Ninety-five percent of Americans drink stale coffee — and they don’t even know it.
So says Dave Kozuha, co-owner and roast-master at Greenwood Lake Roasters Craft Coffee. When exposed to oxygen, drip ground coffee goes stale within 20 minutes. Unless you’re grinding your coffee every morning, you’re only getting one cup of fresh, flavorful coffee per bag.
But coffee grinding is only part of the problem. To truly understand the current state of affairs, it helps to understand the three waves of coffee.
For decades, the prevalence and proliferation of companies like Starbucks defined the taste of coffee. And while the Seattle corporation ushered in the age of lattes and single-origin beans, it ultimately sacrificed quality for the sake of consistency.
“To achieve such great consistency, you have to set the bar pretty low on quality,” says Kozuha.
Ironically, by introducing its clientele to coffee’s diverse flavors and regionality, a contingent of customers recognized Starbucks’ quality crisis. In response, companies like Stumptown, Intelligensia, and Blue Bottle emerged, focusing on the coffee shop experience, refined brewing techniques, and the treatment of coffee as a complex beverage. This has resulted in more independent coffee shops and roasters, as well as connoisseurs in search of better coffee. In many ways, it mirrors the craft beer movement.
While some media outlets suggest that craft coffee has peaked, Kozuha insists there remains tremendous room for growth, namely due to coffee’s mistreatment as a product.
Large-scale producers roast their coffee beans with machines called profilers, which attempt to automate the process. Yet coffee’s chemical makeup changes with temperature, humidity, rainfall, and dozens of other environmental variables. As Kozuha explains, two bags of beans from the same producer can taste completely different from harvest to harvest.
“I view roasting just as a chef views cooking,” he says. “You’re trying to bring out the best natural flavors of the ingredients you’re using.”
To complicate things further, there are in the order of 10,000 varietals of coffee in Ethiopia alone. A machine cannot navigate the nuances in aroma, color, and sound of the roasting beans like Kozuha does.
“Microroasters are usually the people who either can’t afford profilers or got cheap profilers and still have to finish [the roast] themselves,” says Kozuha. “They’re the ones who are going to know more about how to roast coffee than these big guys do.”