"An Epidemic of Underdevelopment"

Anyone who pays attention to coffee will have noticed the (welcome) trend away from darker roasted coffee in the high end ("craft") segment of the speciality market.

It's incredibly nice to be able to taste the coffee - rather than just tasting the roast. It's incredibly nice to be able to experience more of the full range of flavours the coffee can represent (rather than tiny permutations on a roast flavour profile).

But all is not rosy in the world.

I've been quietly talking to various folks in the coffee industry for a bit about some of the negative experiences I've been having with coffee recently. I tweeted about this a little while back when I noted that there seems to be an "epidemic" of underdeveloped coffees.

Now Vince (the genius behind ExtractMojo) has shared his own (scientific) insights into this topic. In this (fantastic) post, Vince clearly illustrates that the (sensory) perception that I (and many others) have noted can be quantified and measured. We now have evidence to back up opinion.

Given this... here are some quick observations and opinions on the topic (in no particular order).

  1. While underdevelopment is in no way tied to light roast degrees, roasting light is harder than roasting dark. I've had underdeveloped coffees roasted to a Full City+ roast degree - and I've had coffees that were roasted to a Cinnamon degree and were wonderfully and fully developed. But it does seem like a lot of the underdeveloped coffees come from folks who are (bluntly) still learning how to roast to a light degree.
  2. That being said, there are even more underdeveloped coffees coming out of roasters who only think in terms of roast degree and have a black and white simplistic view of coffee (light roast degree == good; darker == bad). These roasters do not seem to have "development" on their list of things to care about.
  3. There is a large segment of the coffee industry that follows short-term trends. These folks seem to be following the over-simplified "light roast degree == good" roasters without really thinking about the implications.
  4. A huge challenge is that there is a somewhat large (and vocal) group who are unquestioning cheerleaders of the "light == good" school. I've had folks defend severely underdeveloped coffees with statements like "grassy can be good - like fresh cut lawns" and "well that coffee just tastes like lemon and artificial sweetener."
  5. And of course - perhaps the largest challenge is the (never-ending) culture in speciality coffee of not airing dirty laundry in public (and never speaking ill of your competitors). This lack of honesty continues to do immeasurable damage to the entire industry.

I'm really glad that Vince wrote this piece.
Given the credibility he has in the industry - I honestly believe that the simple "that's just your opinion" knee jerk response can now be dispensed with.

It's time for us to address this issue.
It's a real, legitimate, problem.
And we need to be honest about it.