Want to learn about coffee? In order to really do this, you’ll need to not just learn about coffee beans, coffee roasting, and coffee brewing, but also learn how to research. Otherwise, your information will soon go out of date – or worse, be influenced by other people’s errors.
I’ve been teaching the sensory analysis of Italian espresso since 2005. I’m a member of the Board and a lecturer at the International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IIAC), and as part of that I’ve taught across Asia, North America, and Europe. I’m also Co-Founder of the Italian Barista School (IBS) and the Italian Roasting School (IRS). And I’m the Communications Manager of the Italian Espresso National Institute (INEI).
And for me, teaching isn’t about the transfer of information. It’s about sharing how to seek reliable information, and providing a method for learning. Ultimately, it’s about fostering critical thinking. So if you want to discover how to learn more about coffee, from production to tasting, read on.
International Institute of Coffee Tasters. Credit: IIAC
Question Your Sources
There is so much you can learn about coffee online. But you also need to use the internet wisely.
When I was a student, the web was an exciting new phenomenon. Every day, more and more information popped up. Everything was there for me. Finally, I didn’t need to dig into dictionaries or thick scientific books – because much of the knowledge was at my fingertips.
However, in an ocean of information, fact-checking is mandatory. We can’t expect all sources to be reliable. Just recently, I read that there is a layer of oil under the crema in an espresso. False!
There’s no doubt that the internet is a useful tool. So too is social media. They facilitate information exchange, make the latest research more accessible, and enable you to reach out to experts.
But don’t just believe what you read. Double-check information, question self-proclaimed experts, and research “scientific” claims.
Coffee books have changed over time. Credti: IIAC
Respect Knowledge, Not Follower Numbers
When I entered the coffee industry, social media didn’t exist to the same degree as it does now. We, the young professionals, couldn’t follow experts on Instagram or watch their YouTube channels. Instead, we read their books.
We were, of course, still fascinated by these experts’ experience and vision. But we weren’t interested in favoriting pictures of their vacation or yesterday’s lunch. We just wanted to steal their secrets.
The thing is, while social media has made information more accessible, it’s also changed the rules for becoming famous. Getting a book published? That used to require strong technical knowledge and an editor to fact-check your work. But getting followers on social media? That’s a whole different set of knowledge: Facebook algorithms instead of sensory profiles, Instagram filters instead of olfaction anthropology.
Many people online are both social media savvy and skilled coffee experts. The ability to reach out to them with just a Tweet, or an email, is invaluable. It can help develop your understanding of coffee far quicker, and you can see the latest innovations in coffee research as they happen.
However, you’ll also find people online with vibrant personalities and large followings who, nonetheless, may have a limited technical background. And when they help you learn how to taste coffee, or brew coffee, or roast it, there’s no guarantee that what you’re learning is correct.
Your task, if you want to learn about coffee, is to learn how to recognize the coffee experts.
Somethings have to be experienced, not learned from social media. Credit: IIAC
Learn From Specialists
The coffee supply chain is complex, and it’s impossible to master it all. This means the key to true expertise is specialization.
Getting good at something takes time. The more you study and practice, the better you become at it. So who do you want to study from: someone who has spent all their time on one sector of the industry, or someone who has divided their time between sensory analysis, brewing, roasting, latte art, production, processing, and more?
Of course, a basic understanding of the entire supply chain is beneficial. However, you deserve to learn from the very best. Want to learn about coffee tasting? Go to an expert in it. Want to learn about how to make different coffee drinks? Go to a different person. It will probably cost more money and time to learn from multiple experts, but it will give you a much more solid understanding of coffee.
Study and practice are key. Credit: IIAC
You don’t just learn about coffee from a book, or a course (although these are important!) You learn about coffee through independent research, constant questioning, and critical thinking.
And while these may be more time-consuming at first, over the long term you’ll benefit from them. You won’t waste time believing the wrong information, or following bad advice. And this is key to developing your skill sets in this beautiful industry.
There are so many wonderful things you will learn in this industry. It’s just important to question what you learn before accepting it.
Written by Carlo Odello. Featured photo by IIAC
All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.
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