company - education - coffee

Thursday, October 04, 2007

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.