The King of Apples and Oranges: Specialty Coffee's Comparison to the Wine Industry

The King of Apples and Oranges: Specialty Coffee's Comparison to the Wine Industry

Tom Maegdlin4/19/23

Specialty coffee and wine are two beverages that have long been the focus of connoisseurs around the world. Both share a rich history and cultural significance, and both (at least is suggested) require extensive knowledge and experience to fully appreciate their nuances. I have found that principle to be elitist and reductionist. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two beloved beverages.

At the heart of specialty coffee and wine lies the concept of terroir. Both beverages are heavily influenced by the region in which they are grown, with factors such as soil, microclimate, and altitude all contributing to the unique flavor profile of the end product. Just as the terroir of a particular vineyard can affect the character of the wine produced there, so too can the environment in which coffee is grown have a significant impact on the taste and aroma of the beans.

In addition to terroir, both specialty coffee and wine share a language of tasting notes used to describe their flavor profiles. While wine might be described as oaky, spicy, or fruity, coffee can range from nutty and chocolatey to floral and fruity. The complexity of both beverages demands a certain level of expertise (debatable) and experience to appreciate fully. With both, experimentation and exploration are necessary to truly understand the depth of their flavors.

Despite these similarities, there are also important differences between the two beverages. For one, the harvesting process for coffee and wine differs significantly. Coffee beans are typically harvested once a year when they reach optimal ripeness, while wine grapes can be harvested at varying levels of ripeness to produce different flavor profiles. Coffee beans then undergo several stages of processing before they are ready to be brewed, including drying, milling, and roasting, whereas wine grapes are typically fermented and aged before bottling.

Here is where the two drastically and substantially diverge: who owns this production and why. It's worth noting that the socioeconomic differences between winery and coffee farm owners can be significant. The wine industry tends to be dominated by larger, established players with significant resources, such as corporations and wealthy individuals. It's almost a cliché for a tech titan to own their own winery. In contrast, the coffee industry is often made up of smaller, family-owned farms with limited resources and less access to capital. This can make it more challenging for coffee farmers to invest in equipment and technology that would enable them to produce higher quality coffee and command premium prices. In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards fair trade and direct trade coffee, which seeks to address some of these issues by providing better prices and working conditions for farmers. However, there is still a long way to go before the playing field is level for all coffee farmers, and the socioeconomic differences between the two industries remain an important consideration when comparing specialty coffee to wine.

Another big difference between specialty coffee and wine is in their aging and brewing processes. While wine is often aged in barrels for extended periods before it is bottled and consumed, coffee is generally consumed within a few weeks of roasting to preserve its freshness and flavor profile. While wine is usually consumed as is, coffee can be brewed using a variety of methods, such as drip brewing, French press, and espresso.

Specialty coffee and wine share a rich history and culture, as well as a deep complexity. Despite their similarities in terms of terroir and tasting notes, the differences in their harvesting, processing, aging, ands socioeconomics set them apart as unique and complex beverages in their own right.

-Tom "Tommy Hansa" Maegdlin