company - education - coffee - tea - equipment

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Coffee and terroir:
The 'Somewhereness' of the seed



Originally uploaded by asteri design.


Terroir in a direct translation from French yields us simply 'earth' or 'land.' The basic interpretation of this is to say that a product has a distinct association with the land on which it was produced. Stating that the product is representative of it's origins would be the same as saying a product is expressing it's terroir. The term is difficult when trying to apply this to coffee or tea given the disagreements over the specific definition of this topic in wine.

The most simplistic definition of terroir I came across in my research was simply that terroir is a 'sense of place' that a product has. The terroir of a coffee is very broadly defined as the site or region influences that cumulatively give the coffee an attachment to it's origins. It is not simply the taste of earth but all the contributing factors therein that add to flavor. There are two ways the term terroir is approached in wine from which we draw parallels, but we first must have a better understanding of French culture and the approach they have to terroir in not just wine, but an array of products not limited to only the agricultural ones.

The French approach terroir as a philosophy in life. The love of dining and appreciation for local farmer's markets along with a focus on fresh ingredients are important to the French food culture. To the French, terroir seems to be applicable to any product, even clothing, which exemplifies the unique characteristics of a specific area. The traditions or methods of production can be added to the unique (soil, geography, climate) and physical(minerals, soil acidity, etc.) characters of that producing region in describing the product's terroir.

Much like Champagne is only truly a Champagne if produced in the Champagne region of France, this is the predominant view of terroir. The attitude is to preserve this uniqueness where in some cases it may not be viewed as desirable. In France it appears that saying something has terroir is to say that it represents where it was produced well.

The French focus is very much based on the importance of where it was grown over what varietal is used or the producer. The French love of terroir has worked to produce both quality and diversity in the French food, wine, and cheese market. In essence, the opposite to the mass produced commodity cultures you see in other countries.

There are two approaches to the concept terroir we must be aware of. The Old World approach and the New World approach.

The Old World approach is simply the previously mentioned French approach to terroir. To say, in wine specifically, that the flavor of the cup comes from the soil, geology, aspect, altitude, and other factors. An example is to draw a direct corollary between the flavor and the inputs from the soil. This would be to say that since this tastes of mineral and there is strong mineral content in the soil therefore it must be associated and therefore preserved. Each areas unique character is presented in the cup. It could be stated that Old World philosophy is more about restrictions placed on the product to achieve a specific representative quality much like AOC. In essence, the French label would focus on the growing region over the varietal or producer. For example, the French would say it is not a Pinot Noir produced in Burgundy but rather it is a Burgundy that happens to be made of Pino Noir.

New World philosophy seems predominantly based on viewing all the inputs as part of quality. They aim to use the terroir of the region to achieve a product they deem more quality. This is to say, they break down their lots into similar producing groups and attempt to achieve something of greater ripeness and evenness. Terroir is in essence an approach to quality in where defined standards are not traditional defined for the producing regions. The focus leans on the varietal used and not so much on the region. A means to an end if you will, where preservation of the traditions is not such a defining factor.

Applying terroir to coffee is very difficult to understand and this is why I have undertaken this project. Since the term is being thrown around a lot these days in the coffee cognesceti(as one roaster put's it), I feel it's time to begin thinking about this and research it more. Once we can begin to comprehend the term terroir, you begin to see how it is applicable in quality coffee. Silas believes the closest approach in Tea is that of Biodynamic teas, but that's an article for him to write.

Now, when someone speaks about the terroir of this coffee, you will understand what they are saying. Next time you are at your local roaster and they say, 'This is an exemplary Kenya, very expressive of what a good Kenya coffee should be!' Once tasting it, to agree your response could be, 'Yes, I see the terroir in that coffee!'

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Coffee: Repeating that great experience

The romance of your first great cup and getting back to that feeling. Be it coffee, tea, or wine, this is what we are searching for. That one defining moment where everything is beautiful and the cup was glorious. It could have been the moment, the people you were with, or simply the lack of a good cup in a long time. The problem is repeating the 'in the cup variables' of that great experience are a lot harder than we would like and we need to do something about that.

There are plenty of great drinks out there to be had right now. The wine and liquor industry has a long established pyramid of quality in which at any point there is a unique experience waiting to be found. Coffee though, is still finding it's own quality pyramid and we don't really have a handle on how many great coffees are out there or what prices are fair. In fact, so few people have had the truly great coffees, it's often very hard to relate paying for a great cup. There is very little perception in the general public of what great coffee can be right now. If you do manage to find that great defining cup, the very real problem arises that we want it again.
In essence, the great drip coffees are somewhat like bottles of wine. Taking a simplistic look, they are typically similar for each year's crop from the same area or same lot. There can be inconsistencies from roast to roast in the coffee, but the ability to repeat the experience with the right roaster exists. The irony of typing this is one amazing coffee experience I had this year literally yielded me a single good bag while the rest were far less than amazing. With that said, your 'top of the top' drip coffees are typically easier to prepare and will likely yield more consistent bang of the buck than that high grade espresso.

If we do venture into espresso, that's where it gets tricky because espresso is not like wine. Espresso is really like a bottle of those more expensive single barrel Bourbons. You really only know what you will get from batch to batch and it's the intensity that is at the root of the drink. One week, the coffee's roast may be a tiny bit darker and your espresso may have more chocolate flavors, the next, it may be lighter citrus. This is the nature of espresso. While it may magnify all those delightful flavors, it also magnifies any tiny change in the roast. This means it is in constant flux and the Barista needs to adjust.

All this makes coffee a very frustrating product for even the best trained and obsessive Barista. While the Barista is constantly adjusting and attempting to compensate for every little detail, the consumer just really wants to repeat that experience. They want to come in every time and get the beautiful cappa or perfume Yirgacheffe with no excuses. That's easier said than done, but it shouldn't be so hard.

After all the issues with consistency and repeatability, I still feel that espresso has the greatest untapped potential, because there are so few cafes that exist which simply pull acceptable shots of a decent grade espresso much less great shots that qualify as culinary experiences. Aside from those hurdles, the great redeeming factor in espresso is that the intensity makes the flavors obvious to even a beginner. A great Barista can call their shot and the customer will be simply wowed or at least go 'I get it'. Imagine walking into a shop and hearing 'This is a Brazil Daterra Reserve 2004, you should get a creamy sweet buttery almond flavor.' That's rarefied air though and only a few shops in North America have this caliber of Barista.

Today's great coffee experiences will only be shadows when compared to our future experiences as long as we continue to move forward. What I thought was great only a year ago is sad in comparison to what I have today and what I find tomorrow may overshadow it all. We will keep looking for that great cafe Barista to show me the way, but in the meantime, I will nurse a good french press of a nice coffee assuming I get that good bag!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Espresso: The Massive HB Tamper Roadshow Review

The home-barista.com sponsored Tamper Roadshow rolled through Cambridge recently and this is our take on this massive lineup of tampers.



Bumper
Bumper
handle: black rubber handle
width: 1 5/8"
base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
weight: 1lb 3/4oz
height: 3 1/2"

First Impression:
At first glance, the Bumper tamper looks cheap. However, when I actually picked it up, the weight (of the tamper) and the feel of the rubber really surprised me. In fact, it duplicated the feel of an OEM rubber handle for the La Marzocco portafilter. Very comfortable and solid.
Handle:
The handle is that of the classic tamper shape and it worked quite well. I personally would like the top to be a bit wider and taller so I can cradle it with my ring and pinky fingers, but Jaime liked it quite a bit (since he was trained on the same shape). The rubberized handle takes a lot of abuse w/out showing much damage and won’t absorb much nasty stale coffee odors.
Base:
The base of the Bumper is the thickest of all tampers from the road show. With our style of dosing/tamping (Tim Wendelboe’s under the line style), it’s hard to gauge what kind of dosage is in the basket. The tapered side is quite comfortable for the thumb and the forefinger, however.
Bottom Line:
A solid work horse that can take the abuse of a busy café.


Coffeelab Design
Coffeelab Design
handle: anodized and powder coated aluminum with rubber grip handle
width: 1 1/2"
base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
weight: 13 3/8oz
height: 3 5/8"

First Impression:
This tamper has a toy look to it, probably due to the use of different material/colors. The neck of then handle also looks flimsy.
Handle:
The grip is actually a lot more comfortable than it looks, and the adjustable spacer at the neck is a good idea. However, the combination of the very thin neck and the small size of the connection screw gives off a very un-secured feeling. More than 3 of us feel we could snap it with excessive force. Not too sure about the long term durability in a busy/abusive café environment.
Base:
The rubber pad and the slope are very comfortable for the forefinger and thumb to rest/press on.
Bottom Line:
Very comfortable tamper that falls short on the overall durability.


EPNW Compressore
EPNW Compressore
handle: powder coated aluminum handle
width: 1 7/8" base: stainless steel
weight: 1lb 1 3/4oz
height: 3 9/16"

First Impression:
Part of the EPNW tamper lineup. The anodized finish is quite attractive.
Handle:
The large bulbous handle is really designed for very large hands. The head is even a bit too big for my palm and the neck is not thin enough for my middle finger to get a good grip. The anodized finish is durable and won’t absorb any funny odors.
Base:
Nice tapered sides and thickness. This is our “standard” and preferred tamper base.
Bottom Line:
A solid tamper for large hands.


EPNW EP5
EPNW EP5
handle: polished Bulbinga wood handle
width: 1 3/4" base: stainless steel
weight: 13 oz
height: 3 3/16"

First Impression:
Part of the EPNW tamper lineup. The handle looks quite small.
Handle:
Short and bulky handle designed for short stubby hands. Glossy clear coat protects from dirt/odor contamination, but can wear out with use.
Base:
Standard EPNW base we loved.
Bottom Line:
Tamper for large but stubby handed home user.


Espressocraft
Espressocraft
handle: stainless steel handle width: 1 3/4"
base: brushed stainless steel
weight: 14 5/8oz
height: 3 1/2"

First Impression:
The fit and finish is amazing. The precision machined stainless steel are the main reason behind the cost and it’s worth every penny.
Handle:
The most comfortable of all tampers I’ve used. The length and the shape of the handle allowed me to place my ring and pinky finger on top comfortably while providing a secured grip with my middle finger around the neck. The curvature/thickness at the base of the handle allowed me to spread my fore-finger and thumb comfortably. The brushed stainless finish was hard and proves sanitary, though I could see the nice surface being scratched/dinged up from use.
Base:
While the fillet at the neck fits the fingers comfortably, there is no overall slope to the base. This forced you to place your forefinger and thumb at the center of the base instead of spreading out across the entire diameter. This makes leveling a bit more difficult and feels wobbly. The base is also a bit thin which makes it difficult to use with our dosing method. It could work with over doses though.
Bottom Line:
Beautiful metal sculpture for triple ristretto style café.


EPNW Lava Import
EPNW Lava Import
handle: machine milled aluminum
handle width: 1 3/4"
base: stainless steel
weight: 3 1/4"
height: 9 oz

First Impression:
My current tamper is a Lava deluxe, and this tamper looks and feels like a bad rip-off version of it.
Handle:
The handle is too short for me to get a good grip. It also feels very cheap due to the weight and finish.
Base:
This is a bad joke, right? The thing is metal but hollow, and has no substantial weight at all. It felt like a real (cheap) toy.
Bottom Line:
A cheap taste of real tamper for first time home user.


La Forza
La Forza
handle: handpainted glazed ceramic handle
width: 2"
base: stainless steel
weight: 14 5/8oz
height: 3 1/2"

First Impression:
Is this for real use?!
Handle:
The ceramic handle is not centered and already has chips when it arrived. The head is way too big and bulbous. I cannot get a good grip on it. I am not sure I will use this as a tool.
Base:
Standard EPNW base.
Bottom Line:
Pretty decorative tamper for occasional uses.


EPNW Lava Deluxe
EPNW Lava Deluxe
handle: machine milled aluminum handle
width: 1 3/4"
base: stainless steel
weight: 14 1/2oz
height: 3 1/4"

First Impression:
This is my current tamper. I previously bought it because it was not wood and orange…
Handle:
A little too short for me to get a good grip. The aluminum top damages easily and after 1+ year of home use, it already looks quite abused.
Base:
Standard EPNW base.
Bottom Line:
Solid, affordable tamper for smaller hands.


EPNW Pro
EPNW Pro
handle: machined milled aluminum handle
width: 1 1/2"
base: stainless steel
weight: 1lb 3 1/4oz
height: 3 3/8"

First Impression:
Classic café tamper.
Handle:
Good shape for a flashlight style grip. I found the top to be a bit small to be totally comfortable with it but Jaime loves it. The very top is inlayed with delrin so tapping won’t damage the metal finish.
Base:
Good taper and height that lends to easy leveling when using volumetric dosing.
Bottom Line:
No-nonsense and durable utilitarian work horse for café.


Pullman
Pullman
handle: oiled, resin impregnated hardwood handle
width: 2"
base: stainless steel with TrueTamp guide rings
overall weight: 15 oz
overall height: 3 5/8"

First Impression:
The fit and finish showed high level of worksmanship. The sharp edges of the handle and the base made it look a bit uncomfortable.
Handle:
The sharp transition from the head to the neck looked very uncomfortable at first but is actually quite comfortable in use. The shape provides a very secured feeling from the grip. The hardwood has no clear coat finish and will absorb a lot of (bad) odors from use. It smelled really bad from previous users when we first open the box.
Base:
The taper at the sides is a bit short but big enough to allow a nice spread of the index finger and thumb for a stable, level tamp. The base is a bit thicker than other tampers but the machined indicator lines around the perimeter provide good feedback on the level and dose.
Bottom Line:
Comfortable and solid tamper for home use.


Reg Barber Radical Pro
Reg Barber Radical Pro
handle: African Rosewood handle
width: 1 1/8"
base: stainless steel
weight: 11 oz
height: 4 3/8"

First Impression:
Radical look for sure. The handle is a lot smaller than it appeared to be in the photo.
Handle:
The shape and length of the handle forces you to apply all your forces thru your thumb and index finger. While it forces you to use a straight wrist (or it will hurt you dearly), you can be too far forward with your tamp easily. Judson really loved this shape while the rest of us hated it (it physically hurt me). While the wooden handle is finished with a clear coat, it already showed discoloration from the road show. This is definitely a long term durability concern.
Base:
Similar taper and thickness as the EPNW one, but with a better metal finish.
Bottom Line:
Unconventionally shaped tamper for someone special.


Reg Barger HB logo'd
Reg Barger HB logo'd
handle: Tall - African Rosewood handle
width: 1 13/16"
base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
weight: 12 1/4oz
height: 3 1/2"

First Impression:
The reg that most ppl seemed to love.
Handle:
The shape is an update to the classic café tamper shape. It provides a comfortable and secured grip. I personally would like it to be a little bit taller though. Being made of wood, it really is not so suitable to be used in a busy café environment due to durability and sanitary issues.
Base:
Similar taper and thickness as the EPNW one but with better finish.
Bottom Line:
The quintessential home barista tamper.


Cafe Kultur TORR Classic
Cafe Kultur TORR Classic
handle: African Blackwood, handpolished, glossy finish handle
width: 1 13/16"
base: stainless steel, matt finish
weight: 13 3/4oz
height: 3 3/4"

First Impression:
The fit and finish of the TORR is first class. I especially appreciate the fillet edge of the base.
Handle:
The large handle would be almost comfortable had it not been so tall. The bulbous head to neck transition does not provide as secured grip as others. The smooth finish of the wood feels very nice but most likely will not stand up to the abuse of heavy use.
Base:
The flat base forces you to press at the center of the handle which made leveling difficult and uncomfortable. The inward taper of the perimeter is perplexing because it actually looks off-level when it is actually fine.
Bottom Line:
Home use tamper with a unique base for large hands.


Thor
Thor
handle: polished wood handle
width: 2"
base: polished wood - Lignum Vitae or Blackwood
weight: 12 3/4oz
height: 3 11/16"

First Impression:
Who stole my pepper grinder?!
Handle:
I don’t know how to grip or level with this thing.
Base:
Um… it’s flat?
Bottom Line:
Why spend so much time and energy to create so much nothingness?


EPNW Clicker
EPNW Clicker
handle: black rubber handle width: 1 3/4"
base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
weight: 1lb 2 3/4oz
height: 4 3/8"

First Impression:
This is supposed to be a training tool for beginners.
Handle:
Quite comfortable gripe actually, but you cannot level with this thing due to the double decker design. Very difficult to balance so I am not sure how good of a learning tool it is (you are not learning the proper way to level the tamp). The click is something else…
Base:
Does not really matter as you cannot see or touch it when tamping.
Bottom Line:
A proper tamper and a scale might be a better training tool…

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tea and coffee: Can I afford the great ones?



high grade oolong tea
Photo of very expensive tea by Ben Kaminsky


We typically don't drink good tea in North America. I know Americans don't drink very much good coffee either. The real question is do we have access to good examples of both?

If you want good coffee there are literally a handful of roasters in the US and then it becomes a roast preference to get those coffees roasted the way you like them. You will probably have to pay more for a freshly roasted coffee, spend more on the equipment to brew it, and put some energy into brewing it correctly, but you could find it and it would be affordable to most consumers. The most expensive coffees coming out of the Cup Of Excellence still break down to affordable per cup prices if you brew them at home. A pound of coffee produces a lot of cups making even a $20/lb bag steep but still affordable as a once in a while treat. Even as these microlots creep higher in price, we are still able to access them if we want to pay the price.



pulling an espresso
Pulling a double espresso for a milk drink(don't tell)


The problem with tea is it's a largely inaccessible market. Sure, we can all buy commodity grade tea bags or even pay a lot for a famous named tea, but those aren't the truly great ones. The great teas of Taiwan and mainland China don't make it to the American market. The price paid for them there is so high due to demand, we have little ability to buy them. What we do get is often stale or poorly processed remainders. Even if we had access, the top teas sell for such exorbitant prices, we would never even get a sniff! A competition grade tea in Taiwan of 300g recently sold for $15000. (yes, that's 15k) And to think we still complain about a $12/lb bag of decent coffee.



high grade oolong tea
Photo of Oolong Tea by Ben Kaminsky


Right now, we can afford the great coffees coming out. Of course, all of this has little to do with your free refill diner coffee or that phony Starbucks black apron offering, but that Brazil for $50 a pound doesn't sound as unreasonable now. The truth though, is that good teas are much rarer than we like to admit. You can get great herbal teas but you get largely poor grade broken leaf teas for everything else.

Unless you've got a connection in Taiwan or China, it's going to be hard to get that mind blowing Oolong or high grade tea. Want a good coffee, browse the CoE buyers. Until someone truly taps the foreign markets for fresh picked high grade whole leaf teas, a lot for us will have to be content with cupping these CoE coffees. It's rough being a mouthwatering cupper.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Coffee: Strong and dark is better?

One of the most common complaints I hear is the Barista's lament 'The customer only wants a really large, dark, and bitter cup of coffee they can pour large amounts of cream n' sugar into. Why should I bother?'


The roots of our coffee heritage are strongly rooted in Starbucks and the dark roast mindset. Darker is better. It's more premium. If it's not dark, it's not specialty. Roast it so dark some of the beans explode, that way there's less to grind up! It's not about the coffee, it's about what's added to it that makes it special. That's the state of specialty coffee for most of North America and a lot of marketing money has been spent to make that case.

We've been suckered.






A Northern Italian style roast for espresso.



In Northern Italy (and the Scandanavian countries) they source better grade beans and roast much lighter than we generaly do. (There are a handful of exceptions tho) They historicaly have wealth in Northern Italy and therefore the customers can pay more for better quality. In the South, the roasts are darker because they were economicaly forced to use poorer quality beans and needed to roast over the defects. Hence the Northern Italian(very light) and South Italian(darker) roasts in espresso. The poorer areas roasted the coffee darker because they had to.

Espresso is a brewing method and not a roast or certain coffee.

Early American espresso seems to have adopted the South Italian style simply because of immigrants from Southern Italy and what appeared to be the complete lack of access to good coffees for espresso. Rumor is that certain countries bought all the good coffee while we were still serving cheap coffees with unlimited refills.

What about French roast you say, the French are wealthy and have a culinary focus...

French roast is a very dark roast for a simple reason. Historicaly, the French were colonialists. They only bought coffee from their own colonies, which was a problem because the coffee producing colonies were all low altitude areas that produced very poor grade coffees. They roasted dark and covered all the faults in the beans. All they had to do to compensate for the campfire roast flavor was add a lot of scalded milk and some sugar, and you have your Café au lait!

If you look at the China/Taiwan/Japan tea culture and how black tea came about, they don't drink these black teas. The tea they shipped over to Europe was roasty to preserve them for transport and sold to the Europeans who compensated and doused tea with cream and sugar. The Chinese and Taiwanese focused on holding the best teas for themselves and continue to do so. This is the reason many of us may never have a great green tea.


There are parallels in wine/grappa as well but it might be too much for one article.


It's easy to argue about, but the point is that a rare few of us have had high grade light roasts. Most of us have sampled the grassy under roasted poor grade coffees of companies like Dunkin or the overroasted coffees dressed in nicer bags and must begin to realize, the bean plays as much a part as the roast. Darker, yes, when you have a bad coffee or want a lot of milk and sugar. When it is exceptional coffee, you can and probably should go lighter. Let the coffee speak and enjoy it for what it is and where it came from. There are changes thanks to CoE but it's a long slow process.

Dark roasts have their place but they are about what the roaster has done and not about the unique flavors of a great coffees.


Anybody know what these are?

Aussie Double Roasts

The Mythical Third Crack

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chris Owens headed south...

Chris Owens of Gimme coffee fame will be headed down to Atlanta for the next year. More details on his site. We wish him the best but hope he can make the North East regional& MAR barista competitions.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's the deal with Injerto?

We at Barismo are trying to wrap our heads around the sales of this CoE winner and one of the ten most expensive coffees in the world...
The premium lot of Guatemala Finca El Injerto, Bourbon Reserva (Cup of Excellence #1 lot) that went for $25.10/lb at the CoE guatemala auctions is creeping out for sale. Forbes predicted it would reach $50/lb or more retail.

Let's do the numbers...
Sweet marias is turning over the green for sale unroasted at $29.90/lb

Stumptown is selling it roasted at $36.25/lb

Terroir is selling it at $49.95/12oz


*Note: Terroir is holding limited roasts only on holidays and will offer the lot as a vintage in the next few years. Achievable only because of George's green freezing system...
No updates from Robert Thoreson at Kaffa or 49th parallel on what they may charge for the same lot.

Is Stumptown underpricing? Are they making money on this once shipping and all costs are included? Would you as a home roaster take the risk at burning a few roasts to get it right? Is Terroir overpricing or creating demand by restricting supply? Long after the last lot of Injerto is sold elsewhere, Terroir wll still be selling it for special release...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Coffee Blog roll sound off...

- NORTH AMERICA -

A quick run down of the coffee blogs I read these days. There are many more out there that are great and amazing, but these are the people I follow enough or know well enough to discuss them on site.

  • Jason Haeger

  • The coffee fanatic. Jason lives in Buddy Holly country down in Lubbock Texas and is available for barista training if anybody in the area needs it. When Jason updates, there are often some good soul searching tidbits about what it's like to be a barista who really cares in a culture that doesn't... yet!

  • Chris Owens & Mike White

  • Chris Owens and Mike White of Gimme Coffee in Brooklyn, NY. I know Chris fairly well and have huge anticipation for what he will do in the future. He gets it in a way few people do. No suprise, since he was trained by former World Barista Champ Tim Wendelboe and what more can I say. His recent trip to the Nordic Barista cup is a good read(and the photos are primo too!).

    - Part One

    - Part Two

  • Matt Brinski

  • The 'Mile High' home user in Colorado. Brinsky has gone through the same evoloution as Jason, Chris, and our Barismo kids of finding out what all this 'flavor concept' stuff is. Origin flavors, finding the right volume and temp for each bean... Brinsky did it all alone with only Tacy's archive to work from and what he got from analytical observation and forum discussions.

    When Brinksy does update, it's interesting.

  • Aaron Blanco

  • Aaron Blanco of Brown coffee company is roasting out of San Antonio, Texas. Aaron has a lot to say and has this intriguing idea of an all coffee bar. Using a clover brewer and all high end drip methods to give many beautiful coffees a stage. Coffee like wine in a way.


    - the beautiful view

    - a glimpse of the past. a picture of the future of coffee.


  • Steve Ford

  • Steve Ford, formerly of Blue Bottle in SF is now working with Andrew Barnett at Ecco. While this is Steve's blog, his real blog is the FlickR one. Steve is an avid photo hobbyist who takes a photo of every morning's cup of coffee. While the photos are cool, the commentary and introspection is better.

  • http://www.aldocoffee.com/event_calendar/index.html

  • Rich is the part owner of Aldo coffee in Mt. Lebanon, PA. You'll need to search throught the site to figure out what aldo means! Rich is a frequent updater who blogs about everything from the cafe floor to non coffee stuffs. Good reads and often a good chuckle or two in there if you read between the lines...

  • Daryn Berlin

  • Daryn Berlin is the account rep for Counter Culture Coffee in NC... The blog is more of a watching Daryn's coffee tree grow. How it got so big, I don't know... but it's worth the look.

  • Dwelltime


  • I was a big reader of Dwelltime back in the day when Nick Brown was manning the keyboard. These days this Vancouver BC blog is fairing just fine post NB. Hopefully Nick will spring some new coffee blogs in his Toronto location if he can find an outlet...



    Other notables:

    Chris Tacy - Now limited to Archives, an interesting read to follow if you have the time to read it from the beginning. BenC plans a best of Tacy at some point for Barismo.

    Tonx Tony is a flickr junkie like Steve so keep an eye on the photos. The blog is largely archival right now but seems to have some recent life again as Tony gets closer to his new project.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Espresso: Dosing video

    A quick short film about dosing(The Schyndel Move?). No theme song or dance yet, but the video is done. Dedicated to Rich(for coining the phrase) and BenC(for forcing me to do the video).




    I didn't count on the Youtube logo so I will fix that later.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Why the North American cafe culture is a negative on coffee quality



    We pull up to a table at the nearest cafe and nestle ourselves in with a 20oz to go cup of coffee flavored milk and sit. Content to settle in for a few hours of work. Comfortable watching all the others in the cafe sitting on their laptops, headphones on, happily typing away on study projects and work assignments. We just want a cheap tea or coffee that will justify our sitting in the cafe for hours on end, taking up space that the owner would surely love to have for other paying customers.


    We should be ashamed of ourselves that this is what our cafe culture has come to. Isolated individuals who no longer converse and talk. Too easily irritated by the commotion around us. Impatient with the people behind the counter and complaining about the lack of ambiance. We miss out on great coffee experiences because the perception of cafe owners is that they will be over run with students or laptops so why pay more for good coffee? Why invest in training good barista? Why work on making the coffee prep consistent? Why buy the good equipment when the consumer will only douse their coffee with milk and sugar? They cynically believe consumers are a bunch of people who will come in and choose the cheapest menu item and pull up taking table space for as long as their conscience will allow. Many shop owners believe customers won't pay a nickel more for bettter coffee and they may be right in many cases.


    The sword cuts both ways when we complain about the coffee or tea, realize that we, as the consumer share a fault in this. As long as we settle for less, we should expect only the minimum. The majority of us will miss out on great coffees coming out of the Cup of Excellence program. We will miss out on great barista who can pour and know tastes like a sommolier.


    When it comes down to changing this, consumers need to see these tiny developing sections of coffee no longer as a commodity but as a true specialty that has nothing to do with syrups or chemical flavorings. These are the micro-lots of coffee that have distinct floral and naturally sweet flavors which need to be recognized as unique by themselves. Each region and microlot being distinct and unique in taste from the next.


    When you demand to know the name of the farmer and the specific farm it comes from as well as it's growing climate and then begin to educate ourselves about what this means, we can begin to challenge things. We can demand the division of more auction lots of coffees into smaller lots too small for large commercial chain roasters but just right for artisan roasters who can focus on perfection of roast. We can get past burnt bitter over roasted coffees and defect laden under roasted grassy coffees to perfectly roasted ripe defect free coffees. We can learn to accept these disctinct coffees as quality experiences of flavor and not something based on volume or quantity. We can stop trying to get the most volume for the cheapest price and focus on the best tasting drink where caffeine is an afterthought. When we demand fresh ground, fresh brewed, AND fresh roasted(with dates), then we will see things begin to change.


    When consumers and shop owners head in the direction that the Cup of Excellence is going, then the debate over what is good coffee will change from what goes good with milk to what flavors are inherent in a Grand Cru Kenya or is the Brazil CoE really worth $50/lb? That's a beautiful thought.


    -Jaime

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Espresso: Puckology





    Interesting coffeed discussion.



    Even though I agree with bits and pieces of what everybody posted (in the thread), I think Tim Wendelboe pretty much summed up my opinions on this matter. I believe there is more than meets the eye when you examine a spent puck. A soggy puck does not necesary equate to bad extraction, and in fact, sometimes what appeared to be pinholes are actually not a result of channeling. You have to spent a little time playing with different combinations of setups before you can really see what the puck is telling you.





    Here's my take:





    I believe how wet or dry the spent puck is largely a factor of the head space (result of the combination of group head design, basket size/depth, and dose volume) and how the 3 way valve is plumbed.





    When there is little or no head space, the puck's expansion during depressurization is restricted, which results in a nice firm puck. With the type of coffee, flavor profile, and shot pulling style of most US shops, you will see mostly firm spent pucks. In this case, pinholes and fractures will definately tell you that something is wrong with the dose/distribution/extraction (though side channeling and intra-puck channels are much harder to detect...).





    On the other hand, if the total expansion is less than or equal to the head space, then the spent puck will most likely to be spongy and sometimes, soggy wet. This is due to the puck's free expansion. Now, how the puck looks like (especially the top surface layer) is another story. My theory is that, it depends on how the 3-way is setup, you will either get a nicely shaped spongy puck or an ugly roughed-up mess.





    With the coffees I use (light-roast, high acidity/intensity beans), I found that I get a better flavor profile if I don't up-dose and keep a nice head space. On the Linea/GB5/Synesso, this results in shapely but spongy spent pucks (with the GB5 having the best looking of 3). On the other hand, on my Rituale, the spent puck mostly looks like a ugly mess. The top layer are often very disrupted with "hills" pulled up by the depressurization (and subsequently stuck onto and broken by the group screen). Sometimes, you even see craters which, w/out careful examination, could be interpreted as pinholes. The ugly puck issue troubled me for quite sometime. It continued to puzzle me as I have checked with a naked PF numerous times and there were absolutely no channeling or other extraction issues (and the shots tasted perfectly fine). I recently had Jaime double check me and was reaffirmed that the ugly pucks are not indications of dosing/distribution problems.





    My conclusion is that, due to the setup of the 3-way in my Rituale, the depressurization at the end of extraction is much more violent than the LM/Synesso setup. As a result, instead of letting the puck expand (relatively) gently, the puck (especially the top layer) was ripped up which caused all the roughness of the top surface layer. However, this has no effect on the shot as the phenomenon occured after the end of the extraction. So just like what Wendelboe said:





    "But really, If the taste is excellent, what does it matter ?"




    - Ben






    ps. food for thought (tossing a bone here, dear readers): I know it prob adds to the complexity of the mechanical design, but why don't we see a group head design that has a separate path for depressurization (or maybe it already exists and I am just not aware of it but will be interested in knowing...). This way, all the residue will be (mostly) contained in the depressurization path, leaving the brew path relatively clean. Sure, you still have to clean it to prevent any sort of clogging, but I imagine this setup will produce a better cup in a busy cafe environment (where you do not have to luxury to detergent-flush the group often).

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Tea: Judging Leaf Appearance


    Photos by Ben Kaminsky


    Left: a photo of a single unfurled leaf. Right: A quarter next to a rolled/unbrewed tea pearl with a brewed unfurled intact leaf/stem underneath.

    Leaf appearance is a critical observation when judging the quality of a tea. Just like green coffee to a certain extent, you can judge the quality and the degree of precision in processing just by looking at the leaf. In China and Taiwan, the teas are sometimes named after their dried leaf appearance. In many cases, the leaf appearance cannot tell you exactly what kind of flavor it has, but it can certainly tell you all about the processing, and from knowledge of the processing you should be able to tell where the flavor is coming from. According to the Tea Research and Extension station in Yangmei Taiwan, “As a matter of fact, it is a good quality tea, as long as it looks good.” The idea behind this theory is that the people who are judging the tea train themselves to detect flaws in appearance that parallel those in taste.
    When judging a tea by leaf appearance, one must look for several things. In the dry leaf, consistency, degree of oxidation, and roast or firing is evident. Also the skill with which the tea was handled and sorted is evident by the shape and consistency in size. The post steeped leaf can tell you how consistant the grading was and reveal flaws in the oxidation.

    For example, things I look for in a Semi-ball type Poachong tea (the tea in the photo) are consistency in size, shape and color. The color tells you how heavy the oxidation and roast are. Size and shape tell you how well sorted the tea was, and also how the leaves were manipulated in the processing. In the wet leaf(after it is steeped), I look for evenness of oxidation, color, and how intact the leaf structure remains. A good semi-ball paochong should have very few broken particles when brewed and for the most part, the leaves should stay intact through the duration of the steepings. If the oolong leaf shows too much brown, this is a sign of too much oxidation and is contributing to the bitterness and astringency of the tea.
    Judging what a tea should look like is different with each tea, and should be judged according to what the tea manufacturer was trying to get. In the end, cupping a tea's taste is the deciding factor, but leaf appearance helps explain how and why the tea tastes a certain way.



    -Silas


    Also see:

    Tea: Processing

    Cupping high grade taiwanese teas

    Say it ain't so~ (Intelligentsia)

    Was browsing thru my latest Crate and Barrel catalog and found this:

    "Well Street Blend"


    How could Intelligentsia insure any sort of freshness/quality control of these products? Or are we seeing the beginning of "Starbucks-fication"?

    - Ben