When I was a barista, I got it all the time. A customer walks in, marches up to the counter, assumes the demeanor of a connoisseur, and demands: dark roast. It was a dicey moment, because at Blue Bottle we do not have any true darkly roasted coffees. Our dark-o-meter tops out at a comfortable medium. It’s what we like, and we’re not going to do things we don’t like. So, you start trotting out the sales pitch. We think this coffee is full-bodied; when you say dark, do you mean full-bodied? This coffee has notes of cocoa — everyone likes cocoa! But, in reality, a whole generation of coffee lovers has been trained to like dark coffee the way a whole generation of beer drinkers (myself included) has been taught to love hoppy IPAs.
But, if dark coffee is autocratic, then light coffees tend to bring out religious fervor. People in the industry get very focused on trying to preserve the information encoded in the coffee, rather than focusing on what is yummy. And, there’s an arms race aspect to it, as certain companies try to outdo each other by roasting the coffee lighter. I joke that some coffee was roasted with a Bic lighter; the resulting product is sweet, explosively tart, filled with information, and kind of hard to wrap your head around. Comfort food it is not; it’s not even approachable.
At the end of the day, we need to be doing work that meets our customers’ desires. I often admonish roasters that it doesn’t matter how well they do their job if no one buys the coffee. That doesn’t mean our tastes are dictated by the masses. We are quirky, and we know what we like. But, we want to invite others to like it with us, rather than seek some moral high ground. Consider the croissant: They never come with a mission statement about how you should rethink your definition of pastry and what it means to you. They are content to be merely awesome.