Lewontin’s Rebuttal: “Incomplete Unimportance of Brew Methods”

 
By 11 October 2012
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There’s some top drawer fresh content up today via the Everyman Espresso blog, a rebuttal of sorts to the “Unimportance of Brew Methods” feature we highlighted a few days ago on Sprudge. But first, to address some confusion that’s been lingering for a few days: the original blog post from Extractions & Distractions was not written by Espresso Parts’ Michael “Panda” Fernandez – he was mentioned in our original post because his Facebook feed was what originally brought this article to our attention. Sorry for any confusion, Panda.

On to the rebuttal! Sam Lewontin’s written a corker, whose introduction we’ll go ahead and excerpt:

The notion that all brew methods are created equal– or, to soften the rhetoric a bit, that most are of equivalent merit– has been cropping up a lot in recent discussions among specialty coffee folk. Let’s make no bones about it: this is an oversimplification gross enough to make it untrue. It does, however, point to an interesting and worthwhile consideration regarding service.

Let’s start with the nature of the oversimplification. All brewing methods are, indeed, tools for accomplishing the same task: extraction. The theory is: as long as the variables governing said extraction are manipulated properly, one should be able to use any method to near-optimally express the flavors present in any coffee. Hence, the argument goes, equivalence.

Mr. Lewontin goes on to eloquently opine:

Overemphasis on methodology can also directly detract from the “feeling good” aspect of the service. A didactic mode of service serves (just as does any didactic rhetorical approach) mainly to make the listener aware of the inadequacy of their own knowledge. It inculcates in our customer base the notion of baristas as somewhere between snobs and priests, reveling in arcana as a means of self-empowerment at the expense of our audience. While it is indeed valuable to have the answers to questions (when they’re asked!), the practice of focusing up front on specific brew methods and minor differences in technique– in dialog, menu composition and marketing– is at best self-aggrandizing and at worst a serious distraction from what actually matters.

Go ahead and do yourself a favor – read the whole thing here via Everyman Espresso’s blog. There’s also some great commentary up on the original post we ran, so spend some time there too. This discussion is ongoing, so jump in to our comments and sound off below. The water’s fine!

 

 
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  • chris says:

    Thanks for encouraging discussion on an interesting topic. I guess when I read John’s original post, I took it to mean, essentially, “Don’t walk into a cafe and order a V60 because that’s what you think is the best tasting brew method.” While I think it’s valuable to examine the pros/cons of any brew method, they certainly are not all created equal. One thing I continue to be amazed by is the propensity of particular coffees to prefer unique brewing strategies. A fresh, light roast Kenya might taste best as a filter cone, while a city+ Guatemala might shine in an Eva Solo or Siphon. Anyway, dialing in a coffee’s sweet spot on any brew method is an exercise the barista can cherish, and the specs used can be shared with the greater community in the interest of providing a starting point for replicating the experience. I don’t know of many baristas who haphazardly volunteer that kind of industry-specific information to the average cup-of-joe customer, however, and I definitely don’t think that focusing on the minutia of brewing methodology detracts from enjoyment unless it becomes a spectacle that overshadows the coffee itself. Good brewers, like good roasters, are simply vessels through which good coffee is experienced.

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