Over the holidays I had the opportunity to play Santa’s elf, leaving little, beribboned jars of just-roasted beans on neighbors’ doorsteps, ringing the bell and running away.
Consequently the neighbor across the street [another Doug, but we call him Ed, short for Evil Doug… he tends to get me in trouble] dragged me over to share a bottle of wine. Ed is obsessed with wine as I am coffee, and the bottle in question was a 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou — a super second Bordeaux, and the vintage of my birth year. It was yummy, and a very deep brown, and its flavors varied from flint to spice as it opened up. Not unlike a very good small-farm Kenya bean. But pricier.
Comparisons of wine and specialty coffees are inevitable. And they do share a number of characteristics… grand cru, or “great growth” estates, distinctions comprised of terrain and climate, good years, bad years and all points between. Yet, unlike the vintner — who has complete control over what goes in the bottle — once the coffee leaves the farm there’s no telling what it might go through before it ends up in your cup. Kevin Knox calls this the “broken chain of custody,” and it can be problematic. There’s no guarantee, save for the reputation of the seller, that the coffee you bought actually came from the origin that’s on the label. And even then, poor roasting, poor brewing — even less than optimal transportation — can significantly degrade the potential of the very best beans. Caveat emptor.