Monday, March 08, 2010

My tiger fleck insight

Rob Kozinets sent me his Netnography book a couple of weeks ago and I've been enjoying it quite a bit. Last night I got to the Data Analysis section and thoroughly enjoyed the exercise on the alt.coffee posting (search for page 122 on Amazon).

At first glance I thought it would be impossible to extract any insight out of a passage of text riddled with terms foreign to me about a subject I could not possibly be more ambivalent about...espresso. But I gave it the old college try, and applying the netnographic technique I was able to find almost all of the same insights as the professor.

I'd like to contribute an insight to the analysis of this posting. I assumed going into this reading that taste was the most important quality of an espresso. I'm largely influenced by a new chocolate factory in San Francisco called Tcho. What makes Tcho special is it cuts through the chatter about percent cacao and country of origin...when it comes to chocolate the property that matters most is taste.

Figuring the same was true about coffee, I was surprised to read how Frank Rinetti described this great shot of espresso he made using the "Smith(inni)" method. He did not come out first and say the taste was excellent. He listed something about tiger fleck crema and consistent shot time first. And then when he described taste it was only on a range of good to excellent. Why write home about a coffee brewing technique unless it yields consistently excellent taste?

Well I can only imagine that in the realm of coffee, taste is not paramount. I don't know what tiger fleck crema is still but I've seen a picture of tiger fleck and it's quite beautiful. So I'm guessing that appearance of the coffee is as important, if not more important to coffee drinkers than the taste. If I remember how bitter the first sip of coffee I had was, it's frankly not surprising to me on reflection that taste isn't more important. The only "good" tasting coffee I've had was actually hot chocolate with a splash of coffee in it. If you haven't noticed, I like chocolate...a lot.

I also observed the contrast in language used to describe the crema and shot time vs. the taste. Not only was taste listed last in terms of important properties but the qualifiers were also very plain. The taste was described merely as "good" to "excellent". But the crema was described in such rich visual terms that that I had to do a google image to search to relate to it. And the shot time--still not sure what it is--was described with its own measurement system. The author said it was "in the 20's". Since no unit of measure was specified, I can only assume that the unit of measure is so well known in this community that it could be omitted.

When rich vocabulary and shared knowledge about a measurement system appear in forum content, I believe it means those properties have been given a tremendous amount of thought by that community.

Now contrast the richness of the description "tiger fleck crema" and "shot time in the 20's" with the plainness of "good to excellent taste". That's a stark contrast in my opinion and it makes me wonder if taste isn't as important as other characteristics in the realm of coffee connoisseurship.

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