company - education - coffee

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The skilled hand of the Barista...

Something Silas(newer member and tea fanatic of our cupping group) said to me stuck with me for a while. He came in because of the article where I said I was trying to change what it means to be a Barista in Boston. An offhand comment that got quoted by the Globe. Silas didn't believe it and had to see for himself. Silas told me the first time he visited, he walks in to see Simon(the owner) training and hears Brett say "I just want to make sure I do it right" and Silas knew he was in the right place.

I work six days a week and every day I come home and scrub away a layer of coffee oils from my hands. Working a shift behind the machine is hands on and it becomes such a feel oriented thing. Working the grounds with my fingers in a sweeping motion to level the dose in the basket. Two fingers slightly spaced using either a swirling motion or NSEW depending on the dose to distribute the grinds. A gentle pretamp with only the weight of the 2lb tamper. Sweeping grounds from the lip and ear of the nasket with one swift hand motion. A gentle tap with the top of the tamper(not the base) to settle and loosen grounds from the sides. A full on tamp and then a spinning polish.

At a certain point you can feel the pockets in the puck that will not extract well and if the dose is over or under even before you eyeball it just by how far the tamper is in relation to the basket rim. Trying to get from 1 in 3 inconsistent shots to 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 and keep pushing for more consistency.

I have a lot more perspective these days as we were pulling shots of varying espresso and trying to keep everything consistent. Pulling Ecco Reserve at 18g 3/4oz per shot, Terroir Southern at 16g 1oz per shot, and Terroir Nicaragua SOS at 14g 1oz per shot( and decaf too). I have confidence in our ability to change things and switch directions every day. This morning I started pulling shots of Yirgacheffe roasted for drip. Lowered the temp and immediately started serving shots to those curious.

What's the point? I love it, that's the point. The feel of the coffee, the comradarie behind the counter, and the connection with customers. The Barista as a coffee professional is the future of high end shops(I won't say third wave ;p). Interaction with the customer, isn't that what the boys at Clover pitch for their product? How can you really have that much interaction with a customer over a cup of drip coffee when the whole action consists of pouring the coffee and handing it to them? In essence it always boils down to personalities. Compare that to making an espresso right in front of a customer and having a quick conversation as the shot pulls and as the customer drinks the espresso by the machine. Barista are sales people for these coffees and these noble concepts. Anyone behind the counter can get passionate about coffee when they feel valued and respected as a coffee professional. When you are respected by your customer, you feel you can go that extra mile for them. An old chinese saying: "For those who care, I would die for them."

A barista is hands on in the truest sense. When working a shift, a Barista may have personally touched every bit of espresso that went out that morning in his/her routine. Wading through shots all morning and then there is the conversation. That glorious connection from one espresso drinker to another. Explaining the tastes, the beans, and trying to help the customer find the espresso that fits them. This is the job of the Barista, to relate the coffee to the consumer. The cutting edge of single origins may play out this way on the cafe stage.

The role of the Barista is hands on. It's not about flair. It's not about being a rockstar barista(I hate that term as it implies too much ego not enough coffee). The role of the Barista is to translate a coffee into something more than a product to be consumed, to create afficiandos, and to impart bits of knowledge over the counter. A coffee so carefully picked and processed by the farmer, roasted with attention to detail, and then the final stage is the barista serving that cup. Translating the flavors and reproducing them effectively in a way that the customer can connect to that coffee is the only way I can justify the future of high end coffees. The Barista must step up and present the coffees with knowledge, passion, and conviction.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rituale Transformation Project: Stage 3

So, I could not contain myself and went ahead with the 3rd stage modification. I was able to source a BRAND NEW motor from ebay for $25, and a pump directly from Fluid-o-Tech for $66. With shipping costs and whatever valve/fittings added, the whole setup is only around $120 or so. Quite a deal!!

To keep a "reasonable" pre-infusion, I installed a needle valve downstream of the pump. With it barely crack open, I was able to get down to about 90ml of unrestricted flow in 10 sec. When testing with a blind filter, it takes about 6 seconds to ramp up to full pressure (of 9 bars), which is comparable to the original vibe-pump setup. Interestingly, the pressure with no restriction is now only about 6 bars as opposed to 9 with full restriction.

The pump bypass water @ line pressure from inlet to outlet when not operating, and the vanes do not provide a seal from inlet to outlet. This, in conjuction of keeping my old vibe-pump plumbing (more specifically, the OPV valve), cause water to flow to my drip tray constantly. To remedy this situation, the solenoid from the old direct connect kit was recycled and put on the outlet of the pump. Water is now only allow to flow when the motor turns on.

The pressure drop caused by the constant heating element on/off (due to PID) also went away with the rotary pump conversion. This is the main reason for the upgrade and I am look forward to see what difference it makes.

The machine sounds very differently now when pulling a shot. A bit errie actually with the high pitch whirling of the rotary pump instead of the violent rattle of the vibe that I am used to. I think I will really enjoy the quitness and the steady brew pressure.

[UPDATE 5/26/2006]

OK, I managed to get some free time and finally pulled some shots from the new setup. Either the coffee I am using is getting a bit old (Ecco Daterra Reserve, roasted 5/11), or new rotary pump is really giving that smoothness I been seeking from my home shots. The shots are 1.5 oz double pulled at around 199/200F with a aftermarket ridgeless double (~18g dose). It was loosing a bit of the flavor intensity, but still quite tastey. Most importantly, I was able to capture that silky smoothness I got from LM shots at Simon's that I was never able to reproduce at home. To me, the really steady brew pressure took out all the graininess and rough edges of the shot. I know there were two previous study done by Jim Schulman and Ken Fox that showed no difference between vibe and rotary, but it did made a positive impact on my setup. A totally worthy upgrade! I am excited to try some fresh coffee on the setup to see if I get that clarity in the cup.


Smells like coffee....

A while back, I got into diagnosing how an espresso should taste by how it smells right after the bean is ground. Adjusting temperature and dose to achieve the taste that resembles the smells. I now look for coffees now that smells fabulous and then look to translate that into something similiar in taste. I find a symmetry between smells and tastes to be an ideal.

Yeah, it sounds obvious in retrospect. 'Good coffee should taste as good as it smells.' The turning point for me in really making this a quality judgement was this bag of Guatemala I tasted. Yeah, it was fine as drip but in espresso there was some funk to it. A Co2 gassy/bitter taste that was unpleasant. In espresso, it was unbalanced, muddled, and the funk came out at me. I realized just how intertwined the smells are to the espresso when I smelled the bag afterwards. The funk smell was there but I had not taken the time at every step to just smell the beans. At work, I had gotten to the point where one whiff can tell me the character of the bags. Light roasted nuts always means pleasant shots. I just had not yet put that into a forward movement. I knew what it tasted like when right and was evaluating the smell as it compared to the flavor I tasted.

Now, when I get a new espresso, I smell it. I smell it when I open the bag, when it's ground, before I sip the shot, and then I smell the puck.

So stop. Take the time to smell the coffee.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Burning at both ends is highly likely...

No posts... no posts... I just want to be alone....

Sorry, Just thinking of Cake's song 'no phone...'

Notes, you say. Where are the damn notes from the cuppings, you say?

Well, we are putting together more than we expected. We were shocked by some results. Incredibly shocked. Ben, Judson, and I were just smashed on espresso after trying one coffee because we drank it all. Every bit. It was so good, we couldn't stop. But, I'll let you know later how all that goes and how you can try to repeat it.

Word of the day: Consistency.

If this were the Colbert Report, I would have a nice rant, but it isn't, and I dont. I've been wrapped up a lot in the last two weeks with this whole consistency issue. Counterproductive but not getting in the way of enjoying a bag of Tegu I got from fellow Terroir account and all around great guy Gus(owner of Toscanini's Ice cream).
Can you say $8.50 for a super Kenyan?


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rituale Transformation Project: Stage 2 (aka PID in da house!)

Alright, so PID is in. Installation is fairly non-eventful (though not comepletly trouble free), and it only took about 2 to 3 hrs to put in the hardware/wires. The swagelock borethru fitting was a bit pain in the butt to use because it was so small (1/16" OD x 1/4" NPT) and I was a bit worry about the probe hitting one leg of the heating element. But it turn out okay I think. The probe should be about 3/8" to the heating element with about an 3/8" or so of immersion.

Okay, now the hard part. With the PID, I am learning the machine all over again.
I have been taking A LOT of data trying to understand the new behavior and to setup a routine to get what I want. Due to its HX nature, it's a bit more complex than I anticipated. I have to get more data before I can provide an more comprehensive picture. This will take a while (at least a week or two), so don't be surprised if I disappeared for a while again.

One other behavior of the PID - the pump does drop pressure whenever the element comes on (ever 1 sec). This has cemented my idea of getting a rotary pump so part sourcing has begun. I ultimately decided to get an outboard setup to save me money and agony of fitting everything in the case. The parts should be coming in next week or two...

Until then, go drink some espresso. Ecco's Daterra Reserve rules! (Check out their new website! Online order finally!!)


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rituale Transformation Project: Stage 1

First, a disclaimer about the equipment. The brew water temperature is measured with a K-type thermocouple imbedded between a puck of styrofoam and a puck of sponge stuffed inside a basket. The wire is fished out of a hole on the side of the basket then out to the handle. The limitation of this setup is that, the temperature measured is essentially at the sponge, saturated with brew water. There is a definate delay between actual brew temp and recorded temperature. As a result, the 1st half of the temperature curve is to be used in a qualitative manner. 2nd half of the reading, taken while the prob is soaked in brew water, should accurately reflect the brew temp. Also, I took the measurements at fixed volume flow instead of fix time increments due to the test rig we setup. There is a slight error in this method but I believe it's neglectgible. Anyway, it's the best I can do with what I have. If you want to donate a datalogger or a scace device, feel free to write me an email. Much thanks to Jaime for doing the very boring and tedious datalogging with me. I am sure he is REALLY looking forward to another round of this when the PID goes in, haha.

So here is the summary for the stage 1 of the modification project:

1. The original HX loop is very stable at steady state. The shot has less than 1 degree of variation at the tail end. Shot-to-shot variation seemed to be within 1 degree F.

2. The pre-heater loop seemed to further stablized the temperature. Shot-to-shot variation and overall tail temperature is less than 0.5 degree F (the resolution of my meter).

3. With the Isomac Rituale (1400 watt heater), a recovery time of 2.5 min are required to prevent temperature drop-off at the end of the shot (2 min = 1 degree drop off).

4. The HX configuration can be manipilated with cooling flushes (rebound time of 30 sec) to control the brew temperature (within normal espresso brewing range). The pre-heater loop configuration did not like to be flush too much and require much much longer rebound time.


1. Looking at the numbers, it seemed that the pre-heater loop configuration sets up the machine very nicely for a sucessful PID job. With tighter broiler temperature control, the brew temperature could be really rock solid.

2. While attempting to adjust the pressurestat to obtain a brewing temperature of 201 F, it was discovered that pressurestats do not really like to be set that low and shot to shot variation became very large. This means that, for normal HX operation, a (large) pre-heater loop is NOT adviced as you could not flush the gouphead to proper temperature with reasonable reovery time.

So, that is it for now. I eagerly awaits the arrival of the thermocouple probe, and hopefully can post further results soon.

- Ben

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Coffee Shots...

Ben is tweaking on calling the low temp extractions of drip coffees 'Coffee Shots'. Still putting together numbers on what is going on but we have a working theory and things are really taking shape.

Simon's is currently serving Peru Cecovesa as Coffee of the Day(or week...) and I am pulling it as espresso or coffee shots at Simon's. You can get a taste of it if anyone is curious about this experiment. The Peru makes a nice Americano as well as a straight double shot. Defined by dominant notes of nuts(hazelnut), malt, and clean citrus(ben suggests dried plum). Is it something I would drink everyday, no. Is it something I would like to have every now and then, yes. As a standalone experience, it is worth it.

I can't really qualify these shots as classic espresso. They lack the intensity and viscosity of the so called classic espresso and in particular don't compare to the ristretto style chocolate viscous extractions many favor. In essence they resemble the drip coffees with excellent clarity but with a thick creamy texture of espresso. The origin flavors jump out of the cup and are as obvious as a brick to the face. Well, not quite a brick, but it makes going back and tasting the drip easier to understand. Espresso brings clarity to the flavors and as I found myself saying in the shop: "It sure beats the hell out of drinking coffee."

I think we are all very excited about where this is taking us. I only wish I could serve it when the Ecco arrives and have the SOS, house, and guest running at once.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Going full circle...

Ben did his full intro post as a new contributor to the blog(AKA Open Barista Project)and I realize I never introduced myself.

My name is Jaime.

I started working at Simon's in Cambridge about 2 years ago. Simply put, it was a block from my apartment at the time. I had no interest in coffee. In fact, I thought coffee was a nasty habit and avoided it like the plague. I just applied because it was convenient (part time job) and the place I was working at was a train wreck of bickering ex's who got into the food business because of misguided reasons.

I'm a picky person. I try to make things happen. I don't know when to leave things alone and like to tinker. I can also be very stubborn and abrasive. When I first got into Simon's there were some serious personalities to deal with, serious lack of direction, and general confusion about a lot of things. I knew nothing of coffee, so I couldn't speak about the drinks at that time. As I got training on the line, I realized something. This shouldn't taste so bad. I mean, why are so many people drinking this if it is so horrible. I then began to set out to figure out what was wrong here. Why did the espresso taste so bad?

At first, I thought it was me. It must be my lack of skills or in the very least some little bit of information I had missed. I searched for help from the roaster at the time. They came in and gave us a sales pitch about the company when all we wanted was training. I wasn't feeling good. I started paying attention to the roasts coming in for espresso. I noticed one week it was oily, dry the next and very inconsistent in how it looked. This set Simon into motion and I was given permission to search out comparable espresso options. I scoured the internet for information. Logging everything from coffee geek to espresso research and expressivo. It was on coffee geek that I locked into Gimme, Intelligentsia, and Metropolis. Another worker suggested barrington coffee. Simon preferred Gimme and I preferred Metropolis. We narrowed it down to those two. It would come down to who could get us brewers and service. I still have a lot respect for Tony and Jeff at Metroplois for the personal way they handled themselves but fate would intervene. It was as we were evaluating these coffees that I sent an email to the enigma that is Peter Lynagh(who in all sincerity, I respect a great deal) at Terroir. I wanted to sample the Terroir coffees but really thought they were too expensive to sell at Simon's. He promptly and with little discussion sent John Flynn down from Terroir with some samples. We were sold. The espresso tasted good. It really tasted good. It was not long after that we switched to Terroir.

At that time, and after some personel changes, I became the manager at Simon's. I convinced Simon to change grinder blades, change bad habits, and begin focussing on quality as a theme of the business. Our focus on quality and struggles with the old Rancilio HX led us to grabbing a 4G LM and a new grinder. We began serving guest espresso and focussing training on only the full time people.

Our first three months with Terroir was rough. We couldn't figure out the drip coffees and we were losing lots of customers. Simon knew there was a transition period but the weird thing was espresso sales climbed and continued to climb whereas drip sales took a hit and diverged. When things stabalized, we were doing 3/4 of our coffee as espresso drinks and selling lots of straight shots. From 3 a day to 3 dozen a day. After a good struggle and lots of tinkering, the drip coffees regularly sing. I learned how to diagnose them and adjust the brews to get the most. Simon is learning too and we are very happy with the drip from Terroir. Simon is now investing in upgrading his grinders to Mazzer majors and the first one arrives next week. Overall business is up and things were looking good since the Globe Article...

No wait, go back a bit... The one turning point for me personally had something to do with my cohort Ben here on I met Ben through a thread on CG. We were both starting to get hard core about coffee. It's hard to pin it down exactly, but he was the first kindred soul I met in this espresso fanatacism. We were able to share knowledge and expand our experiences together. It would eventually lead to Asim who was the guy with all the cool toys and Judson (the scenster barista) becoming part of our regular group. Hong (the chef) regularly comes and we are about to invite two more (professional barista and hopefully)regulars to the group. Sometimes work mates and friends will drop in but we are now very clear these days that it's about having fun and making friends and the coffee is the medium.

Tired as usual but happy that I got the support of my friends.


Being tired and having a picture cell phone...

Being tired seems to be an ironic theme to a blog about coffee/espresso. Still, I have decided to unload some of the photos from my cell phone. I will post some more tasting notes a little later. Must get Judson's notes and transcribe them. The commentary was pretty raw and humorous this last time.

First up is Machiarti or the practice of Machiatto art in the 3oz demitasse...:

A small rosetta created by dusting the surface with cocoa powder first. It's
kinda like pouring into a thimble...

A Machi-Octi : Octopus in a Machiatto:

A devlish machiatto:

The Ecco shipment of espresso will be delayed but Andrew promises us a free
bag or two to evaluate... Not a problem really. We will be serving the Ecco
Caffe espresso(s) as guest and Simon has generously agreed to donate a portion
of every espresso sold to the Save Steve Ford Fund(AKA the stick to coffee and
don't fall out of windows fund). Last two times we got espresso from Andrew,
we loved it even in milk(Call it Asim's influence). Either way, I bust out a
rosetta or two on the Cachoeira...

Rooibos tea latte:

Grind some plain Rooibos(red African bush tea) as espresso. Dose, Tamp, and
pull as a 30sec extraction to about 2oz. Follows all the same rules as espresso.
Too much time and it's dry/bitter, too short and it's sour. It actually has
an red/orange 'crema' similiar to espresso and tastes amazing in honey. You
can pour decent latte art with it....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Day 3?

I am tired... This mod job has taken way more time than I have imagined. In general, I took my time and double/triple check my works. Some mistakes were made, but none are deal breakers. Upon powe up, only 3 leaks were discovered. One at an elbow that I decided to JB-weld it. One at the pressure gauge, which I have re-fitted with some extra teflon tapes. The last leak is at the compression fitting going in the heat exchanger. The tip was cut and a new "bead" was used. Lesson learned - never teflon tape any compression fittings... and make sure you tighten the crap out of it...

The pre-heater loop was a major pain the butt to put in. Bending "soft" copper tubes are not as easy as it seems. I mean, it bends; but if you are not careful, you will "flatten" the tubes. Also, short length and small loops are difficult. The broiler loops are not as tight as I had hope, and only very small parts of each loop is in contact w/ the broiler. This made me worry about it's performance. I put as much insulation as I can all around the broiler/loop. Hopefully this will help its performance a bit. Anyway, what's done is done. I will have to do some measurements to see its performance later this week.

Anyway, I think this finally concludes "Phase 1" of the Rituale Transformation Project, which consists of re-routing all the wires, relocating the controller box, relocating the pump/solenoid assembly, and adding the pre-heating loop (top picture). An machined aluminum braket replaced the orginal internal frame to make room for the relocated pump, which occupied an space alloted for future rotary pump conversion.

Phase 2 of the project will be replacing the current pressurestat with a PID control system. All the parts have been ordered and they should be arriving in the next 2 weeks. Adding these parts should be much easier than phase 1 as all the accomidations for wiring/mounting has been made. It should not take more than an evening worth of work.

If the pre-heater loop + PID works well, I will be looking into replacing the current vibe pump with a rotary pump (phase 3). During my research for the modification project, I have learned that vibe pump is very sensitive to voltage drop. If the heating element comes on while the pump is operating, the output pressure could drop as much as 0.25 bars. This causes the pressure profile to be really jagged and reported to reduce the overall clarity in the cup. Since the PID system will make the heating elements goes on much frequently than the pressurestat, this problem is worsen. However, I hesitate to purchase the pump right away as the miniature version I have spec out is quite expansive (~ $260). If anyone knows another (cheaper) source for the 1/4 HP motor that espresso parts sells, PLEASE contact me and help me save some money!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Day 2

Did not have much time today so just some minor work. Start to rewire the system. Routing looks much cleaner so far...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And the transformation begins

Day one of the tear-down. Unfortunately, I won't be posting much as I will be busying with all the mod stuff. Hopefully the job can be finished by the end of next week so I can enjoy espresso again! Expect a detailed write up once the project is completed. More to come...

Musings: Espresso research: Why challenge the standards?

I think the results we get this weekend will define our theory. An intermediate tasting of extreme light roast Terroir's Daterra Reserve has shown that we are definately onto something. What it actually means is unertain right now. Is it a Terroir roast/bean specific thing? I got feelers out to different friends and acquaintances looking for answers to this. I realize that person(s) at Terroir are working on it and good luck to them. I hope they post the data in a open forum for others to see at some point. I want to approach this from a community standpoint and really try to challenge the conventions of espresso. These single origins may be just the coffees to do this with. What if all those flowery descriptions on the bag that you struggle to frame in drip coffee could become obvious in the espresso extraction? That's what is driving me right now, the next experience.

Crazy, definately, but then again, everything I learn points me in a new direction. I came into coffee blind and maybe that's a good thing. Not knowing anything or even having a palate for any coffee. All I knew was that coffee was strong and often bitter. Espresso in fact was unpalatable in my early experiences with rubbish beans. This set me off in exploration that led us at Simon's to brewing Terroir. The drip Terroir has, when brewed correctly, is amazing. A cup of Tegu brewed correctly will shake your perceptions of coffee. That said, I am an espresso head these days and this new low temp concept is my key to marrying the two things. Espresso effectively clarifies the flavors in the coffee for me and there is the unlocking of those flavors I cannot always identify in drip without a struggle.

What does it mean effectively? I don't know yet. I will post the data when Ben and I have more conclusive and logged numbers. Our intermitten samples have convinced me the lighter roasts theory works fine. Even going as low as 180to 185F for a very light roast seems likely.

The next step once we cycle through all the Terroir offerings is to get roasts from other roasters and see how they compare. Stumptown, Ecco, and the likes.
BTW I talked to Simon and I think there is a free bag of Ecco coming for Ben from Simon.