I am a YUGE fan of mind-blowing, amazing coffees with flavors that sparkle and dance and explode like pop-rocks on your tongue. I really like unbalanced, extreme flavors in coffee, beer and food.
What I LOVE in coffee though is complexity of flavor, perfect balance, nuance, depth and refinement. I lose my mind over coffees that display the rarest of all attributes: a complete circle of flavor that has pleasant attributes from several section of the flavor wheel. Coffees balanced with both extremes in flavor and nuanced in refinement. Those coffees that are deeply sweet, well-balanced, display structured acidity and well-developed mouthfeel. Coffees where no single attribute or flavor dominates the flavor party. Coffees that are open and inviting and extraordinary but remarkably easy to receive.
I typically despise the phrase “approachable coffees” not because of what they are, instead because of how the phrase too often justifies disingenuous actions. I am talking about coffees that are not approachable because they are dumbed down by an overly dark roast, bought because they have no flavor and are super cheap or brewed intentionally weak to remove flavor. I am talking about the opposite.
To me Friendly Coffees are coffees that are well-balanced, nuanced and sweet; have rounded, complex flavors and present their flavors and attributes clearly and completely. Not one screaming attribute raised in defiant rage, but a chorus of attributes that raise the heavens.
Every party needs a mix of personalities and people to make it successful and satisfying. You need the self-centered hedonist, the single subject ranting harbinger, the quiet unassuming wall flower, the studious listener, the crazy party maker and the welcoming party host.
We in the Specialty Coffee bubble love our screaming single subject ranting harbingers in the form of coffee. The Geshas, the freaky funky naturals, the champagne fermented moccas. I too love those coffees and truly enjoy drinking them. As a treat.
I see a lot of us in our insular coffee worlds fetishizing these types of drama queen coffees and hyping them beyond compare. And they do indeed rock the stage. How could you not like a spectacular coffee that scores 96 points? Those coffees are breathtakingly beautiful and as rare as the unbought politician. They are perceived as the clearest and most impactful way for our potential customers to taste the rainbow and finally understand why we wax so poetically about our coffees. We pontificate that “If they just tasted how extreme this coffee was they would KNOW!”
They won’t know. The majority of people in the world will never know what we are talking about because they simply don’t care. Coffee is a caffeine and sugar delivering vehicle for them and nothing more. They don’t want to like coffee. They even resent it a little.
Certainly some people can be shock and awed into joining the Specialty Coffee camp.
Think about this premise though. Think back to the one coffee moment that changed it all for you. Where were you when you tasted the magic? What were you doing? Who were you with? What flavors and attributes grabbed you and wouldn’t let go?
In short, what were the flavors and attributes of the coffee that made you rethink what coffee could be?
From the hundreds of stories I have heard it was most often a coffee that tasted fantastic, well-balanced, deeply complex, super sweet and had a couple of flavors that really shined. Not one single attribute but balance with several shining flavors that complemented.
So what is a friendly coffee to me?
It is a coffee that is open, inviting, well-balanced and remarkably sweet. A coffee where no single over-riding attribute drowns out the entire coffee song. They can easily be perceived as simple because they are balanced and complete. But they are not always simple. But they are universally adored by customers. Customers from all types of backgrounds and tastes tend to flock to these coffees because they are balanced, sweet and complete. They are not boring, quite the opposite, as these are by far the hardest coffees to produce and serve. Sometimes these coffees don’t cup as well on the cupping table when evaluating coffee using primarily a scoring point system that focuses on and rewards extreme attributes. (<–More on this idea in another post) But these coffees perform remarkably well when brewed and served as drip or espresso. Customers love them and want to buy more and more of them. Not because they are crazy and un balanced, but because they taste great and make them feel happy.
That’s why I call them friendly coffees because customers tend to think of them as their friends and their coffee. They feel a sense of ownership and camaraderie with these coffees. They like them better than we do. Are they wrong? Are we right? Or are we evaluating them on different scales? When most of us in the Specialty Coffee industry cup and score coffees we are looking for and rewarding “the Best” coffee. Customers tend more often to look for and reward the coffees “They Like”. In other words industry people tend to look for the one Champion to crown. More often than not customers tend to look for a coffee friend. Someone they can get along with, hang out with and who makes them feel great. A Friendly Coffee. NOT a boring, useless, flat and lifeless coffee. A really good coffee that puts its flavors and attributes into a pleasant, balanced package where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts.
Friendly coffees also represent the way farmers actually make a profit from their coffees. Most, if not all, farms produce a truly small percentage of their entire crop of mind-blowing, spectacular single note screamer coffees that blow the cupping table away. The majority of the best farms total output are friendly, well-balanced, nicely sweet coffees that are superbly drinkable and enjoyable. That is where they make most of their money and where they also struggle the most to sell for higher prices.
I am not advocating for boring, lifeless coffees with no flavor, we have plenty of those. I am instead advocating for coffees that make people smile and let their guard down because they are so balanced and complete and friendly. I loves me some friendly coffees.