Coffee’s ever-popular wine analogy works well in the economics case. There are some people who appreciate what goes into a $100 bottle of wine, and there are others who prefer beer and don’t see how that bottle adds up to the price of a few good cases of their favorite brew.
On a social level, however, the wine analogy starts to fall apart. A newly food-aware-and-obsessed American public wants to follow the comfortable path of wine appreciation to understand and appreciate coffee. While it works in some areas, it fails in others — for example, the newly popularized concepts of coffee cupping and coffee pairing.
Take coffee cupping. While there are a number of parallels to wine tasting, cupping carries some elements that are closer to slaughtering your own cow than they are to wine tasting. Picking the lobster out of the tank was one thing, but I’m not ready to be handed the hacksaw when I order my steak and fries.
More recently, I’ve also noted a trend towards coffee pairings. Some of it has come from Starbucks’ consumer education ads, while more experimental forms have included restaurant dinners featuring single origin coffees paired with each course of a meal. One example is the seven course pairing recently developed as a Coffee Dinner jointly between Navarre Restaurant and Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland, OR. Beyond the experimental novelty value, it forces the wine comparison too literally — with a mallot. Coffee pairing integrated into a meal plan makes about as much sense as pairing cigars with each course. And unless you’re Fidel Castro, that might not be too appealing…
Wine appreciation clearly provides a convenient, established, and familiar framework for consumers to educate themselves on and enjoy quality coffees. With a little time, I expect some of these more ridiculous literal translations to die out as the clumsy fads that they are. The good news is that there may be unique coffee appreciation experiences, wholly separate from wine appreciation, that are on the way as the market for excellent coffee evolves.
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