By Michael Sheridan of CRS Coffeelands Blog
(Author’s note: I noticed minutes after writing this post that this has been done before. Only way better. Not the first time I thought I had an original idea only to discover that someone way smarter and way more creative had beaten me to it. I thought I came up with the idea of Buddhist economics while I was reading about Buddhism in Asia back in 2002. I was pretty excited, until I found out that E.F. Schumacher had coined the term “Buddhist Economics” while traveling in Asia in 1955. And written an article titled “Buddhist Economics.” Published in the Journal of Buddhist Economics.)
I have a lot of travel in the coming months, and have been spending more time than usual dealing with the alphanumeric reservation codes that airlines use. As I recently Alpha-Bravo-Charlied my way through a conversation with airline staff, a random thought occurred to me: what would a coffee version of the phonetic alphabet look like?
Some of the letters are hard to find terms for. I am still searching for a coffee term starting with X. Suggestions welcome.
But the more serious challenge, I think, lies in finding words that are sufficiently universal to be the source of clarity and not confusion. This is partly phonetic. But it is also partly cultural. The terms that are chosen to represent each letter in the alphabet must be so well known that they trigger a clarifying kind of recognition.
For example, in what is officially known as the “international radiotelephony spelling alphabet,” the letter N is represented by November. It is a clarifying reference because even if we can’t distinguish the N from an M, we recognize November as a coherent construct, but not “Movember.”
Some of the terms–Arabica, for example–are truly universal for everyone in coffee whose languages are descended from Latin. And if I use SL-28 to represent S over a scratchy connection, the S might sound like an F, but no one who is literate in the language of specialty coffee is going to mistake my reference for “FL-28.”
Others terms are more provincial. Zoka is a well-regarded roaster based in Seattle, but hardly as widely recognized as Arabica or SL-28.
Below is a first draft. I suspect it reflects my vantage point as someone who has spent most of his time in coffee at origin. I would welcome suggestions for improvement.
And I am open to the idea that the few minutes I have devoted to this exercise represent utterly wasted time I will never get back.
- Degu (Obscure heirloom variety from Ethiopia? A placeholder, I think. Drying bed, perhaps?)
- Ethiopia (What could be more universally known in coffee culture than the birthplace of the species?)
- IHCAFE 90 (Is this hybrid from the Honduran coffee institute known outside Central America?)
- Pulp natural
- X. Help! Maybe eXtraction? Or the dreaded “eXpresso”?
Michael Sheridan has worked on coffee for Catholic Relief Services since 2004. He currently directs the Borderlands Coffee Project in Colombia and Ecuador and advises other CRS coffee projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is based in Quito and publishes perspectives from the intersection of coffee and international development for the CRS Coffeelands Blog at coffeelands.crs.org.