The difference between being a lover and an aficionado

My two favorite beverages are both brown liquids: coffee and whiskey. Recently I learned how my enjoyment of these two beverages differs. For one, I’m a lover. For the other, I’m an aficionado.

Coffee Bourbon

I went to an industry event a few weeks ago. Afterward they offered us beer and wine, and I ended up sitting at a table with a bunch of others in my industry I’d never met. Someone wished the bar had offered something more interesting than Stella Artois, which brought the conversation around to favorite spirits. When I said whiskey, several others nodded in agreement.

Then we learned that one of the fellows at the table owns a coffee roastery. “Does everyone here like coffee?” he asked the table. I was first to exclaim, “oh, yes!” I love coffee!

“What flavor profile do you like?” he asked.

“Uh, right now I enjoy a breakfast blend I get at the grocery store. It’s from an Indianapolis roaster called Papa Nicholas.”

Grocery store? Do you have any idea how long that stuff sits in a warehouse before you get it? It can’t have any flavor left!”

Then everybody else at the table talked about the single-origin roasts they liked best and their interesting flavor notes, and I found myself with nothing to say.

If we had stuck to talking about whiskey, I would have had plenty to say. I like trying whiskeys with all sorts of different mash bills, at various ages and proofs, and comparing and contrasting the flavors. I look for obscure distilleries and limited editions. I even finish a pour that I don’t like, because I’m evaluating it and want to understand its flavor profile.

When it comes to coffee, however, I’m a lot simpler: I take it black. I prefer a full but classic coffee flavor with a lightly sweet finish. I’m just as happy with the coffee at Denny’s as I am the medium-roast drip at the hip downtown coffee shop where the baristas are covered in piercings. I generally avoid the specialty roasts, e.g, “single-origin, grown in Nigeria by itinerant monks” or whatever because too many of them just haven’t appealed to my palate.

I’m a coffee lover and a whiskey aficionado.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


21 responses to “The difference between being a lover and an aficionado”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I didn’t know how little I knew about coffee until I started hanging around a local independent coffee roaster and craft beer shop in my neighborhood, started btw, by three young professional photographers that realized it was impossible to make a living in photography anymore! They are well known by coffee aficionados nation wide for roasting odd-ball beans from exotic areas of the world, in small batches. I thought film prices were insane until I saw their per pound price on some of their beans! I’m like you, I like a good cup of coffee. There is a very wide range of coffees I like, but really have no preference. Through these guys, I have realized that there is coffee with little flavor, especially large commercial roasters, and so I can recognize and avoid that, but a lot of other stuff is OK by me. Sometimes I’m in there when they are trying to decide roasting and brewing specs on some beans, and it’s a hoot, because I can taste the difference between variations, but don’t hate any of them. I have a gal-pal that says she likes what she calls “wedding coffee”, which is coffee in a large perk/urn that’s on the banquet all day at an event. Im sure there are coffee people would faint just at that description!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m right there with you – I appreciate all the flavor variations in good coffees, but in the end I am also happy with a regular cuppa joe. When I’m out on the road, my favorite coffee is from McDonald’s.

  2. Theron Avatar

    Eight O’Clock Original, whole bean. From the grocery. I have a little hand grinder and a stainless French press that I use every morning. Got both for camping, but it became my regular home brewing kit as well when Mr. Coffee passed away. For my tastes, it’s as good as I can get anywhere.

    I absolutely despise Starbucks. Bitter beyond compare. I’ve been told by coffee snobs that they over-roast every bean, because all burnt beans taste the same. It’s the great equalizer – the cheap beans taste just as bad as the expensive ones!

    And your absolutely spot on about McDonalds!

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Ditto re: Starbucks, too , too, bitter. I’m not sure they do it to disguise bad beans, as much as they have decided their main taste profile is dark and bitter. There are people that don’t know anything about coffee that just think it’s strong. Somewhere along the line, someone at corporate decided that it was better than borderline too weak…

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        I’m a black coffee guy through and through, but at Starbucks I always order a flat white. I just don’t like the flavor of their black coffee. I’m not hard to please, either.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, for sure, a decent grocery-store coffee can be made great when you prepare it well!

  3. Bruce C. Sdunek Avatar

    I have a brother-in-law that buys bags of coffee beans from Central America. He sorts the beans and then roasts them. They are ground just before brewing. I like coffee, but his is outstanding. It does make a difference. Oh, I am fond of several good whiskies too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, that sounds terrific! Roasting them yourself, that’s gonzo.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Have a buddy that has a home roaster, bought “green” beans, and was roasting at home until the condo association told him to stop it because he was stinking up the whole floor! I can actually think of a lot worse things than smelling like roasted coffee?

  4. tbm3fan Avatar

    Generally I don’t like coffee from restaurants. McDonalds not a “restaurant” but then not a place I stop by for coffee since I have always ground my own since 1985. Starbucks I can’t stand more so for their over priced cups and incredibly slow service so good coffee wouldn’t matter. The last time I was in Starbucks was in Manila and that should tell you why. The only coffee place I’ll go to is Cafe Roma, on Bancroft, just across from the Architecture and Law Schools at at UC Berkeley. Have, ever since 1979. At home my preferred coffee is French Roast black along with Dark Sumatra.

    As for whiskey I am a bourbon guy but also enjoy Irish whiskey. Scotch is just too damn complicated and after a few I hated I don’t bother anymore. So when it comes to bourbon I don’t get tied up in a taste profile as you call it. I’ll try it and either I like it and will buy it again or if I don’t like it I am done with it. Essentially keep it simple. Now, if you say tequila which I have been drinking since 1974, that is another story. In fact the only bottle I have ever thrown out full, down the drain, was a bottle of tequila.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There was a Kona blend at Trader Joes that I used to really like. That’s about as fancy as I’ve ever gotten. I no longer enjoy the big brands like Folger’s or Maxwell House, and won’t buy them. There are flavor profiles I don’t prefer for my morning cup at home. But other than that I just buy whatever sounds good.

  5. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Also have to pipe in that I’ve heard tons of stories about how to roast, when to grind, etc., etc. to get the best cup of coffee. Two thing seems to to be standard for me over the last 30 years: the thing that really seems to make a difference is when it was roasted until when I get it. I used to live next to an indie shop that roasted its own, and I’d pick up a bag right after it was roasted and just when it was ready to go, it was exceptional. Rappahannock coffee in the D.C. areas had roasters in each shop that roasted their own stock per store. The second being how hot the water is when you make it, which is why I use a French press.

    Knew one of the first coffee shop guys in my city 30 years ago, and he was saying that most of the home coffee brewers, like Mr. Coffee, don’t make the water hot enough to get all the flavor/oil out of the coffee. He said even most of the American made barista machines aren’t hot enough, he said only a few brands were OK. Grinding right before you brew? Not a deal for me. You could pre grind the whole bag, or grind it right before, and to my taste, hardly a difference I could notice, if there is one!

    But, like I said before, I could get a good cup of coffee from any where, or even caring how they made it….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve had a few truly bad cups of coffee in my time. Cups that I threw out. But overall I’m just not fussy.

  6. J P Avatar

    I think I may be more of a snob with ice cream than I am with either coffee or liquor.

    I buy big vacuum sealed bags of the darkest roast I can find at Sam’s or Costco. Then I grind beans but use a drip coffee maker. I wrote years ago that I am a coffee half-snob. I would have been lost in the conversation with your friends.

    Bourbon? Meh. But start talking scotch and I get more interested. But as with coffee, I buy nice middlebrow stuff for myself and enjoy the nicer bottles I receive as gifts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There’s a lot to be said for middlebrow for a daily dram. I could drink a dram of Glenlivet 12 stuff every day for the rest of my life and die happy.

      1. J P Avatar

        Your middlebrow is higher than mine, which is represented by Dewars. It’s usually at least waist high on the shelves. :)

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Dewars 12 is a favorite. Regular Dewars is plenty good, especially in a rusty nail.

  7. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I never developed a taste for alcohol. I love coffee, whether it be an expensive roast or the coffee at 7/11.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I sort of wish I’d never developed a taste for alcohol. I might weigh less. It’s not that I have a weight problem but I could stand to lose 15 pounds. A couple neat pours of bourbon is about 150 useless calories.

  8. Christopher May Avatar
    Christopher May

    Once upon a time, I tried going down the connoisseur road on all sorts of things — cameras, headphones, wine, coffee, etc. The problem with really getting into any one of those things is that it is time consuming and expensive. I think your approach to love some things and remain a connoisseur of others is probably the best way to appreciate both but not go crazy. I’m kind of following the same path. I have a nice set of headphones I enjoy listening to but I’m not really looking to improve on them or their ancillary equipment (DACs, Amps, etc.) anymore. I enjoy a glass of wine or a nice local coffee roast but I don’t spend the time or money seeking out the best of either. Even in the world of cameras, I’ve found some nice cameras I enjoy using and the thrill of GAS has really started to diminish. I’d rather use what I have than keep trying other things.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The problem with becoming a connoisseur of anything is that it becomes hard to enjoy just plain good things in that realm. I remember the first time I drank Makers Mark bourbon, back in college. It was a revelation compared to the cheap bourbons (i.e., Jim Beam) that I had been mixing into Coke. I could drink MM straight and like it! But after so much exploring of bourbons, Makers Mark doesn’t wow me anymore. I regret it.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: