company - education - coffee

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Winding down... my last few days here. It's really weird. I've been keeping myself busy doing a research project on sugars for coffeed. I was literally enthralled and read and reread several chapters the other day. It led me into some fabulous information, a few dead ends, and one wrong direction. It gave me so much more understanding of how green ages, how sugars affect flavors, browning reactions, volatile gases, and the roles of lipids. I am putting together a side list of descriptors and the possible chemicals contributors underneath. Ever taste butter in coffee, it's beacuse the same defining odor causing chemical in butter is in coffee. It's overwhelming.

I'm not abandoning the blog but there is little for me to post about right now. I will be looking for some Yirgacheffe tonight as we finally got our samples from Terroir but that's small news.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Homeless Barista...

I came to Simon's by way of luck really. It was close to my apartment and I needed something to fill the extra hours. I was working another job full time and took it on part time because it was right in front of my house. After a few months I was working @ Simon's full time. Somewhere along there I got the bug. Pouring through sites like coffeegeek and blogs like Tacy's. I really owe Mark Prince a lot for that site. It gave me a lot of information once you sort through the noise. It is the ultimate resource for the beginner. Tacy too has been a large influence on a lot of us. His snarky opinions and rants are often more true than not. His willingness to challenge things most people consider sacred... well maybe I got a little bit of that in me too... Sometimes it took me longer than I'd like to admit to find out how right he often was.

I want to thank Nick Cho and Michelle Campbell and the people who do the competitions and the BGA. I really defer to those who put the highlight on those who really care about their craft. Nick, who I thought might be a bit of a joker for hanging out with people like Jay :) it turns out is a pretty decent guy whether he knows it or not. The revered Cho.. hehe, why not? If it weren't for those competitions, I wouldn't be blogging about all the details that fire me up. I wouldn't be trying to create other passionate barista. I wouldn't have the voice I have today. It was those competitions where I really found some friends. Ben and Asim supported me and fired me up to 'go get kicked around in the competitions... because this is part growing pains... and because this is the path I have chosen so it's sooner or later.' They both stuck by me when I was getting little help from anyone else. Ben's words in particular were a piece of foreshadowing. It was at that time I found out simply put who my friends were. Ben is still what I consider to be my strongest supporter and I don't over look that or underappreciate it. My friends Judson and Silas, my conscience and my palate. Hong, my support and my foundation. I feel lucky in so many ways. The people I have worked with, Simon, Andy, Colleen, Dragana, Maric, Denez, Alexis, Kristin, Brett, and Jin. It's been cool knowing each and every one of them and I picked up somethng from all of them.
There is one more though. Peter Lynagh of Terroir. He had a great influence on my initial development in coffee. His influence is a big part of why I can't enjoy muddy coffee and crave clarity from my coffee. We may be at odds at times personally but I will always fall on his side of the fence when it comes to green quality. I appreciate that in many ways I can't express to him. Sometimes you have to have some distance to get perspective on things though.

I really feel like I have been a part of something special these last two years. A journey of growth and self realization in many ways. Simon's has been a place where I really felt appreciated by customers. I could name a couple dozen people, but I really appreciate so many of them. I will miss the espresso drinkers the most. Especially the ones who have been with me since the tastings way back when. You know who you are. The people I see everyday who challenge me to keep going, pour it left handed, and challenge me to come up with effective descriptors for a new espresso. The people who tipped me well for pulling a good shot, gave me sox tickets, or just said 'Jaime has high standards'. The people who complimented me for my latte art and my passion. For everyone who told me thank you or complimented me, I say thank you.

It's been one wild ride in Cambridge, MA. I enjoyed it on my side of the counter and hope everyone enjoyed it on the other. I guess this is leading to something quite obvious at this point. I gave Simon my notice the other day. Another three weeks at the most linear coffee shop in Boston and I'm just a memory. Stop in and say hi, get a double espresso and catch up. Wow. It's been a lot of fun and I will miss it.

Watch the blog for news. Judson, Silas, Hong, and I are planning some things with the support of Ben and Asim. I am looking forward to regional competitions and to meeting up with RichW, ChrisO, AndrewB, the Revered Cho... and getting a chance to bring my friends to this event to absorb the atmosphere and meet their peers. Maybe sometime I will finally see JasonH in a competition, and who knows what is yet to come. It's all wide open from here and I am anxiously looking forward.


Clamouring for espresso... and didn't know it?

Denez(a barista @Simon's) and I had a long conversation the other day about where the shop has come and where it seems to be going. Part of it is that Cambridge, MA for all it's diversity is a great area to test out this coffee as a culinary thing. The truth being that nobody had done it yet. Going into a little coffee place in Inman Sq. where they had a one group, an undersized plastic tamper, and 4 demitasse cups lonely, unused on the top of the machine gave me perspective. At Simon's, we currently keep 20 demitasse cups on the machine during the summer... and we run out. I want to illustrate the evoloution of this shop. Simon's went from drip coffee/bowls to espresso in two years. A fantastic thing if you think about it.

Denez proposed one thought. People want this, they really want this. They are clamoring for this, but they just don't know it until we show them. We've been culturing and nurturing this move towards espresso and in the end we just didn't know that people were already searching for this independent of us... sometimes unknowingly.

It really is a fabulous thought. People want better drinks, often they don't know what drink they want until we help them satisfy that want. Sometimes it's an evoloution of trying different drinks on the menu, sometimes it starts with a simple question 'What do you recommend?' All I have to help them is to choose an Ecco ristretto, a Terroir SO, or a guest something else on tap....

Thought for the day... Barista as a Sommolier isn't too far from the truth.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Do Aromas die at high temps?

I was thinking about this. For a multitude of reasons, key aromatics disappear at high temps. Anything pushing over 201F and after that you are probably killing it. Obviously there is the roast issue. Roasting it dark for higher temps kills those jasmine clover floral notes.

So you are saying no, that can't be right... Rethink it though. Yeah, you can still get your blueberry ferment and earthy spicy dirt coming through... but what about those delicate notes. What happened there? Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating we all start pulling at low temps the home user can't achieve(except for experimenting!). Just think about where are the aromas in your espresso today. Why can't we have an espresso that has all the complexity and character of a Sao Benedito? Espresso shouldn't be elitist or intense strong coffee. It should be an experience... the essence of coffee under pressure. Think about those aromatics trapped in that crema and rolling over your tongue. Clovers on the nose and on the tongue... Put a little thought into your espresso and get back to me.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Colombia - 2006 Cup of Excellence - La Virginia

Colombia - 2006 Cup of Excellence - La Virginia
Farmer: Olga Lara

Over at Ecco, Andrew is roasting this coffee right now for drip. No, I did not try to pull it as espresso!!! I only had half a bag to cup out and we really enjoy just breaking the crust in the cup like they do at the roasterie. I struggled a bit to find good descriptors. The fruit was a clean, not quite tannic in flavor, and I was thinking of these clean sweet pears I had growing up. The kind you have to store before they ripen enough to eat. Picked off the tree, they are crisp like an apple but too tough to enjoy. I also got this sugary, not quite caramel flavor as this is an intensely sweet coffee. It's kinda subtle but oh so nice. Andrew's roasts always have a little cocoa of some kind underneath in a soft manner that clears as the cup cools. Overall, I think Ben said it best... It's like a chewy sweet sugary candy with some dried fruit in there.

Andrew's notes on this "This gem snagged third place in the First Harvest Colombia CoE competition, but was our first pick when cupping the top lots! We were smitten by its tantalizing cocoa aromatics and unforgettable balance. Flavor highlights feature bing cherry, apricot, Muscat grape and a creamy Tupelo honey finish."

Right now I am patiently waiting for new shipment of Yirgacheffe from Terroir. Rumors are they will have an exceptional Yirgacheffe that will be great as an SOS. You can dose it to 16g and pull it under a better range of temps. I would love to see some espresso from them that has play. Where you could change the dose and get slightly different flavors or work the espresso through a variable temp range.

Food for thought anyway.


Monday, August 07, 2006

My personal milk bias...

machiatto art with ecco reserve
Milk. Moo Juice. The dairy. That's the problem. I have a personal milk bias. Don't get me wrong, I drink milk at breakfast and I am not lactose intolerant. Soy and dairy. I have it all the time, by itself.... The thing is I never really got into coffee and milk together. I came into coffee drinking it like you would a green tea. Straight. No sugar, no dairy. This is why it became so important for me to find naturally sweet, less bitter, pleasant coffee and espresso that stood on it's own. The thing is I did this cupping... got this lecture from this coffee fanatic who kept stating a dislike for milk and disregard for coffee's pairing with milk.

Then I thought about it. It goes back to relevance. Yes, I love espresso. But espresso in milk is something I serve, not something I would drink. I realize I have to push people to drink less milk and get to smaller sizes and better proportions but... I cannot be 'that guy.' The guy lecturing what coffee is supposed to be and how it should be enjoyed. I can only present the best drink possible and hope that the taste alone will win over. it got me thinking, I have to make a excellent cappuccino and let people naturally find their own way down to espresso. I have to have faith that people will figure, hmm, this tastes so good, what if I had a little less milk and could taste the coffee more?

Make that fabulous espresso drink and people will naturally gravitate towards the better flavors. First with extra shots, then smaller sizes. Then finally coffee unfiltered... the straight shot.

Case in point. A regular customer who has come in for a long time and loves the latte art came ordering a large skim latte(way back when Simon still had the bowls). She migrated to a triple skim cappa and started moving around a lot on her drinks suddenly. It was like she couldn't pick one drink anymore. Skim then whole, then cappa, then latte. Suddenly this morning she says, I want to try a fancy espresso. I chuckled and said 'what drink do you want it in?' thinking it would be a cappa or latte... She says a double shot. A bit suprised but unfazed, I served her a double shot of Ecco Reserve. She took it back to her table and I went back to my routine with other customers. She comes up later and orders a cappuccino and raved about the espresso. So sweet, smooth, and creamy... tasty. She was smiling and plush with emotion about it. I have had many customers try their first espresso (she was the second to announce it that morning) with me but this one stuck in perspective to the milk thing.

What I think is that if I do my thing on all levels well, people will naturally migrate towards better flavors. Latte isn't as satisfying as a cappuccino and machiatto though smaller has more flavor. Finally the espresso on it's own and the unique flavors can be an experience. It's not about what is right, but what tastes good. I don't want to be the "soup nazi," I want to share the coffee experiences I have had so others can fully appreciate the coffee. We can all sit around and talk about fancy flavors and theories but in the end of the day it comes down to one thing:

Prove it in the cafe.

Learning to overcome my milk bias and help others develop theirs-


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Buzz about Japan...

The next World Barista Championship, affectionately known as the WBC, will be held in Japan 2007. I am looking forward to this years regional competition and hoping to make more headway in the competitions. I am not a competition barista, but the competitions are great expsoure for us and a great way to network.

Collecting plateware, evaluating potential espresso, signature drink ingredients... Oh boy, it's going to be some sleepless nights ahead.

Really though, I just want the cash and the trip to Japan j/k. I mean, let's be honest. I seriously hope though this year a barista wins the USBC. Someone who actually works behind a counter and deals with customers and drinks day to day. That means something for me to see that. A validation of sorts that we are not just one trick ponies who can thrive with one espresso, one machine, and one routine but falter under varying conditions. Don't think I agree with mark Prince's any coffee, any grinder, any machine mantra. That's just pure punditry baloney. What you have to remember for the competitions is you can't change the temperature or the baskets, so make sure your coffee works on that stage and don't forget have fun and connect with your peers.


To tech out or not to tech out.., blueberry manure, and blends..

All too often we are overly obsessed with the finer points of machine function, dosing techniques, and all the user variables surroundingthe coffee when sometimes we just need to evaluate the coffee itself. Hoffman does a nice write up on the basics of bad coffee diagnosis.

Along this same line of thought there is an underlying thread that irks me. I began participating on Alistair Durie's pet project to emphasize one point: are we drinking good coffee?

It started with a thread about blueberries in coffee. A very controversial thing among the coffee elite. Blueberry smells in coffee are the product of over-fermentation. Fruit rotting on the coffee seed in such a manner that it imparts a faux blueberry smell to the seeds. Nice and grand except you have a compost manure flavor underneath the blueberry smell that is not so pleasant I call a 'funk'. With a dark enough roast, you can cover that funk but you conversely lose some of the fermenty bluberry odor. With our techie nature as barista, it seems we are so focused on the blueberry that we don't stop to think if this is something at all desirable. We are focused on temperature curves, grinder heat, and PIDs, but what about the coffee we are using? The only reason we should be putting all this effort into modding and tricking out our machines would be to express the coffees better. So, I would challenge any barista out there to know the blend and to express the coffee by knowing what the coffee is and what makes it taste the way it tastes. For these Harrars(known for this blueberry ferment aroma) and Yemens(known for the uneveness and inconsistency of processing), we might consider not focusing on the blueberry but rather we should avoid the manure 'funk' underneath. The blueberry and funk go hand in hand.

When it comes to single origins and blends, we need to start lauding exemplary coffees and use our skills and techie nature to express them. Rethink everything and start out from a new perspective. I would love to see fantastic blends of coffees. The thing is there are not enough fantatstic standalone coffees to make these blends yet. We as a community, are still focused on gimmicks like the blueberry aroma that are the product of poor processing.

I dream of a day when a blend is 2 or three stellar beans and they are labeled with transparency on the bag. Naming the farm proudly as you would a french wine. Syrupy sweet and fragrant coffees that express the craftsmanship of the farmer and the terroir of the farm. I know Andrew Barnett over at Ecco is toying with this idea and GHH is ahead on this but most of the industry is still entrenched with either muddy Indonesian blends to bitterly cut through milk, Single Origins for the sake of Single Origins, or novelty coffees like Harrar and Yemens as Single Origin Espresso.

So this is my challange to all you home barista, barista, coffee pundits, and the likes: What is the flavor and why does this coffee taste this way? Flavor is the all encompassing factor beyond the techie, beyond the fair trade issues, and beyond the caffeine. The tastes should define the coffee and what are you tasting and why does it taste that way?