I ran across a discussion in a coffee forum the other day that got me thinking. Basically, they were griping about the abuse and overuse of the term "gourmet coffee". Or more specifically, that to use the term "gourmet" to describe coffee doesn't really mean anything.
This got me concerned. If "gourmet", as it applies to coffee, doesn't mean anything anymore, that could be a real problem. After all, we have an entire web site here at the Gourmet Coffee Zone devoted to gourmet coffee.
So what is gourmet coffee? What does the "gourmet" in gourmet coffee really mean?
As I thought about it, I realized that I didn't have a clear and easy definition for gourmet coffee.
Ok, we can figure this out. Let's start by describing what gourmet coffee is and what it's not.
One of the comments in the forum discussion that made me smile suggested that "gourmet" just means something is going to cost you double. Amusing and cynical, but that doesn't really get us any closer.
Ok, we know gourmet coffee is:
- Some form of coffee. I know, I'm stating the obvious, but bear with me. What I'm trying to say is that the term "gourmet" must describe certain types or aspects of coffee that separate it from the rest of the coffee out there that isn't gourmet.
- So, there would appear to be something special about gourmet coffee. A term that comes to mind that has something to do with gourmet coffee is "specialty" coffee. There is actually an official organization that was created to promote and support the specialty coffee industry, called the Specialty coffee Association of America, or SCAA. That sounds important, and if gourmet coffee has anything to do with specialty coffee, then gourmet coffee must be important too.
- Another term that pops up around gourmet coffee is "premium". There are premium coffee beans, and premium roasts. So far, the theme does seem to be that "gourmet" refers to something special, and of higher quality than normal, run of the mill coffee.
Now, just to hone in on this, let's establish what gourmet coffee is not:
- Gourmet coffee is not stale, ground coffee in a can. To be fair, we're not trying to malign ground coffee in a can, and I'm certain there are many who enjoy it. But I'm also pretty sure that no one is under the delusion that mass produced, ground coffee in a can should be classified as gourmet coffee. Sorry Maxwell House.
- And I'm pretty sure no one will suggest that instant coffee is gourmet coffee. Does anyone actually drink instant coffee anymore? Sorry, don't mean to offend the instant coffee drinkers.
OK, let's turn to the dictionary for an authoratative definition of the word "gourmet":
- a connoisseur of fine food and drink, epicure.
- of or characterisitc of a gourmet, esp. involving or purporting to involve high-quality or exotic ingredients and skilled preparation: gourmet meals, gourmet cooking
- elaborately equipped for the preparation of fancy, specialized, or exotic meals: a gourmet kitchen
Well, a connoisseur of fine food and drink would certainly include gourmet coffee as a fine drink. And gourmet coffee does require high-quality ingredients and skilled preparation at times (where's that master barista)? Elaborately equipped for the preparation of fancy or specialized .... Let's see, last time I checked, my setup for preparing coffee in my kitchen was a tad on the elaborate side.
Ok, so we've established that gourmet coffee seems to refer to a specialty or premium coffee of better quality than the standard variety, and it also may involve some specialized or more elaborate preparation.
Most definitely, for me, gourmet coffee is more than just better quality coffee.
Here's what I mean. I'm a coffee fanatic. I love everything about coffee. No question, coffee is one of my passions in life. And I know I'm not alone. There are a lot of us "coffee nuts". In pursuit of this coffee passion, I strive to enhance my coffee experience in every way I can.
I buy the premium roasts, and enjoy beans from all the regions around the world. I own fancy burr grinders, and I've spent far too much money on elaborate espresso machines (worth every penny by the way), and there seems to be no end for me. I'm hooked.
For me, the term "gourmet coffee" not only refers to just the coffee itself, but includes all of the aspects, activities, techniques and experience that surrounds that great cup of coffee. It's the selection of the beans, the masterful roast, the precise grinding of the beans to the proper fine or course level, and the prefect brewing method, whether it's a drip maker, a French press, a vacuum pot, or an espresso machine. Gourmet coffee refers to the whole experience. Ok, that's too much Zen. I told you I'm a coffee fanatic.
So, while the term "gourmet coffee" may not be a perfect definition, I need something to describe my coffee world. And "Gourmet Coffee" seems as good a fit as any. So I guess we can keep the "gourmet" in Gourmet Coffee Zone.