I recently saw a post by Wendelien Van Bunnik, a World Aeropress Champion, on Instagram. In the post, Wendelien shares her history of drinking poor-quality coffee before discovering speciality. She ends the post with an interesting question that I wanted to write about: "do you remember the moment you discovered the pleasure of drinking coffee that actually tastes nice instead of functional?"
I cannot pin down my interest in speciality coffee to a single moment. My experience was more of a journey. I developed a fondness for tea—usually from a bag—when I was quite young. Tea was delicious and members of my family consumed it. I did not drink fancy tea, just the kind you could get in supermarkets. That was my go-to caffeinated drink for a long time (aside from a brief time during which I consumed Nescafe, an experience I can barely remember).
My interest turned to coffee when I discovered Starbucks. I would usually only have Starbucks' coffee on holiday because I do not have a branch nearby. Thus, Starbucks almost became a treat; a luxury reserved for the few days when I was near one. At this time I was not very acquainted with coffee as a speciality beverage. But I ordered a cappuccino. Why a cappuccino? I cannot remember. I am glad I did order one though.
The quality of the coffee itself was miles ahead of the instant coffee I had consumed beforehand. I found coffee a bit more interesting in terms of taste than tea. The milk and foam perhaps played a role in that. I love the foam that comes with cappuccinos; silky, sweet, and generally delicious. Overall, cappuccinos tasted good. I cannot remember thinking that the coffees had any particular tasting notes. At that time I had no idea coffee could have tasting notes.
While Starbucks may be better known for its sweeter drinks—and "coffee" drinks that seem to contain so many other ingredients that coffee is no longer a key component—they are a springboard into speciality coffee. Starbucks made me realise that I could like coffee. I learned what a cappuccino was. I read more of Starbucks' menu while going in. I did not change my go-to order—a cappuccino—for the most part, but I was learning.
The moment that I discovered speciality coffee was last year, many years after my first time in Starbucks ordering a cappuccino. I found out about the Aeropress online and realised that I could make coffee at home. I have no idea why I took the leap to buy an Aeropress. I just did. I do remember being incredibly excited about it, perusing Sainsbury's shelves for a coffee to brew when the Aeropress arrived. It was at that time that I realised coffee was even more than cappuccinos. I learned coffee came from a plant. I read about the basics of sourcing. I discovered processing methods.
Speciality coffee interests me today for a number of reasons. First, I like coffee. I also like exploring new coffees. Second, speciality coffee is interesting to me, so much so that I want to share what I learn and chat with as many people as I can about the industry. Third, making coffee is comforting to me. I enjoy the ritual of making coffee, an experience with which I believe many can emphasize.
I would encourage you to ask yourself the same question Wendelien proposed: when did you discover that coffee could be more than just a bitter drink? How long did it take you to learn that speciality coffee was an entire industry where passionate people brew coffee, serve coffee, and try to advance what coffee can be? I am constantly learning about coffee but I probably would not be down this route without Starbucks and the Aeropress.
NB: I may not agree with the nutritional value of many Starbucks drinks but I do believe that they have been a force for good in advancing knowledge about coffee. Starbucks have also set minimum expectations that the coffee industry has built upon. I am very fond of Starbucks and would proudly walk into a shop and order a coffee. (I am really craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte as I write).