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Thread: Common sense versus technology.

  1. #1
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Common sense versus technology.

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    This from Alan Frew today from Coffee for Connoisseurs August 2016 Newsletter

    Brilliant.

    I've had a few questions lately from customers asking me things
    like what brew temperature I'd recommend or what extraction
    percentage was best for particular coffees. My standard answer is
    usually "Buggered if I know!" which for some reason doesn't please
    many of the questioners, especially when I follow it up with "How
    does it taste?"

    Apart from being a curmudgeonly ancient luddite, there is a reason I
    can't answer these questions. I don't normally use scales,
    thermometers or refractometers when making a coffee, be it plunger,
    syphon, espresso or drip. Most of the time the only instrument I use
    when brewing is my mouth. For some reason, it seems to be all
    purpose. It tells me when the coffee is too hot or too cool, too
    strong or too weak, over or under extracted, and whether or not it
    tastes good.

    That's not to say that there isn't a place for high technology in
    coffee brewing, but I my view is that it's there for when things go
    wrong. For when you know you have a great coffee, but for some
    reason you're not getting the taste you want in the cup. Then it's
    time to go back to basics, starting with grind, then dose, then
    temperature and extraction parameters depending on your brewing
    method. This is where precision measurement of your various brewing
    inputs and outputs can make a difference in getting the right taste.

    The availability of all this measuring technology at the consumer
    level seems to lead some people to think that it's possible to
    simply hit a set of numbers which will always give superlative
    results. All too often it seems that they get the numbers and forget
    about the flavour. If all it took was the right program, then a
    robot (or a superautomatic machine) would make perfect coffee every
    time. In the real world, acceptable to good seems to be about the
    best that automation can produce.

    This is because the coffee itself remains the ultimate variable.
    After roasting it changes on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, and
    so far the best way to track and accommodate the changes is still
    the sense of taste. It seems to me that some of the overly
    mechanical coffee hobbyists are afraid to trust their own tastebuds.

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  2. #2
    TC
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    I have always admired Alan's forthright manner and integrity...

    Last week I purchased a few tools- more out of curiosity than a sense that they might necessarily provide anything of use that my palate can't tell me.

    A high yield and bang on TDS is not worth a zac if the coffee is shite. The fun is in working with greens and browns to get something you like in a cup...

    The refractometer is yet to be unwrapped and I celebrate the fact that there is a good measure of art in our craft.
    Last edited by TC; 4th August 2016 at 09:04 AM. Reason: typo
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  3. #3
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Talk_Coffee View Post
    I have always Admired Alan's forthright manner and integrity...

    ...and I celebrate the fact that there is a good measure of art in our craft.
    Ditto...

    Alan set me on the path to great coffee way back when, and I'm grateful for that every day...

    Mal.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimal View Post
    Ditto...

    Alan set me on the path to great coffee way back when, and I'm grateful for that every day...

    Mal.
    Similar story here Mal, Alan figured prominently in my early experiences with quality coffee.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member trentski's Avatar
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    +1 for me as well
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  6. #6
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    However I think Alan forgets that his common sense has been created from 30 years in the game. Likewise I would certainly hope someone like Chris with a career in coffee, or Yelta with over 4000 posts would have built up a knowledge base to be able to get the best out of coffee without instrumentation.

    But at the start of my coffee journey, I'd didn't know the reason my coffee was bad. I couldn't tell the difference between sour and bitter. I didn't recognise superheated water. A simple Schomer type device told me I'm burning the hell out of it and I started to recognise what burnt coffee tasted liked. If I went by being happy with what's in the cup and my mother saying "nice coffee", I would have been satisfied ages ago and would have stopped improving. Those shots back then would be sink shots today.

    Another strong passion of mine is golf, which also has the anti-technologists which I am one despite being an engineer. But that's because I have the years behind me to feel why a ball flies where it did rather than having phased-array Doppler radar tell me why. But for the those without the experience or underlying knowledge, seeing numbers can help them learn why things are as they are.
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  7. #7
    Life-long Learner DesigningByCoffee's Avatar
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    Both perspectives are perfectly true IMHO.

    But in terms of order, I lean with the KISS side - much better off getting newbs involved in training days, hanging with experienced brewsters and attending sampling & cupping course than telling them to buy spectromatographamathingyies… as much fun as they could be when you have a few years under your belt
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  8. #8
    Senior Member trentski's Avatar
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    Coffee making is as much of an art as it is a science. The "rules" get broken all the time and sometimes the results are great.

    Maybe I was fortunate that back in the day we would go to Maltitude on a Saturday morning and everyone would bring coffee and Andy Lew (now owner of Maling Room and Symmetry coffee roasters) and would let us play on his machines for a few hours, trying different techniques and tasting a lot of coffee.
    No scales, no tech, just using our senses to see what effect changes had on the end product.

  9. #9
    TC
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    Quote Originally Posted by trentski View Post
    Coffee making is as much of an art as it is a science. The "rules" get broken all the time and sometimes the results are great.

    Maybe I was fortunate that back in the day we would go to Maltitude on a Saturday morning and everyone would bring coffee and Andy Lew (now owner of Maling Room and Symmetry coffee roasters) and would let us play on his machines for a few hours, trying different techniques and tasting a lot of coffee.

    No scales, no tech, just using our senses to see what effect changes had on the end product.
    Them was the days of the genesis of CS....
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  10. #10
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    'Common sense' is not something we are born with, it is something that we are taught/learn. If tech can speed up that learning process and the person can afford it why not use it. If someone doesn't want to use tech they don't have to. But just because they learned to write using a stone tablet and chisel doesn't mean others can't use a pen and paper to do so.


    Java "Lead type" phile
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  11. #11
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    If tech can speed up that learning process and the person can afford it why not use it.
    Of course, that all presupposes that the "user" understands the Tech. that they're using and understand how to interpret the results... I agree otherwise though...

    Mal.
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  12. #12
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimal View Post
    Of course, that all presupposes that the "user" understands the Tech. that they're using and understand how to interpret the results... I agree otherwise though...

    Mal.
    That's implicit in the statement. If they don't understand the tech and how to interpret its results they would have to learn that early on in the training or it's not speeding up the learning process and helping them to acquire that (un)common sense in a timely manner.


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  13. #13
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    We may not be borne with common sense, however most of us are born with the ability, and some with the desire to learn, some of us choose to utilise these faculties in the pursuit of goals, others for various reasons don't.

    I often use the analogy between cooking and making coffee, if you can cook and follow a simple recipe I doubt a task as simple as making a good cup of coffee and repeating the process will be much of a challenge, if on the other hand your one of them that cant boil water without burning it your probably going to need all the help you can get.

    I often think of my grand mother, very little schooling, with basic utensils and a few pots and pans cooking on a wood fired stove, she was a marvel in the kitchen.

    Nowadays we see people with every conceivable device and appliance known to man, including $2000 geegaws that will even dry your tea towel, and they still cant master the basics.

    I suspect them that have problems learning how to pull a decent shot with a well set up coffee machine, decent beans and a good grinder will continue to have problems no matter how many gizmo's you insert into the process.

    I've always maintained, and still do, some can, some cant.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member brettreaby's Avatar
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    perhaps brilliant Yelta , but imho not the right answer.

    If a newbie is asking these questions why not supply all the basic parameters we work around as a starting point.

    And the caveat that your mileage will vary.

    At least they might start of in the ballpark, make adjustments from reasonable base starting point.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brettreaby View Post
    perhaps brilliant Yelta , but imho not the right answer.

    If a newbie is asking these questions why not supply all the basic parameters we work around as a starting point.

    And the caveat that your mileage will vary.

    At least they might start of in the ballpark, make adjustments from reasonable base starting point.
    My post #14 will explain a lot.

    I repeat, Alan's post is brilliant, if I were a little younger it would perhaps be (incredible or amazing)

  16. #16
    TC
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    Those new to espresso need training on palate and consistent dosing/distribution and that's it.

    Science and tools come later if required and are only of value once the base technique is sound.
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  17. #17
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    Agree with Chris. Palate training helps a new person in the steep learning curve. It also helps those who may have accepted a certain level without realising what is possible. For the rest of you it may be common sense but I find that I am still learning and so if there is technology that can help the learning, it will be great. The fear though is how the technology is marketed as in golf where you acquire all the tools but still do not play very good golf

  18. #18
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Palate training eh? guess my education is sadly lacking!

    Reckon Alan covers it very well with this statement,
    "Most of the time the only instrument I use
    when brewing is my mouth. For some reason, it seems to be all
    purpose. It tells me when the coffee is too hot or too cool, too
    strong or too weak, over or under extracted, and whether or not it
    tastes good."

    Most importantly, does it taste good?
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  19. #19
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Javaphile View Post
    That's implicit in the statement. If they don't understand the tech and how to interpret its results they would have to learn that early on in the training
    Yep...

    But when has that ever stopped people heading down paths that ultimately, they should not have proceeded...
    Just saying...

    Mal.
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  20. #20
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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Quote Originally Posted by trentski View Post
    Coffee making is as much of an art as it is a science. The "rules" get broken all the time and sometimes the results are great.
    If breaking the rules leads to a better result, then you change the rules. That's science.

    The trouble with common sense is that it's not very common.



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