Dont’ trust the origin

by Luigi Odello

Secretary General of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, he is also a lecturer at the University of Udine, Verona and at the Cattolica in Piacenza. In addition he is the Chairman of the Taster Study Center and Secretary General of the Italian Espresso National Institute

For the moment being it’s a niche, but we believe it’s bound to become big. We are speaking about single origin coffees. A recent investigation conducted by the University of Padova highlighted that also consumers are able to distinguish between a blend and single origin coffee. In this case too, from a sensory point of view, the winner, with statistically relevant results, was the blend. This clearly means that our roasters are truly very good at choosing coffees from all over the world, at making each type express its best characteristics and at creating unbeatable blends. However, there has been a genuine interest for single origins and this makes us think that this trend will lead to having a coffee menu at restaurants, a better-aware consumption of coffee at the coffee shop and to valuing the ritual of coffee at home.

The debate must be a serious one. Otherwise, the origin simply turns into a meaningless coat of arms thus losing its natural value. In this respect, the first thing to do is focus on how the issue is currently tackled: mentioning the origin conveys a false sense of homogeneity. Basically, when the end users read on a package “Brazil”, they immediately think that all the coffee from this big producer has its own common and homogeneous characteristics; specific features which make it possible to distinguish it from other coffees. This is not the case. But even when we speak about Guatemala Antigua, which is more specific, we cannot claim that there are specific traits which make it easy to distinguish it from other coffees of the same category. More than that, roasting methods have a major impact on the final result, something similar to the crucial influence that the fermentation technique has on the grapes and the type of wine. Put it in other words, we could have greater sensory differences between two coffees from Costa Rica which went through different types of roasting procedures compared to the differences between a Costa Rica and an Ethiopia which have been roasted in the same way.

So, if for wines there is Barbera (vine variety) of the Monferrato (area) of a certain producer, we should have something very similar for coffee. It is extremely important to never neglect the brand which conveys its philosophy and know-how to the final product. If we really want to value this new market segment, then the product should come with some explanatory notes on the specific characteristics of the origin, on the roasting methods and on the sensory traits that can be spotted when drinking the product from the cup. The info provided should be correct and mirror reality, it should not be general and some sort of poetry coming from creativity. A lot of work must be done on this: we are spotting severe mistakes with taste being mixed up with aromas and, especially, there is no correspondence between what is written and what is highlighted with sensory analysis. This disappoints the consumer and jeopardises not only the credibility of the reference but also of the entire market segment.

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