Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I keep hoping that in this Information Age, society's taste in music will improve. It has happened in other areas. 30 years ago, when you went to the average supermarket, it was almost impossible to find extra-virgin olive oil. Occasionally you could find Filippo Berio, a revolting liquid that I wouldn't use to grease a squeaky door. Today, most any supermarket boasts numerous brands of Italian and Greek olive oils, most of which are extra-virgin. The improvement in coffee — the topic of today's post — has been even more remarkable. 30 years ago, all the coffee came in those dreadful, cylindrical tin cans that increase the acidity in my stomach just by looking at them. And what were the "high end" brands then? Chock Full o' Nuts? Medaglia d'Oro? With such substances I would not contaminate my compost heap. Today, virtually all supermarkets carry fresh beans in numerous varieties, roasts, and flavors.

One of the key players in the coffee renaissance, without question, has been George Howell (see above photo). If the finest bottles of wine are made from grapes picked in only one location, why should fine coffee be any different? It was this discovery of single-origin coffee that led me to Terroir ( I was hooked instantly and, if I can possibly help it, I drink nothing else.

I was excited to discover that Mr. Howell has a blog, entitled George on Coffee ( His most recent entry, "Emerging from our acquired tastes," documents the renaissance in his own spirited, intelligent words. Now we can start to put a personality with the coffee. (It had to be an interesting person who would produce such a divine liquid.)

In particular, I was interested in Mr. Howell's comments to a reader about "dark roasts." The notion of "light roasts" vs. "dark roasts" is a topic in which Starbucks has done much to increase public awareness (which is a good thing), even though they sometimes conflagrate their beans beyond any human recognition (which is a bad thing). As Mr. Howell explains:

Whenever someone says they like strong coffee they are pretty much referring to darker roasts. I think this has to do with the greater immediate impact and mouthfeel a dark roast has when hot. The best dark roasts that I have had – and this is personal, I realize – are best hot. The colder they get the more the muddled notes and bitterness in the aftertaste.

Strength really has to do with extraction. One can make a light roast very strong using more coffee and less water – but at a certain point the greater acidity of a light roast creates an imbalance towards too much acidity.

Lighter roasts may seem “weak” when hot but gather full strength as the cup cools. Drinking becomes an act of discovering emerging nuances over the approx. 20 minutes of sipping the entire cup.
(From the blog George on Coffee)

Long live George Howell and the Terroir Coffee Company!

Related post: "The Man Who Invented Coffee" (