Well, we survived a whole week of Uppers and Downers here in Chicago, and we’ve got loads to reflect on. This week, though, we wanted to know how such fervent beer fans approach speciality coffee. Do our members learn extraction techniques, roasters, and brewing methods in the same way they devour info on brewers, yeast strains, and hopping processes? Or are they only in it for their morning jolt? Perhaps unsurprisingly, this gang leaned a bit toward the former.
Miles Liebtag: “I’ve written a good amount about coffee and beer and their common intersections in the past year, and a big part of that has been talking to lots of different local roasters and brewers. I’ve learned over the years that, much like with beer, one’s relationship to coffee can be as blithe or as deep as one makes it. I’m a huge coffee nerd, but even after years of buying specialty single-origin beans, dialing in my brewing process at home, and going to guided cuppings, I’ve failed to develop my palate vis-à-vis coffee even a tenth as much as beer. I think learning and being able to intelligently articulate the flavors of good coffee is far more difficult than it is with beer—the flavor attributes are usually much more subtle.”
Ian Davis: “I look at coffee through the lens of quality. I drink coffee every day, why shouldn’t it be amazing, and why shouldn’t I support a local business who is ethically sourcing coffee? That being said, my knowledge in beer and my palate development have helped me taste things in coffee better.”
Brad: “I'm not sure I would say that beer has helped me learn about coffee or even vice versa. In many ways, they have been dual paths which I have pursued in unison, with occasional overlap. Given the regularity and the ritual that I have with consuming coffee, I definitely do not have the time or the tasting focus that I have been trying to pursue with beer. Now, that doesn't mean that I don't seek out high quality coffee, because I certainly do at every juncture. I carefully make my own pour-over when working from home and seek out local roasters and brewers when traveling. When they do overlap in a coffee beer, I find myself searching out the nuanced fruit flavors and acidity I would look for in my coffee—and I rarely find them. That doesn't mean that my interest in coffee has fully ruined coffee beers for me, I just think that a lot of brewers (especially those not participating in U&D) really need to explore the spectrum of coffee more and stop giving us big Stouts with over-roasted beans.”
Austin L. Ray: “While I better understand the processes behind, players involved in, and news/gossip/trends surrounding beer, I’m for some reason more discerning when it comes to consuming coffee. I’ll enjoy a cheap beer (Miller High Life or Coors Banquet, please) from time to time, but will only have cheap coffee from a hotel/gas station/whathaveyou if I absolutely must. I’m not really sure how to explain that.”
Zack Rothman: “I can say that coffee beers have helped me learn about the different types of coffee out there and have increased my awareness of local roasters. I like to see local breweries teaming up with small coffee businesses and collaborating. I enjoy the intricate flavors and aromas that coffee can add to beer. To see how complex of an ingredient coffee can be and the many ways it can be used in the brewing process is pretty cool. The creativity of both brewers and roasters continues to amaze me.
I don’t drink coffee like I drink beer. For me, coffee is mainly for the caffeine boost I need to pick me up throughout the day. I have simple tastes when it comes to coffee, though I do appreciate the science and artistry behind the brewing process for both coffee and beer.”
C. Sean West: “My knowledge of homebrewing beer has definitely crossed over into coffee. They share a lot of similarities in terms of time, temperature, crush size, fermentation, ingredient quality/varieties, and the desire to purchase way more specialized equipment than anyone needs. Unfortunately, I have a pretty low tolerance for caffeine, so that prevents me from becoming as obsessed with coffee as I am with beer.”
Jim Plachy: “I love making coffee at home using manual brewing methods. And I really enjoy tasting a wide array of coffees from the increasing number of roasters we have in Chicago. However, I definitely have not looked into coffee the same way I have beer. Washed and natural processing methods and what they do for coffee are still a little lost on me. I know what I like and dislike in a cup of coffee, but how we got there is still a bit of a mystery to me.”
Shannon Vinson: “I’ve learned a ton about coffee since learning about beer just because of the similarities in fermentation/brewing. But I’m not even close to being as hard on coffee as I am on beer, and still have a ton to learn. I can get a lot more flavor profiles out of coffee these days, though, which is fun. Sometimes you just gotta grab something cheap out of desperation. But I am judging a latte art competition at the end of March, which is something I never thought I’d be asked to do—and the opportunity definitely came up because I work at a brewery!”