Further Thoughts On Palate Changes

I have written a couple of posts about how my coffee preference seems to change with the seasons. It seems my palate and taste preference has also changed over the past few years.

Around 2012 or so I stopped drinking beers. I started living a very strict paleo/primal lifestyle. I gave up all grains. I didn’t even eat grains on cheat days. The bread and pasta was no big deal. I had, however, grown in love with the rapidly growing craft beer industry. It was a tough break up. One of the reasons I really got into coffee more was because I needed something to replace the love I had for the craft beer industry and the craft coffee industry took it’s place. Earlier this Summer I began experimenting with adding beer back into my diet on Saturdays. I am back on the craft beer train. I only drink my gluten.

It didn’t take long before I realized my taste in beer styles shifted. I wasn’t a big fan of hoppy beers before. I liked them ok but I didn’t love them. To my surprise I not only love hoppy IPAs but I can now easily distinguish between some of the different types of hops and can pick out a West-coast style vs an East-coast style with ease. I think a couple of things played a big role in the expansion of my palate and change in tastes. Coffee and wine.

Even before starting on a paleo/primal diet1 I very rarely had beer during the week. But, I have coffee ever single day. Over the past 2.5 years I have had hundreds of different types of coffees from all over the world and from too many roasters to count. I savored most of these cups. I read the tasting notes and tried to develop a better idea of what specifically I liked about certain types. I was ultimately drawn to the more complex flavors I believe are found especially in Ethiopian coffee. One of the most fascinating things was the change in flavors an individual cup can have as it cools to room temperature.

During this same time period I increased my consumption of wine quite a bit. In fact, I have a small 5 ounce glass most days. Again, not surprisingly, I was drawn to reds. With the help of my wife and visits to a lot of vineyards and wineries2 and was able to pick out specific tasting notes and develop a taste profile I liked. Since I mostly drink red wine, I do so mostly at room temperature or just below room temperature.

Tasting coffee and wine almost daily aided in my palate development but so did the temperatures at which I enjoyed them. Enter my emergence back into craft beer consumption. I now like my beers to “warm up” a bit. This is the true way to get the full taste profile. In the same way Starbucks likes to over roast their beans and serve their coffee scalding hot to hide the lack of true flavor, large beer producers want you to drink their beers “ice cold”. It helps hide the total lack of flavor.

Training your palate to experience and enjoy new tastes is important if you expect to roast good coffee. Had I not exposed my palate to so many different types of flavors I would probably still be conditioned to think Starbucks coffee is “good”.


  1. I say primal because I am currently eating dairy pretty regularly which isn’t technically allowed by the strictest of paleo folk ↩

  2. I am lucky enough to live near the infinitely growing Virginia wine regions ↩

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Coffee Kevin Weighs In On K-Cups

Kevin Sinnott is as much a “coffee expert” as anyone and his book, The Art and Craft of Coffee is a must read in my opinion. He recently weighed in on the continuously growing K-Cup industry and his opinions are very much in line with my own.

I am certainly not urging anyone to discard their Chemex, Hario or French press makers for K-Cups, nor for that matter their Technivorm, Bonavita or Behmor traditional automatic drip machines. What I am suggesting is to consider what this offers in terms of consumer choices and the possibility of getting a good-to-near-great cup of coffee fully automatically and conveniently. Even I must have an option for those times in my life where the process is not the goal, but a necessity of my real goal: getting a savory cup of coffee. Such times are quick morning starts, mornings when I am heading to an airport for an early flight. Sometimes a friend drops by and we want to share the coffee, but not the time it takes to make it the manual multiple step way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Coffee Plant Update

One of my more popular, and shorter, posts was me sharing the fact I bought a coffee plant. I am happy to report it thrived this Summer.

I keep the plant inside and water it once a week or so, whenever the soil is dry about an inch or so down. When I water it I give it a pretty good soak. I probably pour 1 to 1.5 cups of water into the soil. It sits on a table near our kitchen where it gets plenty of indirect sunlight. Basically, this mimics the shade that most coffee plants historically preferred. In the wild coffee usually grows under the canopy of much larger trees.

Unfortunately, I didn't measure the height of the plant when I started but it appears to have added almost two inches of height and a dozen new leaves grew. The gloss of the leaves is what really makes coffee plants look great.

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Roast Log Notes

It took me over a year of roasting to fill up one Field Notes full of my observations and scribbles for each roast I did. I recently looked back through the notebook and here are some interesting takeaways from my first roasting log.

  • My earlier roasts including a lot of notes about what I was smelling. Grass, hay, popcorn, chocolate, burnt popcorn and kettle corn are a few examples.

  • I tinkered more early on with the speed of the fan on the SR500. My later roasts were a little more “dialed in” so there was less tinkering.

  • My roasts got longer and so did my quality. I think this speaks to getting better at smelling and hearing the triggers. Early on I was panicking and pulling some of my earlier roasts way to soon.

  • Even though the SR500 roast chamber is clear, the beans look darker in the roaster than when they are taken out.

  • With many of my earlier roasts I would let the roaster “cool off” between batches. Now I start the next batch as soon as the previous one is done.

  • When I started roasting in the garage with the doors open to let in natural light I could see the beans much better in the roast chamber.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Cura Coffee

Cura Coffee reached out to me recently and sent a bag of their medium roast. I honestly had not heard of Cura before they emailed me but I really enjoyed learning about their story.

Cura Coffee recognizes one of the big downsides to the coffee industry. Poverty. Most coffee growing regions are extremely poor. This is despite the fact that coffee is only second behind oil in terms of global consumption. Some of the reasons the farmers are poor include politics and poor infrastructure. The specialty coffee industry has really tried to raise awareness and help the situation but, like most political issues, it is a tough fight.

According to Cura Coffee…

10% of sale proceeds go to our primary mission of developing sustainable dental care for the remote farming communities who produce our coffee. Since 2008, we’ve seen nearly 4,500 patients and performed more than 7,700 procedures through Foundation for Worldwide Health.

Cura Coffee was founded by a dentist and their goal is clear. Help bring fair pricing on coffee and dental care to the local farmers and their families. The 10% is used to help provide dental care to individuals who would most likely never see a dentist during their lifetime. One of the very interesting ideas Cura is trying out is allowing others to sell their coffee as a fundraiser. You can sell Cura Coffee for your cause or organization and have 20% of the sales go toward helping any cause you choose. Cura still contributes 10% of these sales to their sustainable dental care program.

I don’t typically love Nicaraguan coffees and I have certainly had some better ones and definitely some that were worse. But, at $15 per bag and knowing that a portion of that is going to a great cause somehow makes the cup even better. It is still a very solid cup of coffee on it’s own and I think the idea behind Cura is a great one.

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Craft Coffee

A number of years back I got into craft beers. I dove dip into the community for a little while. I never tried my hand at brewing but I tried a lot of different beers. I went away for a couple of years and gave up beer completely. I gave up grains/wheat/gluten completely. Well, I returned a couple months ago. While I am still Paleo and never eat wheat, I do have a few craft beers every weekend.

The return has been great but what I found amazing was how much growth the craft beer industry went through over those couple of years. Smaller breweries are barely small now. The distribution seems to have increased dramatically.

What does this have to do with coffee?

I see the coffee community at about the same place I feel like the craft beer community was a few years back. It should be interesting to see where coffee is a few years from now. I'm looking forward to it.

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Led Astray

I have been roasting on a much more consistent basis for the past couple of months. Why did I go through a period of months where I roasted very little? I got spread too thin with trying to keep up with the “coffee world”. I was too interested in what new devices were popping up on Kickstarter. I was pre-occupied with trying coffees from tons of different roasters (although this really helped me improve my palette for tasting coffees). And, I cared too much about what new things were happening in an industry that quite honestly is growing too fast to keep up with.

You see, I got away from reading stuff from the home roasting community and got caught up in the specialty coffee industry as a whole. There is a big difference. Home roasters are coffee geeks. They want to drink good coffee but they also want to tinker with their roasting and brewing methods. They are always in search for the perfect cup...knowing they will never find it. They are amateurs who do it for the fun of it.

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a big fan of Sweet Maria's. The amount of content and knowledge they give away on their site has no equal. The more of their content I consume the more I realize they are one of the "good guys". They experiment. They share. They aren't scared to fail and they aren't full of shit like so many in the specialty coffee industry.

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Do Inconsistent Roasts Matter

Since we moved in March I have been able to roast in our garage which is an overall much better experience than trying to do it in a kitchen. I have had some really good success with a couple of Costa Rica Helsars from Sweet Maria’s. The one thing I did have to account for, although only slightly, was the change in the ambient temperature. The garage is much hotter (or colder) than the house. This has shown to change my roast times a bit. But, since I tend to roast more on sight and sound than on specific “recipes” it isn’t a huge problem. I continue to use the FreshRoast SR500 and I am definitely looking forward to an “upgrade” to something that can do larger batches.

I have been going with 100g roasts (green) at a time that come out at around 83-85 grams after roasting. I try to do four batches consecutively which gives me about 340g or 3/4lb of roasted coffee. This can usually carry me for about 7-10 days which works out nicely when trying to keep the coffee I drink fresh. The downside that it takes me over an hour to do the four roasts. I enjoy the roasting, of course. But doing four roasts straight inevitably leads to inconsistencies. Even if I roasted all day long and tracked data meticulously I still couldn’t eliminate these inconsistencies. For example, using the roaster 4 straight times without letting it cool off has an impact on each subsequent roast. None are ever the same for me. This is why I have to go off sight and sound.

Do these inconstancies matter?

Let’s say, for instance, MadCap coffee roasts a batch of XYZ coffee this week and ships out their orders. Next week they roast the same XYZ coffee and ship out more orders. Chemically it is highly likely these orders have some minute differences. My question is, can anyone taste the difference? I doubt it. I am sure some of the coffee elite would say they could. MadCap could also argue that their expensive roaster and roasting software eliminates inconsistencies. For the most part, however, the difference would be so negligible that no customers could realistically tell the difference.

Back to my roasts. There is zero doubt that the roasting I do on my little SR500 is inconsistent. There are too many variables to control and the most important, temperature, is the hardest with the SR500. As long as I get my batches to about the same level I can’t tell the difference after combining them. For me, the result is either good or bad. In fact I have yet to have a roast that was just “ok”. I either liked it a lot or I hated it. When I hate it I just use it for my bulletproof coffee.

My conclusion is that unless you totally screw up a batch, inconsistent roasts do not matter. My guess as to why? Starting with good beans in the first place. Most of Sweet Maria’s beans have a recommended roasting range. For example it may be City+ to Full City. Now that I have quite a number of roasts under my belt it is pretty easy for me to hit such a range. The fact I believe in the coffee Sweet Maria’s sells gives me added confidence.

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