Tag Archives: napa
How we take our coffee is a fascinating snapshot– it reveals so much about a person’s natural palate & taste preferences. Some people take their coffee black by automatic-drip or French press; some prefer milk or 1/2 + 1/2 with their coffee; and some just take coffee with extra sugar. Others like a much stronger brew made with espresso made by stove-top pot or machine with steamed fat free, 1%, 2% or whole milk, in varying ratios and sugar, cinnamon and chocolate. Our personal preferences are driven by texture, weight/fullness, intensity and sweetness. People are passionate about how they take their coffee as it is a truly personal experience, and a deep ritual in many societies.
Coffee is surprisingly very similar to wine in many ways– in the way it is farmed and grown in specific microclimates + agricultural regions of the world; how it is harvested, blended and marketed. We use the same language when describing coffee + wine (flavor, nose, mouth experience and finish) with words such as: intense, complex, full-, medium-, lean-bodied, smooth, rich, fragrant, earthy, exotic, fruity, astringent, acidic and sweet.
Not surprisingly, one’s preference with coffee often mimics their preference with wine. This month, we will explore this discussion by asking some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated winemakers, chefs and gatekeepers this one silly question.
dave phinney – vintner, orin swift cellars + the PRISONER
“Espresso + one sugar!”
tim mondavi – wine grower, continuum estate
A strong coffee, preferably Dark Italian Roast, made with half coffee, and half hot frothed milk
via guest blogger, tim hanni
How you take your coffee, or whether you even drink coffee at all, provide insights into your personal sensory sensitivities and life experiences that shape our personal preferences over time. This is all part of being human. Your preferences for wine, art, music and anything else with a sensory element (and that’s about anything you can possibly think of) are formed in a similar manner as your coffee preferences and it is fascinating to learn more about the psycho-physiological dynamics that come into play.
About 20 years ago my curiosity got the best of me (again) as over and over again I was perplexed on how differently two experts might rate or describe the same wine. Quite literally one might declare a given wine as “best ever” while an equally expert authority would find the exact same wine, from the same bottle, on the same day “flawed and commercially unacceptable.” As I was also very imbued with wine and food matching concepts this same disparity cropped up over and over. A “harmonious, wonderful combination” for one person was described as “a horrible clash of flavors” by the next. OK – so what the heck was going on? The differences in opinions, conflict and dissonance was casually explained by the cliché that we have “different palates” or “it is a matter of personal preferences.” Being the kind of hairpin I am I wanted to dig deeper and learn more. From my point of view the differences were so dramatically different it were as if the individuals were not even tasting the same thing! And, in fact, this is exactly what can be happening.
There are both physiological and psychological components that ultimately shape and determine our individual perception and personal preferences. I have been working with researchers and specialists who study these things in different areas and am blown away by the implications for the wine industry. Dr. Linda Bartoshuk is recognized for her work with compounds that some people experience as horribly, even painfully, bitter while others are incapable of sensing anything at all. Dr. Virginia Utermohlen MD, my current research partner, looks at the fascinating relationship between individual sensory sensitivity and the development of personality traits, behaviors and learning from early childhood through adulthood. It is this combination of genetic, physiological sensory capacities combined with our cultural and societal influences, learning, peers and life experiences that give us our unique perspective and preferences for coffee, wine and the universe (sheesh, I am really getting philosophical here!).
The correlation between one’s coffee and wine preferences came along relatively early in my explorations and continues to be a great marker to help people determine their own sensory sensitivities and tolerances. Many people are so sensitive to the bitter compounds in coffee they just say no. Period. Yuck – how can you drink the stuff. Others can down a darkly roast, French pressed and inky cuppa Joe with great satisfaction and no need for any milk, cream or sweetener to mitigate the intense flavor. A great deal of your basic preferences align directly with how many taste buds you have. The range is from less than 500 taste papillae (and coincides with a love for black intense coffee and high alcohol, intense wines) to over 11,000 (most of whom cannot stand coffee at all)! People in the middle tend to have a wider range of preferences and ability to flit from one style of coffee to another, just as they are able to enjoy a wider array of wine styles. There are many factors that influence the intensity and range of taste sensations you experience but the number of taste buds you have is a biggie. And, before you go off and running with the idea that somehow more taste buds indicates some sort of superior ability settle down – there is no better or worse, just different. And the differences explain why one person is getting a horrible, burning reaction from a wine (usually the same who need lots of cream and sugar in their coffee) and another is finding the identical wine smooth and delicious (and probably loves strong, black coffee).
And don’t forget that as humans we then start to THINK about things. I love in my seminars when I ask, “who LOVES Turkish coffee?” If someone is waving their hand enthusiastically and smiling I ask the person, “please stand up and tell us the story.” They will invariably launch into their story without further prompt from me. For most people who get dreamy-eyed and enthusiastic about Turkish coffee there is a life experience they are recalling from their past. It could be related to a college trip to Istanbul, a cultural event or family experience or, very frequently, a story about hooking up with a Turkish lover and being introduced to Turkish coffee as a result. Fact of the matter is that very few people dive into a cup of dark, strong and grainy Turkish coffee and intuitively declare – “wow, that’s delicious!” It is more of what we call an acquired taste – the result of a sensory experience becoming indelibly etched into your psyche so that you relive the memories of the moment with every sip – even if the sensory experience is not intuitively to your liking.
It is no accident that Marco Cappelli (Swanson sweet wine maker), needing to mix his coffee 50/50 with milk and then add sugar, has a passion for sweet wines. He is physiologically predisposed to savor the richness and easily grows weary of the tannic intensity that has become the standard for red wines today. Not that he cannot appreciate or make great wines of this style – he is simply more inclined to lean towards delicacy and finesse. This also explains Alexis’ penchant and passion for a really fine rosé while harboring her secret affinity for some flavored creamer in her coffee. Again this does not preclude her from loving an intense Cabernet – just a hint at her natural predisposition.
So what does how you take your coffee say about you? Boatloads. For one thing how you take your coffee indicates how sensitive or tolerant are you to bitterness. It might be a physiological response to stimulus that dictates your preferences or it may be psychological – especially if you find there are certain coffee rites and rituals you require. Another indicator of the psychological dimension driving your choices is having very strong beliefs of superiority for your personal coffee opinions. That would make you a geek, and you are probably also a wine geek as well – you know who you are. Lighten up and pass the cream and sugar, and the light delicate wine, even though it may not be your personal choice. It is about time we learn to recognize and honor our personal preferences and differences and there is a lot for all of us to learn.
phillippe jeanty – world-famous chef, bistro jeanty, yountville
Black coffee or espresso…
dana johnson, ovid + nimbus arts
Decaf espresso, with non fat milk– throughout the day. No sugar.
ashley hepworth, joseph phelps / insignia
My Coffee ritual: Fair trade, freshly ground, drip brewed style, black and 3-4 cups a day.
joel gott, entrepreneur/owner/proprietor the Ranch, Gott’s Roadside (aka Taylor’s Refresher). prev… palisades market + joel gott wines.
Coffee with milk and agave syrup or in the afternoon espresso with one sugar!