All coffee should be sweet.
When I do trainings I always pull some good espresso shots and have the students taste the espresso as I help describe what they are tasting. I'm always careful to point out that the "good" definition means good for that particular coffee. For instance, a good shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat is going to be dark-toned, chocolatey, syrupy and full-bodied. A good shot of Terroir's Daterra Espresso will be clean, fruity, and with a pipe tobacco characteristic. Trying to make one taste like the other would be a big mistake. There's room in the world of coffee for both, and for many other kinds of coffee, and thank goodness for that.
But they have one thing in common: when properly prepared, they are sweet.
Everyone has different tastes. Different cultures can handle different tastes and different strange foods. But there's not a culture that I've ever encountered that doesn't like sweet things. We've evolved to love sweet things because sugars are one of the most concentrated forms of energy, and because sweetness is a sign that food is ripe and not spoiled.
When people learn what I do, they sometimes say as if by way of apology, "Oh... I drink coffee with lots of cream and sugar. You must think that's terrible." It's not terrible at all. It's natural. You evolved to like sweet things. And most coffee, unfortunately, is not sweet. So it's natural to put sugar or Splenda or what have you in there. Then, once people get used to a certain way of drinking their coffee, they are understandably reluctant to change it up. But as you know, reader, it doesn't have to be that way.
Coffee is a fruit, and the seeds of that fruit (you know... "beans") are lovely sweet when nurtured and cared for properly.
So when you evaluate a coffee, and you need something to wrap your mind around to begin your evaluation — and anchor point for your evaluation — you can start with sweetness. Is this coffee sweet? How noticeable is the sweetness? What is the character of that sweetness?
And if it's not sweet, you should demand better coffee, from yourself or from your barista or roaster. Later this week I will look at the places in the process of growing, roasting, and preparing coffee where sweetness is created or destroyed.