Specialty Coffee & Craft Beer

Written by Sam Mirto, Director of Coffee

I feel like this is a topic I talk about all the time, but I don’t ever get tired of it. Coffee and beer end up in the same conversations on the reg, and for good reason. More and more these days, we’re seeing beer people in coffee bars, coffee people in breweries, coffee in beer, cold brew coffee that drinks like beer, skinny jeans, mug clubs, ironic mustaches, merch for days, collabs, bikes, those hats with the short brims, haircuts that are like shaved on the bottom and really long on top….Shoot, what was I describing again?

The point is there is a culture around the two beverages, and of course the culture is not defined aesthetically like I joked about (I’m actually jealous that I can’t pull off that look, age man…), but it’s defined by a worldview, which becomes a movement, or even a cause that people will rally to. I want to share with you some of the reasons that I believe this is happening, and why you should get down with it - if you’re not already.

Let’s start with the social aspects of beer and coffee, since after all these are social beverages (if you drink either alone, no judgment). Think about all of the times you’ve sat down with someone over a cup of coffee. What did you talk about? Did you have a lighthearted conversation about the new animated kids’ movie that seems like it’s actually made for adults? Did you solve all the world’s problems? Chances are you have experienced both, and everything in between. Have you done the same over a beer? Probably.

People congregate around these drinks, and stuff gets done when they do (think the Boston Tea Party, A Few Good Men…I’m serious look it up). We obviously need food and drink to survive, and the need to be surrounded by the people we care about is just as important to sustaining life. To share a simple act of having a beverage together can somehow remind us that regardless of our differences, we’re the same when you take away the things that seemingly “define” us. But if this is the case why not just meet over a water, or a delicious lemonade?

Many people would point to the simple fact that coffee is a stimulant, and a beer has alcohol which apparently impairs one’s inhibitions. Well, to that I say, okay yeah, that might have something to do with it…Think about how much a small amount of alcohol can cause all of the distractions in your mind to leave you temporarily, I get the appeal. Caffeine is the ultimate upper, countless long nights of studying have all been made possible by its effects.

So these two drinks have the whole legal drug thing going on for them, but I think the appeal to congregate around coffee and beer goes much deeper, and that brings me to my next parallel.

Both beer and coffee, when extreme care is taken in their creation, are two of the most complex and delicious beverages that exist. Let’s start with beer. In its simplest form, the beverage is created when barley that has been germinated and toasted to varying degrees is steeped in hot water, breaking down carbohydrates into simpler sugar chains. This sugary water, called “wort”, is then boiled with hops being incorporated for bittering, and eventually aroma. The liquid is eventually cooled, then yeast is incorporated and fermentation begins, yielding beer at its completion. At every stage in the process, from the amount of water that the barley received in the field to the glass that the beer is served in will affect the final product. At its worst, beer can be flavorless, cheap, and meant for shotgunning…At its best, it can be floral, citrusy, spicy, herby, caramelly, chocolaty, nutty, malty, smoky, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Coffee, by comparison, comes from the seed of a cherry grown in very specific parts of the world. The skin and pulp are removed, revealing the seed, which has to be dried. Once dried, the coffee can be shipped to a roaster.

Roasting science goes beyond human or alien understanding, and by proper application, can coax every sweet flavor that a seed has to offer out of hiding. With careless and thoughtless roasting, everything that makes a coffee unique will be lost forever. Brewing science carries all the levels of intricacy and complexity of roasting, further complicating the goal of achieving a fantastic cup of coffee. Only when these two beverages have been shown the proper attention will they be something special. When that happens, it should be celebrated. The praiseworthiness, or rather the success of all the hard work taken in producing these beverages is assessed on a 100-point scale by people who commit long, long hours to tasting fantastic coffee and beer. Awards are given for the best of both, and the best of the best command top dollar. So in summary, both require art and science, both have crazy layers of flavor beyond comprehension, and both are graded on a 100-point scale.

The dedication to perfection has been the catalyst for the explosion in the craft beer market. Opening people’s minds to new flavors has caused consumers to demand more from everything they eat and drink.

The specialty coffee industry has also seen a recent boom, and I believe we have to in large part thank craft beer for that. People are discovering the nuances and complexity in both, and that culture that I talked about earlier is rallying to the cause. It’s about more than beer or coffee, it’s a culture that celebrates how great the things that this world provides are. This culture recognizes the simple pleasure and importance of slowing down, letting our worries and inhibitions leave us for a short time, and just being with good people. And if you’re going to be with good people, you may as well enjoy your drinks to boot. If coffee or beer aren’t your jam, that’s cool, but I encourage you to give them another shot next time you’re out with the people that you love.