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How to be a Coffee Fanatic

The minimum requirements for coffee fanatacism are

  1. A good set of tastebuds
  2. An unlimited budget
  3. A decent quality burr grinder
  4. An excellent supplier.

You will notice that I didn't specify a particular brewer or brewing method, because in truth this isn't important. Each machine or method will have its own effects on the taste, but as long as YOU like the final result you can achieve your own particular coffee Nirvana. The important part is being able to get a consistent result with a particular coffee.

This is where the Grinder comes in, because without a decent grinder, you won't get a consistent grind, and without a consistent grind you won't get a consistent taste. When you get right down to it, the first item anyone who is serious about coffee should buy is a good grinder. Unless you're living next door to a good roaster, your coffee will be fresher, fuller flavoured, more aromatic and just overall better than any preground coffee can be.

Each brewing process and bean combination has a correct grind; and even slight variations in the process (a change of filter type for drip, or a change of size for a moka pot) may require a grind adjustment. As far as I know, the ONLY brewing method where grinding doesn't need tweaking from time to time is Middle Eastern coffee, where only a powder grind is good enough.

When it comes to good tastebuds, you've got 'em or you haven't, although a regular smoker MIGHT have good tastebuds and never know. We're born with a genetically predetermined number of tastebuds, and the more you have the greater your taste sensitivity. A smoker's quota is so abused that they are fundamentally useless for real taste discrimination, so all the serious coffee fanatics (and wine fanatics, too!) I know are non-smokers.

The unlimited budget is an absolute necessity for the true fanatic, especially after the first flush of enthusiasm. When you start to say to yourself "Hmmm, this tastes nice, but if I brewed it THIS way...?" and realise that you need a megabuck Subflexisive Farsata with digital temperature control and inbuilt latte art capability, a bottomless wallet is an advantage. You can also afford to travel to the far corners of the world in search of the ultimate coffee beans, direct from the source. Otherwise you would have to descend to the level of the rest of us, scratching through Opportunity Shops, Garage sales and antique stores for bargains, and bidding against fellow, enthusiasts on Ebay.

Finally, you need a good push..(ahem) supplier, who can lead you into the coffee maze gently, answering your questions and reining in your impulsiveness from time to time, but ever ready to coax you gently onward towards the perfect cup. Unfortunately the number of really knowledgeable coffee suppliers in the world is very limited indeed. At a guess, I'd say less than 200 fresh coffee roaster/retailers worldwide, and over half of them in the USA, and a quarter in Europe. In Australia, maybe 10 tops, and that's being generous.

One of the most seriously knowledgeable coffee people I know is Donald A. Schoenholt, CEO of Gillies Coffee of Brooklyn, New York, a founding member and past President of the SCAA, fount of coffee wisdom and all round nice guy. Don inherited much of his coffee wisdom from his dad, who in turn got it from his dad, who in get the idea. Don's "Handle" in the Usenet coffee groups is I840Coffee, and with his permission I have collected a number of his quotes concerning various bean varieties, which will be heading up the next group of chapters on bean origins.


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