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Monday, 03 March 2014


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The only thing I disagreed with on the coffee post was that you rated Starbucks higher than good instant coffee ...

When I see the kind of comment you've just received about your coffee, this cartoon comes to mind:


It's amazing how much intensity of opinion can be generated on the Internet.

Oh,and I personally thought your "Off Topic Week" was a success. You wanted to take a break to get your photographic juices flowing again and your own comments seem to suggest it worked. I enjoyed the wanderings and will enjoy the return to photography.

Yours, a fumbling amateur at both coffee and photography, who enjoys his fumbling at both.


Taste, be it in photographs or coffee, is always going to be highly subjective and it is (or should be) a given that when someone expresses an opinion about what's "best" on such matters they're talking about "what best meets my tastes." Since your writing often talks about subjective artistic matters and developing your own style, one suspects TOP was never going to cater to that particular commenter's tastes. He'll probably be much happier perusing sites focused on tech specs and the like.

I'm still trying to get my head around the logic "if I disagree with you about one topic, I must disagree with you about all topics."

I mean, there's a reason I don't ask my dentist for investment advice. You know?

I'm with you 100% on this one, Mike. If your primary motivation is financial reward—which it probably needs to be if you're brewing coffee or selling photographs for a living—the first question has to be "What method will give me the healthiest bottom line over the long haul?" If you're primary motivation is emotional reward—the happy state of the amateur—then dammit, which is more fun?

As a consumer, if you want to know in advance how you're going to feel about the food or drink or camera you're about to purchase, by all means stick with a brand that you're familiar with and that you know will not disappoint you. As for me I am strongly motivated by the desire to learn: given the opportunity to have a coffee with Mike Johnston I would much rather be disappointed by his favourite brew than have an entirely satisfactory cup of something that I can get locally. Hurrah for quirks and cranks and individuality!

Perhaps this is how people should judge the quality of their coffee...

Have a good day!

Glad to have you back.

I am not a Starbucks fan. Their coffee is too bitter. Not too strong - coffee is never too strong until it can walk from the pot to the cup on its own - but undesirably bitter. We don't roast beans, but do buy Kona beans and grind fresh each morning. Strength is controlled by the amount of beans used, and the amount of water. Also worth noting is that when making coffee, the strengh does not increase linearly with the amount/time beans are exposed to water. It tends to peak near the start, and as the desolvables/volatiles are consumed, increases less later in the brewing. But Starbucks? blah!
Humblebrag is a new word to me too. I like it.

Nice essay about the constraints of commercial work! (Not sure that's what you intended it to be about, mind you.)

I'd balk at letting the words "I'm a better printer than Voja" pass my fingers. Yeah, if I had been in a darkroom this century it might well be true that I could print my own photos better than Voja could within the constraints of commercial production, but that's not being a better printer, that's making a better print of a particular image.

With over 21,000 locations, Starbucks most difficult and important quality metric is consistency. With over 21,000 locations, each and every cup of Starbucks coffee cannot possibly be excellent. Consistent but not consistently excellent.

Mike, on the other hand, can learn from his less than excellent cups to continuously make better coffee. Mike is climbing to the summit. Starbucks has a tent in basecamp.

Amazing thing, the interweb. One person says they prefer "A", and next thing you know, 10,000 others are personally insulted because they prefer "B".

Are they putting something in the water? Have we all gone mad from staring at screens for too long? What is going on?

Whether it's coffee or photographs, as Ricky Nelson wrote and sang in "Garden Party", "You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself".

I have very strong opinions on paint colors. I like colors that kill people and recommend them to people knowing full well what the outcome will be.

but I am one helluva phtogopher.

If James is the photographer I think he is..he needs all the help he can't get.

My overall enjoyment of the coffee I roast and brew can be expressed as a sum:

Enjoyment{overall} = Enjoyment{actual coffee} + Enjoyment{craft}

I don't know how large the Enjoyment{craft} term is in comparison to the Enjoyment{actual coffee} term, and I would be fascinated to try a proper double-blind test to try to separate the two values.

Even if the Enjoyment{craft} term turns out to be very large, I wouldn't agree for a second that roasting my own coffee is a "sham." I know from experience that my Enjoyment{overall} is higher for coffee that I roast and brew myself than it is from commercial coffee, and that (far more than the approval of others) is what I seek to maximize.

Apparently the commenter was concerned that your post would motivate the naive, ill-informed, gullible nitwits who read TOP to abandon their elite coffee brewpubs in favor of roasting and brewing at home, only to discover too late that you had made fools of us all. He needn't have bothered.

Ah me! How ridiculous to be upset over something so totally subjective!Best coffee, best camera, best BBQ? The great thing about opinions other than your own should be that they open the possibility of a new discovery for you. I think you've been pretty fortunate with the reasonableness of most commenters. I imagine that only makes people like this even harder to understand. Try not to let it bother you. Personally I'd drink coffee from a gas station before a starbucks! But I will go out of my way to take my wife there!

Dear Mike,
I think that the conclusion of that guy is incorrect - I highly admire your knowledge and sensibility in the field of photography.
Also his conclusion on your coffee is partially wrong, but for reasons that he does not even perceive.
Any highly cultural "art-craft" is made of various components. Some of them could be better exploited through a careful and passionate DIY process, but others can depend on centuries of steady improvement, dependent on collective process of discovery and correction, which exploits genius and inventive of many individuals. Finally, there is the technological hurdle: in order to achieve certain quality thresholds, you need at times costly technology or bulky machinery.
The art of making coffee is made of many components too. In the first place, you need to have specific water quality, and specific pressure in the coffee machine, then, you have to know how to roast coffee and how to grind it, in a way to avoid heating excessively the grains ( this will destroy part of the flavour), and in order to obtain the specific and proper for THAT machine diameter of the powder. You also need to know how to use that machine correctly. Finally, the two critical elements: you need a BLEND of coffees, not just a single type of beans ( just like Cognac is a blend), and above all, you need the CONSTANT COMPETITIVE PRESSURE of the customers. If you transfer the best Neapolitan caffe', with all the equipment, raw materials and baristas into a (coffee) cultural desert, they will inevitably get sloppy and converge to the line of least resistance, producing ever lower quality. On the other hand, if you want to survive selling coffee in Naples, there is no other way, but to compete with the best on equal ground.
This is why, I still believe, that your coffee experience odyssey is a bit like seeing a kid playing in the sand, while he dreams of being in a space shuttle - together with most of other, non Italian coffee drinkers.

Mike, I'm a blogger myself and from time to time I have to deal with some rather unfortunate comments too. Once someone tried to troll me to the end of times because I wrote DxO Optics Pro 8 was, in my view, better than Lightroom 4. It looks like some people go mental when they read an opinion that doesn't coincide with their own. As you usually say, 'oh well'.
Incidentally, the other day I was watching something on You Tube and found this comment: "Arguing on the internet is like taking part in the paralympics: you might win, but you're still a retard". I agree it is not politically correct, and may be considered offensive (or at least of very poor taste) by some, but at least it's quite accurate.

What many folks don't realize about roasted coffee is that it is only at its peak of flavor from about 48hrs - 2 weeks after roasting. after that its complex favors and nuances deteriorate rapidly. Most of the roasted, bagged beans that you can buy in the store (even the gourmet stuff) has been sitting on the shelf for many weeks or months, and is well past it's optimal peak of flavor. This is probably the biggest reason why home roasts are generally "better" that what you can buy - unless you have access to a good local roaster and can get the beans a day or two after they are finished, a home roast will be more flavorful simply b/c it is more likely to be consumed at its peak of flavor.

This is the reason I started home roasting, although now I have several good local roasters near me who I buy from, where I can get beans that have just been roasted.

Freshly roasted coffee will still have CO2 trapped in the bean. Some of this CO2 will dissolve into the brew, giving it extra character and depth. This effect is more pronounced in espresso, but I believe it is also true to some degree for drip coffee, and may be another factor for why you enjoy your very freshly roasted beans over the store bought variety.

Every time I read an internet diatribe, I close my eyes and try to imagine the scene as the author becomes livid and takes to the keyboard. In my mind, these scenes are quite theatrical. (Yes, I often include soundtracks and special effects)

This never gets said, but I'd like to thank all those who rant. Your contribution to my entertainment is much appreciated.

Coffee snobs are some of the snobbier people, right up there with dry fly purists (pretty much non existent these days thank God).

I knew a guy who said he would toss out fresh ground beans if for some reason they sat uncovered on the counter for more than a minute. Because the dust in the air that settled on the beans ruined the taste. He was an intolerent jackass all around so it wasn't surprising.

I enjoyed off topic week, do it a few times a year please.

I tried home roasting coffee once with a friend and some beans supplied by a proper local coffee shop. We had also read about a technique for heating the ground coffee first then adding the hot water. So when we had finished roasting we tried it. Unfortunately we misjudged the temperature and spent the next couple of hours cleaning the walls and ceiling.

Nonetheless, the few drops of 'coffee' that managed to survive still tasted better than Starbucks. (I will admit that it's been years since I drank Starbucks coffee so it's possible that they no longer burn their coffee, that their muffins are no longer stale and that they do now regularly vacuum and clean their furnishings).

I admit that Starbucks' record of tax avoidance in the UK prejudices me against them, but I disliked their coffee even before that came to light.

I guess that's why in Seattle, most call Starbucks "Charbucks",

At one point here in Seattle, on just about any corner you found a Starbucks, there would be a Tullys, and a Seattle's Best and an independent on the other 3 corners, and the others would always be doing a better business than the Starbucks. The people patronizing the Starbucks instead of the others did so for 4 reasons listed below. (and Starbucks was the first to offer free wi-fi and they did have nicer leather chairs to relax into and prettier women, so maybe 5 reasons?)

Myself, I would take my enviro-friendly re-usable, made from sustainable materials from renewable resources mug (cuz that's what you have to do here, for the paper ones kill harp seals, or kill something, I forget, but it's bad, really bad) So I'd take my fancy whatever-mug to Seattle's Best, get a cappuccino, walk across the street to Starbucks and relax into the comfy seats, and talk to girls. I shouldn't be complaining, because that's how I met my wife there 17 years ago. Then she made me buy a nice machine, a grinder and eventually a roaster, because the Starbucks coffee always made her sick, that and guys were always hitting on her there.

The 4 reasons for drinking or purchasing Starbucks coffee or espresso here are:
1) you are from out of town and you don't know where else to go
2) you are not a coffee or espresso aficionado so you really could care less what you are what the hell you are drinking as long as you get the caffeine you need, or you were raised to think that bitter and sour taste equate to strong manly coffee.
3) you are a coffee or espresso lover, really care about what you drink, but you are in a minority niche who have a preference for an over roasted, burnt, bitter cup of acid.
4) you like frappucinos (who doesn't?)

Ignore him, I've met many like him you are waisting your breath... I know from personal experience both in the darkroom as a anal retentive amature and a custom printer at a very respected Canadian lab (BGM) and a home espresso maker I have a Ranchillio Silvia and coffee I buy from a very respected small roaster in London UK. There are huge differences and he will never know the look of a good print or the taste of a good coffee. His loss.

Perhaps we need a new scoring system for coffee and photographic prints similar to your proposed figure skating system. Just to take the subjectivity out of the equation. Of course, life is a subjective experience as well. It needs a scoring system too! Slippery slope ... wheeeeeeee!

Odd topic for your reader to get so cranked up about. While waiting to resume roasting consider some of the roasted whole beans at Trader Joe's.

For dark roast drinkers, TJ's Bay Blend bests Starbucks Cafe Verona by a mile. I'd hope the same applies to at least one of the lighter roasts sold there.

Thanks again, by the way, for earlier steering my away from the Behmor because of its limitations in dealing with the darker roasts. The $300 you saved me bought a closeout Panasonic G5.

Trying to conflate your coffee with your photography is rather trollish.

Coffee roasting is a reasonably quick endeavor that with a bit of care will yield excellent results. Unlike various forms of cooking it is something that can be mastered in pretty quick order. Certainly better than Starbucks and their overcooked beans dripping with oil and most of the caffeine cooked off. There's a reason they're often called "Charbucks".

I love coffee, I love tea;
I like reading... well... thee!

Good to see you're back :)


I'm with you Mike. I used to roast my own coffee and it was the best I ever tasted. I put it down mostly to the freshness, but also you can get it just the way you like it.

As for photo printing think GENE SMITH. And coffee? Couldn't agree with you more, especially about (ugh) Starbucks. But I know my limits re coffee, ergo http://www.badbeardscoffee.com

A short time back, you wrote an entry describing people riding their bicycles in the Wisconsin winter and suggested that this behavior was a reflection of the current state of the economy/culture. It took only a short time for several readers to tell you how it was common where they live (even though that might be a different continent), or how you didn't understand the wonderful benefits of riding a bicycle in the dead of winter, or something. Had you described some local citizens dining on the carcass of one of their former neighbors and arrived at a conclusion about that, I supposed it would have been refuted by the same crowd.
Now you can't have an opinion about coffee without controversy?
The internet has not only created an environment of democratic communication, it has also made an awful lot of its participants very thin-skinned and unable to hear anything different from their own thoughts. Some basic regard for one another's experiences and opinions is a rare commodity.
I enjoy hearing your opinions on things, and have the strange idea that in aggregate your opinions reflect your individual personality. I read your blog to hear your opinions. When I disagree, I keep quiet and think about why, if needed. If I really disagreed, I guess I wouldn't read your blog. Thanks for your opinions.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned Starbucks over-roasting coffee on your blog back when you were just starting to contemplate a path to a better cup of coffee (without sugar). It's only my personal taste, but one I've discovered many others share

Living in Canada, we have something far worse: Tim Horton's. Tim Horton's sells itself as being part of our national identity, but the coffee is truly vile. I'll take Starbucks over Tim Horton's anytime.

The Mitrovic print of Peter Turney's Paris skyline photo I bought through TOP was unspotted, even though I thought it needed some spotting.

When I have recently worked with a custom printer I pay a daily rate and supply the paper. I do not pay by the print. That is the way to get the very best output you can.


Hello Mike,
You're so right! Today I took an image to be printed to 24x36" at Costco. I just could not resist their price. When I got there the 'associate" told me the print would be ready in an hour. Great.

When I unwrapped the print at home, things were no so great. It was printed at least 1.25EV lighter compared to what my regular printer had done with the same file. Also, there was a grittiness to the print I had not seen before, like the printer had been used on the lowest resolution settings.

Finally, this print will end up in the waste bin. Not so great.

`Humblebrag' is also a new word on me, and I don't give a ground bean about it.

For some years, we've made the best coffee we know - eco+organic+fairtrade beans in a bean-to-cup machine freshly brewed. Visitors are regularly asked if they are sick and twisted enough to habitually pollute their coffee, because I know that *good* coffee is not so bitter as to need it, and therefore should be enjoyed black.

Family gave me a grinder, appropriate beans and a stove-top espresso maker for Christmas; the results are positively worth getting out of bed for.

I can brag without the humble bit, 'cos I'm happy. (And I'm glad you are too - don't let some eejit who perpetrates that kind of logical fallacy give you a sour taste in the brain.)

So reader James, who - it seems - has never in his live either roasted himself or tried some home-roasted coffee, "knows" that it ain't so, because....why?

I live in Seattle, home of many great roasters (not including Starbucks), and I do roast my own coffee. And I can assure James, that
a) my own roast is "better" than pretty much anything I get at the supermarket.
b) my roast is as "good" as most professionally roasted coffees; some are worse, some are better.

Claim a) has to to with the fact that supermarket beans tend to be cheap and tasteless, and are over-roasted in order to hide this. The same goes for Starbucks. This is a fairly objective and uncontroversial statement.

Claim b) has to do with the fact that coffee roasting is not rocket science, that I can pick exactly the beans I like and roast them exactly the way I like. Therefore my own roast is "better" than someone's who might have far higher skills in roasting than myself but roasts to her/his taste profile. Also, freshness!

Now, in Seattle I would rate the professional roasters (that I have tried) 5-9, and my own roasts 2-9, but then I do live in Seattle and not Wisconsin.

None of this should really be controversial, but then I would also argue that there are plenty of amateur photographers who are at least as good as some professional ones. And I say that as a professional.

In matters of aesthetics -- and gastronomy qualifies -- there is no "best," despite the efforts of engineers and "experts" to convince us that there is. Photography, as it happens, lies at the junction of art and engineering, and so this controversy thrives in photography forums.

In photography, you often see "best" defined as "highest resolution," especially since the digital revolution began. That's the engineers speaking. I don't think any real artists believe that. You can make a statement (as I often do) like "No great photograph is defined by its resolution" and you get back, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they'd be better with more resolution." Well, no.

When it comes to coffee, where choices are so obviously personal and individual, it never occurred to me that somebody might argue that a non-professional coffee-maker couldn't make coffee as well as a pro. The very idea baffles me.

If somebody said, "Mike Johnston couldn't make a variety of thirty different kinds of coffee/milk/soy/sugar/vanilla combinations and serve 500 customers a day as well as an experienced Starbucks barista, I'd say, "Okay, that's probably true." But now you're not talking about aesthetics, you're talking about appealing to a mass average. You're talking about engineering something for sale, not for appeal to a certain set of taste buds. You're talking about a Vogue cover, not a Robert Frank shot.

Those two things are a world apart.

That flaming post could not be rationally predicted because it is not rational. Perhaps it's best to not be distracted by needing to deal with such material.

Right now you are an amateur coffee roaster. Sure, every once and while, you get it all right but like the ad says: "Amateurs practice till they get it right, professionals practice till they can't get it wrong." Your best is certainly better than the pros - but you just learn from your mistakes. You don't have to throw them out. I mentioned in earlier post that I have been roasting for about 20 years. About 2 years ago, I found that I no longer had to guess or check about my roasts. They always came out right. I roast about 50 lb a year - so 20x50 is 1000 lb of coffee to becoming an expert. The parallel with photography is also clear - and in that arena, you have put in the time.

Sounds like James came from a particularly bitter roast. It's only coffee. Why be so negative?

As an aside, I'm in Perth, Western Australia. This is no small city - it's 1.2m people, but we are Starbucks free - http://www.starbucks.com.au/Store-Locator.php

We also have no Delifrance, Dennys, Wendys and other pestilences, although all the junk food chains infected us long ago. I had high hopes that a vacant shop in my area might have been filled by something interesting, but it's become a Baskin Robbins!

I have also done home roasting but using the 1400 watt popcorn poppers from 20 years ago. I have several of them. Initially the green smell was obnoxious but over time the different smells given off over the roasting process became an enjoyment. I have been waiting for the warmer weather to restart again this spring. Roasting with poppers has to be done outside but also annoys the neighbors. I am curious if my sealed green Cuban coffee is still good. BTW, I recommend a 50/50 after-roasted blend of Ethiopian Yirgachef and Guatemalan Antigua. It gives a nice chocolate aftertaste. Has anyone tried print toning with brewed coffee? Instead of a final water wash, perhaps a cold coffee bath. I can see that your basic "survival kit" will include a camera, and a coffee roaster which will have to be covered skillet. Hand coffee roasting is like hand printing.

Some day, if you decide that green beans aren't needed at the moment, consider Batdorf & Bronson. It's killer coffee. ( http://www.batdorfcoffee.com/ )

I was there when the first shop, barely large enough for three or four tables and a few stools at the bar, opened on Capitol Blvd. in Olympia, WA in 1986. They had a batch roaster in the back and the owners worked up front. Now the company has retail and mail-order operations in both Olympia, WA and Atlanta, GA.

But at the moment I'm getting "El Tostador" at the Carolina Bookstore in Cuenca, Ecuador. It comes from Loja down south, costs $4.50 for a 450 g. bag, and is as good as the best coffee I've ever had, but who can say, really? You know?

What I think is that good enough is good enough, when you can find it. And when you can find it, it's a good idea to hold onto it. I'm trying to do that.

As far as photography, I consider myself to be an expert in so very many ways. However, difficulties arise and disagreements ensue each time I attempt to state precisely how terrific I really am. Currently I am considering handing out fliers on the streetcorner. Maybe that will work.

But the cat keeps telling me to have a good nap and just let things take care of themselves. Sometimes I wonder about that too.

So in the words of Cheap Trick "I know what I want, and I know how to get it." Not to be confused with the far superior Sex Pistols "I don't know what I want, but I know how to get it."

Nobody's going to care more about your stuff than yourself, so once you've exceeded a certain level of proficiency in production (of coffee, prints, etc...), no amount of expertness is going to trump your knowledge+care.

I spent six years in the US Navy as reactor operator on a nuclear submarine (well over two years submerged). I was licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate commercial power reactors and certified by the NRC to teach reactor operations at the senior level. I raised three children, all of which are out of the house, none in jail. I spent forty years in the commercial nuclear power biz, retired last year (65) as senior project manager. So what's all that have to do with photography? I drink instant. And I drink it all day, every day.

So if one's taste in coffee is somehow correlated with one's "judgment" in other aspects of life, I'm clearly a looser. That said, few things put an enchanted bounce in my step and a glint in my eye than seeing a man enjoy his rituals. One of Michael's rituals is picking his green beans and roasting his coffee. Enjoy Michael. Enjoy!

Yes, professionals are really not as good as amateurs. I mean, these pros are really eclipsed by amateur work:

Sabastiao Salgado
Horst P. Horst
Richard Avadon
Mary Ellen Mark
James Balog
Dorothea Lange
Arnold Newman
Domon Ken
Gordon Parks
Margaret Bourke White
William Albert Allard

I mean I could go on and on about about these individuals that need to bow to the demands of their clients.

Really? This post sounds more like bitter coffee or sour grapes. Why can't photographers just get along? I enjoy good coffee and good photography. I really don't care where it comes from. I certainly don't feel a need to bash Starbucks to make my coffee sound better, especially since you only have my word that it is...

Your statements dance around the reasons why, when I taught myself to cook, I focused on finding teachers/programs that taught process rather than recipe. Alton Brown's Good Eats and America's Test Kitchen were the two best that I found.

In both cases, the instruction eventually resulted in a recipe. But along the way, they taught why the recipe had the steps and ingredients that it did, and offered at least hints as to what might happen if certain steps or ingredients were altered.

As a result, I now make many of my favorite foods better than any restaurant I visit. As you say, I'm not a better chef, but I know what I like, I've gotten good at it, and I can control the ingredients and results in an exacting way.

All of this also explains why I prefer BBQ to all other cuisines when eating out: it offers something that I cannot hope to beat in my own kitchen (here in New York, the same applies to coal-oven pizza, another favorite choice of mine).

I'm not sure what the photographic equivalent to BBQ is. That said, I'm much less developed as a printer or even post processor than I am as a cook...

Some of best coffee I've tasted was in my home town of Helena, Montana at a place called The General Mercantile. If you were lucky enough to get a bar seat you could watch Ray, the owner, put some fresh grounds into a small locally-made funky pottery cone filter and then set the cup under the steam spout of a very old Italian espresso press. After several minutes of dripping/steaming you would have your cup, with table cream if desired (which is somewhere between half and half and heavy cream). If you were really lucky he would have time to make you a second.

I love my home coffee but I would love even more an establishment like that everywhere I lived. And when I think about it, this blog is somewhat like Ray's place.


I understood your post and I kinda thought James appeared a bit hot under the collar, but then what do I know. I do not always understand your likes in photography, and I do not understand football (baseball fan), but I do understand kindness, and your blog is always kind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your wit and your kind words.

Dear Mike,

On the subject of taste, it's my habit when I dine out to not order anything that I or Paula make particularly well, especially if it's a dish which exists in innumerable variations. For example, I am very unlikely to order lasagna in a restaurant, no matter how highly it is rated. I make a killer lasagna. It is definitely a nine on your scale. Well, on MY scale. There are so many ways to make lasagna that it's very unlikely any restaurant will make one that I like better than the one I can make for myself. Ditto, meatloaf. Paula makes an exquisite meatloaf.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I understand the logic of the critique, but the flaw in it is the aspect of investment. The exam question is: "Is there an investment in this pursuit that cannot be equalled or surpassed?"

I'm in your court here. Roasting machines, assuming heat delivery is the same, should be born almost equal. As for the roaster, that's personal taste, so your investment in learning how to roast, will be aligned with your personal taste. Bean sourcing, may be the only missing link: large negotiators may have access to suppliers you may not have (however, in the other direction, you have access to smaller suppliers larger merchants would not consider).

Art is not the same: it is not a commodity and the investment logic cannot be applied. You may practice the violin 10000 hours and you won't be Heifetz. You can start playing the piano at 3, but you won't be composing like Mozart at 6. How I tried! I practised 6 hours every day and I'll never be that good. Some people are just born right, with the right parents, in the right place, at the right time. That's the beauty of it, right there.


This esoteric debate intrigue me but I feel totally outside these skirmishes. At home there is only a variety of green tea! I recommend Gyokuro for some special moments.

I don't think I've ever read a funnier thread on TOP, truly beyond parody. Thank you James for inspiring such hilarity and introducing a wonderful new word to the discourse. I couldn't care less about a hot drink and find constant veneration almost as tedious as food bores. Funny how we're not hearing from any women, raving about what hotshots they are in the kitchen...

Mike, your forbearance with some grumpy reader is admirable. But really, if you had to try and avoid annoying every individual who hadnt had their morning coffee yet you'd say nothing at all, ever.

Opinions are opinions, the real problem is that too many people both have an exagerated sense of entitlement and never want to read anything outside their own cosy comfort zone.

It's all good.

I got the name Domon Ken from Will's comment - wonderful photographer.

.....Hey Mike,

I have roasted coffee in small batches for years. Roasted coffee done this way at home has a special signal for the brain-it trigers
a psychophysical sensation that you have created something special.
The very nature of paying attention to any detail of any experience you expect enjoyment from is part of the risky business of living. One person's potion is another's poison.

It is interesting and enjoyable to read about your coffee hobby. I drink Folgers pre-ground myself and enjoy it just fine. My hobby is justifying to my wife the pruchase of photo equipment I do not need. It is a free country and we should all indulge in our pleasures when possible. If we should ever meet, I would love to enjoy a cup of your coffee, but I am reasonably sure I would enjoy your company much more than the coffee.

It still reads as humblebrag to me. And I don't like it, and I'm willing to credit you less even about photography because of it.
Huh? Wow. Where could that have come from? Hmmm....

I was a pretty serious barista, and I had some aspirations to roast and even took steps toward that goal once.
Suspicion confirmed. (How sad.)

I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so don't have a dog in this particular fight, but if someone is happy with what they produce for themselves and express satisfaction with, even pride in, what they've done, then good for them, so long as they are not obnoxiously in your face about it. And by obnoxious I mean putting other people down in comparison to their own efforts, which Mike doesn't strike me as doing. (For the record, "I like what I produce and prefer it to other stuff" is not at all equivalent to "I'm the best and everyone else sucks, hah!")

No idea whether Mike is a good coffee roaster. If he's happy drinking his product then how does that detract from anyone else's well being? How often have we seen e.g. vacation photographs from a non-photographer friend or acquaintance where lots of stuff is poorly done: out of focus, blown highlights, lousy composition, etc? But they're happy with their vacation snapshots (or whatever). Unless they're asking for my critique, it's pretty obnoxious to get in their face about it. The grown up thing is to say something generically pleasant and move on.

I do take the point that lack of discernment in one area (say coffee) may translate into low standards in another (say photography), but: a) that's not always the case, b) even if it is true, unless I'm paying Mike for what he does, it's none of my d*mned business how he gets his coffee.

This post goes to the core of why I hate the term "professional" as the highest praise a photographer can get (and why is it that as a sector we see it used so much?).

I much prefer to use the term "artist" as the ultimate praise.

Nope, I agree whole heartedly. I am a home brewer. I don't think I am nearly as good as probably the master brewers at most of the regional and microbreweries out there. Heck, I don't even have a year of experience under my belt. I'll grant talented amateur, I've had enough people at least claim to my face they thought my beer was pretty good, my father-in-law too on a brew or two, and trust me, that man does NOT blow smoke up your butt on what he thinks of you or yours.

That said, I've had some beers I liked better from microbrews and regional guys. Consistently though, I tend to like my beer better. It isn't a pride thing, its that I am brewing my beer to my exact tastes and NO one elses (that's a lie, I've made a couple of brews for my wife's tastes).

Frankly I don't care if some other person isn't going to like the harsh tones of too much brown malt in my India Brown Ale, I like it that way and I am going to make it the way I like it.

I don't go for mass appeal, just personal appeal.

I am sure that is true with a lot of other people with a great many things.

I hate coffee, I hate the smell, I hate when it's in cakes, chocolates, anything actually. I really hate when people use the sugar spoon in the coffeee jar a nd then back in the sugar jar. YMMV. :-)

"I've always considered it a sign of emerging maturity when a student first becomes able to reject conventionally "good" and "perfect" shots from the raw mass of his or her shooting, and begin to choose less perfect, less standard, but more personal and expressive shots to work with."

Mike, this is a very good argument for not deleting images on the first editing.

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