Gesha, Schiller’s Noble Prize in Economics, & Pretension versus the Personal

Getting to know a coffee, for me, is somewhat like getting to know a new person or master a craft. It’s through the subtle nuances that a thing (friend, craft or coffee) lets itself be known; and by the very implication of the phrase ‘subtle nuances’ the process of knowing is closer to a glacial time phenomenon than a femtosecond atomic phenomenon. All of which means that for all our coffees we roast, taste, think, wait then repeat until we find an exceptional spot within the coffee and within the process. Often times this is a very long (perhaps wasteful) process and at other times it feels full of luck and happens quickly. There have been times that the thinking and waiting on a coffee consumes the entire life of a coffee in the shop.

The above process is very personal and a fairly individualistic journey. Once arriving at the ‘spot’, the door slowly widens, inviting a broader and broader audience to come inside. The personal, quiet fortitude and introspection becomes fixed, public and abuzz.  For instance, the Esmeralda Gesha. We started with 50 lbs and very high expectations. It is hard to say exactly what those expectations were precisely, but nonetheless they were very high. The word transformative comes to mind now. Yes, we expected a transformative coffee. A quick aside on what (and thus why our high expectations) an Esmeralda Gesha is and to avoid the temptation to plagiarize here’s an old but solid link Also see the wiki here, In sum, it’s a bit like a unicorn or mermaid of the coffee world. It’s a magical thing that not a lot of people (until more recently) have had the chance to experience directly. So given the opportunity, we jumped at the possibility to roast such a fabled coffee from such a heralded estate. In brief, it’s a great coffee and I think we got the roast and brew right (of course I would say that); but it was not immediate or transformative. To this day, it is still not a transformative coffee. It’s good, I dare say great, but not transformative.

This leads me to a brief aside on Schiller’s 2013 Noble Prize in Economics. Now I won’t pretend to completely understand the basis of his award, but I will pretend to understand the popularized, headline making basis of his award. In a nutshell, Schiller (with others) developed techniques for predicting and/or detecting bubbles in markets, such as the Internet and the housing market. The phrase ‘irrational exuberance’ captures it succinctly. In brief, somehow the price of an asset or class of assets becomes uncoupled from the fundamentals (value) of the asset itself. (See Internet valuations NASDAQ et al. pre-2000/2001 and the housing market valuations pre and post 2006.) I would argue that my exuberance for this Gesha coffee out paced my willingness to consider cup fundamentals versus cup price. Again, it’s a great coffee, just not transformative. It’s a bit like magical thinking -like the stock market or the housing market could never go down -or mistaking the market buzz of a company for the value of a company. Thus, no matter what, by the very nature that it was a Gesha coffee it would be transformative, explosive, mind altering, life changing, and a story to tell generations.

Now around the globe back to start with a relative discussion of the personal versus the pretentious. So my personal journey with getting to know this coffee, while slowly widening the door to share with others, has almost exhausted our 50 lbs. All the while I have continued to look for the transformative and have convinced myself that I continue to discover the subtle nuances in this coffee. It’s perhaps at this point in the essay that I take my coffee obsession too far or appearing to be trying too hard, but here goes nonetheless. Recently the shop acquired a painting by Daniel Burnett (you can check it out in the shop or get a taste of it on our instagram and/or twitter). As a quick aside, it’s amazing -very graphic, lots of detail, lots of attention, lots of time invested; just perfect -we’re very honored to hang it in the shop. Some of Daniel’s comments about his process for the piece really resonated with me and in particular with my experience with roasting coffee. He said that he began the work in his studio, but toward the end of the piece he took it home, to his very small apartment, and ‘lived’ with it. Essentially, by doing this he did what I’ll call learning the nuances of the piece and his relationship within himself to the piece. Now this is were the question of pretense comes in versus the personal, I feel like this is how I know/roast the coffee. This feeling of finding the end -without knowing precisely how one communicates the end to oneself. I can’t pretend to create coffees that equal Daniel’s painting, but I can tell you that I experience the process in a similar emotional ecosystem. Perhaps this is elevating the personal to pretense, perhaps projecting feelings onto something that is disproportionate from it’s intrinsic value, perhaps a sort of irrational exuberance. It’s in the waiting that we ultimately know.
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