May 15, 2024

Letting Go: Embracing the Collaborative Journey of Coffee

By Oaks The Coffee Guy
Letting Go: Embracing the Collaborative Journey of Coffee
As a coffee roaster, there's only so much control I can exert over the final brew that ends up in someone's cup. My role is to diligently source, roast, and package the beans with skill and care. But once those beans leave my hands, an entire new phase of the coffee's journey begins - one that is largely out of my control. The brewing process itself involves a multitude of variables that shape the final flavor experience.

And you know what? That's okay. In fact, it's something to be embraced rather than bemoaned. Because coffee is a collaborative journey between the roaster and the brewer. My job is to provide the palette for creativity, but the brewer is the true artist when it comes to the final canvas.

Relinquishing Control Over the Brewing Process

As a roaster, I don't get to choose the specific brewing device, ratios, turbulence level, or water quality for each brewer's cup. I have no say in their individual flavor preferences or the precise serving temperature. There are so many smaller creative decisions made by the person actually brewing the coffee that impact the final experience.

Rather than letting the lack of control frustrate me, I've learned to appreciate it. Those uncountable brew variables are what allow for experimentation, individuality, and self-expression when enjoying my coffees. Just as I get to explore my creativity through roasting, brewers get to explore theirs through their chosen methods.

Finding Magic in Imperfect Coffees

Of course, this also means that not every coffee is going to be a perfect fit for every palate or brew style out there. A coffee that falls short for one brewer could be mind-blowing for another based on their specific methods and preferences. Rather than writing off a coffee as simply "missed," I love the challenge of exploring alternative brew techniques to bring out its best self.

Maybe a coffee that's slightly underdeveloped or unbalanced can be rescued with an elongated brew that enhances sweetness and body. Or perhaps bypassing the bloom stage and minimizing agitation will taste-habit a defect like a subtle papery note. These are all learning experiences for me as a roaster, teaching me to approach coffee with an open mind.

The Impact of Water Quality

Speaking of technique experimentation, I recently played with using third wave water for brewing. Right off the bat, I was struck by its almost startling sweetness on the palate alone. When brewed, this water seemed to elevate and amplify sweetness perceptions in the coffee as well.

It was an insightful illustration of how something as fundamental as water mineral content can drastically alter a coffee's perceived flavor and balance. As roasters, we can only make recommendations, but it's up to brewers to dial in their water quality for optimal results. A coffee that sings with one municipal water source could be dulled or oversaturated with different mineral compositions.

An Honest Roaster's Philosophy

At the end of the day, this understanding has shaped my overall roasting philosophy to focus on honesty above all else. I can provide deeply informed and insightful tasting notes to help guide brewers. I can share my recommended brewing advice for each coffee. But I have to be realistic about the limitations of my control, expertise, and ability to account for all those individual brewer variables.

Rather than being a shortcoming, I've found this honesty to be freeing. My role is to simply put forward the best possible canvas, sharing what I can provide while openly acknowledging what I cannot. The rest is up to the creativity and exploration of the brewers themselves. Letting go of the obsession to control the uncontrollable has allowed me to spend more energy optimizing what is in my sphere of influence.

It's a mindset of mutual trust between roaster and brewer. I nurture this partnership by leaning into the conversational, collaborative aspects of coffee. These beverages we craft are spark points for connection, experimentation, and the sharing of experiences. Each coffee invites a new journey to explore together.

So I invite you to join me in embracing both the art and limitations of our roles. Perfection is frankly overrated - what's more important is the philosophy of curiosity, creativity, and care that we bring to each new coffee experience. Let's roast and brew with abandon, appreciating failures as much as successes. Because it's all part of the beautiful, collaborative journey.

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