Thanks to 20 Cleveland area folks interested in coffee, our first tour is full 2 whole weeks before the tour. Thank you!

I'm really excited to share the excellence of Cleveland's coffee scene with you. We'll have lots of opportunity to discuss aspects of coffee and how each coffee gets its flavor, why roasters and baristas choose to prepare coffees the way they do, and have a chance to check out really cool parts of our fair city.

What is coffee?

I was recently inspired by listening to this conversation with John Johnson, the former coffee director at Rising Star. 

At its least lovely, coffee is just a delivery system for caffeine that we choke down reluctantly. Some common coffees are so burnt that it pretty much tastes like licking the char off of a grill. As a kid and young adult that's what I thought coffee was - I thought it smelled nice but gosh, what a terrible flavor, why would anyone drink this stuff?

Evolving from that burnt horribleness, for a long time we've added milk/cream/strange non-dairy creamer and various sweeteners that make such charred coffee palatable. These sugary, fatty things are essentially dessert drinks that mask the true flavor of the coffee.

I agree with John from the interview above - that coffee is not a commodity, but a really amazing and delicious gift developed in part, I'm sure, by luck and serendipity when it was discovered by goat herders in Ethiopia. 

The chain of events that come together to create delicious coffee is complex, impressive, and to me, unlikely. We're lucky to have access to such excellent culinary art here in Cleveland. 

What influences the flavor of coffee?

Yesterday I stopped by the downtown Phoenix, Pour, and Rising Star and had a shot of espresso at each place. They were all quite nice and all quite different.  Some of the things we'll discuss and taste on the Tour are what influences the flavor of coffees. 

There are probably even more factors than this, but these are things I know influence how our delicious coffee tastes:

1. Coffee variety - specialty coffee is almost always a variety of the coffee species Arabica. There are thousands of unnamed wild coffee varieties in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, but there are many well known and cultivated varieties too. They're varieties of the same species, arabica. See more here: http://scaa.org/index.php?goto=&page=resources&d=a-botanists-guide-to-specialty-coffee

2. Where/how it's grown. The elevation, surrounding vegetation (shade level, companion plants, etc), and soil affect the productivity and stress of the coffee tree. See/read more about this at Tim Wendelboe's cool Farm of the Soil project in Nicaragua: https://www.instagram.com/fincaelsuelo/

3. How it's processed. The coffee beans we buy are the seed of the coffee tree, and when they grow they're surrounded by a husk. How that husk is taken off affects the final flavor. There are 2 main processes, washed and natural, and a newer one "honey" that is in between. Learn more here: https://beanbox.co/blog/difference-between-washed-vs-unwashed-coffee-processes/

4. How it's roasted. This is probably the most familiar to us American end buyers of coffee. It seems that each roaster has her own aesthetic about what coffee ought to taste like, or how she likes to influence coffee by roasting. By that I mean two different roasters might get the same green coffee beans,  but one roaster thinks the coffee tastes better lighter roasted and the other likes it better a bit darker. Neither one is "right" because flavor is up to whoever's drinking it! Roast is determined by how hot beans are roasted for how long in what kind of roaster with what kind of moisture. See more: http://www.coffeecrossroads.com/coffee-101/coffee-roasts-from-light-to-dark