Successive Approximations


Brewing coffee this morning in the French Press and taking care to pour it while trying to keep the sediment in the bottom reminded me of last night, doing exactly the same thing with a Wicked Weed sour beer that Steph and I picked up on our trip to Asheville. And I can't shake the feeling that there's something connecting these two things.

It would be easy to find beer or coffee that is filtered, that doesn't require this special handling. But, in my opinion, it's settling for less.

Now, don't get me wrong, if I'm at a party, I'll drink whatever the host is serving. I'm not that kind of snob. And I'm not above drinking truck stop coffee. But in the privacy of my own home, when I have all the time and resources to try and optimize for the best possible cup of coffee, doing so always comes with drawbacks.

It might be the silt in the bottom of a cup of French Press. Or the time-consuming process of pouring the perfect pour-over. But you usually can't get the best without drawbacks. You can get to "pretty good" without much trouble. But as you chase incremental improvements up the diminishing returns curve, you start to have to pick the drawbacks you're willing to tolerate.

Maybe we all just have a level of the drawbacks-for-improvement tradeoff we're willing to make. I'm a bit of a tinkerer, so as long as I learn something along the way, I don't mind if the process is somewhat complicated. But for some people, the risk of having bits of dead yeast floating in their beer isn't worth the minor improvement in flavor, which they may not even be able to taste.

Whatever your risk preference though, I think it's a reminder. You can get "pretty good" without too many drawbacks. But if you want to chase improvements from there, you're going to start having to use more care and filter the product yourself. It's not going to be done for you.

And it can't be done for you by a machine or someone in a factory. If it could, the result wouldn't be as good as it is done right on the spot. So you take the good with the bad, the improvement with the requirement. But don't fool yourself in to thinking you can have all the good without any of the drawbacks. It isn't true in coffee, it isn't true in beer, and it isn't true in the rest of life.

Ben Berry

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