Owing to Perfection

Is perfection really something to be obtained, achieved? Is it possible to be perfect?


But does this negate the pursuit of perfection? Again, no. If one were to say that perfection is impossible for an individual or even a society as a whole, should we cease to make the ends a possibility of awarding the means? By saying it is unobtainable, does it make it unworthy to pursue? Does saying it's impossible make perfection something, then, undesirable and bad? Something entirely what it truly is not? Does perfection not exist because it can not be achieved?


In our own lives we tend to allow ourselves, and others for us, the substitution of something merely adequate for something that could be more. We suffice with the mediocre instead on expecting the best. We cloud our eyes and look for the middle of the road, wandering away from the prize. We defeat ourselves into thinking that we should not, nor can not, expect better. Have we abolished the idealism of perfection and replaced it with a complacent average?

"Perfection is impossible and is bad."
Without saying that all things are relative, I would lean against the idea that one should, at all times, seek for perfection. And while I'm not afforded the space to define what "perfect" is, I do think it applies quite aptly to our lives both on a personal and private level.

When something I consider is "private," I mean that is something not to be shared with the outside populace; something that is reserved for existence between only myself and my immediates. "Persona," on the other hand, is something that, instead, I wish to openly share and means a great deal to me. A quest for perfection can be both private and personal; arguing that when made personal, the perfection has an all greater meaning to the individual and whole.

How does perfection plays its role in your life? For me, I strive to win the likeness of a model which I consider perfect. In such, the pursuit becomes the example I live daily and that I personally expect others to see. One part of this is an appreciation for the achievement or quest for perfection in those things that surround me. My contemporary audience knows of my strong passion for coffee. And this article is meant to display an appreciation for perfection and how it relates to a perfection-oriented character.

Coffee is not a sole-defining facet of my life; nor should it be. My passion for it is part of my character. Becoming perfect, or at least pursuing perfection, is not directly tied in with this passion but instead is a result of how I wish to daily pursue perfection. Coffee alone can't make my pursuit any clearer or easier. But the passion for it stems immediately from my belief that perfection is worthy to be sought after.

How exactly do I pursue this? By eliminating the "less thans" of life and finding the "could be mores." Then focusing on them. In regards to coffee -- because that is what this article was supposed to pay attention to -- I've learned to always challenge myself and focus on what could be better. And I think that in all culinary pursuits, one recognizes the potential and seeks to find the most perfect -- restaurant selection, cooking/nutritional philosophies or cutlery preferences -- whatever makes it more whole and perfect; more worthwhile and appreciable.

Not too long ago I made a new friend. His is a world where a sense of perfection constituted the pursuits in such interests as sports and relationships. Already having developed a sense of appreciative qualities, his new experiences with what was previously considered a foul and dreadful elixir -- coffee -- were challenged. In time (and short, I might add), he learned subtle nuances and how he, as an individual, can appreciate something new. Biases stripped away and forgotten, he opened his eyes, took a sip, and found that the world was more than what it was; this had potential! Coffee has, to him, become a symbol of the value to pursuing perfection. Like it had for me so many years ago. It was exciting to see a new appreciation born. Cupping.
If one wishes to move forward, and learn a greater sense of appreciation or advance their pursuit of perfection, they need only learn to differentiate the good from the bad. In Specialty Coffee, we use something called "cupping." Cupping is the method by which comparative samples of a coffee are roasted, ground, and steeped under certain specifications, then tasted blindly so as any biases are left out. The purpose of this somewhat scientific and reputable process, is to weed out the bad characteristics of a bean and to expose the fine elements that make the coffee unique. Coffees are cupped against themselves (from different lots, pickings, processings, and even roast styles), against others from a similar region, and individually. One person might cup six different Mexican coffees from one region but different farms in order to find the best tasting bean for the best price. A broker or importer/exporter, might test for defects and shipment quality. A farmer for determining the quality of a particular crop. For a roastmaster in determining which beans are best for blending purposes. And, by you.

At home, the implementation of cupping is useful in determining what coffees you like and don't like; what roasts you like and don't like; and even, in some cases, how you can best spend your money and maintain high quality. But more so, cupping helps stretch your sensory muscles. In turn, you develop those senses to help you with other foods and drinks. Soon, you realize, you're more picky and choosy with everything. You are seeking perfection!

While I've become no better an expert at discerning the quality differences between a local grocer's prime rib and an artisan's cut, through my continual experiences with sensory testing and coffee, I've learned a greater appreciation for my spice selections. You can too. It may not be with spices or meats, but you will grow.

My purpose is not to support and uphold snobbery. Snobbery is the opposite of perfection. It is submitting oneself to the premise that one can only go so far and that perfection is obtainable, while at the same time tricking oneself out of exactly that they think they have obtained.

Coffee is a vehicle, a medium by which my pursuit is expressed. It is an example, not the final product, of how I model my life. It is not the model. Cupping coffee is the means to the example. It too is not the model nor is it the method by which the model is made complete in me. While it sounds as if I am unrelating the two, you can see that whatever I wish to do, I must make sure that it points to my main purpose. Perfection. Coffee does not, nor will not, make me perfect. Looking for perfect coffees and ever-expanding my skills and tastes will not make me perfect. Internally, challenging myself and my character to grow forward, towards perfection, will make what is on the outside be able to be seen as striving for perfection. And my passion, interest, and pursuits are only the effects of what is on the outside.

Coffee, in its many aspects, is not complicated. It is wonderful and pleasing. Cupping is, then, an extension of the pleasure associated with coffee. A pleasure through which exists a learning experience and enhancement. I would challenge, then, anyone who wishes to pursue perfection, who enjoys coffee on whatever level, to openly subject themselves to a taste-test. Accept that there is something always better and appreciate, pursue, it.

How to cup coffee at home
Begin with two or three coffees you are already familiar with and enjoy. If you roast at home (see September's article on homeroasting), roast three samples of each coffee to a medium roast. Purchase a medium roast, if you can, for those of you who have yet not discovered the beauty of home roasting.

Coarsely grind each coffee, being sure to clean out the grinder after each use.

In shallow coffee or tea cups, add 7.25 grams or about 1 tablespoon of grounds to each cups. Keep about a tablespoon of grounds out, placed in front of each cup on a small dish or index card.

Boil a few cups of water, keeping a glass of water nearby to rinse your mouth out and an additional glass for rinsing each soup spoon you use.

Bring the water off the boil, let sit for a moment, then add 5 - 6 ounces per cup.

While steeping, inhale the grounds on the card, noting any outstanding characteristics (good and bad). On a scale of 1 - 10, taste each coffee's fragrance.

When the coffee's cooled a bit, left the cup to your nose and, with the edge of the spoon, "break the crust" which formed at the top. Inhale and note. Rate this "aroma" also on a scale of 1 - 10. Note: for off-smells and defects, scale it with negative numbers.

When cooled enough to sip, carry away some of the coffee, minus any grounds, and slurp heavily and wholeheartedly onto your tongue and palate. Note the following:

  • Taste- Is it pleasing or not? Strong or not? Anything special?
  • Body- Does it feel heavy or oily in against the back and roof of the mouth and weighty on the tongue?
  • Acidity- Is there a brightness or sparkling on the tongue and in the mouth? Does it have a particular taste? How strong is it?
  • Aftertaste- How long does it linger? Is it pleasing? How like the original taste does it resemble?
  • And, Flavour- Any specifics? Any outstanding qualities?

Rate each of these on a scale of 1 - 10. Add you final score and divide by the number of possible points. Rinse and spit out each sip before taking the next. Finish one coffee at a time before moving onto the next. For an added bonus, cup each coffee blend and challenge yourself to learn the distinctive qualities of each before looking at the names.

Disclaimer: this is an adaptation of a method taught to me by a professional from the West Coast. It is entirely different than the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Cupping technique and Form; available through the SCAA at www.scaa.org.

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