I am writing this the morning of July 4th.  In the US, this is a holiday celebrating the original 13 colonies declaring their Independence from Great Britain.  This morning is nearly perfect.  The sun us out, the air is not too hot and not too cold.  There is a gentle breeze.  I’m sitting out in the back garden reading and writing and sipping freshly made coffee. 

I like a really good cup of coffee.

No, I really like a good cup of coffee.

I like a well made cup of tea as well.  Don’t get me wrong, a well made cup of tea with a bit of sugar and a dollop of milk, its a wonderful thing.

Still, I really like a good cup of coffee.

A couple of years ago, my lady-wife bought me a coffee press as a Christmas gift.  It was amazing for me to experiment with some of my favorite coffee beans and work out how to get the flavor and balance just right.  When I did, I was a very happy tester who really likes a good cup of coffee.

Things were great, until one crucial part went missing.   The wee tiny bit that held the screen mesh to the plunger that filters the water, now coffee, and separate the coffee grounds from the stuff that you want to drink.  I never proved it, but I strongly suspect that one day after washing the press and waiting for it to dry, our orange tom cat pumpkin found it an irresistible toy.

Needless to say, the choices of the stove top percolator (not bad, but still not as good as the press) or the electric drip coffee maker (ummm, ok, nuff said.)  So, struggling through for what seems an interminable period of “ok” coffee, the arrival of ANOTHER coffee press this past Father’s Day was deeply appreciated.

Did I mention that I really like a good cup of coffee?  I do.  A LOT.

So, this was slightly larger than the previous one.  I would need to make some minor changes to my remembered favorite permutations based on which coffee I was making.  Then – I began comparing the coffee I had been drinking the week before to what I was making right then.  I mean, right – then.

Now, let us look at this.  What was different between these?  The coffee itself was the same – same roast, same grind, same water – same… Everything.  Really – that is what coffee is – a mix of ground coffee beans and water and… yeah.  That’s about it.

So, what is the difference?  Maybe – the Process of making coffee?

We talk about Process Improvement – how do we make something better – like, Testing?  So, while the lady-wife chuckles at me for “my fussy coffee ritual” I find it makes things… better.  Now, if I use one coffee, like a nice dark roast, or another coffee, like a lighter, maybe a medium or a lighter roast, I may use a slightly different amount of ground coffee.  Or, I may allow the grounds to brew just a tad longer with one than the other.

The difference?  I’m not sure.  Maybe that slight variations will impact the coffee.  The tool I use to make coffee and the method I use to make coffee will definitely make a difference.

What does this mean?  I’m not sure.  Except for one thing. 

I know that if I blindly use the SAME amount of coffee, no matter the roast or the manner of which I plan to make it, and use the tools I plan on using – I will be disappointed. 

Here’s what I mean.  If I am camping, which I really like to do, I have a handy percolator that I can make coffee in over a camp stove or over the camp fire.  It does a fine job and makes an enjoyable pot of coffee.  It is less work, well, cleanup work anyway than using a coffee press.  It is also less likely to break than the glass container of the coffee press.

If I am traveling on the road, like flying somewhere instead of driving, I may figure something out with making coffee in my hotel room that is less pleasing to me than my normal “at home” methods or when I am camping.  But, by changing how I make coffee, I get a much better cup than the thin stuff one normally gets from “complementary in-room coffee makers.” 

The exception to this, perhaps, is the “complementary in-room coffee” I’ve had in Germany and Estonia.  (Hey, American hotel folks – go to Europe and check these guys out – they really GET coffee.)  Still, the in-room coffee in Europe is still not as good as I make at home.  Its not bad, just not as good as mine or a really good coffee shop.

What is my rambling point?  Well, I think it is this:  Using the same measures for everything, without looking at the broad circumstances, the context in which you are working, and the tools and means available to the task at hand, is foolish.

It does not matter if you are looking at test practices, management practices or coffee making practices.  Applying something without examination, because it is “the best way” to do something, is folly.

It yields disappointing results in testing, management and coffee.