Monday, January 27, 2014

She drank the Kool Aid but realized it was over-priced Lemonade

Well file this one under the very rare "the Third Wave Emperor has no clothes" department, but this article, shared by an alert reader, is the first in memory to dare to point out that drinking excruciatingly acidic coffee is more penance than pleasure.

We'll probably have to wade through 50 or 100 pieces of drivel from the likes of Oliver Strand and other hip know-nothings before we see another piece like this, so savor it.


  1. Come on Kevin; I've been railing against the current trend for excessively acidic coffees for at least 2 years now. ;)

  2. Maybe so, but where? There's nothing on your blog.

    1. Coming back late to this (I forgot to check the notify button): mainly in social media Kevin. I don't have a blog. Unless you call the tumblr account I have a blog. I'm pretty well known online as being very anti "over bright" coffees.

  3. I'm just amazed that she put up with it for eight years! :D


  4. Damn, she's a good writer, too. I have my leetle problems with D. Schomer, but I also learned a lot from him back (waaaaaay back) in the early 90s. And the gals from Oakland are returning to their "roots" in that sense. I really want to open a shop one day called "Second Wave Coffee". The best coffees from the 80s and 90s have yet to be improved upon.

  5. good to see some activity on the blog!

  6. Perhaps the author's viewpoint is a revelation in the print media, but on coffee enthusiast forums complaints about overly-light roasts are not really news.

    Be that as it may, the tone you introduce in your second paragraph seems counterproductive. Oliver offers a rare voice in the mainstream press, one who actually takes the time to study his subject (rather than composing formulaic, superficial drivel on Kopi Luwak, etc).

    Being a "contrarian" is fine, but being a snarky contrarian smacks of desperation and dilutes the usual high quality of your postings. IMHO.

  7. Hi Andy -

    Thanks for your comments.

    I'd be interested in hearing more about the coffee enthusiast forums you mention. I don't see much on Coffee Geek and you've piqued my curiosity.

    I've had some correspondence with Oliver Strand, and of course have read a considerable amount of his writing. I think your positive view of his writing is perhaps more a function of our diminished standards for writting in an era where Tweets count as literature and any writing that consists of something slighly better than simply reprinting PR releases from corporations is considered thoughtful investigative reporting.

    Strand has spent some time talking to a few people in the industry but has never worked in it, doesn't seem to care to talk to people who might upset his preconceptions, and clearly isn't a skilled taster. Having worked in coffee at a time when Ed Behr (Art of Eating) and Corby Kummer (The Joy of Coffee, food writer for the Atlantic) were covering the trade, Strand is even more of a step backwards qualitatively than Third Wave coffee is to Second Wave at its best. I should also mention that Ken Davids, whose history of thoughtful writing on coffee precedes all of the above-mentioned writers, is still out there setting a high standard.

  8. Hi Kevin:

    I believe the search terms "light roast" and "sour" will garner a lot of hits. A couple samples:

    Re: Oliver Strand, I bow in supplication before your vastly greater experience in coffee and coffee writing. ;-) But what authors are currently writing for mainstream media with greater competence than he? Do you admire Todd Carmichael's columns in Esquire? :-0

    Ken Davids is obviously a very experienced taster, but I regard his as rather farcical. The site boasts reviews of 295 coffees that scored 94+. Talk about "grade inflation;" I don't find it believable, and I doubt you do, either.

  9. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the links you provided. Glad to see there's at least a little discussion, but of course not much.

    Of course Carmichael is a buffoon, albeit an entertaining one. Oliver Strand is certainly a competent stylist, but he'll be the first to point out that he's not a critic, critical writing isn't allowed in the sections he writes for, etc. So the range would appear to be this: Strand's uncritical paens to the Third Wave and occasional similar gush in Saveur are the high end, trade rags in the middle, and most popular of all (and winner of the SCAA's Distinguished Journalism award!), Sprudge, sort of an online National Enquirer for folks with Twitter-conditioned attention spans.

    There simply isn't a "Wine Advocate" or any other publication that writes critically about coffee in the U.S., as far as I know. Ed Behr has done some great critical writing about coffee in "Art of Eating," but it only reaches a small, albeit elite, cadre of serious food folks, most of them professionals. And of course Mark Prendergrast has done some great writing, but we're talking books and lengthy articles, not mainstream stuff. Obviously that context is why my blog's often sharply critical content comes across as perhaps more shocking than it should.

    With respect to Coffee Review, it seems to me that the farcical part is that his roster of sponsors and sample senders has gotten so small and unrepresentative that he should long since have stopped reviewing coffees and concentrated on occasional essays. It's a flawed business model. Wine Advocate or Stephen Tanzer's wine journal can be critical because consumers pay all of their expenses, while a site like Coffee Review or Sprudge is in no posiiton to bite the hand that feeds them.

    I've had some lengthy conversations with Ken about his rating scale and I really don't think that score inflation is all that much of an issue. His catholicity of taste and ability to appreciate washed coffees and funky naturals, screamingly light roasts and daringly dark ones, make him an anomaly for sure, but in ways that firmly align his interests and perspective with those of consumers. I just wish he had a better forum for his writing, but hey, I could say the same thing for my missives, which as you know reach an audience of dozens.

    Thanks for being one of them.

    1. "Sprudge, sort of an online National Enquirer for folks with Twitter-conditioned attention spans. "

      Thank you for that very apt description! Sprudge alternately fascinates and repulses me, but I would definitely miss it if it went away.

      As far as there being no "Wine Advocate" for coffee: it's because there isn't the money in quality coffee that there is in wine, right? As the price of great coffee gradually rises, eventually the "Coffee Advocate" will come into being.

  10. Ha, Allen Yellent. I know the guy... He used to live in New York and worked as a barista for Gimme, and then Stumptown. Ritual has become more popular here in New York partially due to Yellent's connections in New York and now being a resident of San Fran. Ritual? I'm not a fan for the same reasons the author of this piece doesn't like them. Too light. It is getting out of hand.

  11. Kevin,

    Love this blog. Very insightful and helpful. The next time you're in Seattle, I would love to buy you lunch and pick your brain for an hour. I'm a young guy in coffee and I'm sure I can learn a ton from you!