don't be a chimp

sometimes it takes forever for observations and opinions to slowly crystalize into something i can express. at other times, things just snap into focus all of a sudden.
i've been exchanging emails with Andrew Barnett for the last few days and today i had one of those moments of clarity.

most of us in the coffee world are learning on a very basic, lower brain stem, trial and error basis. we mimic the actions of methods of people we respect. we try and adopt or discard. but we don't understand. or perhaps more accurately, we don't try to understand first, and then formulate a tactical plan based on our understanding.

let me try and clarify what i mean with an example.

most of us talk about the importance of tamping. most of us talk about tamping level, about tamping with at least 30lbs of pressure. but what is the goal of tamping? not only do we not talk about what the goal is - most of us don't think about the goal. honestly, i doubt must of us have ever tried to understand what the goal is. if we were to think about the goal - then all of a sudden we would be able to evaluate methodologies for achieving that goal and it would be obvious what would work and what would not. so... what is the goal of tamping? well, if we understand espresso as well as we can, we can reach the conclusion that the primary goals of tamping are: preservation of distribution and elimination of paths of least resistance. okay, so we have to understand a little deeper to see why this is so. an understanding of hydrodynamics makes it clear that an even and optimized extraction of coffee depends on an even density and resistence in the coffee bed. so... understanding this requires an understanding of hydrodynamics as well as coffee extraction. understanding coffee extraction requires an understanding of coffee at a physical and chemical level.

do all of us go through the kind of process that i've reverse engineered in this example? do we try to understand espresso?

or do we just pick up a stick and poke it into a termite mound because we saw another chimp do it?

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