company - education - coffee

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Scace on Loan

a scace

A care package arrived today from our friend Matt Brinski. Matt email me out of the blue recently and offer me his Scace to play with. A big thanks goes out to Matt for his trust and generosity!!!

- Ben

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Edwin Martinez on fermentation: The critical point in processing

Photo Courtesy of Edwin Martinez

"The above picture remains in my opinion the start of what is ultimately the critical point for most estates in Guatemala, be it 1/4 of an acre or a few thousand acres. It is in my opinion quite an achievement in the development of coffee (particularly for a country that is so much smaller than Colombia or Brazil) to have such a high level of consistency and quality control exercised by all even the smallest growers who have less than 1/4 of an acre. The conflict with fermentation is that if one crosses the line and goes too far, the coffee is ruined as “over fermentation” is in fact the worst and most identifiable defect." -Edwin Martinez
Read the full discussion here

Edwin's recent post on fermentation gives great insight into this process and his undeniable commitment to quality while his recent gutsy post on the professionals only coffee forum showed his intense commitment and dedication to the betterment of his community.

Fermentation is a touchy subject, but it really needs to be addressed and people really need be made aware of just how much labor, skill, water quality issues, and costs are associated with a good washed process coffee when compared with traditional naturals.

Edwin adds, "These topics aren’t for those who want to look over and see what the next guy is doing rather (it's) for those who want to define the cutting edge and are willing to go out on a limb risking falling on (their) face in the genuine pursuit of excellence." We agree, and believe those are the topics we want to cover and see others cover in the future but are very curious who the rookies are that Edwin speaks of!

A whole-hearted crew endorsement of Edwin "commit to excellence and quality with out compromise" Martinez as he is quickly rising the ladder to the top of our coffee champions list.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Spouted vs Bottomless.. again

Spouted and Bottomless portafilters

Bottomless portafilters are great for training but we have been big fans of spouted portafilters for a while.

Whatever we were perceiving, we live by it in most cases. Long ago, the novelty of watching bottomless shots wore off and we began to drool over the thought of something like teflon portafilters.

Whatever your opinions may be, it's interesting to see other people musing over this topic though and how many different ideas exist. Phil offers an introspective look at the topic and there was even a thoughtful post about this on coffeed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Green coffee ages but what does that mean?

Stale: Having lost freshness, effervescence, or palatability.

Is it that simple for your green coffee? Is it possible that over time, something changes, and your coffee can lose it's flavor even before it is roasted?

The answer is surprisingly complex. In fact, to what level could depend completely on the coffee itself and the original flavors present. There is most definitely no catch all answer. Some coffees may show this "agey" flavor change whereas others may not show perceivable age. The important part in analyzing this is roasting in a way that you can perceive a difference. The one thing that is certain is that 'something' is changing whether we can perceive it or not.

Chemical and structural changes happen over time in storage that have been well documented. Temperature, humidity, and light seem be the things that can expedite those changes. It should be a given that exposure to chemical agents, molds, and other contaminants should be avoided but these can also contribute to biodegradability.

George Howell has pointed to lignins previously as proof of the biodegradability of coffee seeds. Lignin is a biodegradable plant material that is hydrophobic. This means it is water resistant and resists pathogens entering or possibly flavors escaping while acting like a glue binding the seed together. Coffee seeds are very waxy, so it really brings up the question of how hydroscopic the coffee is in the green state and what part that plays into the flavor changes. Lignins are only about 2% of the total coffee mass so it remains to be seen if this 'glue' is the sole culprit in bean decomposition or plays a part along with volatile flavor components that may escape over time.

What is truly curious is the relationship between sugars and how flavors form as well as the overwhelming topic of moisture content. Sugars are increasingly interesting according to the research on low molecular weight sugars in green and roasted coffee collected in Ivon Flament's 'Coffee Flavor Chemistry.' Poor storage was believed to result in an increase of glucose which correlated with a marked increase in woody/rubbery notes in the coffee. There was also an increase in water content during the same period, so it remains that moisture content of the bean is an easier measure of green quality than a quantitative sugar analysis. Storage in tropical temperatures (such as at origin) can even induce chemical changes such as the Maillard reaction in the green coffee.

So what does that tell you food scientists?
There are changes in coffee in the time it is stored that need to be addressed by expedited shipping, better storage method, and possibly freezing green.

Is that conclusive proof that we should all start flying coffee from origin and freezing green? No. What it points to is that we need to set up conditions where we can do a qualitative analysis of the changes coffees in storage go through and continue pursuing the upgrades you see from pioneers like Daterra Farm in bagging.

From a recent experiment we did with a CoE quality green stored in air conditioned storage and one frozen over the last year, we had a very stark contrast in the two. The differences we have noted are that floral citrus notes in wp centrals, wp Yirgs, and clean Kenyas appear to disappear over time to be replaced with a woodsy dull lifeless note and an unpleasant wheat or barley flavor. Aromatics disappear first, followed by changes in the citrus notes. Naturals turn quickly from the soft over ripe fruit into very muddy rotten fruit flavors over time in storage. We don't have enough notes on controlled dry process to state definitively what is changing.

Those are just our evaluations and this is a challenge to roasters to make their own evaluations and share their observations. Keep in mind that if the green quality isn't already very high, you may not notice the changes. This is not something to invest in your Sumatra at $1/lb but might make sense for that $20/lb CoE Guatemala.

Point being, if you paid a lot for this coffee, you should research keeping it in it's best shape as long as possible whether you are a professional roaster or the home variety.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Espresso: Blends are a compromise

A blend is a compromise. An alchemist's approach to coffee in many cases. Taking parts, that alone can be quite inferior which equal something greater as a whole. Lead into gold, not quite, but close.
Of course I am pitching the extreme to prove a point here.

Espresso blends are historically composed of some of the lowest grade coffees available. Robusta, monsooned malabar, and low grade indonesians are the backbone of the traditional generic milk espresso blend.

What if you took a wine approach to blending? Two or three high grade varietals blended together for something even more complex. Instead of putting together inferior parts, use components that were great as separate pieces.
What if we took only amazing high grade coffees and were to blend them? Not to suddenly abandon the terroir view of micro lots and soil quality, but to add this blending on top of the great single origins/green quality concepts with one caveat to give the farmer due credit:
What if blends came to market that were transparent and labeled the contents and percentages proudly on the bag?

Abandoning the black box approach to espresso and stating what was contained inside for the consumer.
What if?

It's been done with percentages and all by the Danes.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Defintion: The Sommelier

"A sommelier (pronounced /sɔməˈlje/ or suh-mal-'yAy), or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all facets of wine service. The role is more specialised and informed than that of a wine waiter." -Wikipedia

When will such a thing exist in coffee? A culinary professional on par with a Chef de Cuisine. The first proclaimed tea sommelier happened only around a decade ago. Will such a title apply to a coffee professional in the near future? Someone to help tweak every little flavor from each varietal. A trained professional who understands all aspects of production well enough to be considered a master.
How far away from this are we in coffee?

There are great barista working with a single blend, but few work with enough different espresso/coffees to build a good understanding of different roast styles, origins, and varied extraction methods. Many of the most elite have only ever worked with one roaster consistently and would be hard pressed to adjust to or even simply accept different styles to get the most form a coffee.

Especially as all these new Cup of Excellence coffees come out and change the true specialty market, how can we as consumers keep up without someone to help us get the most from these coffees?

The Coffee Sommelier, the pro who can speak with conviction and passion about flavors in the cup and then serve it with skill.

It's a nice concept.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finca Vista Hermosa via Brown Coffee Co

"The lot that Aaron (Brown Coffee Co.) has I believe is from El Eden which means Eden. I think it was my aunt Delmi that gave this parcel it's name after the Garden of Eden in the Bible because it has two springs on it that yield 2 creeks that end up merging and it reminded her of the Tigris and Euphrates river in the middle east that is supposedly where the garden of Eden was. It is very very steep, but has great trees (non coffee) and of course the water and great partial exposure as it is it's own mini ridge...
This was 1 of 3 lots that Anacafe Awarded (the Martinez Family) earlier this year granting (them) the lock on this years supply to Ancafe for what they use to promote the region of Huehue with around the world at trade shows and such." - Edwin Martinez of Finca Vista Hermosa

When we first cupped this coffee, we were largely interested in why it was so even and how it was so clean. It seemed that for this price, this coffee was a heck of a steal. It was so evenly sorted and so few visible defects that we couldn't believe the price. When I got the low down from Edwin, the quality we were seeing made sense. The coffee is solid because it comes from an area with potentially good terroir and they must take care of it in processing.

We cupped this coffee and got a satisfying experience. It was clean and sweet, the roast smoothed out and the cup clarified as it began to cool.

The cupping notes yielded a light layer of roast cocoa, mineral notes, dark sugar, and clean fruit toned acidity underneath. The coffee could go lighter because of it's quality, but I would not enjoy darker. The roast was part of the flavor balance and did not overwhelm the origin flavors allowing them to show through.

Making a snap judgement on this coffee was hard, but it really seemed I preferred the clarity of filter over french press in this case. The 'El Eden' was very representative of what I have come to associate with the good flavor characters of the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala and I will probably sample it again in the future.

Friday, December 08, 2006

First look at Paradise Roasters

"FINCA HARTMANN is a small family farm owned and operated by Ratibor Hartmann and his sons and daughter. The land use is predominantly shade-grown coffee, under towering remnant rainforest trees, and intact pre-montane highland forest that serves as a buffer zone to Parque Internacional La Amistad. At elevations between 4000-6000ft there are a number of accessible dirt roads that pass through many habitat types that are excellent for birding, hiking, and exploring. The family is very supportive of conservation and research and often has Smithsonian affiliated researchers living and working on the land." - Paradise Coffee Roasters

A nice even roast that was clean and balanced and let the coffee speak for itself.

This is not a love letter to a coffee. This is about a roaster letting the coffee speak for itself.
In the last week I have been pleasantly suprised by offerings we sampled from Paradise and Brown Coffee Co(more to follow on Brown). Solid coffees where the roaster had a soft touch.
This Panama had that signature flavor you would associate with it's origin. Good terroir, if you will... It was pleasant and had a dark sugar sweetness. The roaster, Miguel Meza, did a great job on all the offerings we had. It really came down to personal preference in terms of the bean choices though. I didn't like the dry processed SOE Yirgacheffe, but it was honestly the most balanced 'strawberry' ferment(almost cherry-like though there was a lot of debate about potential blueberry!) I have tasted in a Yirg. I just don't enjoy that level of ferment in any coffee. A hell of a statement actually, where I didn't have to bemoan the lack of clarity in the roast and could just look at what I liked/disliked about the bean. When you have sourced from as many roasters as we have, this is refreshing to find.
Meza has this very round and soft flavor profile that leaves a very velvet texture to the coffee, even in drip. Kudos to Miguel Meza, we will be ordering some more in the future!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Clean Espresso

Have you ever tasted a "clean" espresso?

By "clean", I mean:

Distinct flavor components

It's very much like drinking a fine glass of wine (a nice Cab, for example).

By "clean", I don't mean:

Lack of body
High acidity
Lack of low tones (such as roast flavor)

Among all the espresso I have tasted, only two fits this category - S.O. Yirgacheffe from Terroir and Caffe Crescendo from Kaffa. One is a single origin pulled at a ridiculous low temperature of 194F and the other is a blend (of 4 beans) pulled at normal espresso brewing temperature (~198/200F?). Both are very aromatic, clean, void of any off flavors (from green defects), bright without overbearing acidity, and have enough low-tone roast flavor without any smokiness (much like barrel aged flavor in wines).

Problem is, I can't get any of them now.

You all know how I felt about that Yirg from a earlier post. However, ever since the first batch, it never come back to that amazing roast again. And after so many tries and knowing how great it could be, I simply gave up.

Caffe Crescendo is another story. I had a tiny sample from Chris Owens when we visited nyc a while back. It was a life changing experience. Never have I had anything like it. It was so clean and so sweet; so bright but lack of any sharp acidity; it has enough low tones to keep the shot very balanced; and so aromatic even 8 days out of roast. Sad thing is, I don't know how I could get some more. And even if I am willing to pay for some ridiculous amount of shipping cost ($40 per lb?), I am not sure if the coffee will survive the trip.

So... are there any alternatives?

- Ben

Definition: Grand Cru

'In theory, and many times in practice, vineyards are designated "grand cru" (literally, "great growth") when they have shown the highest potential for greatness. It is emphatically not a classification of wine quality per se, but rather the potential of the site. An underachieving winemaker can easily make characterless wine from outstanding terroir, and a conscientious one can make a superior wine from a less-favored site. To help increase the quality of grand cru wines, they typically have the lowest maximum yields...' Source

I heard this term being thrown around a lot and I thought it might be a good idea to explain it a bit. Grand Cru relates to terroir, so you might want to plow through the terroir article. If not, the simple of it is that the farm lots with the highest potential and best terroir can be considered Grand Cru. This applies to coffee most often when you see the term Grand Cru Kenya thrown around. You could however use the term to describe any agricultural site with great potential in wine, coffee, or even in teas.

The Cru classes have their roots when, in 1855 Emperor of France, Napoleon III ordered the chamber of commerce to set up a classification system for the most famous wine estates.
According to the 1855 Bourdeux classifications, below grand cru are premier cru, deuxièmes cru, troisièmes cru, quatrièmes crus, cinqièmes crus, and finally cru bourgeois.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Barista Interview: Jason Haeger

Jason Haeger is a barista and serious coffee afficianado living in Lubbock, TX. He is available for barista training and events through his blog or email him (jason.haeger (@)
After Jason's Latte Art class at the recent barista jam held in San Antonio, TX, we decided to take some time to get Jason's perspective on coffee.

Decorated Cappuccino - Photo by Jason Haeger

Barismo: What is it like to get in front of your peers and teach?

Jason: It really depends. When I know enough about the audience to customize an outline for that group or person specifically, I can stick to a plan and just work through it. It's not impossible to ignore butterflies in those situations. It's the situations where I have to improvise from the start that are really nerve racking. The biggest fear is of being unprepared, and that people will walk away with nothing. It's reassuring when you know you were actually able to give something. Then again, you can't please all of the people all of the time, but that's still a foreign concept in practice.

Barismo: You live in Lubbock, which is not exactly the hub of the coffee universe. How do you keep inspired to learn more and keep interested?

Jason: Honestly, I can't ever remember a time when I WASN'T inspired to learn more. I've been fascinated with coffee since I was a little kid, but never devoted much effort to it until not too long ago. It's very easy to stay motivated to push for quality and spread the "gospel" of good coffee when you're in a place that doesn't seem to appreciate quality in much of anything in the way of food or drink. That's not to say there aren't pockets of us here, but for the most part, we're definitely in the minority.

Pulling Brown Espresso - Photo by Jason Haeger

Barismo: Does being largely self taught through print and online sources help you have a different perspective on the industry?

Jason: I wouldn't even know. This is the only perspective I have ever had. I have never really received any formal training. I have never been served a great espresso. I have poured art on more lattes and cappuccinos than I care to count, but I have never myself been served a drink adorned with a rosetta. I guess I could say that it has helped me avoid the place where I become satisfied with "good enough". I have never experienced a situation where I physically saw a benchmark to reach. I have never said to myself, "once I can reach ________'s level, I'll be satisfied". I have no reference to where I am now from where I was when I began. If that's a different perspective, then I guess you have your answer. Another aspect is that everything I know has been a direct result of reading, and then going and practicing through trial and error. I've never had a coach to tell me to tweak part of my technique a certain way to achieve better results. It's always just been me, typed posts and articles, and my taste buds to guide my progress. I think it's taken me a lot longer than it could have if I had been trained by a proper coach.

Barismo: What is the role of a barista in using the variables they control?

Jason: Is not the role to deliver the absolute best product they can within the limitations of the situation? Aside from the obvious, the role is also to help the customers along in their discovery and journey through the world of coffee. Of course, not every customer wants to delve into it that far, but for those who do, the barista should help guide them, and match their tastes with coffees. Not all variables are grind size, time, volume, and so on. Other variables are social in nature. I think it's important to be able to match a customer who has never stepped foot into the door before to their future "the regular" in less than a minute. Much of that process is a banter that much resembles 20 Questions, but if you nail it, you've almost landed the customer for life. Developing the relationship between the business, and not necessarily the barista him/herself, and the customer is vitally important.

Photo: Jason Haeger

Barismo: What role does flavor play in your philosophy of coffee?

Jason: Flavor is in the top 2 reasons for drinking coffee in the first place, for me. The second being that coffee serves as a bit of a comfort item. The third and more physical reason being the stimulating effect. The only thing that could keep such an ancient tradition interesting is variety. The only real variety is to be found in the flavors that develop from the agricultural part of the spectrum. To love anything is to take it at face value, and embrace it. How could I call myself a coffee lover if I did not strive to find the true flavor identity of a coffee? At this level, however, the quality of the seed becomes quite evident, and the flavor reflects this quality in an either positive or negative light. This leads to a push for inherent quality in the coffee seed from its very beginning: on the tree. Every living thing will have a long-term response to the situations it has been through. The better the upbringing, the better the fruits of the labor. This is common sense, and it seems our industry is just beginning to really understand that. And what is the purpose of all of this care? The consumption and enjoyment of the second most traded product in the world. We still have no idea how far this notion of quality can go, and the flavors we're experiencing as a result of this movement have been astounding. It's the result of a job well done, and I'm all about it.

New Flava Roast!

Fan of Philip Morris?
Think Jay's signature drink is heaven in a cup?

Then you will love the New Flava Roast coffee.

With this signature style of roast, you get a STRONG, ROBUST but SMOOOOTH smoky flavor in your coffee, REGARDLESS of degree of roast.

Now you can enjoy your bright and lively Kenyan with a overtone of cigarette, or your mild Brazilian with a touch of pipe tobacco.

It's like drinking coffee and smoking at the same time without the side benefit of lung cancer and nicotine addition.

Simply amazing!