Coffee as a Medium and a Message

Coffee tasting

“The same, only stronger. Similar, just brighter. Close enough, but more. Sometimes days are like that. When you feel disarmed and disarmoured. Almost skinless. Nearly actual.” That was the story I read on artisan coffee packaging the other day while making my morning brew before heading off to tech and progress conference to listen to the presentation about… coffee.

I can already anticipate your eyebrow lifting: “what does coffee have to do with tech conference?”. And that was the question that seriously tickled my curiosity.

Try to think of the purpose that coffee serves in peoples’ lives. From the days it was discovered it became a social ritual: African tribes used to discuss family matters while drinking coffee and the tradition of socialising over a cup continued on throughout the centuries. During the presentation “Coffee As a Break. Coffee As an Impulse” Emanuelis from Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories (boutique coffee roastery where I picked up my story on a coffee bag) was talking about coffee as an opportunity to get away from the tech gadgets and catch up on some natural communication. Coffee is a good catalyst of social interaction, a neutral reason to meet and a customary impulse to converse. But above all this shared coffee drinking ritual forms an unspoken bond between people. Even deals made over coffee are more stable.

Contemplating about coffee in the context of mediated world made me remember Marshal McLuhan’s media theory and to start thinking of coffee as a medium on its own in terms of having a social effect – being a facilitator of communication. The difference from technological medias is that coffee is more natural, alternative medium than the technological inventions surrounding us.

Coffee helps to convey messages and refine ideas and it may serve as a message itself, starting with the complexity of flavours in it speaking on their own and finishing with a personal input of barista.

It was a mere coincidence that another coffee-related event – Coffee Culture Days – was on during the same weekend, giving an opportunity to explore the other aspect of coffee as a medium – a substance through which sensory impressions are transmitted. Sweetness, sourness and bitterness of dark chocolate should be tasted in a cup of coffee. While I can usually pick up those basic components of the body, I believe I still need some practice in order to discern more intricate flavours. A real discovery was intense blueberry flavour in Ethiopian Sidamo coffee and I was cheering like a child when tasting it. After all, in terms of complexity of flavour coffee can be compared to wine, only it has two times more aromatic compounds.

With eyes wide open I was trying to stay as close as I can to the contestants of Coffee Championship preparing their coffees and to watch the judges assessing coffee taste, quality of preparation, consistency of four coffee cups prepared at a time and professionalism. There are so many criteria of assessment, starting with technicalities such as settings of coffee grinder, amount of coffee in the portafilter or time of extraction and finishing with the balance of taste.

Perfect espressos were dripping, intricate patterns emerging on cappuccinos and lattes, cherry scented smoke rising from coffee tree while sampling juice flavoured creative coffee drink, all intensified by a subtle chocolatey aftertaste, lingering in ones mouth.

Every cup of the same kind of coffee from a different barista tasted different, which only reinforced the feeling, that coffee does carry a message. As for me the message is always much more than the blend of beans or quality of extraction. It is a sprinkle of personal touch – a smile or positive thoughts – which makes a difference. So go ahead, grab a cup and don’t forget to ask the name of the barista. You’d get surprised how much better your coffee would taste.

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Photo credits: Crooked Nose

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