Coffee is complex

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December 3, 2012 by Allanah M. Pinhorn

When I’m not at school training hard to be the next-great-thing in journalism, I work at Starbucks.

For me this is a dream job as I love coffee.

I love coffee more than a rational person should love anything; I drink it all day and into the night, even though as I get older it keeps me up until the birds sing.

Being a barista is amazing: all day I get to connect with people over things I love, namely laughter and espresso, so it saddens me when my employer gets a bad rap.

Starbucks tends to get a lot of bad press along with the good and, although everyone is entitled to their opinion, the thing I hate the very most is hearing “how expensive” we are.

Yes, you can come into our green-aproned stores and drop $13.50 pretty quick but you’ll be spending it on hand-crafted drinks: lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and the like. If you come in and order a regular Joe-blow coffee you’re going to pay standard rates, maybe a few cents more.

Even before I was a partner at Starbucks this was worth it to me. Like I said, I love coffee. I love the taste, the smell, the way it makes me able to be a normal person in the morning as opposed to the raging beast-woman I tend to be when I awake, but most of all I love the variety.

When you begin at Starbucks you’re introduced to something called a coffee tasting. Much like a wine tasting it is designed to measure and judge the aspects of the coffee, like aroma, body, and location.

It’s a great way to discover the things you enjoy in your morning cup and how to pick the brew for you, as coffee can be as varied as any food – subtle differences change the experience you have as you drink it and every person likes something different. Me? I hate Kenya roast – arguably one of our most popular. Using the various coffee tastings I do in a month I’ve learned this and that I don’t enjoy many coffees with qualities similar to Kenyan.

By first smelling the coffee you can detect the aromas coming off hot coffee, cupping the mug to trap the flavours. Your mouth can only discern four notes: bitter, sweet, sour and salty but your nose can perceive thousands.

Then, much like wine tasting you slurp, letting the coffee splash around your mouth. The bigger and louder the noise the better idea you can get.

After this you can easily locate where those flavours hit your tongue, giving a pretty accurate indication of the coffee’s characteristics.

Does the coffee have weight? Is it acidic? What kind of body does it have?

Is it rich and carmelly like espresso? Spicy and cedary? Smooth? Can you taste cocoa or earthy, rich herbal notes?

One of my favourites is a good French roast, which is an acquired taste indeed. When freshly ground French roast has a fishy smell. When the grinds are wet they smell like an ashtray, but the resulting cup of coffee is delicious: it’s intense, smoky and strong!

Coffee can be art, it can be as exciting as a fine meal at a five-star restaurant and as complex as an aged Scotch. You can compare and contrast different roasts and even distinguish where the beans are from with the right palette and I’d rather pay a few more pennies for a great experience than cheap-out for a caffeine high.

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About the Author

Allanah M. Pinhorn

Allanah M. Pinhorn

As a journalist and freelance writer, the author loves to wonder about the world. She loves to explore through travel, good food, books, information and love. She is curious, thoughtful and sometimes funny, often while being a dork. Originally from St. John's, Newfoundland, she lives with her fiancée, her crazy Border Collie-Blue Heeler mix, two cats and multiple scaled creatures in Kitchener, Ontario. She also loves food. Like a lot.

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