company - education - coffee

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tachometer for Huky300

Bicycle tachometer modified to fit and measure drum rotation rpm. This is done in anticipation of future motor replacement (of a higher rpm unit) and addition of variable speed control. Goal is to have drum rotation as part of the profiling, in additional to gas and air settings.

I replaced the stock 20vdc adaptor with a 24vdc unit, which "restores" the stock motor to it's default speed. The "as-purchased" configuration down-rated the motor (reason unknown). Drum rotation increased from 44rpm to 52rpm.

Trial runs already showed differences in the profile. At first glance, roasts seemed to be much more even at the higher drum speed. How it affect the cup will be determined in the coming weeks...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Iced Tea

If you get iced tea in this area, you get something quite often resembling Lapsang Souchong(aka campfire tea). This is a byproduct of Mark at MEM dominating the majority of the market in Boston and his chosen 'iced tea blend' has been a slightly smoky black tea in it.

I hate it.

No disrespect to Mark's palate but it's horrible. When you get Iced Tea, you get unsweetened plain cold black tea, that's pretty much the New England way and that smoke note is painful. When you go South, at a certain point, you start getting an option. Sweet Tea.

Now, it's not bad when done with care and made fresh but I grew up with my mother constantly making note of the simple fact it's sweetened tea, not sweet tea. She was a teacher, go figure. I had long since broken my habit of putting sugar in beverages but I got a chuckle from this page on 'Sweet Tea'and the Sweet Tea Line.

Someone had the gall and sense to do a paper on iced tea and used it to define the Mason-Dixon line. What it means is that you are in the South when you reach the point that 'sweet tea' is being offered.

It doesn't mention anything about the Great Lakes region and the most disgusting raspberry iced tea phenomenon there but that would be a good followup.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Espresso: Time vs Volume

I wanted to discuss prefinsuion but I think a stepping stone in working up to that topic is to address time vs volume and one methodology I use in evaluating espresso.

I have made a lot of empirical observations in espresso, troublesome finicky espresso at that, which have led me to value timing over volume. If I had not been using such an 'all or nothing' espresso, I might have a different perspective so don't take this as gospel but rather a set of observations to be tested on your own.

When dialing in an espresso, I often would establish a dose, volume, and time, sometimes new temp for the blend. In essence, I would set all the variables down to timing and leave volume as the last variable which I would control by adjusting the grind. This means, the timing of the shot would be set. This somewhat contradicts a lot of people out there so let me explain.

I noticed shots at the 'ideal volume' and and 'ideal time', let's say 28 seconds, were good. If at the same volume but plus or minus 3 seconds, the shot quality deteriorated immensely.

Conversely, shots that hit that 28 second extraction time but had a plus or minus of .25 ounce change in volume from the 'ideal volume' were actually quite drinkable. In fact, they were either a bit more intense or a bit thin but not as bad as the time variance shots.

Why volume is a tricky subject!

I surmised timing plays a very important role on extraction and was therefore more important as a perceived constant than volume. The problem is that most semi autos don't let you adjust the volume unless you go through a lot of trouble. This means that anyone using the semi autos would have a hard time adjusting for roast aging or variances in the cup while keeping the shot timing as a constant. They would have to rely on the flow meter or go for free pour thereby eliminating the need for a flow meter.

It occurs to us that a volumetric setup is indeed a problem on a machine. It is often the source of temperature fluctuations and is a relic of the super auto focus.

Why not put delay timers on machines that counted down from a certain time and killed the shot leaving you to adjust the volume as your only variable, constantly tweaking it towards your 'ideal volume'?

I propose for a volume cafe, everything on the machine should be set and programmed leaving your one external variable, the grind, to be tweaked.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

About a scone

originally uploaded by yehwan.

Scones are something I wasn't really aware of until I moved to Cambridge. Not a big thing in the South, I guess. Finding a great scone though seems to be a harder thing than most give credit. Finding quality baked goods or pastries in a top cafe in general seems to be a difficult proposition. Most of the high end or famous (on the Internet) cafes I have visited carry pretty blase or pitiful food accompaniments to the coffees offered. It's a shame and I would go to great length to have good scones and great coffees in the same shop. Why not?

When I first started working at Simon's, long ago, I was introduced to scones. A lot of scones in fact, but they were like dense bricks whose only saving grace was a slathering of sugary icing on top or heavy amounts of chocolate to sweeten the tasteless lump. Carberries scones, which though once very popular, lacked redeeming character and were not something any of us behind the counter wanted to eat. Those scones were however the most commonly served in town since Icelandic(I think) investors came in and turned Carberries into a factory type deal. Baked at night and delivered in the morning, they were already tasting day old by that point.

I decided to make it a priority as soon as I could get enough influence. Once I convinced Simon to audition new pastries, the problem began to be simply who? There were options but not a lot of good options out there.

Petsie Pies is a wonderful bakery about a 10 minute walk from Simon's. Baked goods only, scones and fruit pies that have a home style feel and great texture to them. So, I found the owner, Renee and struck up a proposition. Renee is a smiling boisterous person with a great demeanor and a charm that brightens a room. We wanted those scones. We decided to bake them from the dough and we would even come pick them up if we had to. All they had to do was mix it and have it ready. After some discussion, Renee relented and promised to work something out.

Weeks passed and no call, nothing. We were jilted but the scones were good, so I made another trip over. Renee apologized and we discussed more options ending with a promise that we would get scones.

A month passed and no call, nothing. I was annoyed but the scones were good, so I made another trip over. Renee again apologized and we opened discussions again to get those scones.

Time passed and no call, nothing. I did not wait this time before going back again to check with Simon in tow. We all agreed the scones were good but we needed to commit one way or another if this was going to be a reliable situation. Mind you those scones were good.

The summer was ending and much time passed with no scones, no call, no nothing. I made one more trip, because.... those scones were good. One last trip, I told myself and that would be the end of it. I caught Renee for a chat where I professed my situation and commitment to get something done having spent so much time on this venture. If there was a better choice, I would have been there but this was worth the effort I kept telling myself. Renee professed she wanted to do this. She convinced us this time she was serious. I told her one day I would stop coming to which she replied, one day I would stop coming and she would have missed this chance. Famous last words, I thought.

To my surprise, a few days later she dropped by Simon's for a drink. Not too long afterwards, we finally had those scones. For months, we had these great scones, scones I wanted to eat, scones I would push customers to try. Then one weekend, no more scones.

Turns out Gus 'Stick to Ice Cream' Rancatore (Toscanini's) put in a very large order with Renee for scones. Now Gus already had a binding deal with one of his partners to only use their scones so this came out of left field to us. Evidently, Renee couldn't handle the order and dropped selling us all scones as a result. There would be no follow up trip for me, I was done on this journey for a better scone.

If you drop by one of the locations for Petsie Pies and see Renee, say hello and pass along this story for me. Good scones are hard to find, maybe a bit too hard to keep. Most people will never understand how hard it is to accomplish little feats in quality much less great steps. How easy it is to give up but those who are not content can achieve great things, if only for a moment in time.

Guatemala CoE: Lot#: 8 Martinez Pineda, Edwin - Vista Hermosa

Our friends at Finca Vista Hermosa scored an 8th place finish at this years Cup of Excellence auction netting $8.05/lb for green coffee. A big congratulations goes out to them and hopes for continued success going forward.

I just called Eddie to congratulate him and look forward to how they will advance after this big step in justifying their green quality. I was lucky enough to visit the Martinez family during this years harvest as part of the barista origin trip.

The watchful eye of Carlos
Photo by Gabe Rodriguez

Rumor has it, a gutsy Barista will take some FVH to the competitions. We commend this brave soul as long as a bag gets sent our way to taste!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Brian Quinn on the ristretto

"I think ristrettos can be very limiting, and in many instances, are often compensating for poor green quality. Or, put differently, ristrettos often compensate for darker roasts, which are often compensating for poor green quality.

A traditional double - by traditional, I mean ~1.75 ounces of liquid pulled in ~25 seconds - pulled from high quality, lightly roasted beans can offer incredible nuances that make ristrettos taste dull and flat in comparison. You can get higher-toned flavors and aromas of citrus, berries, and flowers that are just crushed by the overwhelming mid-tone flavors in ristretto pulls. You appreciate the sense of balance and range in the coffee as well - those higher notes playing against the more "typical" flavors of chocolate, nuts, and tobaccos in the coffee.

I made a point about green quality, because ristrettos can also smooth out defects or detracting notes in a coffee. You can take a funky, fermented Yirg or an overwhelmingly earthy Sumatran, and knock down those flavors by roasting dark. You can also knock them down by overdosing the basket and tightening the grind. That high note of wild strawberry funk, and that deep note of wood and earth get knocked down - because, in my opinion and experience, the ristretto pull tends to underextract the higher and lower notes in a coffee.

And some coffees, in my opinion - even high quality coffees - taste terrible when pulled as a ristretto. Terroir's Southern Italian (yes, I mean the darker roast) tastes like ash when I push the dose into the 18-21g range. At 16g, you get a nice mellow cup with some great flavors of pecans and hazlenuts, with some chocolate and citrus on the edges. And in no way does that cup lack in flavor or intensity. It's just different.

I'd also say that in my experience, darker roasts and tighter pulls are actually easier to do at home than the more traditional double. Paradoxically, I find ristrettos FAR more tolerant of distribution issues than lighter doses and lighter roasts.

When I first got into higher quality espresso, I used to really like ristrettos. Lately, I find them to be pretty boring. I don't know if you're into wine at all, but for me, ristrettos remind of the whole California cab craze 10-15 years ago. You had these wines coming out with incredible body and extraction - thick, inky, tongue-coating wines. And some of those wines were great, but many were really relying on extraction to make up for lackluster / boring fruit flavors. They turned my head at the time because of the mouthfeel, but as time went by, I started to really appreciate the incredible finesse and clarity that a great Bordeaux or Burgundian wine offers, or a top quality California Pinot Noir. The latter three wines, for me, are the best analogy for what a great traditional double offers.

So, no, I don't think ristrettos should be the default pour at all."
Brian on

Summertime in Cambridge

I think summer may actually be here in Cambridge. It's a good time for reflecting and refocusing. All the students leave and the streets are a bit quiet as only the real residents of the area remain. Kaminsky left for the summer after giving notice at Simon's. Since I quit a long time ago and Kaminsky left also, I would ask not so politely for people to just get off my back about what's being served there! Good or bad, ask Simon or better yet the roaster. While I still go in occasionally, I have very little to do with what is being served, good or bad. I can make suggestions because Simon is a friend and my door is always open if he needs help but that's as far as it goes.

That out of the way, Ben and I have been meticulously plodding along chasing a goal not unlike someone else down south. We have to start from zero though, not just worry about two favored taste descriptors pairing well. Simply getting an ideal interpretation through a lot of experimenting and painful cupping sessions is a hard track but you learn a lot. The truth is that we as a coffee community don't often question the 'experts' and we really should. There's too much hero worship and acceptance that because someone made three thousand posts on a forum, they must be an expert. Try everything, test everything, and draw your own conlcusions. That aside, there is some interesting stuff going on we may never talk about on the blog hence why we are quiet these days.

A byproduct of that is that I really don't drink coffee right now and unless someone says something questionable, I wouldn't bother with the forums. Even when we hit on something really good, I taste it on the cupping table, enjoy it and then go home and de-coffee. I guess I am learning to disconnect more when not 'working' and that will be a good thing going forward as I hope to dig in soon for the long haul in coffee.

As I begin pondering a serious move into coffee, sometimes I sit back and I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed at Simons? What if I had not gone to Guatemala and made the friends I made? What if Chris didn't share the shots of Crescendo? What if I didn't guest Ecco and meet Andrew Barnett? What if Ben and I hadn't paired up more than a year ago at the Saturday Afternoonn Coffee Club? What if I decided not to walk down and check out his home setup? There are dozens of what if in our advancement in coffee. Chance meetings and luck have moved me in many directions and I feel lucky about that. As far as I've come, the hardest parts are still in front of us. Cheers to that!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The beauty of the 'Double Roast'

A double roast is not something I would recommend for any good coffee. It's a roast where a normal profile is begun but as the coffee coffee progresses in drying to a point where it begins to gray, you dump it and cool the coffee. You then warm the roaster up to a much higher temp and drop the now cooled green back in and attempt to continue the roast. The resulting cup will be a polished, very low acid and extremely 'coffee' tasting coffee. It will have no fruit and little unique aroma, the roast flavors and the woody coffee notes will be all that remain of what is now an entirely generic coffee.

I guess I could understand this for someone roasting C-Grade who desired heavy body and low acidity. Then again you would wonder why someone like me would even be talking about this.

We were roasting today and were struggling getting efficient drying on what we believed to be a particularly good coffee. Knowing it was good made it more frustrating. At one point during a drop, a mistake in the flame setting caused the roast to begin to tail near the end of the drying phase. On the spot Ben decided to just dump it and cool it. He pulls out the old Japanese book on slow roasting and chronicles the 'delights' of the double roast. Having accomplished most of our goals for the afternoon, we decided to go for a double roast. A roast later, we had our double roast and a few new observations.

We pondered the exhaust and how the heating element was reacting with the barrel. Then it came back to the flue. Most roasters simply have an on or off while the Japanese and Taiwanese models have a variable control. Based on the discussions sparked by the double roast, we were able to ascertain we needed more efficient venting. Ten minutes of tinkering and we had a ghetto fabulous chimney fan combo increasing our drying efficiency. An ugly but entirely useful hack!

When you are in a pinch Mod.

Sometimes things we know are dead ends are worth pursuing simply for the experience.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Top three things Porter Sq. Cambridge doesn't need

1. Starbucks
2. The Gap
3. Abercrombie Fitch/American Eagle Outfitters

Not too long ago there were a series of billboards featuring scantily clad male models peering lustfully down on Porter Sq. We can thank the billboard owner but we could wonder why it was there at all? It was such an out of place advert for an area where people are more inclined to wear clogs, ride bicycles, and bemoan gentrification.

It wasn't too long before vandals (we call them performance artists) took to paint ballooning the billboards. It happened twice before the message was clear that the ads were not targeting the right audience.

More recently, a struggling and somewhat misplaced outlet of The Gap closed in the Porter Exchange. Down the street from little unique shops like Joie De Vivre and across from Paper Source, this was long since out of style. Considering all the unique boutiques and the prevailing attitude among many who live in the area, it just wasn't a good fit.

The thing worth noting is that with the open space provided by the Gap left searching for a nice strip mall, there are rumors that a Starbucks is moving on that location. Porter exchange needs a Starbucks like Harvard Sq. needs more banks.

It's not so much that Starbucks is doing anything wrong, it's that by simply moving in, they will be displacing several businesses in the exchange. The bubble tea kiosk is most assuredly gone and the Japonaise bakery kiosk is rumored to be leaving as well. The ice cream place in the back is rumored to leave and I can only assume the coffee kiosk downstairs is gone also. What worries me though is that the culture of Japanese restaurants there will begin to change or be uprooted by this shift. It is one of the things I enjoy most about the neighborhood there. The Udon and the Ramen shops, sushi at Kotubukiya or Blue Fin, curry at Cafe Mami, or simply a bowl of Bibim Bap at the Korean shop and snakcs at Kotubukiya Japanese Grocery. I just don't feel like we need more corporate brands so much as a need to preserve the cultural/community locations. That and there is a Starbucks on Beacon and in both directions on mass ave, making this the fourth in a ten minute walk of my house.

Mark this under rants rather than coffee.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Boston eXpresso


I have been thinking recently about how you don't see espresso that are meant to be enjoyed simply as espresso. A straight shot. Maybe a machiatto and maybe a traditional cappuccino.

You have a lot of either dark roasted or very earthy espresso that are designed to cut through milk leaving a less than desirable taste as a straight shot in most areas of the US.

Sure it's one of those things where business owners have to look at where the money is(big milk drinks), but I have always wondered about that. Seriously, the espresso out there is really quite wretched in most shops. Short of a complete revolution, how does that change?

I live in Cambridge and there are a handful of barista who can pour latte art at different shops. I can name on one hand the number of people who pull me consistently good shots, it's that small. Sure there is some latte art and fascination with the patterns, but truth is there are few really good shots to be had in this town.

This is where it gets weird though, at most every shop here in town you will get an espresso that brims over the top of the demitasse. It's not like these are small demis either, it's like trying to chug three and a half ounces of thin tasteless bilge water.

We call this the all too common Boston eXpresso.

Tosc's Expresso
I'm not sure this is an accident either. I typically hear:
A) It's to give you your money's worth by giving more volume(sure you get more volume but it tastes bad, so why bother) B) They think more volume will cut through the milk (a misconception as it simply doesn't) C) They were taught this by the roaster or were not trained at all by he roaster.

The part that bothers me it that it seems they are taught this way or are sold the coffee on some big up sell and then left to fend for themselves. It wouldn't be worth mention but there are some big time so called '3rd wave' roasters behind many of these local accounts that are paying top dollar to sell these coffees. Yet, I do not blame the cafes, I inclined to blame the roaster or companies who over hype their green quality, unrealistically romanticize the farmer, or simply talk about quality as if they are the absolute definition of the term. There are so many expectations that come with quality that I would think training should surely be one of them.

Then again, why pay for a great coffee if it falls flat on the cafe floor?

Really peaks your cynical nature doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BGofT and Wendelboe

Noteworthy read: Barista Guild of Taiwan forum interview with Tim Wendelboe Part one, two
...excerpt from the interview.
"The worst flavours for me would be if the espresso is stale and has a charcoal or burned flavour. I do not like over roasted espresso, nor too light so it tastes like lemon juice. I also dislike ferment, mustiness and all other defective flavours. I believe in a good balance between sweetness, bitterness and acidity and mouth feel. Sweetness is always the taste I try to enhance the most. But without bitterness the coffee is not interesting. I prefer many styles of espresso. Right now my blend has a strong aroma of almonds and marzipan. The taste of the espresso reminds me of dried fruits. The aftertaste is very long lasting, oily and has the flavour of bittersweet chocolate. I like fruity espresso and also chocolaty espresso, but taste is individual and there is no correct answer to what an espresso should taste like. If it pleases you and stands out from other espresso, then you have probably tasted a good one, right? - Tim"

Anyone has some espresso like what he's describing, get me a bag. Good to see the folks in Taiwan are taking an interest in Tim and others.