company - education - coffee

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This has nothing to do with coffee

No, wait, that's not exactly right...

The best thing about road trips is that final stretch on the road getting back to familiar signs and that cozy strip of road you frequent most. Radio station presets come back in tune and you can shake off the fatigue for a second wind as you know you are close to home.

Now that I'm back in town, a few notes for my fellow Cantabrigians:

- If you are a Cambridge Barista, there's word of a local event. Still looking for sponsors, music shops, bike shops, etc to make it happen and a bar for the after party. I'm supporting as best I can, email me if you want to participate and I will forward you to the organizers. Highlight will be a latte art throwdown and some free swag.

- An event upcoming in one month. This will be a big event. Owner agreed to this as long as we take it very serious and put together a good show. Vac pots and lots of coffee. Interested roasters need only drop me an email. You get the stage with at least two of the areas best shop owners and a crowd of hi flyin consumers with good palates at one of my favorite locales. Details will come up on the site closer to event time.

Gratuitous latte art parting shot...

Monday, August 13, 2007

$15 per 8-oz cup ($135 per half pound in bean form)

$265/lb for this?

Bloggle makes note of Panama La Esmeralda getting Vancouver press for it's uber expensive cup price. We over at barismo have long been trying to underplay the hype for many reasons but it's time to lay a few thoughts/questions on this coffee:

-If you bought it at $130/lb from the auction, were you buying it for quality or for the bragging rights of purchasing this years most expensive coffee?
-It's a hard coffee to roast correctly. If I were a consumer, would I be dropping $15/8oz cup on a coffee like this? From which one of the purchasing roaster's would I most likely get my money's worth? In what brew method?
-I have green from the non-auction lot and sampled roasts by others of this non-auction lot. For me, this coffee seems to be an aberration but does that aberration earn the price?
-I won't get all high and mighty casting down who should buy or what price it should be. I don't really care that much. I will say, I am happy these companies forked the cash for this coffee and set a new precedent in high prices. I could very easily drink this coffee every day, that said though, I personally wouldn't buy it at that price from a single one of them.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Do your homework

I've been noticing quite a few inquires on coffeegeek lately of ppl seeking "professional" advices on opening shops/roasting/professional equipments/etc. I found this both irritating and insulting at the same time.

First of all, coffeegeek is a "home" enthusiast site. Sure there are some pro's lurking around but main user base are made up of a really niche group of coffee drinkers. In fact, I am speculating that coffeegeek prob represent less than 5% of your actual customers. As such, the feedback you get back from the forum is very skewed toward this user base. Also, since most of the knowledge is focused on home users, the advices you got will most likely be not applicable in a business setting. Seeking advices regarding the coffee business on this site just showed how lack of knowledge you have. If you need help from coffeegeek, you really should not be in the business.

I also found this VERY insulting as a person who is somewhat connected to the biz. Pay your dues and do your own research. The answers are out there. Looking for a easy answer is just pure laziness. Please do not call yourself a coffee professional if you cannot even do this.

Oh btw, free advice is just that. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and money to educate yourself. That is just a fact of life.

Mulling espresso

Thought of the day: You want good Single Origin Espresso? Use good beans.

We have written a lot on our love and frustration with Espresso, so rather than boring you with some long recycled rant, let's refresh a few old rants.

Blends are a compromise - This was the point way back where we began consistently using the term alchemy to refer to the approach in espresso where poor grade greens are in effect blended with the idea that the end result will be something superior. It was a basic lament that if we blend, why not use a handful of very expressive components instead of a stable of lackluster ones. Great comments too!

Tell me how you really feel about espresso - This was a solid account of us as we began our affinity for vac pots. Even as I fell in love with the Hario, I still had a strong desire to go back and pull shots of Kenyas and Yirgs and get closer to that candied fruit and aroma we saw glimpses of before.

You can dig through all our old notes of pulling Yirgs and Kenyas if you like but what good are cupping notes on coffees no longer for sale or roasts that have changed so much our notes would be irrelevant? A bit of foreshadowing and hints of things to come in the comments...

Lemony Espresso - The picture sells it and this was really part of a long line of frustration illustrated in many of the posts on the site.

Clean Espresso - A snarky breakdown of how we defined clean espresso.

Clamouring for espresso... and didn't know it? - An oldie bout the good ole days... hopefully to return shortly. Note the date on the article and don't hold me responsible for the current shop changes should you visit.

The skilled hand of the Barista... - This post should be called the diary of a passionate barista. It is a great perspective on me and the belief in the untapped potential of the professional barista.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Scorching, tipping, baking

I wanted to write an article on tipping and scorching but when it came down to it, I realized we already covered this bit so we won't go into too much detail.

A quick refresher. Scorching is the ashy dull taste visually indicated by a dark line in the bean. Tipping is a funny little black ashy mark on the end of the bean alluding to much the same off flavor.

Why does it happen?

Too fast, too much drying, uneven roasts, and cooling problems to name a few.

How do you fix it?

Know your roaster and the physics behind it. Use that to your advantage or change what part is holding you back.

In terms of roaster errors, baking is most interesting because it's quite common. Bakey in it's worst is this horrible flavor that dulls out everything in your coffee. It's like a cardboard flavored cake. Not really acidity or bile sour but like an intense gassy sour flavor. Baking is often stated as simply too slow. Well it's not exactly too slow, but if you want more detail, pay me to teach you. Ha, you thought this site was all idealistic and free info for everyone.

It isn't.

That's not really the point though. If you don't know what a bakey coffee tastes like or a tipped/scorched roast flavor/appearance, as a barista, how good are you really? A roaster who consistently has this problem has no legit excuses but should a great barista understand those flavors when they appear? I used to think I knew my stuff but there were days I really could not pull a good shot. It wasn't until I stepped out from the bar and really began to learn more that I began to expand my palate and because of the frustrations with a local roaster's inconsistencies that we were almost forced to roast. If you want a good cup, control it all from start to end, right?

Sounds simple but it's hard.

In fact, it sucked. It really really sucked. I can't put enough emphasis on how bad it was. I think we roasted more than 40lbs 250g at a time before we had a few drinkable roasts. Green, astringent, acrid, scorched, baked, flat, baggy, moldy, you name it, it was all swill at first. We tried profiles being floated by pundits and internet personalities, we did a little 'research' on roasters we knew to understand their approach. In the end, we found flaws in many and completely disregarded others going in our own direction.


Because every machine is different.

We had to learn our machine inside and out, make big changes and then keep roasting because roasting is very machine dependant and so many internal/external variables can affect a roast. Do we feel any closer to perfection, ask me after another 100lbs of sample roasts, but at least our mistakes and research are drinkable now and I am happy with the sweetness though it might need a little more 'Technicolor.' I dare not mention how much we have spent on green or the hours toiled behind a roaster tasting and making gut decisions about what went wrong. Most of the time, only two of us in an 85 degree room with tempers flaring and nothing to show for it.

Good times.

Will I write much more about roasting on the site, no, not in much detail anyway. My cups are pleasant enough that I have nothing to complain about so I will leave you with this.

Scorching, tipping, and baking....

Don't do it and don't put up with it from your roaster either.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Syphon Bar

vac pot, originally uploaded by tonx.

Seems everyone is doing vac pot these days or at least giving it lip service. Getting a first read on a signed edition of a fantastic and thoughtfully written new coffee book (to be shortly reviewed) brought one thought though.

We don't know vac pot in North America. In fact, we largely have forgotten or overlooked most of the manual brew methods with the exception of the largely inferior french press method. Someone offered this thought to us recently and I dare say it has some truth, 'If you don't know your manual methods, what understanding do your really have of your automated ones?'

Scary thought that knowing a better hand pour method translates to a better drip brew.

Photo by Gabe RodriguezOur own jump into vac pot (syphon) and our exploration of hand pour methods came thanks to a Taiwanese contact who helped us along with inputs and pointers on how to brew his coffees.

It led to a thought, 'let's do vac pot in the shop.'

Oh yeah, many other people have had the same thought. That thought began to morph and fade as we realized it wasn't quite as simple as throwing a bar together and offering it up. How do you keep it constant and consistent? how do you charge people given the amount of coffee and prep needed? How do you keep your staff well trained enough to prepare it correctly for each and every different coffee?

The roast. You would have to roast for vac pot and make sure the brew parameters were largely fixed so your barista would only make slight adjustments. Fix your brew parameters and alter your roast profile to fit. Strange concept but darned if we hadn't heard the same thought before from our Taiwanese friend.

Photo by Gabe Rodriguez So here's a bit of advice before anyone goes out and buys a case of vac pots and a halogen setup, learn more about it. The Japanese are having true culinary competitions while we still noodle around with it not quite understanding the physics. It may be the hip thing to do vac pot but a little research and thought may be in order before burning yourself and your customers with a bad brew.

Vac pot has a lot of potential to bring out amazing origin flavors but it's much more technical than many of us realize. The old light it up and steam the coffee to death method just won't cut it compared to a precisely technical approach, so get to learning about your manual methods and your more automated ones will improve also.