• Ariane Todes

Is your violin wild, juicy, lingering or tart?


Coffee experts and barristas have a whole language for describing their craft. Can it help violin makers?

I visited the London Coffee Festival today – my first time at a trade show that had nothing to do with violins. I discovered that barristas are every bit as geeky and obsessed as luthiers. There were plenty of demonstrations of the different techniques and new gizmos and lots of people walking around with samples in their hands looking somewhat wild-eyed.

I had no idea there were so many variables in making a good cup of coffee: the texture and consistency of the grind; the temperature of the water; how you pour it (it has to be in circles, apparently); the coffee to water weight ratio; the pressure you exert on the coffee as you press it; how fast it heats; how fast it cools; the type of filter; the quality of water; not to mention the type of bean.

Unlike violin making, which is often hampered by tradition and by an 'ultimate' standard set 300 years ago, in the coffee world there seems to be constant innovation and evolution in the techniques used and the gadgets invented. For example, the big new thing seems to be 'cold-pressing', whereby you pour cold water over roughly ground coffee and put it in the fridge for 18 hours, or 12 hours, depending on the barrista, to serve up cold coffee that apparently has a cleaner flavour.

Or something. I'm afraid I found it difficult to differentiate the sorts of things I was supposed to differentiate. I certainly wasn't up to the speed blind-test competition they had going. However, I found this tasters' chart for describing coffee, and wondered if any violin people have ever tried to make something similar. Some of the 'Adjectives and Intensifiers' on the right-hand side seem quite appropriate for violin sounds. Is your violin 'Quick and clean', 'Muted, dull and mild', 'Crisp, bright, vibrant and tart' or 'Structured, balanced and rounded'? Sound, like taste, is such a subjective thing, and so hard to talk about in absolute terms, but maybe having such a chart might help. What do you think? Are these terms suitable for describing string sound?

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