What do you want in your coffee?

A couple of months ago I watched a  great TED Talk with Malcolm Gladwell’s on “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce”(1). He explained that many focus groups fail to get valuable outcomes, because people don’t know what they want and then he paraphrased Howard Moskowitz: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants

I paid particularly attention when he said that when people is asked “What do you want in a coffee? Most of the people is going to answer “I want a dark, rich hearty roast”, but in reality most of the people (~75%) like “milky, weak coffee”, although they don’t like to say this to others.

This got me thinking on what do I want in my coffee. Which are those cups of coffee that I remember as being really good and special? If I have to summarize it in few words I would say milky, strong coffee.  I like a coffee that tastes like coffee, but I love the sweetness that properly steamed milk can provide. Whenever I make coffee at home I prepare a latte. If we go outside I order the same thing. 

I used to talk to one of my coworkers, a fellow coffee aficionado, about the best cafés in the bay area or where you can get the best beans: “Have you tried Blue Bottle or Four Barrel?”,  “Which local cafés roast their own coffee and sell only small batches”.  After watching the TED talk, I started thinking on what I really like from each ones of these cafés and I came to realize that it is not the coffee bean per se, but the baristas abilities what I appreciate.

My theory is that by pouring steamed milk into my coffee I am disguising and changing its flavor, and what I am really distinguishing between one coffee and another are the barista’s skills.

A good café in my book is one where the barista is able to create the right texture on the milk and serves the coffee at the right temperature with some skilled latte art on it.  The place doesn’t need to be fancy. One of my favorite places in San Francisco is located in what used to be a garage where you literally seat in the sidewalk ((Blue Bottle kiosk located at 315 Linden St.)

On the other hand, a bad café for me is one where the barista burns the milk and serves an extra hot latte with just a lot of foam on top or not foam at all (which is often the case in Starbucks). I usually burn my tongue on the first sip and after that it doesn't really matter how it tastes

I truly believe that there are people out there who can really appreciate and differentiate between a espresso that took 25 seconds to extract and one that took 35 seconds. Or even people who can detect is the shot was extracted 2 or 3 degrees below the ideal temperature. However, I am not one of them and I think this might be actually a good thing, as people say:  ignorance is bliss. The less you know the less picky you get on where you buy your beans, or how long it takes to do a perfect extraction.

My recommendation is that in coffee as in wine, the best coffee is the one you like.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co.

Leave a comment with what do you want in coffee and lets see the results!

(1)    http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html