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March 2010 Newsletter

There are massive amounts of information about almost every
aspect of coffee now available online. Once upon a time, a mere
fifteen years ago, there were few coffee resources available
outside of scarce books and the occasional well stocked library.
Then came the internet.

All sorts of interesting websites and information groups sprang
up, among them my own, but the granddaddy of almost all of them
was the newsgroup People with nothing else in common
except the love of the bean got together to debate, discuss and
inform each other about the wonderful world of coffee.

From this humble beginning came almost all of the information
based coffee websites and forums. The largest, Coffeegeek, was
started by Mark Prince on December 20, 2001, but was a direct
result of Mark's participation in Mark came late to
the newsgroup but made up for it by the quantity and quality of
his posts.

Of course, he does have a bit of a tendency to rewrite history.
In a recent edition of the SCAA magazine he is quoted as saying
that when he started Coffeegeek "there were no community Web
sites dedicated to coffee and espresso, nor any coffee related

This is somewhat untrue, as there were quite a few websites and
forums, just none created by a professional web developer like
Mark. It does illustrate a trend I've noticed in many of the
online forums I read, where fact and fiction are becoming
somewhat intermingled. The ratio of fiction (Noise) to fact
(Signal) is becoming quite high.

If a particular "Expert" states that machine A is better than
machine B then what is basically an opinion tends to get passed
on as fact, as it gets taken up and repeated from site to site
and post to post. The same thing happens in reverse, where a self
proclaimed expert will dismiss a machine or technique based on a
single bad experience.

Just as bad are the ignorant amateurs giving advice based on
thought experiments and analogies. When there were only a couple
of hundred web-savvy coffee people in the world, good advice
tended to predominate. These days, with tens of thousands of
people involved, some of the advice scares me.

Knowledgeable amateurs, however, have probably been responsible
for most of the advances in roasting and brewing in the last 10
years or so. PID brewing and roasting temperature control,
computerised roasting profiles, variable pressure espresso
brewing, high end specialty coffee home roasting and roasters to
match, designer tampers ... all spring directly from the amateur
coffee forums. Most of these people are still posting at Home- , where the S/N ratio is quite good.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that if you're looking
for online reviews or advice it's always wise to try to track
down the original source. This was made clear to me when hunting
for accommodation during our next conference trip. A single
TripAdvisor review was propagated, selectively quoted and
referred to over a whole bunch of travel websites, and used to
rate a hotel anywhere between 2 and 4 stars.

When people ask me "What's the best?" machine, coffee or brewing
method, I always ask them what flavours they like and how much
coffee they drink before replying, because real expertise lies in
knowing there is no single correct answer. Quite often I will
refer them to the website where I know the original review was
done or advice was given. This is especially true when I know and
respect the person doing the review.

This month's special is another rare and superb coffee.

Zimbabwe Pezuru AA

It has a balanced rich, creamy acidity, a smooth body and a
slightly malty flavour with hints of vanilla.  Not recommended
for straight espresso. Enjoy it, as there will be no specials in
April and May while I travel to a couple of conferences, SCAA in
the USA and another one in the UK.