rules and drawing within the lines

i had an interesting exchange today.
a quick bit of personal background information that will be valuable when it comes to understanding what i'm about to say. i spent over a decade cooking professionally. i'm reasonably knowledgable when it comes to the palate, flavour and the physiology of taste. my major in school was critical theory - post-structuralism to be exact.

anyway, so i had this exchange.
i was questioned about my description of a coffee and was told that the way i had described it didn't conform with the accepted cupping descriptors and guidelines. i explained how i was using certain words and why i was using certain terms the way i used them.
in addition, i commented that one of the things i love about Stumptown is that we're made to feel free to ignore rules and instead experiment with our own ideas.
finally, i stated that i felt that many of the rules and guidelines in coffee stem from a desire to impress objective and qualitative standards to what is, fundamentally, a profoundly subjective and personal experience.

i thought some more about this and immediately (of course) saw the parallels between what i was talking about when it comes to coffee and my field of study when it came to critical theory. coffee now (like critical theory in the 1960s) has long been an area of arcane and protected knowledge where growth within the field requires years of practice and study under an established master. this tends to result in a sort of intellectual corruption where those with knowledge become disincented from making that knowledge accessible and where status and inclusion requires far more political skill and obsequience to a system than actual ability. there is also a level of fear involved due to the subjective nature of evaluation of taste which results in the creation of layers of justification and obsfucation in order to make a determination impregnible.

when it comes right down to it - all of this is, in fact, not only faulty but fundamentally wrong in a number of ways and on a number of fronts.

i cup coffee daily and in most cases multiple times per day. for the most part these are staff cuppings, where our baristas are learning not only how to cup coffee, but also how to taste coffee. in these we tend to emphasize the importance of trusting your own palate. the other cuppings are a mix of sample cuppings and production cuppings where coffees are being evaluated. in these cuppings we also really focus on our own personal opinions of coffees. i guess you could say that we are the deconstructionists of the coffee world. the thing is... i learn as much about coffee in the employee cuppings as i do in the sample cuppings.

i love the idea that our staff is being educated to ignore the rules - or educated in ignorance of the rules. i love the idea that staff are free to describe a coffee as "reminding them of christmas morning" or "kind of yellow in my mouth." the mind opens and people start actually thinking, learning and tasting rather than just checking the requisite boxes.

of course... it's all just my opinion (grin).

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