company - education - coffee

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Boston eXpresso can be suprising...

(insert your own caption please)

True Grounds, originally uploaded by browncoffeeco

More quirky photos available on Brown Coffee's Flickr of Mr. Blanco's food stuffed yet brief trip to Boston.

UPDATE: So the story behind this photo is when Mr. Blanco wanted to try a shot of Terroir's Northern, we headed over to True Grounds in Ball Square, Somerville. We go in and I decide to opt for a bottle of vitamin water with Hong trying to remove myself from any opinion on the coffee. Blanco has the gall to order a 'double ristretto' somewhat in jest and after some discussion is served a 2oz+ expresso. Silas then orders a regular double espresso and the guy gives him what at first looks like an americano but after a few sips, it's all eXpresso. I honestly don't know what happened, if there was confusion, or if that's the way they really serve the espresso there. I'd laugh but I felt bad about it.

It reminds me of when Someday Cafe in Davis was still open serving Northern, they used to ask 'Two shots or Four' when your ordered an espresso.

Miguel (he's peruvian, not mexican!) played dirty biker hand model so you can get a perspective for the sizes of both the large 3.5oz demitasse and the latte cup the other drink was served in.

Please feel free to leave your own version of what our commentary might have been...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Third wave, fourth wave, fifth wave...


This is Roosevelt. Rosie to some, Idgy to others. Roosevelt has a dirty mouth.

I wonder if most dogs can tell the difference between good food and bad or they just simply eat? I have definitely had some picky pets in the past who would turn a nose up at 'pet food' opting for what was on my plate instead so I'm inclined to think they could be discerning. Rosie is not of that ilk though.

Obviously, this post's not going to be about my mother's spaniel, it's about us as foodies and coffee aficionados. We eat so much processed food and so many items that are simply of questionable quality that I often wonder what is our food culture? Do we just simply put stuff in our mouth and say, well, it tastes good with little thought to quantifying that feeling... or is there something more to it.

What is good taste? How do we define quality?

It brings up the thought that what I believed was great only a year ago, I doubt would make my top list now. That is a statement about my evolution in coffee and the way our perspective has been shaped. It began with fresh roast and 'not burnt' then migrated to a myriad of qualifications including how it was processed and at what elevation it was grown. I really began to notice how much our group has changed in our perspective of coffee over the last year after our most recent cupping session. Sitting at a table with Silas and Judson while Ben manned the sample roaster gave me a renewed feeling of direction in coffee which immediately made me look back on how we got there.

Many people getting into coffee, who use the Internet, will start with a site like For a while, it's like an epiphany. Pull thick chocolate ristretto shots, take photos, repeat. Life was good. Then things quiet down and after a while those chocolate shots were becoming boring and a lot of people lose interest. Some people fade away and move on to other interests thinking they had mastered some angle of coffee at that point. Others moved forward and found and it could provide a more serious place where technical people converged and pontificated 'what if?' After time though, the mods and hacks came to an ending point where everything was PID'd including the toaster and there seemed to be little more to explore for the coffee enthusiast.

A peak, not the end of the road but to the limits of experience, knowledge, ability, access, or simply budget. For me, what I naively thought I mastered long ago still remains a mountain in front of me today because quite simply, as I learn more about coffee, I realize just how hard it becomes to learn each little bit more. This potential keeps me going. That next 5% looks like Everest in the distance but it's a mountain worth climbing. It's a harrowing thought to think that with all these fancy cafes popping up and pocket emptying bids for coffee, it only means that it doesn't get easier from here on out. The competition will get smarter and tougher as everyone tries to best 'the best.' it may be jaw dropping bids for coffees that may be hot names rather than good coffee or it may lead to a roaster's renaissance where roasters compete to get the most from every super expensive coffee. I dream of that roaster's renaissance someday because then there will be so many great cups out there to be had.

This reminds me how George Howell often pontificates that this industry is 'in it's infancy.' I wonder if he understands how deeply truthful that rings. We chest thump about the skilled barista, competitions, and artisan roasting while we simultaneously battle uphill to simply have a common language of what quality might potentially be. I have no criticisms to lay, only a simple question.

If this is the beginning, what's next?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Baked goods and pastry shops

Kaminsky was pointing me to check out the much lauded Flour Bakery. A quick bit of google research found it was handed many awards and publicity which probably justifed a closer look. We decided to visit the original location and see what they offered.

This morning, we headed over and got a selection of the menu and sampled it. The baked goods are above average but not necessarily the best in town. If Diesel in Davis was a bakery, it would be Flour. The flow is worse than Simon's(yes it's possible) and the dozen people flowing over top of each other behind the counter proved an uncomfortable scene to watch. I'm not inclined to recommend anything except the Raspberry spritzer there unless you live in the neighborhood and it's a convenient walk away. It's solid, but no better than True Grounds and not worth going across town for. Don't ask about the coffee or tea.

When I think of sandwiches, Darwin's or Hi-Rise. Baked goods and a decent macaroon, Hi-Rise again. Good pies and exceptional scones, Petsie Pies. And some of the no doubt best pastries around can be found at Truly Jorg's.

Strawberry tarts  @ Truly Jorg's
Original photo by *Reese

Truly Jorg's is one place I would get behind and say it's a great place to visit. The pastries are always amazing and in an affordable price range considering how good they are. The selection changes often but the quality and most importantly, the taste is always there. I found out about them in a tiny mention in one of the free papers. It had a photo and I was intrigued. A quick stop by and gorging myself on berry tarts and assorted sweets left an impression. I highly recommend a visit if you are in Boston. Don't waste time at tourist spots like Finale, check this place out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cupping Esmeralda

Coffee: La Hacienda Esmerelda 2007, gesha varietal
Roaster: Simon Hsieh, Taiwan
Sorted with a 30% rejection rate

Simon's labelgrounds aroma: Blueberry compote (fruity sugary - not rotten fruit ferment 'fake blueberry')

cup aroma: Distinctly floral, balanced, pleasant, sweet

hot cup profile: Distinct floral honeysuckle. Not the soapy perfume potpourri we expected. Reminiscent of chamomile. Clean and effervescent with a cream soda finish. Wonderful light berried fruits.
Very balanced character, drinks like an extremely high grade tea.

cool cup profile: Clean, clean, clean. Orange citrus. Sugary longan fruit.

So you are asking why I am posting cupping notes for this coffee after proclaiming no reviews? Largely to point out one thing, reviews are often bunk. Our cupping notes for coffees almost never are the same as other roaster's notes. While CoE notes have always proved valuable, it leaves us largely confused by cupping notes made by others on coffees like Esmeralda. The point is, it all depends on the roast and the cupper.

Remnants of a vac pot and a single very evenly light roasted beanI read reviews about Esmeralda being so potent and intense with people layering descriptions on it about how they could not drink it everyday. I don't think they are drinking the same roast as this to make those statements. It's so balanced and clean, it makes you wonder what the others are cupping. I could drink this everyday. Part of that is the excessive sorting and a larger part is the roast. Simon does a unique roast.

I think half of the feedback I have given Simon Hsieh on his coffees probably would make/has made many roasters upset or simply stop talking to me. The reason behind that in this specific case is Simon's approach lets you evaluate the beans for what they are. It really is whether I like the coffee and not about what the roaster did to it. There are no complaints, merely observations about character which at times can be simply, I don't like this coffee even though you did a spectacular roast. There is no baking, tipping, scorching, dulling, muting, or dozens of other adjectives I can use to describe the hundreds of ways a roaster can mess up a coffee's potential. The Esmeralda Simon roasted/sorted is amazing and I look forward to trying to repeat it with our green samples of the lady Esmeralda.

Cheers to Simon for this coffee and a big thanks to Eugene for shipping and gifting it to us (~$35 for 100g[3.5oz] which is two brews of 2 cup vac pot and two 5oz cupping).

Bellingham trip notes

Below is the article as submitted to Barista Mag with extra photos included.
Fellow Cambridge area barista's Judson McRae, Silas Moulton and I arrived in Bellingham, WA late Friday Night. We awoke early to grab a bite to eat and then began our coffee touring.
4/14/07 Saturday 10:53 am
The three of us headed down for shots of 'Spro as they call it at the Black Drop, a neighborhood coffee place proudly serving Hine's Public Market. We were shortly joined by Richard Hartnell (a Barista I met on the Guatemala Barista Trip to FVH) who gave us the tour of Bellingham's coffee scene. Richard took us by Cafe Adagio where we would get shots of Caffe D'Arte's 'The meaning of life' before moving on. We quickly headed across town to drop by the Bellingham farmer's market and see the event space for the B-Ham jam.
Saturday 11:58 am
The farmer's market is a vibrant bustling location full of vibrant colors and live music. We stopped by the Moka Joe's kiosk and said hello to Travis who was covering a shift. Travis was the inspiration for getting a Jam moving. It's easy to see that optimism in his smiling effervescent personality. You could easily say he is representative of Bellingham because it was amazing to see how close the community was and how many people were so friendly and outgoing. Richard parted with us shortly after and we headed off to lunch.
Saturday 1:16pm
Judson and I got word lunch was at a little place called 'The Vines Du Jour Bistro.' We walked in and were immediately greeted by a smiling lady named Becky. Becky noted without an introduction, 'You are Edwin's friends aren't you?' We acknowledged and began perusing the wines waiting for others to arrive. We were shortly joined by Edwin and Nina Martinez along with Gabe and Ashley Rodriguez while Silas trailed behind shortly to rejoin our group. Eddie, as you begin to call him once you spend time around both him and his father Edwin Sr., was our host on the trip to Guatemala where we visited his family farm Finca Vista Hermosa. Eddie is one of those serious and very honest people you love to run across in the coffee industry. This industry needs people like him to keep moving forward. Gabe happened to be the photographer on that same trip with whom I felt a strong connection. Both of whom I consider to be good friends welcome in my house anytime.
We entered into a good long conversation about topics ranging from coffee quality to how each of my friends met. It was a unique experience to sit at the table connecting my Boston friends with the friends I made on the Guatemala trip. Becky served us up dishes which paired well with the good wine for what was a calming and comforting experience. Getting that many friends around a table for a great food and drink is a great thing to participate in. After an amazingly satisfying meal, where I realized I had not yet had a good polenta until that point, then we retired to Eddie's new project space.
Saturday 3:34pm
We briefly tasted a Kenya AA and 'eye-cupped' a few other samples while discussing roasting styles and different approaches to coffee. We needed to gather a few things and prepare our sleeping space for the night. We then headed out and met up with the fourth member of our Boston group, Ben Kaminsky. Kaminsky met us just as we got some bad news. The coffees we were going to brew in the vac pot for the event did not arrive in time. Before the trip, we got word from Eddie that we should brew vac pots and set up on a table with different brew methods at the event. We immediately told Simon Hsieh, a specialty roaster in Taiwan who is a wizard with vac pots. Simon generously offered up some coffees so we decided to try and get him some of Eddie's Finca Vista Hermosa coffees to include in the lineup. We had Eddie ship a sample to Simon who did his sorting and sampling routine while roasting with an eye towards vac pot. He then mailed it back immediately. Sadly, the coffees didn't make it, they ended up bouncing from Bellingham over to Boston with a stop in Texas!
We were crushed having done so much to arrange the coffees and then having it not work out. The one thing that made us feel much better was having Kaminsky with the group and bringing his energy and positive attitude helped us rebound quickly. We retired to Gabe's place and enjoyed an amazing sunset which would set the mood for the next day and slept what was an amazingly comforting sleep.
Sunday 9:00am Photo by Gabe Rodriguez
We entered early and set up our version of vac pots we had learned from Simon in Taiwan. We scoped some different coffees and settled on what looked like the best roast for the method. It was actually a coffee we were all very familiar with. Part Fazenda Cachoeira, part Photo by Gabe Rodriguez2004 Daterra Reserve, it was Andrew Barnett's Ecco Reserve. We were comfortable enough brewing this that it actually came out with a very crisp cup getting a subtle fruit tone to go with the caramel and nuts in the cup leaving a sweet lasting finish. We were grateful enough that Andrew sent coffees that I would call him later to thank him. Sometimes, the old familiar coffees are the ones you know how to work best. We brewed vac pots several times until my cohorts abandoned me and I could no longer continue.
Saturday 10:00am
Photo by Gabe RodriguezOnce free to move around I slipped by the Espresso parts booth to chat about equipment and food. It was exciting to see Dave had trotted out the tamper mod with the brass ring we liked so much we were calling it the Barismo-Spec! Photo by Gabe RodriguezAfter browsing the crowd a bit and meeting some more awesome people, I joined Silas, Kaminsky, and Judson for a cupping upstairs. Keith from Victrola had brought a lineup of 5 Colombia CoE, a defect Colombia, and the Colombia Victrola was currently selling. We broke crust and smelled them all, the defect being obvious early on. Photo by Gabe RodriguezAll of us immediately identified the CoE #1 and strangely began crowding around it when it was time to cup it. Filling in the rest was fun guessing but overall, it was a great setup from Victrola. Afterwards we talked a bit more then went for lunch with Gabe and Ashley. Photo by Gabe RodriguezZander of the Coffee Equipment Company joined us for lunch leaving a shocked Kaminsky who halfway thru the lunch finally realized he was sitting next to the 'the clover guy.' Of course Kaminsky immediately began asking the hard hitting questions. We headed out after saying goodbyes to everyone and headed towards seattle.

Seattle Mon 9:59am
We took Keith up on his invite to tour the roasterie and checked Victrola's new location out. It was polished and the barista's were skilled in what would be the most notable shot we had in Seattle. Shortly thereafter, we headed over for a quick lunch and dropped by Vivacce momentarily before we had to bolt across town to the airport to drop Judson off with minutes to spare to catch his flight.
Monday 1:30pm
Zander invited us to visit and of course we had to take them up on their offer if not only for the shots of Hairbender they were pulling but also for some conversation and Clover swag. Zander was very generous in answering all our questions and listening to our opinions at length. We exchanged business philosophies talked about roasters and compared clover to other brew methods. It gave us more respect and a unique perspective of the Clover team. Zander recommended we visit lighthouse but time was short and we made our way up the streets to a little place called Floating Leaves. A tea house where we were aware they had a Dha yu ling tea. A major score for any dedication Taiwanese tea enthusiast. Crunched for time, we made a mad dash into town searching for an Amtrak station. Though we had no idea where it was, through Kaminsky's dedication to jump into traffic and ask directions/check maps, we were able to get Silas on the train without moments to spare.
Monday 8:57pm
Both the Clover and Espresso Parts crews recommended this bar to visit but we could not remember the name exactly. It started with a B. We spent Sunday night searching and searching unsuccessfully until we gave up. Kaminsky and I with two hours before flight decided the trip could not be a success unless we succeeded in finding this place. Circling and circling we turned into a side street where a large warehouse with a griffin painted on the side was. It occurred to us this might be the place. A sense of relief that we would have good eats and a place to relax came over us. Checking the tiny A frame outside, it was Brouwards. We piled in and Belgian beerordered a massive stack of pomme frites with an array of sauces and settled into what seemed like the biggest 'veggie' burgers we had ever had. By the end of the meal we discovered two things. We don't like beer so much as we love 'barley wine.' Seattle is great and the people were awesome, but Cambridge with all it's strange habits and unique charm is not too bad either.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The line between 'customer is king' and caring too much.

While browsing Trader Joe's for some Trois Pistoles and Chaucer's, I was able to overhear a conversation about wine that gave me a kick. A lady asked about the case of $2(3 round here) Chuck. She stated how her friends had all been recommending it and how she heard in a blind tasting of 300+ wines, it purportedly won the tasting.

The guy was working the coffee section and giving away samples while having this conversation. I continued browsing not really listening until the guy begins to raise his voice in indignation of her insistence that this cheap wine is actually good even though she had not tasted it. She was looking for a party wine selection which seemed to strike a nerve for the guy behind the counter. This guy begins relating how he makes 10/hr and would rather buy 5 solid wines in the $10 range than waste his time with this wine. He relates how every party he attends is serving this wine and how he finds it insulting. 'What, your guests are only worth $2?' he retorts as they debate. He relates how it is inferior and the taste just isn't there and the entire tasting sounds like a scam much like the tastings of Folgers coffee vs other roasts. He then begins a series of rants finishing with a flurry about how our consumption culture misses out on great tastes and somehow ties it to our taste for Dunkin Donuts coffee with lots of cream and sugar. Oddly entertaining as it ended with her walking away as another customer who missed the debate walked up asking for help getting two cases of the Chuck.

It is situations like this that lead me not to give many recommendations of any roasted coffee except what I have in hand presently (behind the bar) that I like. In coffee and unlike wine, roasts change bag to bag and green coffee ages(changes) over time. To keep some credibility, I hope to keep the scoring/reviewing off our site aside from a bit of commentary. It is well known around our circle, we have a poor opinion of coffee review and it's particularly flawed methodology in scoring espresso. I don't think the industry is develped enough for coffee critics like there are wine critics but that's my own opinion.

That aside, I am quite ambivalent about the particular $2 wine. The question is, snob or just passionate about the product? How far is too far when you care but you have to sell a product you may not believe in?

I don't have an absolute answer but I know I don't invest time in people who push me to acknowledge what I feel is inferior coffee. The guy who says, 'darker the better' may not be worth arguing with so I get them what they want and move them along. Those who really seem interested, I will engage in long conversations and invest myself in sharing what I love.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Huky Motor Replacement (aka "Let the Good Times Roll")

Based on the feedback of my recent roasts, I am convinced that the increased rpm (from 43 to 52) contributed positively. The roasts are more even and the heat transfer efficiency increased. The roaster response also increased slightly as the result of the higher rotation speed.

The next step in this experiment is to replace the stock motor with a higher rpm one and install a motor speed controller so the rotation speed can be profiled throughout the roast. After watching ebay for several weeks, I finally found a unit with the right rpm and torque that is affordable as well. I quickly snatched up the motor and eagerly waited for its arrival.

Here's a quick comparison of the new and stock motors (running at 24 VDC):

Stock motor:

Manufacturer: Shayang Ye Industrial Co.
Model#: RB400150-06202
Reduction ratio: 100:1
Rated speed: 54rpm
Rated torque: 6.1 lbf-in (97.2 oz-in)

New motor:

Manufacturer: Pittman
Model#: GM8723G567
Reduction ratio: 96:1
Rated speed: 86.5rpm
Rated continuous torque: 7.1 lbf-in (113.3 oz-in)

The new motor is a much heftier unit and the construction is very solid. It is also not cheap if purchased new. The NOS unit I got is very reasonably priced. As usual, trimming and fitting are necessary to get it go into existing housing. The current coupling sleeve was drilled to accept the circular shaft. I was initially concerned about slippage and mis-alignment, but so far it seemed to be fine.

I had originally planned to purchased a PWM (pulsed width modulation) motor control unit from ebay but after conversation with a very generous co-worker (Dr. Gizmo), he designed/installed a analog motor speed control for me. Below is his schematic of the circuit:
The new motor/controller setup allows me to vary the speed from 20 to 80 rpm. At speed below 20rpm, the tachometer no longer register the speed and I do not think such low speed is necessary. The maximum rpm dropped from 83 to 80 due to the voltage drop at the transistors. Noted that in actual use, the rpm will go up 1 to 2 more when the roaster is fully warmed up.

This latest mod puts the little huky a step closer to a "commercial" sample roaster that I desired. I am very excited to start experimenting with speed profiling and anxious to see if it can solve one of the remaining deficiencies of the roaster.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Gardening and coffee

I am out of Cambridge right now in Eastern TN to be exact. Not exactly on a coffee related mission right now therefore the lack of noise. What I have been doing involves a lot of painting, repairs, decking, flooring, and gardening.

Mother's garden

Gardening doesn't have much to do with coffee but there is something of an analogy I was thinking about this morning while driving through the Heights. Every house had neatly trimmed shrubs and hedges, boxwood and spruce, all green and neatly cut green grass. Every house was different but every yard the same... from a distance. Hedges, decorative grasses, and the occasional Impatiens or Petunias by the mailbox. Yard after yard, the same, all green and tightly kept. Immaculately homogeneous.

Nothing wrong with that until I pulled up and looked over the garden project we had worked on earlier. Color, lots of color, heirloom Lilies and Gladiola's. In a way, that really summarizes how I often feel in coffee.

Some are focused on the trimmed hedges while I adore the blooming varietals.

Sunburst orange lily

To me, the best coffees have great descriptors or rather they are worthy of great description. The boring generic ones are not worthy of much beyond a generic description. I find that good coffees have a ledger full of adjectives and this is what makes it hard to relate to most regular coffees drinkers.

I get the luxury of knowing where to get good coffees and have been honored to sample a large variety of grades from many different roasters. Sometimes I get lucky and find great ones but I also spend a lot of time bemoaning the lack of access to the greatest ones.

On this trip I have only been able to taste a few home roasts so let me first apologize to all the coffees we wronged in learning how to roast. It took some time to get where we want to be but now there's a lot less bad and a lot more good. Locally for coffee, there is nothing readily available except for bottomless pots and fast food chains. I have been spared as I have been drinking a lot of tea and luckily Ben sent just enough home roast for a few vac pot brews.