Coffee as Wine, neither purple nor alcoholic. Discuss.

The narrative of "we need to treat coffee like wine" has been thrown around a lot over the last 5 years, and is gaining a lot of ground. I think it should. But I've been aware of some pitfalls that may confront us as an industry unless we have some evidence to work from and I for one am having a hard time finding it.

Can anyone direct me to some some sources that examine how soil type, environmental conditions, altitude, and flora/fauna conditions effect varietal taste/flavor considerations? In a similar vein, general taste/flavor considerations of varietals regardless of geographic consideration? A lot of work has been put into the taste distinctions of natural vs. washed vs. pulped naturals, but are there any extensive taste records of these findings? All that I can find seem to contain vague generalities.

The reason I ask is because it's starting to feel gimmicky to add considerations such as varietal or soil types to packaging when it's hard to read as to what that information adds in terms of actual taste/flavor considerations. In viticultural studies, it can be explained why Loire-valley (geography) Gamay-driven (varietal) bottles taste the way they do -- most appellations in the Loire have high alkaline concentrations in the soil, leading Gamay, generally an off-dry high-acid medium grape, to retain higher levels of acidity due to hydrological stress (high alkaline soil prevents deep rooting of Gamay vines), in turn leading most vintners to apply carbonic masceration in order to curb the high-acidity of the wine when not blended. (Vines, Grapes & Wines, J. Robinson, 2004. pg 202-4) Comparatively, Australian Gamay done at similar elevation in the sandy soil of Victoria is rounder, with a higher tannin level leading to it being strictly malolactic or alcoholic fermentation. (Understanding Wine, D. Bird, 2005)

So two questions: One, does anyone know of any resources for being able to determine similarly for coffee varietals? And two, is it wrong to think it dangerous to start applying such modelling without that background knowledge to work from?

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Well, first of. I agree with you completely in that I think we could consider wine and coffee in a similar fashion. However, I think there are some issues:

1) The distance between the coffeeplant/soil and a cup of coffee (whatever sort of coffee, albeit espresso, FP, drip, etc) is too large still. Getting beans from the farm almost directly to the consumer is hard. There are some companies/roasters doing this, and it is a big help. But it will take more time.

2) There is only one way of making wine (sort of generalized, but what the heck) and so many different ways of making coffee that I think it will be hard. Especially since roasting is such a big part of getting the flavors out of the coffee bean.

But that said, I think we really should try to get this of the ground because I think there might be something there.
2. Is actually patently false. After the questions of varietal, blending, and growing methodology, there are actually several selections of choices for vintners to choose. Metal or wood maceration? Oxidized or closed-system fermentation? Aging or fresh bottles? If they're doing some massively poor things to the wine, the proportions of wood chips, sugars, yeasts, and other flavor adulterants can also impact the final product. Even the choice of fresh versus aged versus used barrels (and in the case of the last, cognac/eau-de-vie/scotch barrels versus previously wine-used casks, roasted wood versus fresh wood, cedar versus cork versus other woods) means that theres as much on the side of processing and finishing as there would be in the coffee world. It's entirely applicable, and it's something where the knowledge base is far more well established than I think it is in coffee.
Hi Steves,

Some good questions... I'm not familiar with any references, but surely someone here is and can help direct you.

Personally I feel there is value in having the varietal and specific origin information regardless of the consumer knowledge that accompanies it. We DO know it affects it, though we may not know exactly how.

This feels ok to me though.

As a wine drinker, I don't need to know the specifics of soil pH and its effect on the grape, mostly because I don't wander the wine aisle looking for "something that has been made with carbonic masceration"... We liked the wine of this area made from this grape by this vintner, so let me try another from the same region by a different vintner and see if I like it too. It is not a guarantee that I'm going to taste something even similar, but it'll usually get me close to what I'm looking for. As you've pointed out, those pieces of information give far from a complete picture of what's in the bottle... but it gets you pointed in the right direction. That's part of the adventure anyway, right?

Same thing for coffee, it may not be a complete picture but it'll get you close - so better than nothing.

Just my thoughts.
I think a better way to look at Arno's point #2 is that there is really only one way to serve wine: in a glass (of course Riedel would argue that every varietal deserves its own glass which therefore improves the longevity of their business model...). There are a million ways to serve coffee, a point that is proven at every USBC.

A very critical consideration IMHO is that the analysis of wine terroir has been going on for centuries. For coffee, it is relatively new. The volume of research in soil, climate, etc. in wine is boundless while in coffee that knowledge resides in the heads of a very few people who often have important business reasons for keeping it away for the industry at large. Until we see the same intensity of study in coffee as there has been in wine, the terroir game for coffee will continue to be a matter of opinion. Yes there is soil analysis going on at origin but from what I've seen it's mostly related to soil health and organic certification. Sure there are micro-regions that can produce a certain profile of bean, but it won't mean anything to the industry or the end consumer unless you have uniformity with other factors. In Beaujolais it's easy to tell the differences in villages because all the wines are 100% Gamay, they're made through carbonic maceration, the amount of chaptilization is controlled (usually, wink wink) and yield levels are mandated by the government. That's not at all the case with coffee. Picking, pulping, fermentation, drying, milling, transport, roasting, and brewing all get in the way of creating uniform standards around terroir.

Another thing to consider is the difference in the end consumer's enjoyment of wine vs. coffee. Coffee, despite the efforts of many top chefs & roasters, will never reach the level of integration with a meal like wine. Despite being around as common beverage for centuries, people have still not found a way to make coffee a critical part of a meal. There is a wine for damn near every dish on the planet and I'm not going to pass up a haut medoc cru bourgois for coffee with my hanger steak. There's also the time factor-you can't let a cup of coffee open up and unfold over an hour or two.

Then there's the market & valutation of coffee vs. wine. Everything from the lack of a commodity market in wine to the valuation of coffee happening at the roaster and not the soil proves that it's a big mistake to think that coffee can be marketed like wine. Coffee also doesn't go up in value as it ages (unless your in Brazil a few decades ago and stockpiles of old beans affected the world market) Coffee is a fresh product-brew it or lose it.

I feel like I can go on and on with this subject. These are just some quick points. As someone who'd been in the wine business for most of his life before he came to coffee, the comparisons always make my skin crawl. I left wine and got into coffee hoping I'd never have to look back. The US wine industry is a dis-functional world of super-sized egos, tiny fortunes made from huge fortunes, and a low growth highly competitive market that still hasn't made most Americans put down their Budweiser. I hope that isn't where we want to go with coffee. This industry has a unique opportunity right now to boldly create its own identity. Let's not take clues from the wine world and shoot ourselves in the foot.
Hee, you've given me a lot to chew on Demian -- more than I could hope to respond to in a while. Key things.

1. What would be the professional reasons for withholding this information? If coffee can go in a different direction from the way the wine world works, why not have something a little more "open source" if you will?
2. Uniform standards are not what I'm looking for -- I think to a degree such things are faulty (mm, hegemonic thinking). What I am looking for is a collection of data so we can compare those items listed. You see short blurbs all the time as to the "general" flavors imparted by a Red Bourbon, but I can't help but feel if you were to get Red Bourbon cherries from Hue Hue, Rwanda, or El Salvador, and even from between multiple farms of each, you would get different flavors that would be important to impart.
3. Agreement about coffee versus wine, both as a paradigm as well as their status in the restaurant world. But why not try to challenge the approach most chefs say take to coffee. Most aren't aware that "coffee flavor" can have multiple meanings based upon origin...
4. If you don't mind me asking, where were you in the wine world before dropping in on coffee....

Demian Luper said:
I think a better way to look at Arno's point #2 is that there is really only one way to serve wine: in a glass (of course Riedel would argue that every varietal deserves its own glass which therefore improves the longevity of their business model...). There are a million ways to serve coffee, a point that is proven at every USBC.

A very critical consideration IMHO is that the analysis of wine terroir has been going on for centuries. For coffee, it is relatively new. The volume of research in soil, climate, etc. in wine is boundless while in coffee that knowledge resides in the heads of a very few people who often have important business reasons for keeping it away for the industry at large. Until we see the same intensity of study in coffee as there has been in wine, the terroir game for coffee will continue to be a matter of opinion. Yes there is soil analysis going on at origin but from what I've seen it's mostly related to soil health and organic certification. Sure there are micro-regions that can produce a certain profile of bean, but it won't mean anything to the industry or the end consumer unless you have uniformity with other factors. In Beaujolais it's easy to tell the differences in villages because all the wines are 100% Gamay, they're made through carbonic maceration, the amount of chaptilization is controlled (usually, wink wink) and yield levels are mandated by the government. That's not at all the case with coffee. Picking, pulping, fermentation, drying, milling, transport, roasting, and brewing all get in the way of creating uniform standards around terroir.

Another thing to consider is the difference in the end consumer's enjoyment of wine vs. coffee. Coffee, despite the efforts of many top chefs & roasters, will never reach the level of integration with a meal like wine. Despite being around as common beverage for centuries, people have still not found a way to make coffee a critical part of a meal. There is a wine for damn near every dish on the planet and I'm not going to pass up a haut medoc cru bourgois for coffee with my hanger steak. There's also the time factor-you can't let a cup of coffee open up and unfold over an hour or two.

Then there's the market & valutation of coffee vs. wine. Everything from the lack of a commodity market in wine to the valuation of coffee happening at the roaster and not the soil proves that it's a big mistake to think that coffee can be marketed like wine. Coffee also doesn't go up in value as it ages (unless your in Brazil a few decades ago and stockpiles of old beans affected the world market) Coffee is a fresh product-brew it or lose it.

I feel like I can go on and on with this subject. These are just some quick points. As someone who'd been in the wine business for most of his life before he came to coffee, the comparisons always make my skin crawl. I left wine and got into coffee hoping I'd never have to look back. The US wine industry is a dis-functional world of super-sized egos, tiny fortunes made from huge fortunes, and a low growth highly competitive market that still hasn't made most Americans put down their Budweiser. I hope that isn't where we want to go with coffee. This industry has a unique opportunity right now to boldly create its own identity. Let's not take clues from the wine world and shoot ourselves in the foot.
Coffee is NOT like Wine.

They are not the same and should not be marketed as the same.

they certainly have similarities but even larger differences. Both can use many similar things to help educate participants. Very similar flavor terms etc.
Andy can you elaborate more on your views on this? Your statement was blunt and contraditory to many in this thred so I would love to hear what you have to say.
sorry about the bluntness. I was distracted by mt daughter.

so to clarify.

Coffee and wine are NOT the same.

Similarities:
agricultural crop based
beverages
varietal and terroir affect flavor
both go through a chemical cook at one point
similar flavor and aroma and taste terms
both can range from yummy to nasty in flavor

Differences:
wine is a solvent, coffee is a solution
wine is only cooked once and only chemically (fermentation)
coffee is cooked chemically once at origin (fermentation)
coffee is then cooked a second time by roasting
coffee is cooked a third time by brewing
wine (alchohol) is a depressant and a tongue number BUT loosens your inhibitions
coffee (caffeine) is a stimulant and a tongue and sense awakener and improves your cognitive processes
grapes tend to travel very short distances to the processing plant and once they are processed under the watchful eye of an artisan they are rendered mostly inert once they are at the proper stage and then bottled.
coffee cherries also travel a short distance to be processed, however once they are processed they then must travel very long distances in horrible conditions all the whole being only mildly inert but still hypotropic to the extreme.
so once green coffee beans leave the hands of the producers they undergo a horrible trip across oceans in terrible storage conditions.
Wine travels these same oceans HOWEVER it is packaged in an airtight, lighttight and relatively inert pacakge (bottle)
when green coffee arrives it must be first roasted, then brewed to be consumed. You need many thousands of dollars of equipment and years of skill to take this raw ingredient and transform it into a finished product that you can enjoy.
Wine arrives ready to consume with nothing further needed to enjoy the beverage. You need a corkscrew and a glass and that is it. Even serving temperature is only listed as room temp and chilled. Pretty wide range.
Varietal and terroir affect flavors and aromas dramatically in both coffee and wine but processing has an even greater affect on coffee than on wine.
I have not personally tasted a wine so low in quality and so poorly crafted that it made me throw up on the table.
I have personally tasted several coffees of such low quality and so poorly crafted at origin (BUT EXPERTLY ROASTED AND BREWED WITH TOP NOTCH EQUIPMENT AND GOOD WATER) that it made me throw up on the table.

I am sure they are many hundreds more similarities and differences. These were just the few I cold think of in between Dora episodes that my daughter is watching.

So yes I think that MANY of the terms, ideas, concepts etc from wine can be used to educate people about coffee. But that does not make them the same.

And I am not convinced that a bourbon (or any other varietal) should taste exactly the same regardless of which country it is from. The beauty of coffee seems to be that the magical combination of terroir and varietal mixed with processing at origin produces most of the magic we enjoy. And then we as coffee pros get to cook (roast) it the second time and try to coax those flavors out and then cook (brew) it the third time to coax even more flavors out. Each time we cook it we can completely destroy it no matter how hard the farmer worked to make it perfect.

I am no expert on wine but it seems that that is the crucial difference between coffee and wine.

I love both for different reasons.
Steves,
I recommend reading one of the most formidable books on coffee to any serious coffee student. It will address most questions about coffee from bean to cup. The book is called All About Coffee, by William Ukers. You can buy it from the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Another great book is Brown Gold by Andres Aribe.

As far as drawing comparisons between coffee and wine, they certainly have similarities in terroir, or affects of agricultural environment. Both are influenced in taste and aroma by the process of blending. Both can increase in complexity by the blending process. Both give up a variety of flavor nuances that can be described as aromatic, overtones of fruit, flowers, cocoa, etc. Other comparisons have already been described by others in the group.

The one thing that I noticed recently is, as people try to use the exact same description and superlatives to describe coffee as is done for wine, to me it seems overboard and not genuine, in some cases. I think if one leans too much in the direction of wine terminology for coffee descriptions, there may be trouble brewing!

These are my opinions. I am open minded and enjoy reading other opinions.
Howdy Folks. Been gone for a couple of weeks in Brazil. Too much work upon my return. I've really wanted to jump back into this discussion. I promise something this weekend. Very much enjoying it. Great stuff.
I think one of the biggest differences in research available is the fact that coffee has been sold as a commodity for so long & only recently has been started to be seen on an individual basis. Where before all coffee from one country was bulked together & sold or even all coffee from all over was bulked together & sold as a commodity, wine has always been sold as an individual by the grower/vintner. So wine lovers have had alot longer to see the affects of climate, soil, elevations, etc on certain wines. In 100 years, we may have more detail on coffee the same way but for now, the 3rd wave movement is new & people are just getting into understanding that theres a difference between one farmers beans & his neighbor, even if they are the same varietal on virtually the same land. At that point, it has to do with how its handled. You can read about farmers that have tested certain varietals in certain places & come up with completely different final cups. Try growing Geisha at one elevation & it comes out flat, try it at a higher elevation & it comes out completely different (and wonderful). Why does 1 varietal grown in Ethiopia get brought to South America & taste completely different. In any farming, there are lots of variables in final product. Light, rain, temp, soil, elevation, etc. Any little difference can make a huge difference in the final taste profile. I think that because this type of coffee buying is so new, we just have to give it time for more research to surface on what the differences in these different variables mean & how they truly affect the end result.

I think that Wine & Coffee can be thought of in the same way by how they are grown but when the cup is done, they're nothing alike. Wine is enjoyed by itself, you dont add anything to it (Im talking about Wine, not cordials, brandy's, liquors). You dont brew it certain ways, serve it certain ways, either with milk & sugar, or without, processed as espresso or french press, served hot, iced, or frozen. Wine is Wine, & Coffee is Coffee. Now who knows, someday there may be a Coffee Sommelier certification program (Im sure there will be) and hopefully you can go into restaurants and ask him which coffee you should enjoy with your dinner. But for now, people have to get out of the coffee as a commodity or folgers mentality. Theres way more people buying bad coffee than bad wine. And alot more people understand good wine than there are people that understand good coffee. Until we get the world to understand the Specialty Coffee movement, there wont be anyone putting university money into the agricultural research of how different variables affect coffee. So get out there & educate the world!

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