October 2015: Number 5

This web-based Review was launched on 27 June 2015, to coincide with an article in the Irish Times of that date, entitled ‘Is bitter better? the philosopher’s coffee quest’  by Joe Humphreys.  [See http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/is-bitter-better-the-philosopher-s-coffee-quest-1.2256035.]

One effect of Joe Humphreys’s article was an invitation I received to debate publicly with Mr James Hoffmann, author of theWorld Atlas of Coffee, on the question: ‘Is Bitter Better?’.  The public debate was duly held on 16 Oct. 2015, in the Funbally Stables, organized by First Draft, and was, I believe, live-streamed.    Therefore, I feel that between the Irish Times article and the public debate, a kind of circle has now been closed, and so it seems a suitable moment to terminate, or at least suspend this Review.  And this is also enforced by what I’ve said in the previous number about having other matters in hand.

The present number also seems an appropriate time to make a few points, one of which is that while the focus of Irish Timesarticle and debate was on my account of Sourism vs Bitterism in coffee tasting, my Philosophy of Coffee-Tasting is much broader in scope.  For one thing, it sets the opposition between the two tastes in an historical context, which is broader than the Three Waves, as going back importantly into the 19th century, before the First Wave and the industrialization of coffee.  It also presents a new theory of coffee tasting- glossed and elaborated by numbers 1 and 2 of the Review- that is more comprehensive than the present expert theory which was in large measure inherited by both the Second and Third Waves from the First Wave. And probably its main upshot is to recommend a way of seeing coffee tasting that can overcome the narrowness and partisanship of both the Second Wave Bitterists or the Third Wave Sourists, and so stop the swinging from one to the other fashion.  As I put it at the public debate: To ask which is better, bitter or sour, is like asking which is better visual art or music.* Nor do I suggest we go for those a kind of golden mean and support those who are inclined to say ‘A plague on both your houses’, and so go for generic coffee, which is neither sour or bitter.

Indeed, I suggest that, in fact, the Bitterists and Sourists have in common a submerged wish to overcome or subdue the essential generic coffee taste, (which is really an aroma) which is so many coffees is overwhelming, even vulgar, in the way that the aroma of frying bacon is.  How is this done?  By the Sourist roaster stopping short roasting before the generic aroma has most fully emerged, or the Bitterist roaster letting it go on so to burn away much of the generic aroma – so a kind of divide and conquer.

Another, somewhat different point I would like to make concerns format and my realization, which was crystalized at the debate, about how public debates, like one-off lectures, tend to be polemical and treat knowledge like a commodity, hence their inferiority to one-to-one discussion, which, as I suggest in my little coffee book, is like the artisan approach to coffee.  And this is how I would like to continue the work of the Review, at least for the immediate future with any readers who share my preference for one-to-one discussion, which could be done by using my coffee book as a workbook, an idea set out in‘Artisan Philosophy Workbooks and Method’, which also contains summaries of eight other workbooks; see https://artisanphilosophybrochure.wordpress.com/           Ideally, such one-to-one discussions would be in person, but could also through email and skyping.

Anyone interested in pursuing this could contact me at dberman@tcd.ie, or leave a message at 01 8961126.



*While I do not think that either one is better than the other, I do believe that some people are visual types and others tactual, the former preferring visual art, the latter music- so a typal division like that of the Sourists and Bitterists.  I examine the visual and tactual types in Penult  ΨΦ, chapter 2, which, like the coffee book,  is available from Artisan Philosophy Workbooks.