company - education - coffee

Monday, October 30, 2006

Coffee is a fruit?

Coffee is a fruit not a bean. I used to say that a lot to really make people understand that you can't be afraid of the fruit. The fruit can be very delicious. A coffee that is very jammy and sweet is not your milk and sugar coffee but it is more like a sweet red wine.

I personally love the great clean perfume Yirgs. The great antithesis to the funky fermenty Harrars.
A thought, the absence of roast flavors is the essence of coffee flavors. I have this theory that the absence of roast bitters allows you to taste more of the sweetness in these dense uber coffees. Bitter confuses the palate and hides the sweetness. While I admit you can manipulate some really interesting roast flavors at times(especially in espresso), the fruit is what is unique.
It comes back to what George talks about with the coffee horizon. A concept where coffees are a commodity where all the micro lots are blended together and roasted/processed as such into one generic coffee profile. When you roast dark and slow enough, you can make most any coffee into a dull cocoa with a generic coffee flavor. He's right about that. The thing is it also applies to espresso and over blending. When we put filler in the blends that may cover or hide much of the interesting tastes in the coffee.
We should seperate the coffees at harvest into smaller and smaller lots to help isolate the most complex and unique lots. Goerge is pioneering this and the CoE helps a lot.
With all that said, I'm going to take some time and learn more about tea. I am tired of bickering with people who just focus on renaming the standards instead of finding a better cup. Minutia over flavor. When it comes back to flavor, I'll be there.
Does anyone get the feeling that the Scandanavians in general and especially the Danes are drinking better espresso than us on a daily basis? While we are wowing over 2oz doubles of lightly roasted Yirg SoE, that may be old hat for them! Something to ask the last three WBC champs.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cupping high grade taiwanese teas.

Checking the leaves after the cupping which were very intact, undamaged and pretty. Thy expanded with each brew until being fully unfurled.

Dha yu ling and a Pear mountain tea from taiwan. Each taiwanese tea was high grown and sells for $100 per 5.5oz. These teas were both at the base very sweet and intensely floral.
Fresh crop!
Flavor cuppa notes:
Pear mountain - pear, cinnamon, mint, honey, super creamy, and lemon drop aftertaste.
Dha yu ling - molasses, cinnamon graham cracker, clean cucumber, grape soda aftertaste.
Summary: We don't drink teas like this in the states! Silas needs more of these!
The sweet aftertastes linger in a super sweet clean flavor for many minutes afterwards.

UPDATE: I realized that after this cupping we had to rethink everything one more time. If the tea industry is this advanced in Taiwan, then it means this is where the coffee industry should be or will be going. It's scary to think but maybe that's what it's about. The tea's were expressive, amazing, and complex. They were worth getting excited about. They were more complex than any tea I have had. Granted I have visited china and Japan but these blew down any of those expereiences by a long shot. It was strange how you could taste layers of flavors in the cups. Tea has this potential? That's something to think about.

Big cheers to Ben's dad in Taiwan for arranging them!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Teflon Portafilters

Originally uploaded by Chris Owenscoffeemutiny.

I love this idea of having teflon portafilters on a bar. I don't know why everyone is so cool to the idea here in the US. It seems fabulous to just be able to rinse and wipe the portafilter and not worry about rancid oil buildup.


Diagnosis of a label

On our last trip to New York, I came across a few bits and pieces in one of the McDonald's gas station combo rest areas you see in CT on I95. Inside is a McDonalds and a coffee stand selling Lavazza. At the stand was this big board describing PB&J lattes and Nutty Buddy lattes as 'Specialty Coffee.' Those drinks had little to do with coffee but the irony was that right across from the stand was a huge sign for McDonalds iced coffee as a 'Premium Roast.' I thought, all we need is a Starbucks in the building! Then we could round out with some 'gourmet coffee' or some other nondescript term the marketers came up with. I chuckled a bit but it was kind of sad. With those terms, it's just varying derees of the same spin.

The coffee industry is running out of nondescript terms to describe it's coffee.
There, I've said it. When Starbucks says "This coffee is bold." I'm sorry, I looked it up and I still don't know what it means in terms of coffee! How about robust? I still struggle with full bodied. Now if my coffee is not Bold, Robust, and Full-bodied, it must be meek, weak, and light??? It's marketing spin isn't it? They must assume by controlling the label to make it sound nice without really saying anything they have succeeded in delivering the product with ambiguous terms that cannot be identified as positive or negative. It takes a lot more guts to describe the flavors in a coffee than to just say it's "full bodied and smooth." Check the coffee boards of some of these corporate shops and try to really pin down exactly what they are saying. It's all very nondescript and vague. Try the Starbucks site, that's my favorite. Just scroll through and imagine trying to tell a friend what each of the -flavor- descriptors of each of the coffees means. This one has zest! This one is bold! Say what? Then again maybe that's better than saying bitter, ashy, and burnt!

It seems that the marketing just muddies the proverbial water. Diluting and confusing the facts until the consumer gets into a routine of "Venti Breakfast blend." That's the real danger when someone is convinced that they know what that means and are so comfortable ordering it, they cannot go into another shop and order something else without confusion. The marketing gets into your routine and you have been pushed to recite the branding terms until you forget that you have been branded. Now, when you go into another shop, you must unlearn your routine and go back to normal land where there are small, med or large. OR Where a cappuccino may actually be a true italian 6oz microfoamed cappuccino and not large foamy latte.

Sadly, I really don't see it stopping anytime soon but we should not give up and roll over.
So, How do we fight this:


Consumer Education

Perceivable Quality(and value)differences

Online Forums and other free information sources

Exceptional product in the independent Cafe

All opinons welcome-


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Costa Rica: Reflecting on water

Last winter when I was travelling through central america, I volunteered at a coffee farm for about a week and a half. Now the water quality in most of central america (Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Hondorus, Nicaragua and Panama) is fairly poor, but Costa Rica because of the economic situation in most of the country, is an exception for the most part. So after having to buy filtered water or purifying my water with iodine tablets for 2 months, I was surprised to find that the coffee farm had clean, fresh tasting water. It came from springs near by and collected in a well underneath the guest house. For several days the other guests and I were drinking the water with delight, relived that iodine was not necessary. After maybe 5 days I noticed a soapy taste in the water and started to get concerned that maybe the water wasn't as good as I had thought earlier. The other volunteers didn't notice any thing strange about the taste so I kept drinking it, thinking that maybe they had a chlorinated source. After washing some dishes one night I realized there was a hole in the sink. I ran the faucet and went outside to see a good amount of water dripping into the ground right below the sink. The pipe that brought us fresh water was right there sticking in the ground and it turns out that the soapy dish water was leaking into our well beneath the house. I patched up the hole as best I could and put a pot underneath the sink to catch the excess water leaking through. After about a day or so, water started to taste alot cleaner and like it did the first couple of days I was there. I never thought developing my palate would actually be practical like that!

Now several months later after coming back from california, I am realizing how incredibly critical water quality and chemical make up is for tea. I think my brita has a learning disability, cuz the water goes through it too fast. I tried poland spring and volvic and neither work as nicely as the water in cali. Ben's filtered and softer water worked fairly well, but I still can't get that same sweet and fullness as in california. Whatever ends up working, I realized that where ever you are in the country your water is probably gonna be a little different. I know that when I was in Arizona several years ago, the water tasted aweful cuz it had been sitting in the pipes for a really long time. Maybe I just need to get a new filter...


Monday, October 23, 2006

Trials and tribulations of a mouthwatering cupper.

I think we love the taste. The sensations, the flavors, the colors that it inspires in the imagination. Drink fine red wines, uber whiskeys/bourbons, rice wine, grappa, you name it... oh yeah and teas too. The flavor is what gets us so excited. Finding those unique flavors and then sharing it. That's what I love about a good barista. Finding that one extraction of the espresso where the temp, the timing, dose, all come together to reveal for that coffee the roasted peanuts with a buttery viscosity leading one to declare 'peanut butter!' A eureka moment really. What if every new coffee is a eureka moment and playing with each extraction leads to new and distinct tastes that really excite you because you know even the average untrained palate can see the difference between the light sweet floral Yirg and the peanut butter chocolate cup espresso presented before them.

Sadly this just isn't the case. When I play around with George's coffee's, I get that. When I get a special batch from Andrew to muck up, I get that. It just doesn't happen very often besides one time experiences outside of those two roasters.

So when you read our enthusiasm, we aren't really crazy... well not too much. You have to be in the same room or have an experience like we have had... a shared experience and then it all clicks. Sometime you really have to be in the same room to get it and relate.

In George's roasts it's like lifting a veil off the coffees and exposing them clearly. George is the exception with his light roast style though. It took me a while to get it but I do and I'm better for it.

The end result is I have now priced myself out of most of the things I could enjoy if I didn't focus so much on flavor. When you cup, you think more about flavor. In the end, you train yourself to become more discriminating about what you eat or imbibe and then your bank account will suffer!


Saturday, October 21, 2006

San Francisco Tea summary

I got back a few days ago, and I am still starry eyed from Bay Area’s essence. The Tea culture and the whole gourmet culture in general seems to be living proof that flavor can exist in a true and accessible fashion. A friend told me that there are about 100 bakeries in the city for San Francisco alone. There are some wonderful food experiences to be had in the area, as Andrew showed us. There are many tea houses of various quality and feel. A few of the more well known ones are Imperial Tea Court, Far Leaves and Samovar. To the best of my knowledge Imperial Tea Court and Far Leaves both source tea directly from estates in China. Another well know tea house is the Celadon Tea Room. They are renowned for their quality and freshness. Unfortunately, I missed my chance to go there because they are currently switching locations.

The Tea Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area is one that is entirely its own. Tea is much more a part of daily life and culinary experience than it is in Boston. This is obviously because of the strong Chinese and Japanese influence. Seeing Tea Houses ranging from good to simple doing well gives me hope for what Tea in the United States could become. As the culinary culture and focus on quality in what we eat and drink continues to grow, it is nice to see a few people paying attention to Tea. I only hope that this culture will continue to grow and the quality will improve. I hope also to see more focus on the flavor of tea as opposed to the conscious altering effects and social aspect of tea.

Lots of inspiration to keep tasting, and a desire to figure out what they put in their water was found in California.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Transparency in coffee...

Las Termopilas, Esteli, Nicaragua
Entwined notes of soft citrus and apple over a subtly smoky base of nuts, coconut and a dash of persisting sweet chocolate. Full bodied with medium acidity. The next roast of this fine coffee will be on Monday, October 16th. Supplies are limited.

Roast Style: Full Flavor Roast
Certified Organic

Cup of Excellence winner

Rated 90 points by Kenneth David's Coffee Review, to read the review click here.

Farmer: Milton Canales

Region: Esteli

Altitude: 4,100 feet (1,250 m)

Rainfall: moderate

Soil: N/A

Arabica cultivar: Caturra

Size of farm: 52 acres (21 ha); 7 acres coffee (3.5 ha)

I noticed this the other day. Transparency is a good thing. I am looking forward to the point where this information is on the bags somewhere. My appreciation for this extra info comes a bit from my purist side but also from my sales/marketing side. Being able to go that extra bit and talk about the coffees elevation or varieties can really sell someone on your coffee. That and it's just cool to know!

BTW does anyone question the palate of Ken Davids? Sometimes his scores seem like he rolled a handful of dice and just went with it! Having tasted many of the coffees he has, I read the reviews and just wonder what was he tasting that day?

FYI Take note fellow New England Barista!


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

San Francisco

I have arrived back though still a bit jet lagged. Hong got me a new phone so I am now back in the thick of things. Silas will be back shortly and may give a redux of his trip.

San Francisco was great. the food was great. The shopping was fun. The scenery was amazing. In some ways, it was like stepping into another country... then again, I live in Cambridge.

As far as coffee stuffs, I briefly visited Ritual but very few photos. Had some espresso and a cappa. Got the cappa just to check the milk but couldn't really finish it. Interesting place. Later the next day we found a Cathedral in Nob Hill with a Peet's in the basement. Mouldy cofffee? Well, it's not quite as bad as the Starbucks I saw in the Forbidden City in Beijing. I will try to Flickr some of the good ones later.

The last day I was in San Francisco... Hong, Silas, and I took the car up to visit Andrew. Spent the btter part of the afternoon philosophizing and a tiny cupping. Had lunch with Andrew too which was excellent. A highlight of our trip really was just getting to pick Andrew's brain a bit and hang around him. We really appreciate him playing host and were as usual impressed with his persona.

It was a tiring trip for me, but very interesting. I really felt it was very introspective in some ways and that was a good thing. I am satisfied but it will be hard to get back to projects at hand here.

EDIT: Some photos upped...-Jaime

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Late night Hines cupping...

Did quick small group cupping with the guys around 9pm. Alex scored some Hines c/o Bronwen. Not much to report. Too tired for notes or anything. Just got a taste of the 'spro, some other sample roasts, and a little perspective on how different things are in each region.

Tamper road show to Cambridge on the Horizon... oh yeah, Hong and I will catch up with Silas in San Francisco tommorrow.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hong dropped my phone in soup... and breaking down the NY trip.

I have somewhat recovered from the trip to NY but still feel out of touch with things right now. BenC, Silas, B.Kaminsky, Judson, and I crammed into the car for a good ole road trip to New York.

All of us were working on very little sleep but especially Sleepy was Silas...

Chris Owens on the GB5

We ended up in Brooklyn around 10am. Dropped by Lorimer St. to visit Chris Owens for the first shots of the day. Everyone got a round of shots, which is the routine at every place we visit. When I got my shot, it suprisingly was one of the blends CO brought back from his trip to the Nordic Barista Cup. Caffe Crescendo from Kaffa out of Oslo roasted for Mocca.

It was good. The kinda good you don't expect and don't see very often. The first shot he served was one of those coffee experiences where you have to stop and rethink things. It was simply the best shot I have had in the times I have been visiting cafes... ever (period)

If anything, the trip was worth it just to have that shot of Cresendo:

Colombia Esmeralda Cup of Excellence
El Salvador La Fany(Bourbon)
Sumatra Mandheling
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe...

Perfume and sweet. Aromatic. Smooth and subtle but overtly complex. I was feeling thie Yirg perfume and other florals immediately in the shot. Not even a touch of ferment in the cup or dirt or muddiness. Clarity. That was it and much more. If you had the SOE YIRG, you know where I am coming from here. A lack of roast bitters and a roast that GHH would be proud of. Kaminsky offered to order some when we have reason to celebrate because that was some damn fine coffee*expensive shipping though!!!).
5 guys ordering shots around NY!
After that, the day was a blur. Toured more coffee shops, more espresso, and just soaked up NY(aka whined about how we miss Boston). Towards the end of the day, we ended up at Grumpies for our final round of shots. At this point we were all tired and very past the point of wanting any more coffee. Shots of old familiar Ecco Reserve and trying to relax a bit.

Kaminsky peeking at the Ecco Reserve at Grumpies
Before we headed out, Chris and Melissa stopped in to chat. We discussed Chris' trip to the NBC a bit, Teflon portafilters(love it), and volumetric baskets(aka the lack of sizing), and other such stuff. It was cool to chat with someone who knows his stuff and really has a bright future ahead of him.

All in all, it was a good trip. To say we were tired is a bit of an understatement. NY is nice to visit, but maybe it was the fatigue that made me so glad to see old Mass ave again.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Tea Processing

Jaime has been talking a lot lately about the processing involved with coffee. It is interesting to apply this to Tea. Essentially when you roast coffee, you are bringing out the flavor; making it palatable. When you get to a certain point however, you start to kill the flavors by bringing the oils to the surface and scorching them. When you do this with a very flavorful coffee you are simply scorching the flavor, but when you do this with a less flavorful coffee you create a taste with the roast, simply because the bean has little inherent flavor.

Now the question I am posing in regards to tea is this: Does processing a tea, whether withering, oxidation, or firing, impart bad flavors, take away flavors, or add additional pleasant flavors without killing the flavors inherent in the tea leaf? Is it only certain processes such as heavy firing that impart or take away flavors in an extreme way? Do they shorten the life of the tea? Obviously the flavor is heavily affected by the processing and the degree to which it is taken, but at what point are you taking away from the flavor or manipulating it to a point where it has become less desirable? This is a hard question to answer, because there are so many different tastes and opinions on what tastes good. This is a way in which tea is different than coffee. Tea is steeped in so much tradition and ages of thought, that it is hard to say exactly what is good and bad from an objective stand point. When you take an opinion however, you could be simply ruling out a whole different world of taste different than yours. If you processed all the different varietals from the different places that fine quality tea is grown into white tea, would get the “true flavor” of the tea leaf, or would you just get a single expression of that tea?

Processing tea is an art and a science, as is coffee roasting, so is it my job as a taster to judge and simply express my opinion and expression by selecting teas that I like? Is my job to choose teas based on the criteria for that single type of tea? As a tea server is my job to serve tea in a way I think is correct or is my job to serve tea as a way of expressing the taste of the person to whom I am serving?

I think the key to understanding the flavor in tea, is what type of processing is done as opposed to how much is done. The taste of green tea is dependent on the way it is processed, but also on the varietal used. The main difference in taste regarding tea processing can be highlighted in the difference between Japanese and Chinese green tea. The Longjing green tea is the same varietal as the green tea in Japan, but they are processed very differently. Longjing is pan fired; whereas Japanese greens are typically steamed. Japanese green teas are usually very fresh, grassy, and sometimes sweet, whereas Longjing is more fruity, nutty and a much smoother flavor overall.

The best teas that I have ever tried are Oolongs. They are processed just enough to bring out the flavor without changing it too drastically. Oolongs are very specific and often complicated in processing. The truth though is that white, green, yellow, and Oolong teas all have their specific tastes and are all good in their own right. Black and Pu-erh teas usually have their fair share of flaws because they are processed so heavily. Because of this they have created a certain taste based on their flaw, much like coffee that is too darkly roasted or coffee that is fermented in processing the green bean.