After reading Dany Marquis' article yesterday on the Brulerie du Quai blog, I decided to take the time to analyze it and make a more constructive than emotional response. For an article that was intended to be informative, it made many people react. Including me! Being more of a filter coffee fan myself, I still like to experiment with espresso.
"While producers can now promote better coffees and profit from them, there is still one segment of coffee drinkers who are resisting the arrival of better coffees: espresso lovers." -Marquis
Dany Marquis' arguments
The lower quality coffee bean
"To truly appreciate specialty or third-wave coffees, you need to understand why they're different from regular beans - something many espresso machine users don't do because they rely on espresso drinks to mask any undesirable flavor associated with low-grade beans."
Indeed, low-grade coffee beans do not taste the same as specialty coffee. I also put milk in my coffee to mask the bitterness at the breakfast restaurant. Just because someone uses cheaper coffee beans doesn't mean someone else can't use specialty beans in their espresso machine.
Plus, I'm not ashamed to say that I like milk in my specialty coffee. My little cortado, it's pretty good with Brazilian Cerrado. It's also good with a Pacamara from Guatemala, and no, it doesn't taste the same.
To make a good answer, I will rephrase what I think Dany is trying to say. Espresso machines give a more concentrated coffee which can mask the nuances of specialty coffees. I think this is the only good argument in the article but still not enough.
Yes it's true, if you make a ratio of 1:2, it's strong in mautadine. Fortunately, the curiosity of espresso fans has led to an evolution in the way espresso is made. An espresso can also be a 1:5. At this ratio, it is very possible to discern different notes. My anaerobic coffee from Costa Rica is the extreme in terms of taste of my double-washed coffee from Kenya.
Questionable causal links
"The popularity of these espresso machines means that people still think of coffee as a commodity rather than a tasting product."
"People proudly display their espresso machine on their countertop as a social symbol of success. This craze perpetuates the idea that coffee should be considered a commodity..."
Is it the popularity of the espresso machine that is really holding back the advancement of specialty coffee? One could make the same argument with Tim Horton's coffee and say that filter coffee is preventing the advancement of specialty coffee.
Does being proud of your espresso machine really perpetuate this idea? It's pretty easy to find counter examples. Just think of many members of the Espresso Quebec group who are proud to have their machines and enjoy different kinds of specialty coffee. Basically, I find the links very dubious.
Coffee as a drug
In the article, the espresso machine is blamed for the advancement of specialty coffee. To answer that, I think we need to rethink why people drink coffee. For most people, it's a comforting routine or a little boost in the day.
"If people are not able to experience different types of coffee and identify individual flavor profiles, they will continue to view coffee as just another commodity..."
Not everyone drinks coffee to taste all the flavors that are hidden in it. That's fine, there's not an infinite amount of specialty coffee. If everyone starts drinking it, that's less for third-wave espresso fans.
"Another factor that keeps people from enjoying quality coffees is cost. Quality beans generally have a higher price tag than basic beans, making them more expensive than your average cup of coffee."
Effectively, not everyone wants to pay a premium price. Specialty coffee is a luxury that can be enjoyed in both filter and espresso.