company - education - coffee

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Barismo Spec" EC/EP Hybrid Tamp - LTD LMWDP Version

"Barismo Spec" EC/EP Hybrid Tamp - LTD LMWDP Version - 3" Tall Handle & Brass Bezel
Now available to the public through EPNW
From Espresso Parts: "Well they say great minds think a like... I don't know if we qualify but the Barismo guys have a great mind for coffee and espresso alike.

First and foremost, what is the "B-Spec" or "Barismo Spec" Tamper? Well currently our version of the "Barismo Spec" Tamper is an matte finished Espressocraft tamp handle and custom brass bezel mod'd to fit the classic Espresso Parts height convex piston."

Having been lucky enough to participate in the HB tamper road show (thanks to Dan and others who helped organize) and get a feel of several prominent tampers, we did a review. After analyzing them, there was not a clear winner. There were handles that were nice and a base that worked but there was a lack of the complete package. Take into consideration that we were thinking of a cafe prototype rather than a home user tamp and you can understand some of the choices made as Ben C. put together the mod. Our first evolution arrived and we had a pretty comfy if not absolutely gorgeous tamper.

There was a lot of discussion about the piston height and we had a strong interest in having pistons that came level with the basket if the dose was correct which came to a satisfying conclusion. One more piece in consistency relative to our espresso OCD solved. After some mucking around and grabbing a few early versions of B-Spec from ESPNW, one more mod was added to really put it over the top. Ben decided on a sand blasted matte finish that added a comfy feel to the grip. We highly recommend you also get the EspressoParts S.S. 58mm convex base machined to a "c-flat" hybrid shape then mirror polished if you want to be hardcore and follow Ben's B-Specs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The fleeting moment

There are times when you doubt solid moments had before. Times where you get testy with yourself and you really begin to wonder if some things are worth chasing. We've had a few of them.

There was a roaster, once upon a time that we had faith in. It was a few moments of excellence that gave us that faith. A sampling here or there of coffee that was unique and really provided a startling look at something different.

The problem lay in the fleetingness of those moments. A one off bag that just rocked an amazing character and then disappeared leaving you wondering if it ever existed in the first place. One after another, we bought sample after sample to share with friends in travels and were sometimes flat out embarrassed by the results or lack thereof. This further stressed an already testy relationship but that's not what the post is about.

One of those defining moments early on was a Yirgacheffe as SOE. A WP Gr2 that on the cupping table was somewhat boring but in the espresso machine was singing. After experiencing this, I remember telling the company owner how I loved Yirg for the aroma above all else. The aroma? He looked at me with a confused sort of 'You don't get it' look. He was right, I didn't get it but equally, I thought he must never have experienced it as a shot the same way I just had. It was part of a turning point where our paths diverged and our group set out in a different direction.

Today, after more than a year from that experience, I had another one off experience that reminded me of that Yirg moment. I was grinding a bag of Yirg for a customer and I smelled that floral note. Defined and present, it was obvious but at first I thought I was delusional. I mean, I have tried this coffee several dozens times since that experience and it had nothing in common with that fleeting moment and yet, maybe... As soon as I finished, we grabbed several retail bags and began furiously pulling shots. Four shots in, a matter of fact 'there it is' was blurted out as I could smell it in the pour. That heady nose of floral was back and leaping out of the cup.

I was dumbfounded. I chuckled and listened to my cohort describe 'apple jacks' aroma and malty brown sugar in the cup. I mean, you have to be kidding me! After months of lemon ginger blah, I get this... It wasn't perfect but it was there and I had to wonder if this was the same coffee. I left a bag in the hopper and then promptly took the rest of the bags for myself! I hope the remaining bags are the same but I don't pin much hope on it as I have learned to simply enjoy those experiences these days. The rest of the night was simply spent chuckling at the silliness of it all.

BTW twas: 1.5oz 28sec 17g 196F

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Smelling the puck

Leaning tower of Espresso Pucks, originally uploaded by maryspics.

I have been wondering lately a bit about the old folks and some of their weird habits. A local old timer of coffee always has this habit of smelling the pucks constantly between shots. I wonder what he is trying to accomplish sometimes and what truth lies therein.

I know when you do an excellent vac pot, the aroma shows up nicely in the grounds and the 'sweetness' is evident. Would the same be true in an excellent espresso?

I don't really have an answer but some pucks sniffed today did have a very mellow sweetness in the better shots. I couldn't really correlate anything to form a theory and with the espresso as it is, I won't venture absolutes. The smell thing does make me believe there is something to it though even if I were to acknolwedge it, I don't know if I would change my routine much.

Monday, September 24, 2007


B-Spec and protamp

I was pulling a bar shift. Ouch my thumb, time for the fancy ergo tamper. The logo makes the espresso taste better... er, maybe not but it is cool and not the least bit dorky.

It took a little while but the latte art and portions are tight right now. The espresso was making me unhappy though. Surprise. When would I be happy with it? The beans are quite funky and suffer a tough pungency that reminds me of our early popping roasts that we simply throttled dark in vain attempts to save them. Don't know what was going on there. That and a depressing lack of straight shots put me in a sour mood at first.

In a positive turn, I put down a small lineup for a trainee of a french (near fire alarm) roast of Costa Rica, a light roasted Guatemala, a medium Panama, and a light roasted Yirg(sample roast). She nailed the descriptions on the first try.
Yirg: light, some acidity
Panama: Clean, mellow, some roast
Guat: Very acidic
Costa Rica: Smoke
I was quick to point out that now she had just formed an opinion she could relate to the customer. I thought it was interesting to see someone just pluck that out so quickly. Sometimes you get confusion over bitters/sours but this was quick, dirty, and accurate.

The rest of the evening I was sparked into detailed conversation with any customer interested in chatting. I realized how much I enjoy customers who can go on about the flavors they taste in the cup. When you can get a customer talking about what kind of flower or describing the specific citrus, you win. Those customers don't just happen though, in a way, you have to cultivate them. Engaging people in that kind of discussion also makes coffee fun. It's like a medium that sparks a conversation and sometimes a relationship. Without that human connection, you are just some guy in a room making up descriptions ;-) Two of you somehow makes it normal! The barista as a salesperson, sommelier, and sometime coffee server... now that's a familiar thought.

In many ways, I had to get back behind the bar for a reality check. To revive my love of interacting in the cafe over a cup of coffee. It's a short stint but it is proving to be just what I needed to regain some momentum and refresh my perspective.

BTW: The Panama was actually from Redeye, a local roaster in Hingham. It was Diamond Mtn from Hacienda La Esmeralda. I was surprised by how nicely it aged and what a clean coffee that is. It came out very smooth in the fetco.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sweet Yirgacheffe

I had a pretty solid cup of Yirg today. Teramed from Idido for those in the know. It was interesting because the hot cup had a few issues and the brewer was possibly set to over extract a bit but the cup was still great. Juicy candied sweet as it cooled. The acidity was toned and a brown sugar caramel note just jumped from the cup. I grabbed it in a to-go cup and was surprised by the syrupy floral coming from the cup. Hint of lime and honeysuckle flowers.

Moments like that are what it's really about for me. Sitting in a car quietly sipping a coffee simply in awe wondering what the heck happened to create that cup in that instance. I have a lot of things circling me right now, projects up in the air and big ventures about to begin but it's great to simply remind myself what I want to work towards. When a consumer can sit and have that same moment like that, that's when I will have succeeded. It's not about outdoing the next guy or being right, it's about presenting that unique taste experience.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Green Monstah

Wally, originally uploaded by Ed Karjala.

This post is for Nate, Snoz, and the Fettered by Secrecy Roasting Society (FSRS).

At my last time on bar, I had no real idea how important each phase of roasting was besides an understanding that it was hard because even the best struggled with it. I knew that sometimes the roasts were ashy, sometimes they were flat, and sometimes bright as there was a lot of variance batch to batch. Each week, it was a new experience and a test of patience. How can you raise the bar if the base is shifting?

After struggling for months to get evenly dried sample roasts while working the wettest/highest grown/most expensive green we could find, I have a few thoughts to offer. I now have suffered enough to realize that there are several layers of difficulty in roasting that the majority of people aren't always able to piece together. This site isn't a roasting how-to so let me give you a few things to chew on and think about for yourself instead of spoon feeding you something. Let's play myth buster for a moment.

Myth Number One: Light roasts are grassy, you have to roast darker to avoid this.
Truth: Light roasts that are dried properly will not be grassy. If you don't know what that means, it's time to do some research.

Myth Number Two: You have to slow down.
Truth: Yes and no or rather a maybe. Some people slow down and bake which does nothing positive but does mask the hot cup character a lot without fixing the real problem. Since each roasting setup is different, you figure it out for yourself.

I am theorizing that most of the major errors I am seeing in commercial roasts appear to be a product of improper drying either inefficient or uneven. If you can't get the head right, what good is finessing the tail? The pretty labels sure don't help and the barista can't change a thing.

What does 'bakey' taste like? What does 'green' taste like? Got something to chew on now, eh?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Coffee tasting at Hi Rise

Hi Rise Bakery, originally uploaded by browncoffeeco.

October 20th at 5pm
Hi-Rise Bread Company
[where: 208 Concord Ave Cambridge, MA 02138-1335]

Coffee cupping event. Free to the public. Coffees from local roasters, vac pot, pour over, and other brew methods just for fun. Sorry, no espresso planned at this time.

Should be good fun. Hopefully some local roasters will come in to present their own coffees on this stage. Hi Rise has a great community following and really is a solid place to have events like this. I am really looking forward to it.

Date and time subject ot change so keep tabs on us.

An array of roasters

壯觀吧, originally uploaded by SIWA COFFEE.

Roasting is about scale. Simply put, bigger is more consistent, but it isn't finesse. How do you overcome that? An array of small batch roasters so you can finesse your roasts.

It's an idea worth borrowing.

Here and there

Big props to my friend Edwin for sending us some monogrammed cupping spoons. It's actually the first real cupping spoon I ever had. I don't think I ever really thought about buying one for myself because that's how we are. I kinda cringe at being the person who walks into a cupping with spoon on belt/over the ear/tied to arm. Yep, we all know one of those types.

Still, it's sweet to have one so maybe I'll have to get a bandanna for my arm to carry it around now.

I am looking forward to Eddie and Nina's visit and hopefully it will prove as entertaining as when Blanco dropped in.

This all goes to remind me that Friday will be a travel day out to Hingham to visit Bob's outfit, Redeye. Interested to see how he roasts the Panama 'Diamond Mountain' and the Gayo among others. Kaminsky and I will join a new kid who is opening a shop somewhere in the Boston area.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The same old same old shot

There was this irritating conversation going on about espresso on a pro forum where it just became redundant to participate. It got me thinking about how commercial espresso blends are so formulaic and can easily be defined simplistically by one descriptor.

I thought I would categorize them a bit and I came up with six categories:
Paper Bag

There are many blends where you end up with crossover between each category. Maybe I should have included an honorable mention for Lemony but I felt it was so uncommon, it didn't deserve a category.

Earthy: Think sumatra, spicy, things you would find in a forest: wood, mushrooms, leaves, mold, mildew.

Tobacco/Leather: Tawny, spicy: think about your first triple ristretto. often has crossover with earthy/chocolate.

Chocolate: Think bitter to bittersweet, sometimes milky, rarely though. You can put chocolate in anything with a rolling second crack but many espouse the use of certain beans for this enhanced cocoa. Seriously, cocoa is the roast.

Caramel: Think caramel without the sugar, without the sweet. Most caramel espresso are polished to the point the only character left is a smooth caramel, sometimes burnt sugar but rarely if ever sweet.

Fermented/Monsooned: Fermented: think booberry or strawberry(harrar, sidamo, or other naturals). Monsooned: Mushroom ugh maybe anise at 203.5F(Malabar). Why lump them together? Because both are coffees where the processing is an anomaly.

Paper Bag: Paper bag: think cardboard, burnt rubber, bitter. Yep, you guessed it, Robusta.

The are not a lot of unique espresso out there to be had. Simply put, a lot of them suck, a lot of them are boring, a lot of them taste better in milk than straight shots.

There are intriguing endeavors, but for all the noise coming out of the forum community, you'd think there would be more... right?

Hmm, sweet aromatic espresso. Some fruit, some nuts, no dirt, no mold, no spice, and a lot of character would be nice for a change every now and then even with some cocoa if it was more sweet than bittersweet. An aftertaste that makes your mouth water would be nice instead of a lingering bitterness also :-p

Roasting Philosophy #2

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tragically Hip Coffee People

There is an epidemic among the coffee scenesters. It's all about being hip these days. It's about who can build the cafe to outdo everyone else with the bar setup, the style, the equipment, and the after party. Doing it well is not as important as being the first to do it. It's about who can wrap themselves in the coolest sounding farm-like names, the hippest T's, or serve the most expensive coffee regardless of whether it's actually worth the price.

It's funny because the old third waver punch line is a not too subtly ironic, 'it's all about the coffee.'