Evenness, balance, and consistency. If you want to make tasty coffee, these are the words that need to be running in the back of your mind, whether you're a barista, roaster, or producer. Your coffee is only as good as the evenness of your extraction, and all negative flavors are simply a product of uneven extraction.
But aren't some coffees just bad?
It's my personal opinion that a coffee can’t be inherently bad. At the very least, all coffee has the end potential to be sweet and clean. Instead, I would assert that at some point in the process - generally to save money - even extraction was not the end goal. Most of the "classic" coffee flavors are the results of uneven extraction. This creates a challenge for the specialty coffee community, because when most people think of coffee, they typically expect these under-extracted and negative flavors. Most people's expectations of what a coffee should taste like are the result of coffee done incorrectly: think of the generic coffee flavor, or "expresso" (coffee joke).
I stated that most uneven extraction - wherever in the process - is done with the hopes to save money along the way. The most common examples of this practice would be a commercial coffee farm harvesting everything together, or a large roasting company roasting only blends. The concern for evenness in the process, or the lack thereof, is a big factor that separates specialty coffee from commodity coffee.
Of course, I'm not saying that all coffees can taste like a 90 point Geisha. But if the coffee in question was grown in a suitable climate, and then processed, roasted, and brewed correctly, then we should expect that coffee to be both sweet and clean.
The focus of the craft of coffee is evenness, balance, and consistency. It should be your goal to use your tools - whether that be the roaster, espresso machine, etc - to create balance.
Author: Aaron Hill