How It All Started

The (brief) story about how I got started in this world of specialty coffee.

It all started with a workshop from OOP Café in Belo Horizonte called Conheça Seu Café, which means “Know Your Coffee” in Portuguese. While I had been visiting cafés around the world for a little over a year, trying various filtered coffees with different fruity or floral notes, ranges of acidity, different bodies, etc., I didn’t understand why or how these things were produced in the cup.

In January 2019 I had reached all of the allowed days on my tourist visa in Brazil, so I decided to take a road trip to Uruguay with my friend Ana until it reset in February. On our way past Punta del Este on the coast, we stopped at a café called Borneo Coffee in La Barra. We both ordered the cold brew coffee and it tasted so good and so different. We didn’t know exactly how to describe it, but it was an incredible cup of coffee that kept us coming back for two more days.

At this coffee shop, there was a book called The New Rules of Coffee: A Modern Guide for Everyone that caught my attention, but I didn’t end up purchasing it. Ana, noticing my peaked interest, ended up ordering the book online and gifting it to me later. While nothing in the book is super groundbreaking, it was extremely eye-opening to someone with zero knowledge of the coffee plant, industry, and culture, such as myself.

After reading this book, I ended up researching OOP Café, which the authors listed as one of the top 5 cafés in coffee-producing countries. It turned out that OOP had this introductory-level workshop during the dates I would be in the city. Perfect!

During this workshop, the owner Tiago led us on a coffee journey. We experimented changing one variable at a time during the brewing process and tasting the results in three different carafes. For every trial, the same coffee and mode of preparation were used (Chemex). We changed variables like the grind size, temperature, ratio of coffee to water, and duration of the brew. It blew my mind how such minor changes in preparation could drastically change the final taste in the cup. More often than not, it seemed like I was tasting three different coffees, not the same coffee prepared slightly differently three times.

This opened my mind up to the potential and intricacies of coffee, as well as to the world from which it comes. Since then, I’ve been studying specialty coffee as a hobby in Brazil, Italy, and Spain, taking courses and frequenting cafés and roasteries, no doubt bothering baristas with my endless questions.

One café in particular always stands out to me when thinking of coffees that changed my perspective on what coffee should taste like. I tried a filtered coffee from Brazil at Caffè dell’Arte in Sardinia, Italy. The owner/barista Andrea said, “Smell this,” and handed me a cup of the freshly ground coffee beans. It smelled exactly like blueberries, as if I had a cup of fresh blueberries in front of me. I was blown away. Then I tasted the prepared cup of coffee and even the taste was overwhelmingly of blueberries. Incredible! Andrea told me it was the best coffee he had tried all year, and he had tried something like 124 different coffees (he kept a log).

A coffee that tastes like blueberries? What else could coffee taste like? What are the limits? My curiosity kept growing; I read more books and signed up for more workshops. Now, I’m back in Brazil studying coffee firsthand to become an expert in the industry, understanding this crazy bean from the plant to the cup, and all the processes in between.

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