Last week in coffee circles there was a great discussion about what's come to be known as "sensory plasticity" or "desensitivity" - concepts that try to scientifically explain the roles of adaptation and habituation in how we register what we "taste".
Without getting deep into the science, the gist of these concepts is that for people like us, who typically only consume coffee that's been roasted to a light or medium level, when we taste a dark roast, we'll be overpowered by the taste of carbon and may miss any nuances that lie below that primary flavor.
Conversely, someone who habitually drinks dark roasts may indeed find some nuances between different dark roasts, but when confronted with a lighter roast, will probably be put off by a taste of grassiness.
You may not be what you eat, but it seems the part of your brain that registers flavors is.
It got us to thinking that might be why so many customers look at us like aliens when we try to explain why we don't offer many options (if any) for dark roasts.
And that may change going forward. Today we offered a "mistake" coffee as a "dark roast". (Rich inadvertently blended all the Costa Rica La Pastora he roasted last week with a Sumatra for an espresso roast thinking it was another coffee). Although technically only the Sumatra portion of the blend was "dark", the net effect to us was that it was an overroasted Costa Rica.
But customers who like dark roasts gave us positive feedback. They enjoyed it. The Sumatra part of the blend offered a bit of roughness and bite not unlike a true dark roast.
Given what we're planning to do here (and we still aren't divulging the details), it's quite possible that we may reintroduce a dark roast in the near future. That's sort of going backwards in time instead of forward and it's certainly not very "third wavish" of us to do so, but we too get tired of beating our heads against the wall trying to get everyone to change habits. It's just not going to happen at this time and not in this place.
The theory behind this desensitation concept also explains something else that's been driving me crazy. Awhile ago I was subcontracted to work on development of a private label coffee line for a large retailer that would compete with (and taste like) popular Folgers and Maxwell House offerings.
It was a horrible experience as everything Folgers and Maxwell House puts out tastes like rubber to me (robusta beans will do that, and most of what we tasted had high percentages of inferior robusta).
When we got to the point of having to make tasting notes on instant decaf, I literally could not hold the coffee in my mouth long enough to pick out anything other than, "The horror. The horror." I gagged. I even retched. It was that foul.
When we presented our tasting notes to the client, we were surprised to find their in-house tasters also gagged and retched on the same stuff. They found it absolutely dreadful and couldn't understand why anyone would even think of drinking instant decaf. Not to mention it was one of their biggest sellers.
But... that didn't stop them from conducting some serious taste test panels among people who ONLY drink decaf instant. And those test subjects noted in fine detail what flavor notes we missed in our attempt at matching Folgers instant decaf and why they preferred the Folgers overall.
We were all pretty surprised by that, if not outright shocked.
Indeed, one man's antifreeze is another's wine. Or something like that.
That said, once most people are given the opportunity to experience the different palette of flavor notes that can only be presented through a lighter roast - and those same people give themselves the time to acquire a taste for it, there's no going back. At least we think not.