So i went and bought a bag of supposedly one of the best coffees in the world, according to this article. Finca Mauritania, from Aida Batlle's farm in El Salvador. Roasted just 3 days ago at Counter Culture in Noth Carolina and arrived at my doorstep by USPS yesterday, i woke up this morning and prepared a cup exactly the way this article describes one should, even down to measuring out ~20g of coffee and ~320g of water, pouring the water in the precise amounts and time pattern described, etc. Had a taste. I hate to say it, but I just don't see much of a difference from any other cup of coffee I've ever had. In fact it was kind of sour and overly tangy, to my tongue. Part of the problem, or maybe all of the problem, might be that I normally take my coffee with a little milk and sugar, but Batlle says to really taste the difference you have to drink it black.
So, if I take the time to get used to drinking my coffee black and learn to enjoy it (I do sometimes have espresso black, but not drip coffee), and then do another test, maybe i'll be able to discern the "intoxicating flavors of butterscotch, pastry, and sweet chocolate" that "infuse the cup and create a profoundly complex, satisfying coffee experience," as the tasting notes on the bag describe. But that's one of the issues brought up by the article - is it really worth my time and effort to train my palate in this way, so that then I'll not be satisfied without the daily extra money and time spent on this gourmet affectation? Especialy when, after all, in a couple years the tastemaking coffee gurus will probably declare that some other method is better and everyone doing it otherwise is a philistine? and when people made coffee in Ethiopia, where it came from, for thousands of years by just boiling grounds and water in a clay pot over a fire? How can one cabal of foodies say this other way involving burr grinders and pre-flushed paper cones is more authentic or "right"? And besides, coffee without milk is bad for my digestive tract!
In the end, the most important thing about the coffee world is that the farmers and the ecosystem are treated right. Direct trade and other 'better than even Fair Trade' practices as well as organic and shade-grown growing, go a long way. But really, the logical extension ends up, to my mind, here: we shouldn't be drinking coffee at all. We should be helping those coffee farmers convert their farms back to mostly just growing food for themselves, just like we should be growing food for ourselves in our own locales, and maybe some of us could grow our own coffee plants in greenhouses and hydroponic setups if we're really capable and dedicated. But for the most part, when you get down to it, coffee, for most people, is just a vector for a chemical stimulant that we really don't need. We should be changing our culture (which involves our work habits and entire lifestyle) so that we don't think we have to have that stimulant every morning and often throughout the day, so that we then don't need to have this global commodity market that forces poor people to grow this cash crop to the exclusion of being self-sufficient in their own local communities. Coffee culture is really just, at its roots, the same as crystal meth culture - a social pathology brought about by the fetishization of work, productivity, and intensity. The social pressures that lead poor working class double-shifting meatpackers in rural Iowa to get hooked on meth are really the same social pressures that white-collar infoworkers in cubeland turn into a daily cuppajoe addiction. The gourmet coffee waves and trends are just a surface layer of genteel sophistication over the top of this sordid reality.
To be fair, I love my coffee. But I recognize that, like a lot of unfortunate activities in my modern life, it's not something that really matches my values and ideally i should stop or at least lessen it.