August 2017 - Unpacking tasting notes, Decaf Nespresso capsules, dysfunctional marketing

Date Posted:3 August 2017 

“Clients don’t care about the labor pains; they want to see the baby.” — Tim Williams

Why coffee tasting notes rarely live up to the promise

So, the label says - berry, apricot, honey and toffee, but all I am getting is a sweet coffee experience in my latte - where's is the it me that just can't pick it ?

If this sounds familiar, have you ever wondered why you may not be hitting those seductively arranged tasting notes with your coffee ?

Don't worry, it probably has nothing to do with you or your equipment.

Surprisingly, many coffee enthusiasts get trapped in a never ending cycle of upgraditis. A serious affliction that involves jumping from machine to machine and grinder to grinder, spending way too much money in desperate attempts searching for a solution that enables them to "taste those damn notes".

Coffee forums are littered with extremist's preaching about how their new grinder allowed them to taste incredible fruit notes that had previously laid dormant.

Reality is that most of the time it's not related to your equipment but of course the best equipment in the hands of the skilled can truly amplify the coffee experience.

To understand why this disconnect occurs between attractive sounding tasting notes and the wet beverage, it's necessary to journey back a few steps from your espresso extraction or filter brew and look at how coffee is evaluated and roasted.

You may be surprised to learn that raw coffee is graded many times along the stages in the flow of goods. Farmers make their assessments and management decisions such as isolating certain cherries, blending cherries or processing the cherries using different methods, e.g. sun dried, washed, honeyed, fermented, pulped, dried, etc. Many farms in fact don't have any processing capability and sell just the cherries to mills or Co-ops.

When the farmer is ready to sell his wares, he may submit samples to buyers, Co-ops, mills or import/export agents and so begins the dance of ascribing a valuation on the raw coffee linking to variables such as quality, supply & demand and the prevailing market conditions.

It's at this stage that the raw coffee is measured or scored for many physical attributes such as moisture, density, screen size, visual appearance, defect counts, consistency, etc.

Raw coffee will also be roasted for the first time in small sample devices. These are simplistic systems using batch sizes of as low as 50 of 100 grams. The coffee is roasted without the elaborate controls offered in larger commercial roasting machines such as dynamic heat and airflow management.

The sample roasters will only take the raw coffee (roast) to a lighter depth compared to the normal roasting depth applicable for general consumption. This sample roast depth is according to an established "cupping" standard and it's important for detecting various attributes and defects from the roasted coffee sample.

Thing is, coffee roasted for sample depth can't easily be used on an espresso machine - it's too lightly roasted and will taste quite sour, grassy, woody, weak and rather unpleasant. Instead, its ground coarse and steeped in water for a controlled period, the crust removed for "slurping" the resultant brew in a manner similar to wine tasting except it can get quite animated as the slurping may be intense with a high pressure whistle to draw the coffee across the entire palate before being spat out.

However, despite the lightly roasted sample not being able to be used across many of our traditional brewing devices, it can have impressive clarity to the trained and calibrated palate - so much clarity in fact that it would diminish or even disappear when roasted for espresso.  

The sample roasted coffee is evaluated using a structured system whereby scores out of 10 are assigned to individual attributes such as aroma, acidity, flavour, body, balance and aftertaste.

It's at this precise stage that trained "cuppers" develop their commentary on what they are tasting in the coffee. Often, defects will be more pronounced, so it's an assured way of comparing and separating superior from inferior.

As it's lighter roasted, many of the inherent fruit elements of the coffee bean will be at their most prominent and it's typically these fruity descriptors that end up appearing on most coffee bean tasting notes (and also often the holy grail for light roasted brewing enthusiasts).

Generally, as the roast progresses in depth (darker), some or many of these fruits will decline or through the natural transformation of sugars and carbohydrates within the bean cell structure, a type of caramelisation will produce dominant notes of toffee, caramel, chocolate that we are more accustomed to drinking with espresso-based beverages.

A lot of the high-grown, hard, dense, fully washed Central and South American beans we purchase will have one or many fruit descriptors - as a simplistic example stone fruit (Guatemala), apple (El Salvador), apricot (Costa Rica), orange (India), pear (Nicaragua), etc. This is not a an expected representative fruit element of these origins, but just primary fruits detected in some lots we have in our warehouse and it's constantly changing as new lots arrive. In other words, it's possible to detect say apple from many other regions, so you can't simplistically refer to an origin having "this" type of fruit.

We often get asked by customers to roast the coffee lighter as they want to use it in some special filter brew method and yet 10 minutes later another customers asks us to roast the coffee darker. This pulling from both ends is a constant tension.

The roasting depth we arrive at for any specific bean in our portfolio is not a guess, an accident or a clone. It's a balance of profile that we look for - we roast the coffee, test it, decide on what can make it better, test it again and keep this optimization process repeating for the entire period we have a bean. In other words, it's an evolution, but we have a style and that's predicated on preserving the integrity of clean & sweet.

The moment we roast something, we have no idea where it's going to end up - espresso, stovetop, drip/filter, aeropress, percolator or plunger, etc. There is no such thing as a universal roast that spans all brew methods (despite marketers trying their best to persuade you it's possible).

Our coffees are roasted for espresso in the lighter side of medium dark because that's something we have found over the last decade perfectly suits the milk-based espresso culture in Australia. Sure, it's not going to please the 1% of light-roasted filter purists, but it does mean the coffee will be more adaptable and more importantly, easier to use for espresso equipment novices. Light roasted coffees can be difficult to use on espresso equipment and require significant stabilization periods after roasting before use.

Tasting notes are great for light roasted filter brewing or some specialized espresso-only extraction, but for the majority of coffee lovers that add milk to their brew, I'm afraid the tasting notes, at times may present a rubbery proposition.

You asked for it - Swiss Water Decaf Nespresso compatible capsules

Who would have thought that in the list of our top selling coffees, Decaf would reign supreme.

It's damn hard to roast - well, I really should say, it can to be rather difficult to roast properly and for some companies that don't care about Decaf, they don't even try that hard and end up over-roasting what is actually a very delicate and complex product.

After 12 years of perfecting the skill, I think we pretty much nail the brief when it comes to roasting decaf.

In the early days, it was a challenge and there were plenty of tears with roasting decaf - we would get so close and yet not perfect.

It became my wailing wall and before too long, decaf was catapulted into the upper echelon of quality for our coffees and I'm quite pleased and proud to say it's seriously yummo.

The stats don't lie, we roast decaf every runs out the door so fast and many customers order 6 or 8 packs at a time, returning time and again for repeat purchases.

Our customers asked if we could prepare a decaf capsule for Nespresso compatible machines and so in response we have created a high quality Swiss Water, premium Colombian single origin chemical free decaf capsule.

These are fresh roasted and converted locally.

Grab our premium Swiss Water Decaf Nespresso compatible capsules here


The dysfunctional landscape of modern advertising

Apparently, brand loyalty as a "thing" has been in rapid decline over the last decade and marketers are pointing their fat, manicured fingers at a series of disrupting events, chief among these annoying disruptors are big retailers wielding too much power and the subsequent rise of their own private labels.

You can see this playing out recently in the latest stoush between the iconic Coca Cola (Amatil) and Woolworths - just a game by the big retailers to remove any pricing power of brands and reducing consumer choice.

Even Coles weighed into the argument claiming that Australians are paying too much for a bunch of everyday items. Missing from the narrative are the facts these big Australian supermarkets enjoy the largest margins for any supermarkets in the world.

There is also a realization that Millennials are far less brand loyal than their parents. I'm not surprised by that statement and they claim up to 84% of traditional marketing does not resonate with Millennials.

Brand strategists are seemingly unable to explain how to easily solve this problem of declining brand loyalty other than to keep on nuking everyone with a barrage of online advertising.

I confess to pining for the old days of traditional advertising when things were a lot simpler. We had just newspapers, magazines and perhaps television and radio.

Today those mediums are in dire straights overwhelmed by competition from online content. Interestingly, the demand for advertising space never diminishes, it just shifts to different channels for distribution and the surprising revelation is that costs are no different in the long term. Online ads are not cheap by any measure.

Perhaps the most annoying effect of the modern marketing age is that for us as a business, there are many days when we are bothered (and I mean harassed) more SEO companies than legitimate customers.

I'm not exaggerating - there's an epidemic at large and it's called the nuisance, harassing SEO caller.

Unfortunately, harassing SEO callers are a shameful and disgusting state of affairs where no-name, no-skill, no track-record SEO companies acting as a front for boiler-room fraudsters try to steal your marketing spend. It's the scam Nigerian gold mine deposits all over again.  

They call from a "private number" with rude, demanding and heavy handed attitudes, tying up inbound phone lines and affecting our customer's ability to contact us.

Or it's the 60+ emails we receive every day claiming that our site has hundreds of technical problems - all cut & paste scammers with the same message. The effort required to manage all this utter nonsense is a cost burden to running a normal business and I'm sure we are not alone in our frustration.

But beyond the hostile tactics of SEO companies flooding businesses with rubbish and questionable offers, there are further issues to deal with from the mass-marketing of online advertising.

It's literally impossible to read any news feed on your phone or tablet without multiple remarketing pop-up ads or videos constantly sucking the very essence of life from your barely usable network bandwidth.

With such an irritating and frustratingly slow internet performance I've given up trying to read news on a mobile device.

Ironically, it's those damn genius marketing jugheads that mistakenly believe everyone buys all their things using a mobile - so they utterly saturate the mobile device with marketing thinking that's when people make key decisions.....when using their mobile.

You see, it all starts when innocently searching on google. Google knows what device and browser you are using.

Click on a few links in the search results (whether they are paid ads or normally ranked) and you are you are being tracked forensically. It's at this point you become trapped in a deadly spiral of ads for companies offering those items you searched for and you will have to put up with those same or similar ads, pop-ups and videos streaming in literally every app or news feed.

Most of us don't have the time or patience to try and combat by disabling cookies, running private or incognito sessions and installing Ad-blocker apps. It's just a constant game of cat and mouse.

There's little escape from this barrage of online advertising..... and it's quite disturbing the level of logging taking place on your system and sent back to the likes of google, facebook, etc.

They know what keystrokes you entered and the sites you visited, all the time they are building profiles of your supposed preferences.......often referred to valuable metadata that is re-packaged with spin as "a benefit" by the tracking entities, enabling them to deliver you customised and relevant content.

Does this help the brand advertising or will it annoy the end user ?

Research is pointing to the latter and it's ironic the only winners in this brutal contest are marketing companies setting up and managing the ads and of course those money making behemoths of Google and Facebook illegally siphoning billions of useful Australian Tax dollars from hard working Australian businesses trying to keep their operations viable.

It's becoming evident that brands are not materially benefitting from this style of shotgun online advertising and it's a shame because there is surprisingly strong disconnect between disinterested consumers and the greedy ad-servers with the brands desiring quality advertising paying superior costs for inferior returns.

We hope that some order will eventually prevail, although it's likely to become a lot worse before it gets any better with bandwidth hungry ads fighting for the attention of eyeballs.