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Overwhelmed by Science in Coffee

I coincidentally began my Twitter account just before the SCAA Symposium.  It looks like a fantastic event. I also wonder if I would be completely overwhelmed by the collective knowledge in that building.

My current approach to coffee is fairly primitive, “Me like,” or, “Me no like.” I feel, at times, like I am a tadpole trying to push my evolution onto the sand while others are building the Tower of Babel. I read blog posts and picture them in lab coats and pocket protectors instead of aprons. They can be very difficult for me to follow because many of these posts are written with assumptions about coffee that I have not yet established. *

For example, I just learned that the ideal cup extracts only the first 20% of the grounds which results in a 1.4% solution (please correct me if I am wrong because I am assuming brew strength is equal to the percentage of coffee in the solution). I read that and instantly my eyes glazed. Panic filled my heart and I flashed back to Chemistry 151, freshman year of college and a 34% in the class right before the final. The feeling of hopelessness, futility, fear (that class sucked…a lot). I shook it off and dug a little deeper. My buddy at work, who has a Chemistry degree, was able to help bring it into terms I could understand.

See, I am a value based individual. If something does not add (both real and perceived) value to what I am doing, that information passes straight through. I am also fairly pragmatic, so I value things that can be utilized quickly. I figure there is no point in clouding my brain with information that does not add value, or I will not use in the immediate future. More often than not, I let information go because I do not understand how it adds value.

Here is the kicker though; all this science mumbo jumbo DOES add value. It just isn’t easily accessible, especially for common folk like me. As coffee shop owners or baristas, we have to learn the technical aspects, the science behind it all, so we can translate science to value for our customers. So when someone asks, “why do you go there for your coffee?” They can answer with confidence (this is also known as word of mouth marketing). They may not be able to fully explain the solubility of roasted coffee, but they have confidence that the barista does. This allows them to make claims without scientific support such as, "This is the best coffee in town because [insert huge assumption of quality here]."

Answering the question “why” is one of the most important things we can establish in our clientele. If we do not know why, we will not be able to explain it to our customers. There will be people who want to know the science behind what we brew and have the pallet to back it up. Then there is the other 90% of people in the world who cannot explain why they enjoy the coffee and can be easily overwhelmed by science and math.

Our job is to have all the information necessary to add value to our customers. So don’t get overwhelmed. Keep digging for the answers.


*Here is the link that inspired this post.

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