"The more we understand, the more rational we are and the more courageous we can be."
In this conversation with Prof. Dr. Chahan Yeretzian, a Syrian born Armenian physical chemist based out of Switzerland, we dive deep into where the arenas of science, academia, industry, culture, and coffee meet.
From the advice he gives his students to why undergrads can't make good enough coffee, to the religion of freshness, this is a fascinating dive into a different world.
The elements of quality, the translation between measurements and sensory experience, the way that coffee is a cross cultural experience; all these and more are part of Chahan's world.
What will you hear if you listen in? I'm going to try something new, and just include the notes I typed down while editing. Please comment if these are useful, or email me if you'd rather I do your thinking for you.
Notes from a convo with Chahan:
Plenty of mysteries to solve in coffee.
“At the base, good coffee is a sensory experience.”
Sensory profiling vs Q grading .
What he likes (intensity, strong body, aroma), very taken with smells.
“One element of quality is consistency.”
A big field is predicting specific sensory attributes based on objective measurements.
“Fresh had become a religion, but not an understanding.”
The problem is that a lot of people still serve horrible coffee in the industry.
Practical and hands on experience that comes from work in industry vs academia.
“You go into Origin countries and you’re learning cultures [based] around your product, coffee.
“Coffee is a peace building product, a trust building event.”
Soluble or instant coffee, Sudden Coffee.
Q grading coffee.
Q grader and co-worker Marco Wellinger.
Q grader Gloria Pedroza.
Coffee shows the connectivity of the world.
A very important quality of roasting is…consistency, that you’re able to reproduce what you’re doing.
“How does the mineral content of the water affect extraction or flavor profile? We’re still scratching on the surface [of coffee].”
We’re looking into how CO2 affects storage, freshness, formation of crema, flavor, acidity notes; it’s like taking one small molecule and trying to get a more rational understanding [of it’s impact.]
Creativity based in understanding. Knowledge is freedom and helps people explore new facets of coffee.
“Coffee is just as much art as science.”
Mold & mycotoxins in coffee?
The three ways Chahan makes coffee:
-high dollar semi-automatic coffee machines via coffee experts
-filter (hand brewed, freshly ground)
-Single serve capsule
“At home I do filter coffee. I had a professional machine, but it takes too much space.”
What I don’t do is French press. Sometimes I do soluble coffee, sometimes I mix it with Nespresso.
The research that we do is quite high level, so to do good research on coffee, you can not just rely on undergrads.
[The people who make most of the coffee I drink are] highly experienced scientists and also very good in coffee preparation besides being scientists.
“How do you roast to increase sweetness, or fruitiness, or a particular flavor note? We have some understanding, but it’s far too little to have any control over the roasting process.”
Advice to students: Looking over the borders of where we are.
Traveling is vital.
Moving between academia and industry and the importance of experiencing both worlds.
Academia needs people who have industry experience.
The path from Knowledge - Execution - Community
Armenian from Aleppo.
Armenians have a strong feeling of community and family, strong drive to perform, we are pushed to be the best.
A lot of unconditional love from parents.
The importance of being competent before you do benevolent work. If you don’t have the competence then you’re wasting your time being benevolent.
Further interests: indoor air quality, wine, oakwood aging, 2 kids who are 21 months old.
How complexity evolves in our world and how it’s related to self-organization, how life appeared on the planet.
Aspect of self organizing complex systems.
Too much reading...
How about dessert?