Friday, September 13, 2013

The state of the coffee culture Pt 2

Do you want to be a coffee connoisseur?


I mean that quite seriously. How and why would your life be better?

Before you answer, you might want to include this in your considerations: Your first step to becoming a coffee connoisseur would almost certainly be to start drinking a lot less than you are now.

The reason for this is something Billy Carmichael mentioned in the comments yesterday: the law of diminishing returns. The best tasting mouthful of coffee you will have today is the first. The second will be a little less satisfying, the third even less so and so on .... Drinking large amounts of coffee will only dull your ability to savor really good coffee.

Nobody would pretend that the man who drinks a half-bottle of whisky every day, always the same brand, is a whisky connoisseur. And yet people who get out of bed and start every single day with a cup of coffee and then go on to drink six more cups before the end of their workday are allowed to call themselves coffee lovers.

If you really want to do it, by the way, you'd start by developing your taste buds. You'd do that by drinking a lot less. A good first step would be to visit various coffee bars and sampling small servings of espresso. You'd sit down quietly and sip carefully and really concentrate on the flavor. The next step would be to set up taste tests where you sampled different kinds of espresso one after another to pick out the subtleties. The key point would be to develop your palate and not to acquire equipment and attitudes.

But all that is, as I say, an aside. The main question is: Why do you want to do this?

Here is a related question: Do you like to think of yourself as a critical thinker? Do you think you are clever enough to see through marketing ploys? I ask this because the people who work hard every day to get you to buy stuff want you to want to be a coffee connoisseur. They want that because they can then get you to buy a bunch of stuff that you associate with being the sort of fine discerning person who really knows about a good cup of coffee.

Of course, it's not just a good cup of coffee that they want you to want. They want you to buy into a whole concept of the good life.

In the Confessions Augustine compares himself at one point to a beggar. He says that the beggar at least got what he wanted; which is to say, the beggar got enough money to buy wine and get drunk. Augustine, on the other hand, spent a whole lot of time chasing shadows. His sin was worse than the man who spent his whole life in pursuit of drunkeness.

I'm a lot cruder than Augustine. Compare the coffee connoisseur to a man who devotes his life to being a seduction artist. Outwardly, they have a lot in common. The man after sex spends money on clothes and cars and affects to know have attained the good life in order that women will find him attractive. The coffee connoisseur does much the same sort of thing. The pay off for the seduction artist is that he gets laid. The pay off for the coffee connoisseur is ... well, what is it exactly.

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