Coffee and wine are two things I have deep love for, and enjoy daily. Though normally I don't have wine at breakfast. (Unless it's Moscato d'Asti--the ultimate breakfast wine --and I have the rest of the day off.) And for something I enjoy daily, I really haven't delved in deeply to the world of coffee. This had to change. Luckily, living in Seattle, I am surrounded (if not inundated) with coffee history, lore, and innovation. So I was excited to get the chance to visit Fonté Micro Coffee Roaster, south of downtown in the Georgetown neighborhood. I was really struck by the parallels between how we talk about, appreciate, and enjoy coffee and wine.
I had the great fortune to spend time with Owner Paul Odom and Master Roaster and Vice President of Coffee, Steve Smith. (I can't decide which title is cooler: Master Roaster or Vice President of Coffee. Together they are pretty awesome.) Along with Sheri Wetherell, Co-founder and CEO of Foodista, we peppered Paul and Steve with questions. Listening to Paul and Steve talk, I was constantly thinking how every time one of them said "coffee" I could replace it with "wine" and it would make sense.
We talked about pairing coffee and chocolate. Steve said that you need a coffee that makes "a bold statement" that won't be overwhelmed or you can choose something contrasting, like a clean, acidic coffee to cut through the richness of, say, a chocolate torte. This compliment/contrast idea of pairing is a basic tenet of linking food and wine.
I also asked Steve if the world of coffee there is something akin to the concept of "terroir" in wine. (Terroir is the idea that a wine demonstrates a sense of place based on the environment where the grapes are grown.) He said most definitely, that different coffees have a distinct flavor influenced by their place of origin. When we spoke about coffee from very specific and small sites, it reminded me a lot of talking about wines that come from a single vineyard and how that site becomes recognized as distinct or exceptional.
One thing I was not excited about was finding out that coffee is starting to be scored on a scale like wine. Though not as ubiquitous commercially as the 100-point scale in wine, I wonder how long before I see a shelf-talker saying that this coffee got 9.5 out of 10 from Mr. Coffee, or whatever coffee reviewer will be considered the cream of the crop. Steve is not a huge fan of a point system, finding the wide variety of subjective opinions on different coffees to be part of the charm of the industry. He does, however, see utility with the protocols of scoring coffee. For me, the cupping form pictured did shed light on the complexity of coffee, and how rigorously it is evaluated. This makes wine judging look like a walk in the park!
Luckily, my cupping experience was much more low-key. The slurping and spitting of coffee is done in a manner similar to wine tasting, though for coffee you taste from a spoon and violently slurp the contents into your mouth. (I should try this wine at a tasting and see what kind of looks I get.)
Steve (pictured) is as passionate about how coffee is grown as he is about how its brewed. Please do not mention blade grinders in his presence. I learned that they are really not grinders, but choppers. As Steve simply puts it, "If you get a blade grinder, you're off my Christmas list." Don't skimp on the grinder! Invest in a good burr grinder.
When I talked about the symmetry between wine and coffee, Steve pointed out that, as a beverage, coffee is a lot younger than wine. He said (half-jokingly) that coffee people "walk around with a chip on our shoulder." If that's the case, I encourage that attitude if it continues to drive people like Steve and Paul to share their passion for coffee, and convert people to its vibrant, exciting, and complex world. One cup(ping) at a time.