company - education - coffee

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Post Thanksgiving resolutions

I have finally recovered from all my post thanksgiving hustle. Having moved from Porter Sq. down to Inman Sq., I now have a lot more to explore in terms of restaurants and shopping. This has nothing to do with coffee but it explains why we have been quiet lately.

The recent event was really eye opening for me. I was proud of Kaminsky getting up there and pitching to the crowd as much as of Ben who was able to keep the brews coming. I think it really was refreshing while at the same time quite exhausting. The point was, it showed how our group can really get the point across when we bear down and focus. With that thought, we are going to do a lot more local and community focused events in the future. The demand is high and I lucky the opportunities exist here in Cambridge to have such forward thinking events about coffee.

We need some time to get set up with all our other current projects but we'll let you know through the site, so add it to your feed reader and get in line!

We are thinking of basic brewing classes, defects, roasting errors, coffee aging, and other events to hit home what quality is. Without a core of educated consumers, shop owners will never move to serve better coffees or upgrade training/equipment to match. Everything starts with a demand fortruly great coffee.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We're Moving To Block 11

Block 11

Due to demand, we've decided to move the tasting to the new Block 11 cafe in Union square, Somerville. The crew over there has been nice enough to accommodate us on really short notice and we're happy to bring some coffee lovers into their new space. We hope everyone who was planning on attending will be able to make it to Block 11 (it's not far, we promise). Same time, same day, same great coffees. Hope to see you all there!

Block 11 cafe
[where:25 Bow st, Somerville, MA]
Sunday, Nov. 18th at 5pm

Tenative Schedule
Bob Weeks of Redeyeroasters Hingham, MA
John Mahoney of Atomic Cafe Beverly, MA
Simon Yu of Simon's Coffee Shop Cambridge, MA Presenting Terroir Coffee
OR tenatively Jennifer Howell of Terroir Coffee Acton, MA
Ben Chen presenting coffees by Simon Hsieh of 4Arts Zero-Defect Coffees of Taiwan

The theme is local roasters with the exception of our good buddy Simon who as a friend, gets an honorary MA designation so we can brew vacpot with his method. The goal is to build community awareness of the potential in coffee by sampling some interesting brews from local roasters.

A big thanks to John at Atomic for showing up and bringing his Kenya Deep River Peaberry, Guat CoE, and Colombia CoE. Special thanks to Jen at Bloc 11 for hosting us. A tremendous thanks to Simon Yu for continuously supporting our events and footing the bill on the Terroir coffees. Thanks to Peter for sending the Colombia coffee. A big thanks to Josh for the home roasts. A thanks to Ben Chen for his home roasts, particularly the Rwanda. Big appreciations go out to Simon Hsieh for what were the coffees that capped the night in style as the Esmeralda Gr 0 floored the crowd. Last but not least, a hearty thanks to everyone who showed up. It was a good sized lively crowd of people we appreciated greatly on such short notice.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Coffee Tasting Is On! [UPDATE]

Ok, so pardon the short notice, but you should have known it was coming! We're partnering up with some folks in Cambridge for a night of educational coffee cupping, featuring roasters both local and international (we're literally flying coffees in for this one). A few home roasting enthusiasts will even be going side-by-side with the big guys in the tasting, so we'll let you decide which you enjoy most. It's going down this Sunday. Oh yeah, and it's FREE!

Sunday, November 18th, at 5pm

[UPDATE]: We're currently seeking a new venue for the event due to demand, so we will almost certainly not be at Hi-Rise this Sunday. More info soon.

[UPDATE]:New location found, details to follow:
Bloc 11 Cafe
11 Bow St
Somerville, MA 02143
(617) 623-0000

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Go with the flow...

I hate plastic.

It's a coffee shop and yet you have this one problem that keeps getting worse and worse... the credit card transaction. There's nothing worse than a line full of people to the door and somebody pulls out a card for the $2 cup of coffee. People in the line groan and the person at the register swipes, swipes, swipes.... dialing.... dialing... printing... signatures... copies... ugh! Add to that the fees and a percent of every transaction, it really slows you down and really cuts your profitability.

The irony is the slick marketing campaigns bombarding people nowadays to 'use the card' because cash slows you down. So many customers still present the plastic with 'sorry' but one would wonder why cafes still accept credit cards?

Anyone who has ever worked behind the counter of a coffee bar knows two things:

The card slows down the line.
More cash equals better tips, more plastic equals less tips...

The nose knows

Aroma of the bean, the ground coffee, or in the brewed cup. This is a tricky proposition. What we so often discuss as aroma in our coffee community is not necessarily a clear set of descriptions.

I have been schooled on aroma and I realize I have a long way to go still. I never believed in the generic coffee aromas we so often describe as 'smells like coffee' being a positive. That makes me strange enough already, but I learned to value the least coffee characters in coffee very quickly. Most stale bags of coffee off the shelf at your grocery store have some of this generic 'coffee' smell and at this point, it just isn't appealing to me. When I think of aroma, I like to think of the inherent origin characters, the floral tea like washed Yirgacheffe. The refined fruit floral in a solid Kenya and the sparkling sweet aroma present in a Huehue. The nutty jam aroma in a Rwanda or the honey pecan of a Brazil. Of course, I am speaking generically but the point is made. don't misunderstand me, I am not talking about acidity so potent, it cuts through the cup into the aroma. I am talking about an approachable cup with a potent aroma!

Origin aroma is the most elusive cup component. The washed coffees in particular are the most difficult to preserve unique aroma in. In a chain of events during roasting or brewing, it is quite easy to erase that aroma and leave only the acidity or sweetness. In fact, it is the natural behaviour of the beans during roasting to lose natural aroma and take on roast aromas without the user's active intervention.

Preserve is the key word here. Aroma is the first component in a bean to age away, followed by fruit character and then finally sweetness. If you accept this, it means only fresher coffees will have aroma inherent to their terroir.

A good vac pot brew may take you months to figure out, a good roast may take years, but the aromatic cup that floors you is really worth it. Now, to translate that into espresso...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fast, cheap, and quality

Ben always has this thing where we sit down and discuss how to get one of my big ideas done and time after time one comment comes up, you can do it but it will cost ya. He's always quick to point out an old saying: you can pick two of these three choices (fast, cheap, quality) but not all three.

Doing something well cannot be so simple as adopting a hip mantra. The same is true on every level of coffee production on down to the cafe. While we all market and dream about ideas of coffee served in high volume cafes at cheap prices being fantastic, maybe the classic cafe just isn't a model built for great coffees. Before everyone gets all high and mighty protecting their own cafes or current employer, hear me out first. This is about the future of coffee, the CoE winners to come, and the changes just ahead of us in storage as higher prices are paid and the specialty market grows more aware of quality beyond exectution. You know, not everyone is going to leave they're prize winning coffees still sitting in jute months after harvest. Standards are changing and new attitudes are spreading.

The best brew I have had is a technically pulled vac pot and yes, espresso has been my great challenge over the years. Both take immense time and skill to get right, an investment in technique and repetition. A learning curve where a great deal of time must be invested to build a routine and understand what is happening. Producing the best cup may mean that you cannot do it cheap or quickly. We have been critics of Aeropress as a brew method and abhor french press as being the least expressive brew method available for great coffees. They are simple and they are convenient. Both are ultimately, in our opinion, inadequate for top end coffees. A cheapo darker roasted coffee, just fine, adds body and hides some of the less refined characters. French pressing Panama Esmeralda or CoE Colombia #1 would be amateurish or at least we could agree to say it's a lazy and less rewarding way to brew an expensive coffee. Doing justice to a great coffee may mean following it every step of the way with a scientific approach to preserving more at every quality point along the way. From harvest and processing, to bagging and transport, to roast and brew, everything matters. The tiniest detail can create the biggest problems when overlooked. At least that's how I feel about it these days more so than ever.

We, the Internet crowd, are opt to chime in about 'letting the coffee speak for itself' and other romancing but is it the character on the cupping table that we should all woo? Why can't it be about finding that perfect balanced chorus of notes coming through a technically timed vac pot that were faint at best in the cupping? Maybe it's a balance of roast skills and baristaing that brings aromatic harmony into the tiny demitasse. Is the barista in the way or is the barista the chef who does just enough to get the most out of the expression? The devil's in the cup, you can pour latte art all you want and wear the cool t-shirts, at the end of the day though, we all got to be chasing something. Maybe that perfect cup is just perpetualy out of reach but we must continue to learn more and invest ourselves in it to reap the rewards. Because time and quality don't come cheap and neither does a great coffee.

There is an inverse relationship between effort and reward in most brew methods. Even Clover is a balance of sacrifice. As speed is desired in the brew method, a loss of quality occurs, but an increase in cost(from added technology) is able to preserve some quality to a point. The balance is keeping the speed but also having a measure of quality worth the price. You cannot have speed and quality without a high price. For that matter, you cannot have the highest level of quality without a high price AND sacrificing speed. Basic common sense.

In terms of difficulty from easy to most difficult among manual methods we use often are as follows:
Traditional Cupping, French Press, Abid, Melitta, Pour Over, Vac Pot
In terms of most rewarding to least, the lineup changes thus:
Vac Pot, Pour Over, Melitta, Abid, French Press, Traditional Cupping
You will notice an inverse relationship between the two. That's a byproduct of effort and detail applied resulting in a better brew. The Vac pot is a flatline brew(with our methodology) which gets a full extraction and the French press is a declining brew profile that is already cooling by the end of the brew time so it hides many faults as well as good characters. I don't recommend french press unless you are out camping, even then, your melitta, if properly done can produce a much better brew with only a little more effort.

I don't believe in lowest common denominator. Trying to be the everyman for coffee is great for some but I just don't find it exciting. Pushing the coffees to the limit is much more exciting. Challenging what is acceptable will always be more rewading than falling in line.