company - education - coffee

Monday, October 22, 2007

Baseball has nothing to do with coffee

Today was spent on a tiny roasting session working backwards after we made a few mistakes in our last few batches where we forgot something for a few roasts. After thinking it over and reminding ourselves, we followed with some cupping then sat around watching the Red Sox clinch game seven on the way to the world series. After a rough week, it was a refreshing experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Holy Chiapas!

This morning I executed my first pour over where I didn't break the crust and disturb the mound. The water temp was a bit too hot and some roast notes came through but overall it was a success. I ended up with way too much coffee to drink but it's not like a I had a choice. I sent my timer/temp probe to a friend to make sure he had one AND my burner so I have to buy a new one!

I typically do a syphon when I do any coffee at home, espresso when I have the chance. I don't think people realize exactly how hard it is to get these manual methods right. The stirring on a vac pot is hard, especially with very fresh coffee in large amounts. You have to saturate without over stirring and over extracting. Stir too much and you create a centrifuge where the fines migrate to the middle, stir too little and you get a flat brew!

Well, the point of this post is not the brew methods, it was my 'breakfast blend' from last nights epic roast session. Of available coffees, since I was making only one cup, I wanted to make it last longer so I thought I would blend.

Barismo Breakfast blend:
1 Panama La Hacienda Esmeralda
1 K1 Kenya, special prep lot - sooo secret we can't say it in public ;)
1 Costa Rica CoE #20
1 Yirgacheffe Idido Teramed WP

It's sickly sweet, smooth and buttery, but darned if all the high notes just smoothed together. Blending is hard. I think I'll just stick to more interesting single coffees or pairings of two more interesting ones. I think the CR was adding nothing to the blend beyond sweetness and the Esmeralda was dominating all the other high note contenders. Sweet and juicy but hard to pick out distinct notes. A blend from last night, K1 + Esmeralda was like a knock down drag out fight for which one dominated the cup. Given the price of the two coffees, I'm not surprised. The result was something almost artificial like floral orange soda. Probably closer to Ben's crazy cherry coke idea!

By the way, if your Esmeralda has notes like 'lemon pledge', something isn't right but I'll leave you with that thought to chew on.

I also have a good roast of a 'higher grown' Chiapas and a Nic that suffered the jute bag fate. I don't see what people get from coffees like that Chiapas. There's nothing in it but funk. It was the first uneven roast we've had recently, two distinct sizes/colors and absolutely no positive or interesting cup characters, just mixed light funk. Sure, at close to second crack, it will be dark generic coffee flavors, maybe some cocoa and less funk, but I guess my palate is not good enough to get it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What is it with double entendres and coffee?

We have done a lot of crazy experiments. Some were very rewarding and a great many were very educational dead ends. Cold brew was interesting, aeropress, not so much! Suffering through a few months of poor roasts where it seems we went from supposedly good roasts to suddenly not being able to handle anything left us quite irritated. Months of perseverance let us explore all kinds of tiny tweaks and variances that might lead us to the holy grail of roasts, so to speak. Thankfully, our roasting has finally shown some rewards as we continue to pursue our dreams of fragrant espresso, at least until it falls off the table and we have to reboot our whole profile once again.
A little coffee for some friends...Right now, we are pursuing a little project of sharing some roasts with friends to get some critical feedback and really open a dialogue on what we are tasting. Describing something you like is really quite hard when only you can taste it, right?
Meanwhile, most of our tiny green collection is tidily stored away right now. Vacuum sealed with secret techniques applied to preserve the green. A quick thought though about storage, suppose you are Wendelboe and your Wendelspro is showing signs of age in the green department, what do you do? You have black week when fresh new coffees arrive and then celebrate. To reiterate a question, why don't people spend more time figuring out how to keep it from getting old in the first place?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The sweet potato is cooked

There's a lot of weird descriptions we use in coffee for many different things. It seems to me that a lot of it for me comes down to having a similar vocabulary or else it just doesn't make sense. One of the terms our Taiwan brethren use to describe a specific point in the roast is when the proverbial sweet potato turns from starch to a 'cooked' sweetness. Only the nose knows when that is!

If that makes any sense to you, you might be quite ahead of the curve.

There are a bundle of terms that we have from 'green' astringency to 'pencil lead' bitters and of course the 'baggy' and 'bakey' from a variety of variables. It occurs to me that the bakey descriptor is a hard one to quantify as it can be anything from a full on cardboard 'generic coffee' aroma to a simple oft unnoticed dulling of aroma and fruit. My favorite though is the term 'charr.' It's what we use to describe the caramel note imparted by the perforated drum. For instance, you may bake corn in an oven vs over an open grill. The latter being our little roaster. Easy to burn and hard to cook through but the reward of getting it just right is an explosive balance of mid tones AND fruit in the same cup.

My least favorite descriptor is acidity and you won't see me use it much to describe a pleasant coffee. Acidity is really a misunderstood term so I propose we simply rethink it or at least use it more sparingly. It's just too all encompassing of the good and the bad without distinguishing either. Many strongly acidic coffees can often be attributed to either a roast byproduct(intentional or not) or a problem with the coffee. A bit green and improperly dried where the astringency is often erroneously described as acidic is something I have seen quite a bit of. When the acidity is pleasantly balanced, not a byproduct of error or defects, then I typically term it as fruit which it will often resemble. A nice cup of coffee can have ample fruit character without closing your throat or turning your stomach. A fruity cup can be juicy or jammy but it shouldn't curdle your milk!

This one particular coffee we roasted tonight is a strong Kenya. Powerful aromatics and fruit in the cup like a pleasant Lychee or Longan fruit. Something tropical and sweet but I dare not say it's acidic in the classic manner. Past roasts where a green astringency showed through after days of rest were most definitely acidic/tannic/astringent. This roast was decidedly sweet and juicy with a popping aroma which beats down the roast we did only two days earlier that we were wowing over. It has a nice acidity but it's not acid nor acidic, therefore I just call it fruit and be done with it. Maybe acidity is a dirty word in many circles but maybe we just need to understand it a little better instead of throwing a big blanket over it all with one generic term.

I really believe building a vocabulary is key to quantifying many different things. Since we had nothing to point to, no guide, we defined our own roasts in our own terms. Mostly the errors as we saw them and quantifying the resulting tastes of those errors. This must have really confused our Taiwanese friends who did a double take at our desire for less 'roast' flavor in the coffee. I mean, coffee is roasted, so all the flavor is roast but we were so tired of that dull bitter smoke that we referred to it as 'roast' flavor. A singular note that stood out from the rest of the coffee flavors that was often simply akin to hardwood smoke.

Even in espresso, I use the term bile to describe one sour and acidic to describe another because depending on which is prevalent, you may need to decrease or increase the brew temp. Quantifying things in relative terms is just a simple aid to relating and understanding what you are tasting and relating what that comes from. Be it in the roast or in the brew method, a label helps even if it sounds funny or a bit silly.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blind lemon toast

Coulda been the blues but it was a good day overall. Some shots we had today during a tasting with an old timer were coming out a bit... well "lemon and sourdough bread." We pulled several shots with different pre-infusion settings, a variation of pressures, and variable adjusted line pressure to see what we were getting from the old linea at different settings.

From a basic, " this is horrible" to the hilarious " welcome to the bakery," it was a fun night of what if's? Not a single good shot but we confirmed a lot of theories. A phone call to another barista using the same espresso reinforced that the machine was absolutely not the problem here. I didn't suspect it was but the call confirmed it. Poorly roasted Brasils seemed to be the culprit!

It was great fun overall and the old timer left with a curiosity to taste some direct flame roasts.

A quick call or two with Silas established his reinvigorated desire to be in coffee... at least until the teas get better! Edwin is on the way into town so keep an eye out for him and Nina. The roasts are getting better and we did a quick round of some guat coffees for our expert visitor to critique. It will either fall apart or be interesting enough that we can continue on and send some friends coffees promised long ago.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nordic Espresso

Nordic espresso

A lovely package arrived:

Kontra Espresso Reno 1.3:
Yirgacheffe, Ethiopian 40%
Quebradon, Colombia 35%
San Luis, El Salvador 25%

Tim Wendelboe Espresso:
41% Fazenda Santa Alina, Brasil
20% La Esperanza, Colombia
18% La Montanita, El Salvador
11% Eeagads Estate, Kenya
10% Bukonya Estate, Rwanda

The Coffee Collective:
50% Daterra Sweet Collection, Brasil
30% Finca Vista Hermosa, Guatemala
20% Ily Deratu Harar, Ethiopian

Estate Coffee 4 Estates:

Daterra Sweet Collection, Brasil
La Minita, Costa Rica
JAZ de Rico Coco, Nicaragua
Santa Cruz, Mexico

Kaffa Forte & Crescendo:
Colombia La Vega
Guatemala Estate Culpan(Bourbon)
Java Kayumas
Ethiopia Sidamo Shilcho

Thanks Chris and M'lissa!



Preforated Drum with Vanes



Distinctly different roast behavior and cup profile. No verdict yet...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hand pour drip method

Saw this on saueshen's blog. Once again reconfirmed for me that we don't know squat about manual methods...(and why there were competitions for these sort of things...).

Notes from the curb

An industry guy stopped in for a quick chat today while I was operating as bar back. In fact, he was walking by on the way to meet a friend for dinner and saw me pondering deep in thought on the curb during a break. He briefly chatted me up about tea(his current profession) and what I want from the espresso during my abbreviated tenure in that narrow little shop.


I told him I have a good batch, a bit dark cocoa, mellow and nutty as a tight shot, but the last batch was pretty rough at any volume. The whole week has been rough because I simply cannot control what's happening and adjusting to the odd situations as well as the coffee becomes a constant battle. My milk is up to specs and I have a good feel for shots as I know the groups better now, but I have simply had a few days where I knew I was helpless. No adjustment or tweak was going to help where the beans were at. It's that lack of control that proved trying but served a good reminder also. It was a good idea to get back on bar before my next project.

I think what struck me was the conversation about repeatability that followed. 'How can you market espresso with such elusiveness?' he complained. He lamented the state of espresso and how our approach has wandered so far from the manual methods that we have forgotten the basic physics of brewing. He related how he felt that with all the mechanics and upgrades, we were simply chasing the cup that came from a very experienced artisan on an old lever machine but we can't get back to it. He felt that we had moved away from understanding the cup itself. The green got better but were the brewing methods getting better? 7 bean blends, robusta, HX, and a multitude of other topics quickly followed as a history lesson to prove the point. He showed me a perceptiveness and honesty that was refreshing.

He told me he ordered parts to help Simon alter the old 4G Linea with a delay timer array. I have been able to convince him it's worth a shot and he is willing to pursue it. He relates it greatly to the experiences he had years ago repairing the old lever machines and believes with a few changes to line pressure, he can imitate some of the physics in his older approach. Having never used levers, I can only rely on his experience with them but it makes sense as he explains it. I know the machine needs a tweak for Simon's sake and he may be the only person willing to help.

I feel comforted that this old timer understands me more as it had been very frustrating relating to others, including him earlier, as to what I was chasing. It felt good to have someone who was an old timer who could relate. We had a long conversation the day before about interior scorching and a feeling that a roaster we knew was approaching espresso as if it was drip coffee. In effect, focusing on acidity with a quite fast roast and then a hard pull which is a contrast to the Nordic method (read the espresso description minus the harrar) us barismoids are curious about. I realize now, we had been using the brew method to tone down the acidity in an attempt to get something that resembles but isn't quite the equivalent of the cup we desire.

Preserving aroma and highlighting sweetness with a refreshing clarity.

Sounds like a plan. Either way, the old timer brought his friend, 'the father of creative culinary in Boston' as he put it, back in for a double and a pot of Silver Needles. I have a little time to digest the conversations and in the meantime looking forward to a bag of coffee en route from the Nordic cup via friends down south.