Exploring the Definition of Artisanal
Eduarda Cristovam, Director of Coffee, Quality and Sustainability
Divine 'Artisanal coffee'?
Over the years, I have been asked many times to define artisanal when it comes to coffee. My response is not straightforward.
One definition of artisanal relates to an artisan or artisanal skills; and to food/drink made in a traditional or non-mechanized way. When it comes to coffee, the non-mechanized section would be challenging as normally a roaster (which is mechanized) is required. Of course, we could go old-school and roast on a frying pan on an open fire, but it’s not practical.
The term artisanal coffee is ambiguous because various assumptions can be wrapped into it. If a skilled human being defines the coffee roast profile based on composition/origin, monitors the roast development, first crack point, end point and can predict how the batch will translate on the cupping table, does it matter if the roasting batch is larger than a few kilos? Hand roasted, speciality and artisanal coffee perhaps get intertwined in our minds.
The idea of a skilled roaster who knows his/her craft delivering a small batch of coffee that is special and will taste divine is wonderful. But does “artisanal coffee” always taste divine? Every master roaster will imprint their personality on the batch being roasted and that can be good or bad. Every batch of coffee roasted by the same person may be different and that may be good or bad. Every batch of green may be good or not so good. Do you see where I’m going with this? Does it matter that it’s labelled “artisanal coffee”? If coffee tastes good by your standards, is fresh and you love it, does it really matter that it’s “artisanal coffee”?
It may be that we equate artisanal coffee with an implicit quality stamp, but again that may not be so. The definition is therefore tricky. If “artisanal coffees” are priced in such a way that only a few people can enjoy or afford, that is a shame. No matter how coffee is roasted, by hand, in large roasters, in computerised conveyor belt type equipment, all roasting processes should deliver fresh and well roasted coffee because we owe it to the growers and to those who buy it with and expectation of enjoying it.
The last coffee bag labelled “artisanal” that I bought happened to be stale. I’m sure the coffee was beautiful and fresh at some point. I also like to believe that great care and attention was given during its sourcing, roasting and packing. I bought it not because it said “artisanal”, but because I was curious about the origin and processing method. When it comes to coffee, drink what gives you pleasure regardless of a label. You may need to kiss many frogs till you find your just right.
About Dr Eduarda Cristovam
Director of Coffee, Quality & Sustainability at Matthew Algie
Eduarda is our resident sensory expert, with 21 years of experience in Sensory Analysis; 19 of which are specific to the coffee industry. As a result, Eduarda has a unique and inspiring way of describing coffee attributes and her interactive tasting sessions come highly recommended.
In addition to holding a PhD (Quality drivers in Port Wine and Espresso Coffee), Eduarda has lectured in Sensory Studies at Adelaide University, Australia, and is an Honorary Guest Lecturer at Strathclyde University, Glasgow.
As Head of Coffee at Matthew Algie, Eduarda oversees the development and introduction of all our new coffee and non-coffee products.