspect extra dark-roasted coffee is associated in the United States with espresso because the Italians who first made espresso in this country were mostly poor immigrants who could afford only lower quality coffee beans, including a lot of inferior Robusta coffees. Poorer quality coffees are traditionally roasted very darkly in Europe. Dark roasting makes poor-quality coffee more palatable by masking some of its undesirable flavors with a "rich" coating of bitterish carbonization. What is born of necessity ultimately becomes acquired taste. As one travels from Southern Italy to the traditionally more prosperous North the quality of the coffee improves, and the roasts progressively lighten up.

                        Regardless if you like it very dark then try to get dark roasted beans but stay open minded because as you begin drinking a lighter roast you may discover some things about it that you may like. If you do not develop a taste for it then by all means stop.

                        1. re: scubadoo97
                          mayiomoula RE: scubadoo97 Sep 22, 2008 05:36 PM

                          I appreciate your comments and see too that I perhaps have been influenced by the poor immigrants who used inferior beans. Maybe what I have been drinking and enjoying all these years is just over-roasted inferior coffee. I guess I can't argue with George Howell. I do recall my grandmother's espresso, which is what I grew up to love. I thought she knew what she was doing, but maybe she just didn't know any better. She was an immigrant, although not poor. She was from Abruzzi, which is technically in central Italy but most people consider it Southern Italy (i.e., "poor immigrants).

                          I have tasted the coffees that are considered superior, and absolutely do not like them. I spent $50 on a pound of Las Esmeralda, or whatever it's called, expecting to be transported, and the coffee I tasted was like something you'd get at some chain restaurant. To be honest, if that is what is considered good coffee, then I don't want to like coffee.

                          Maybe until the coffee renaissance, no one really knew enough about coffee to recognize a good cup when they drank it. I am probably a product of that era. Now that people are so much more knowledgeable, they know what coffee should taste like and can appreciate these lighter beans that seem to me to be nothing more than very dark tea.

                          This revelation makes me think back to all the cups I enjoyed, all the times that I served family and guests coffee, and they loved it -- how could we have been so mistaken? It's a weird feeling to suddenly question what you took to be a pleasant experience, and begin to wonder how you could have been so wrong for so long.

                          This answers my question definitively. The coffee that I loved was born of poverty and ignorance. Now that people know better, it is recognized for what it is: unacceptable. Oh well.

                          1. re: mayiomoula
                            jodymaryk RE: mayiomoula Sep 24, 2008 07:09 PM

                            I too like dark, full bodied coffee and If I have to I'll roast it myself but here in Seattle It's not too hard to find decent bean/ ground

                            1. re: mayiomoula
                              scubadoo97 RE: mayiomoula Sep 25, 2008 07:14 AM

                              I am a home roaster and the holy grail coffees are not something I seek out. No way would I spend $50/lb on coffee. My expectations would never be met.

                              You should really consider home roasting. It's inexpensive, fun and you are in control.

                              BTW I didn't hope I didn't offend with the above quote. It was not my intent.

                      3. o
                        Orchid64 RE: mayiomoula Sep 23, 2008 06:14 AM

                        You seem to be taking the change personally, as if the world is deciding you have bad taste or something. Reading through all the responses, I find that I'm in great agreement with your tastes, particularly when it comes to "expensive" coffees like Blue Mountain and such.

                        Try to heed what alanbarnes has said and not see his posts as an insult to your coffee knowledge or taste. He's definitely given you the tools to point you in the right direction to find a substitute for the coffee you've lost access to. The roast is only part of the taste you enjoy. The other part is the bean and the coffees you dislike are unappealing in large part because of the beans, not the roast. I think you're looking for a low acid coffee and may want to sample varieties from Indonesia (particularly Sumatra varieties). I say this because this is a variety I enjoy and we appear to have similar tastes. Good luck.

                        1. Caroline1 RE: mayiomoula Sep 27, 2008 06:43 AM

                          One of the critical things I've learned in life is that NO ONE lives with MY taste buds, so how can they possibly know what tastes best to me? Strike out on your won and ignore the High Poobahs! They know NOTHING! '-)

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Caroline1
                            c
                            chipman RE: Caroline1 Sep 27, 2008 09:05 AM

                            I don't believe he told you how it tastes to you. He only said to give it a chance and maybe you would develop a taste for the more lightly roasted coffee bean. Isn't this what CH is all about? trying new things?

                            1. re: chipman
                              Caroline1 RE: chipman Sep 27, 2008 01:16 PM

                              Thank you for misunderstanding me. :-)

                              1. re: Caroline1
                                c
                                chipman RE: Caroline1 Sep 27, 2008 08:40 PM

                                Misunderstand you? I don't think so. You know what you like and no expert is going to change your mind, because they don't know what they're talking about. Am I close?

                                1. re: chipman
                                  Caroline1 RE: chipman Sep 27, 2008 08:52 PM

                                  Not at all. My intended meaning (that you missed) was to trust what he likes, enjoy it, savor it, and don't worry about what the "gurus" say is "great." They're just selling coffee. NOW do you understand? '-)

                          2. Candy RE: mayiomoula Sep 27, 2008 01:39 PM

                            I get a fair trade, locally roasted Colombian. It is a blend and is exclusive to our shop. It is a combination of dark, medium, and light. Holds up really well to icing and is delicious hot too.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Candy
                              alanbarnes RE: Candy Sep 27, 2008 02:16 PM

                              There are some very good coffees coming out of Colombia lately (I've been drinking some really tasty stuff that was sourced at a single farm in the Huila region), but their characteristic fruitiness and bright acid are kind of the opposite of what the OP has indicated he likes. You may be able to get a decent amount of bittersweet chocolate flavor by roasting to full city, but I've never met a Colombian that has the boldness and intensity of an Indonesian coffee.

                            2. p
                              Panini Guy RE: mayiomoula Sep 27, 2008 05:58 PM

                              I think the best way to analogize what you're experiencing is similar to what was going on in CA wine a couple of decades ago. Many wines, particulary chards of that era, may have been produced by fine grapes, but the new oak barrels were overpowering the nuances of the fruit. After awhile, better vinters (and aficianados) started appreciating the fruit itself and changed their methods to get more from the grape and less from the barrel in their final product.

                              That same type of "awakening" has happened in coffee in the past decade. A greater appreciation for terroir. The realization that the blueberry in a Harrar might be a ferment defect from processing, not the bean itself. And that many beans benefit from lighter roasts to showcase their flavor spectrum.

                              But, and this is a big but... this new "style" is only being used by a small number of roasters and an incredibly small number of beans in terms of global production. It's not a coincidence that it is the roasters who are considered best in class who are doing this (Ecco, Novo, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, Stumptown, Terroir, etc.) as they are the innovators. But there are plenty of others out there who are still roasting darker than the abovementioned roasters.

                              Fwiw, Indonesians (save for PNGs) typically tend to take a longer roast much better than other regions. And (IMO) they're better enjoyed as a press pot than a filter method due to their roast characteristics and body.

                              We cupped a ton of coffee this past summer from more than a dozen national roasters. In your case, I might suggest Alterra out of Milwaukee. We find they roast darker than their neighbors, but not so dark as to kill off all the bean flavor. If you're ordering from Eastern PA, you might also try Torreo (No. Philly, I think). New Harvest in Providence might also be a good choice. Finally, there's a local guy who we buy from, Jake's Java, south of Pittsburgh. He's currently carrying the Lintong that was mentioned above. Not so oddly, we split a lot of Esmeralda with Jakes. Our specs are for a lighter roast. They found their mail order customers wanted it darker, so they're providing Esmeralda at probably one of the darker roasts available (it was the less expensive lot, but still good).

                              Lastly, we don't agree with the "two days off roast" necessarily being Gospel. Depends what you're using the coffee for and what coffee it is. A lot of our Centrals and Africans are simply too gassy two days out. Four or five days is better. And when making espresso, it might be 10-12 days off roast that performs best. There are few hard and set rules, except for starting off with whole beans.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Panini Guy
                                scubadoo97 RE: Panini Guy Sep 28, 2008 09:28 AM

                                Sooooo true Panini Guy. I can't count how many home roasters have look at me as if I came from another planet when I tell some of my roasts improve after a week for espresso. These are the people that feel anything older than 2 days is old. Depends on the bean and how it was roasted. I agree with your analogy of the wine to coffee comparison. Very similar. I like to stay open minded and not have too many preconceived notions of what I like. My likes are constantly changing.

                                1. re: Panini Guy
                                  alanbarnes RE: Panini Guy Sep 28, 2008 10:37 AM

                                  You're absolutely right that some coffees take time after roasting for body to develop. The notion that coffee quality peaks within a day or two of roasting is a general rule, to which there are numerous exceptions. But they're just that - exceptions to the general rule.

                                  If I have read the OP correctly, s/he is focusing on roast level as the only factor in making a cup of "rich, strong coffee." But that's only one of six factors that contribute to cup quality, the others being the characteristics of the green beans, the freshness of the roasted beans, the grind, the amount of ground coffee used, and the brewing method.

                                  We can talk at length about the fine points of each of these six factors, but simply ignoring five of them is going to make it really difficult for the OP to find that sought-after cup. Expecting a Panama Geisha to taste like a Lintong (or vice-versa) is a recipe for disappointment.

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