company - education - coffee

Friday, December 26, 2008

Restaurant coffee

Oh yeah, I think it's time to talk a bit about this topic.

I do not think many foodies would state they have had good experiences with coffee in restaurants. It is pretty common to expect 'diner quality' even in the most expensive or highly reputable restaurants.

The simplicity is that a handful of roasters/distributors deal with cafes in our area and there is not a lot of investment in the actual service of the coffee. I often hear the catch 'we serve X roaster' as a statement of quality. The truth is that brand is only as good as the training and support behind it. Unlike wine, coffee is not bottled and ready to serve, it still has prep which could be the difference between a decent cup and the dregs.

The simple truth is that it's easy to serve a decent cup. The problem is that issues often need to be solved before the service is even addressed. Water quality, grinder/brewer servicing, and of course a good cleaning are typically in need. Often management/ownership want the coffee to fit into how the service/brewing currently exists. It limits the ability for a good cup because there is already some preset method where only certain roasts will come out acceptable. This is especially true for restaurants which may have a musical chair service on the espresso machine where every table server is serving 'frothed' milk. There is very little consistency in this approach. You can tell at this point where my espresso bias comes into play.

Fresh roasted, fresh ground, fresh brewed. Those are the very basic tenants in coffee even before good green and the roaster's skill are a factor.

Few cafes have all three, so it would be hard to think restaurants would trump this without guidance. Most roasters widely distributed here in town hide the roast dates in the fold written in codes nobody understands, or tiny 4pt fonts on the bottom of the bag, or just simply no roast date. Add to that, mystery 'custom blends' which may or may not be custom because you just don't know what's really in it. Then you have contracts and leasing programs which simply encourage the shops/restaurants not to service equipment they don't own. Add to this, a high volume discount approach which throws actual hands on training and legitimate service to the side in favor of 5 pound bags going stale. Service is then an afterthought because of cost or lack of time dealing with so many accounts.

Restaurant service doesn't have to be some uber elite premium special coffee but at $7 a pop, it shouldn't be stale pods either. A simple service of a fresh roast from a local roaster would probably satiate most post meal coffee drinkers. Fresh ground in small batches or simply brewed on demand in an easily repeatable method. A single estate coffee of personal preference to the head chef or something with a little more story would be the next step up. A few restaurants doing something simple and tasty would go a long way. Then someday, you will start to see more per cup programs that pair single estates with matching desserts in progressive restaurants. Then dare I say it, fancy brew methods prepared with flare and skill in front of the patron.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

We will be open on Christmas Eve (wed) from 12-3pm for the last minute shoppers.

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback lately and of course for remembering to grab a bag of coffee before the Holidays!

If you need coffee Mon or Tues (as we are closed), you can hit Dave's Fresh Pasta down in Davis Sq. We also have this nifty little map for venues not in a 10 minute walk from the shop over here but I need to update it when I get time. Google needs to update it as there is a big delivery truck totally blocking the view of Taste in street view.

Happy Holidays! See you when it thaws out a bit!
East Arlington

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Round 10

I had a solid shot of PF at Taste in the AM, headed back to the shop after a brief stop at Simon's to drop off some Nimac Kapeh.

It was one of those days where I decided, again, I needed a hammock at the shop.

Then the snow came.

I ended up calling it a day and wanted to try to get some rest because it's been a long week. A lot of long hours to get roasts out ahead of Christmas. That means a few long days but in the end, so be it. We didn't get into coffee to be romantics, we knew it was work.

Retail sales have been solid but we do have a little extra espresso at the shop this week. If nobody braves the snow to get them, we'll just drink it ourselves. That reminds me, we are working on two new espresso projects.

One project is to rebuild Rudiments. Our initial vision is a roast of 70% Brasil and 30% Guatemala Atitlan, Nimac Kapeh. We finally found the espresso profile for Nimac and it's a hell of a straight shot. I wish some shop would just pick thtat coffee up and serve it as both house espresso and drip. But then... The idea for Rudiments is to be almost a classic North Italian profile done to our tastes. The Brasil is the base and the Nimac is the 'Yirg' profile that sweetens and adds aroma. In barismo fashion, it's clean, but this would be very mellow fruit compared to some of our other versions of Rudiments.

The final espresso is a work in progress called Soma. I am still trying to finesse a third component so it probably won't be finished until post Christmas. More on that later.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


For a moment, there was some but anyway, it's been a long week and here are some notes.

The Rudiments Espresso pops with red ripe cherry but when you pull it right after a dark roast, it kinda tastes a bit like said dark roast. Rudiments is our straight shot/small milk light roast espresso blend (88.5% Morenihna Formosa + 11.5% Ichimara Peaberry). Clean them groups!

Poker Face Espresso (20% Kiandu + 80% Cardenas) opens up no earlier than day 5 but we may shift it's roast degree a little. It is a distinct mix and when you nail it, you get something someone was calling a 'purple (fruity) note' on the palate as a goopy thick textured shot.

Linnaean St. Espresso (10% Ichimara Peaberry + 25% Las Lajas Miel + 65% Morenihna Formosa) is pretty much my baby though I am very happy to have any of these blends in serious shops. It takes so much effort to get a good stage and get past the equipment and into training and service of quality espresso. You don't know how much it is appreciated to go into a shop and get a good shot of something you may have literally spent weeks creating. The alternative would be the frustration of seeing someone completely butcher something you know is good.

Taking director cues for a video shoot is harder than you would think. That's a post for another day though.

The last few days have been spent training and trying to get my head around serious issues in the cafes. Part of that has been re-touring many of the cafes in the area. Most of which I won't elaborate in detail on because while latte art is definitely peaking these days, the espresso runs the gamut from meh to drinkable. Few stinkers but mostly milk shots and strangely not all that unique from shop to shop with the exception of the notably bad ones. Several shops have improved a lot recently. I can't point to any reason in particular, some new equipment at one shop and better training at others, another finally showing it's roaster's single origin offerings. All positive signs even though on a swing through town, said roaster whose bags are now front and center had 'written off Boston' because 'it was stuck in the 80's'.

Nobody said it's gonna be easy.

It seems like new shops have triggered others to react but it remains to be seen who will actually set the bar beyond house light and house dark with some retail SO coffees in the Cambridge area I frequent. For some, that means a planned remodel and getting competitive, for others, new equipment and a new focus. That means taking a little risk and making the investment. Sadly, this has made it much clearer that there were shops that had really declined in comparison to the advances at the others. Seeing 3 month old retail roasts on the shelf at one shop in Harvard Sq. and visiting another which seemed to have lost the ability either to train it's staff or enforce said training. Both experiences did nothing for me to feel they were moving in the right direction. Further proof that sitting around on your hands waiting for some kind of magic or relying on brand image is not the way to go. Hard work, training, and keeping that equipment in tune goes a long way.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hand Mills and Kettles

We are out of stock on both the Hand Mills and Kettles for a little while. Our stock of TCA-2 is also low so first come first served.

We have more on the way. To be on the notification list, email barismo.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Espresso Notes: Poker Face and the Espressothon

Saturday, the 13th of December will be Espressothon at Taste in Newton. All day at Taste, there will be two espresso offered up. Noteworthy in that it will be the only place in town you can get both our L. St. and the new blend Poker Face pulled on a Synesso on the same bar. Mark your calendar.

Poker Face is a creation I came up with in cooperation with Nik Krankl, owner of Taste and a serious poker player. Nik was an avid poker player and a published author for Magazines like All In until his new coffee career began. It was from this influence that the name Poker Face came about for this blend. A mix of two vacuum packed coffees, our Kiandu(20%) and our Cardenas (80%).

In one way, it was a throw back to his father's success in the wine industry. An acknowledgment of his father's influence and deference to an exceptional wine his father created, of the same name. Much like the Syrah, this espresso has notes of berries, vanilla, and fruit but with a creamy texture and excellent mouth feel. Looking back before you go forward is something we respect a lot in our choosing names for blends and this is no exception.

Nik now takes this name a bit more literally. As a former barista myself, I understand how difficult it can be to read the espresso drinker. They rarely come out and literally say what they felt. Instead they hold it tight and keep a 'poker face' in regards to their emotions about what they just imbibed.

I have known Nik for a few years now. I can say I knew him when he had aspirations to open a shop across the river. Now he is the owner of a shop in Newton that in time will be the new destination for espresso enthusiasts in our area.

That reminds me that if you live in NY and don't feel like a day trip for espresso, Grumpies will have a version of this on guest through the weekend.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Up and coming in Arlington

Tommorrow afternoon, the 29th, from 2-4pm we will have an open house. Granted we are in shop 5 days a week, this one has a sampling of several coffees and espresso for the public to try.

Assuming the weather permits, the upcoming events are:

Espresso Dec. 6th 2-4pm
We will demo our two current blends, a SoE, and talk about methods for getting better results at home. The new espresso blend with the big story will be on sale during this event.

Hand Pour Dec. 13th 2-4pm
Pour over kettles, cloth filters, paper, the how's and why in methodology. Bags of the Pastoral will be on sale during this event.

Third Thursdays @ Capitol Sq. Open House Dec 18th 6-8pm
Cupping, brewing, and casual coffee banter. What more could you want?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Cloth Filter

Thanksgiving is almost over. I have to get back on the till and get some roasts done. It's gong to be a busy week next week.

That reminds me, we have some new gear in shop and I am putting it together as a pack. I would throw in the Pour Over Kettles as one big pack but our stock is low so first come first served until next shipment.

In the pack are a Cone Pour Over, a Cloth Stitched Pour Over Filter, and a pack of paper filters.

The Cloth filter is a touchy subject. A lot of people have gotten bad impressions on these simply because you need to care for them. If you dry them and re-wet constantly, you will stress the fabric. Trick is as Hario recommends, to rinse with hot water thoroughly and then store still wet in a zip lock bag in your refrigerator.

I find that this is a bit more work but it's worth it. While many people hate paper, they often go straight to gold filters. The problems with paper besides the taste is the way it restricts fines while absorbing oils. The gold filters just let sediment through which is a big problem. The cloth filter though has depth filtration. Fines are captured evenly in the layers of the fabric and you get a cleaner and smoother cup profile.

This particular Cloth Filter is stitched with measurements which makes it unique. You can use these as a guide for your pouring volumes as the coffee blooms. The cone shape adds depth to the brew cake making this style more ideal for a fan of pour overs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Flash, Thank You Very Much

I am not a self promoter. I will not have a big photo poster of myself up on the wall in a cafe. I will never be associated with marketing blitzes or advertising eyed at reshaping the message. I will not try to trade mark quality terms or have slick websites geared at shaping the view of quality so it fits comfortably into our business model.

This is something I have heard recently from several clients. A surprise in our approach. We don't make it about us. We do our best to make it about the coffee, the preparation, and the resulting cup at every step.

I think it shows up best with our labels. The simplicity of which took a long time to achieve. A lot of back and forth about style points and functionality resulted in something I am very happy with. A sparse but very transparent label. Short on the slick stuff yet heavy on content and still clean.

Before I pat myself on the back for being all spartan, there is a direction to this post.

I want to say thanks for all the support we have received in the last two months. Nay, thanks for the time and energy so many have put behind me over the last few years. The faith, the support, and the respect. I don't have time to name all the people who have actively gone out of their way to promote me and barismo, but thank you. When someone goes out of their way to contact a media org, write a positive review, or simply tell a friend how serious we are, that means everything to us.

I want to thank the guy who has been pulling shots of Kiandu for putting in the word in with the Grommet. That was over the top but there have been so many like that willing to go to bat for us and I do appreciate it. It's a big part of why I want to stay in this community and continue to be active in this area.

So much of our success has been built on the support of the community and I don't overlook that. We are driven by quality, determination, and an obsessive search for that great experience but without the people to share it with, there is nothing.

Thank you for your support and have a good Holiday!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Skelton Hand Mills

Having run out of these, we just restocked the Hand Mills and they are available online as well as at the shop once we get back from Thanksgiving revelry.

For cafes looking to carry these, let us know. We have had good interest from cafes about these and we think it's about time we got more home users off using the bulk grinder and instead fresh grinding coffee at home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The utility blend

I never believed as a barista that you could really have a great espresso that was good as a shot and in copious amounts of milk. To expect this feeling to change when I started roasting would be a bit presumptuous.

At one point or another, I have worked with many different espresso blends. There were those that made good shots, others made acceptable shots and good short milk drinks, still others only seemed geared at cutting through a 16oz latte.

It has been my feeling that espresso should be purposeful not utilitarian. Roast for purpose. If we are roasting our estate coffees and refining them each for specific brew methods, why wouldn't the same apply for espresso?

To that end, the L St. is a straight shot. It never occurred to me to work with it in milk. The current version is coming out really nice as a straight shot but all the complexity and sweetness is lost in a lot of milk. It just isn't tested in milk and I wouldn't take offense if someone didn't like it in milk.

We have done more milk geared espresso before. Rudiments being one, which also briefly doubled as 'You're beautiful'. It's just a matter of a good match.

The reason this is worth posting is not a defense or even about an explanation. It occurs to me that all too often we approach coffee from the lowest common denominator. We, the professionals, ask ourselves how it will taste in milk with sugar instead of simply asking ourselves, does it taste good. Well, does it?

Maybe the reason people put condiments in coffee is habitual. Maybe, though, it is because so many coffees are served with the thought that it will have condiments added to it. I guess if we focus on 16oz lattes that the espresso can cut through, the cappuccinos may be a bit rough or the straight shot a bit too strong. I think as a roaster and former barista, the truth is you can only focus on one portion of the coffee drinking market segment, so choose carefully. Trying to beat Dunkin or Sbux at their own game is a bit foolish when there are so many progressive shops moving into the market that do something completely different and are making bank. Something for the pros to chew on.

Happy Thanksgiving.

It's cold. We will be closed during the holiday and reopen Saturday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The barismo ristretto

Let me first clear something up. A ristretto means a restricted shot. That by definition means you shorten the flow for the espresso in the same time range as a normal shot. It does not mean you start pulling 20 second shots (that would be underextraction a la Sbucks method) and cutting the shot early by time, you actually have to change the grind and make adjustments to get the volume shortened in a normal extraction time. The dose is often heavier and the roast is often a bit darker but it does not imply shorter time.

We have been working on a new offering since the Cardenas arrived. It's interesting as we have been trying to come up with a more ristretto style shot. Now don't get me wrong, it still falls into our clean flavor profile but it has the deep viscosity and syrupy texture you desire without getting into the smoker's palate notes of tobacco and spice. The acidity is muted but the origin characters remain, a feat in and of itself. It even has the flecking and deep red visual cues with out the color corrected photo's help. The dominant notes of our blend right now are berries, vanilla, and brown sugar leading into cocoa. Some interesting aromas come into play but you gotta pull this tight. It is our best NY style espresso (very tight shot) attempt to date but done to a barismo taste profile (clean).

It pulls as an 18g double ristretto or a down dosed triple ristretto. Sorta Ecco style for the savy barista's out there. Tight and thick yields a soft texture and creamy profile. I had an 18g double this morning @ 201.5F just under an ounce that really was exciting.

While the L. Street pulls best around 198f 16g ~2oz right now, this new blend is the apple to that orange. Different, but both are special.

The new blend doesn't have a name yet (I guarantee it won't be something vaguely Italian sounding) but should be on the shelf at the roasterie and in a select cafe we will promote sometime next week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brackish water

I heard about this phenomenon at a shop in Harvard Sq. where a filter problem led to some salty spro. The other day, I got to taste this first hand.

At first, I was lost on why the espresso was coming out so off at this one shop. Acrid and bile sours. Just horrible compared to the lab results.

The problem was not immediately obvious but after a series of tests and diagnosis issues, we finally found out what had happened. The water softener leaked into the espresso machine and brackish water was making for some nasty shots. What other damage may follow from this remains to be seen but at least we are aware of what happened.

Salty. If you ever heard the bit about putting a dash of salt into a bitter cup of coffee, it doesn't do good things for espresso. All the roast note vanished and sours became quite prominent.

The problem is being resolved but that was a weird experience trying to find out what was going on. You don't forget something like that.

Friday, November 07, 2008


The devil is in the water. Assuming you can get the grinds right and your brewer gets up to temperature, the one last issue is what water you use. I can almost certainly tell when someone has hard water by the description they give on the flavors of certain coffees. Water is too soft, same deal.

In a pinch, I use Poland Spring but it is a bit too soft and flat for coffee. It brings roast notes to the front and just seems thin in most brews. I like Eternal if you must get a bottled water. It can be found at whole foods and will bring a lot of flavors to the front in a round and sweet manner. Sometimes we run across people with harder water and they seem to have no roast notes while acidity jumps out of the coffees and the brew is not extracting or developing. The trick is getting everyone to see and taste what we are tasting at the shop.

At home, we recommend Brita Pitchers or the Zero pitcher when you don't have a good clean source.

The point is, use clean filtered water. Most areas have a local water quality monitoring system and you can send in samples for free and get results. In the past, we have contacted the Cambridge Water Operations Division and gotten info on the water supply. I highly encourage anyone to take a look at what's in their water.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's cold!

The weather is turning a bit chilly here. It's a good time to try some new coffees.

If you are still looking for a good hand mill or a pour over kettle, look right here. We have ice brewers and other unique items coming later, so keep an eye out.

As for coffees, the Kiandu is really good right now for those of you who like a balanced light roast with deep dark berry notes. We are still working on the Guatemala coffees that arrived but the Nimac Kapeh is available now. It's red fruit and distinctly Oolong character is really unique. The other Atitlan will be available later next week but it will be roasted only as an espresso. More coffees later...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jute free since 07

I know 'in season' is marketed as a cutting edge deal or at least that's the pitch. In an industry full of so much gimmicky nonsense and blatant chicanery, it is a good start. The thing that I want to know is what about the handful out there who aren't going the jute route? Where do we fit in this whole in season model?

There are two roasters local to our area who are adamant about not storing coffees in jute. We are very happy to to be one of them so excuse our barismo bias. Are there any others in North America whose entire storage is vacuum packaged?

If you want in season, you have to keep the coffee as close to the farm gate as possible and the concept that freshness is only a byproduct of time is a bit of a generalization. Time is only one of several factors that affects freshness. Setting a sell by date on milk would be silly if it were not stored in a proper container, away from contamination, and then kept at stable appropriate temperatures.

Why do we assume green coffee is so immune to age that it can sit in jute bags for months in open warehouses and say that the coffee will be fine? How can we even begin to account for the conditions of storage the coffees endured in transit? The fluctuating humidity and wildly changing temperatures are as fickle as ... well, the weather.

If we are going to trademark every term about quality, let's start with accounting for how the coffee get's here. Was it really fresh and in season when it arrives 3-4 months off milling and wasn't protected in some degree from the factors that act as catalysts for degradation?

This week provided an affirmation of just how difficult this issue is. I had to rejigger my whole roasting profiles as the new vacuum packaged at origin coffees began arriving. The Kenya Kiandu was our most recent lesson in how freshness makes a huge difference. After moving through an excellent batch, we began working through a bag that had lost it's seal at some point during transport. It was not the same coffee. The sweetness was there but the roundness and freshness of the coffee was no longer there. It just wasn't as dynamic and was a bit on the tannin side of the equation. That's still better than the wood and paper notes you see as a coffee really turns the corner and you have to move darker to balance the coffee.

I am profiling the Guatemalan coffees that have just arrived which were vacuum sealed at origin like the Kiandu and I will honestly say, I intend to work to have every coffee we source jute free from this point on, before it's arrival. It isn't cheap but fresh coffee doesn't begin and end at the roast date on the bag, it starts way back at the mill as that coffee leaves parchment and begins the long journey here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Deliveries, originally uploaded by coffeedirtdog.

Our Guatemalan coffees finally arrived.

More to come later...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Event: Getting the most out of your drip machine

Time: October 25th, 2~4pm
Place: 169 Mass Ave, Arlington
Fee: $0

Please join us at the shop for a session to get a better understanding of your auto-drip machines. Using a couple tricks, you can make a very flavorful cup of coffee (that rivals some manual methods) with this simple brew method. You are welcome to to bring your home drip machines and grinders if you wish, but please RSVP as counter space is limited. Email ben_A_T_barismo_D_O_T_com for more info.

Light roasting fresh coffee

This much is a fact at this point. If you have a fresh coffee, you can roast it pretty light. As a coffee ages, it ends up requiring a darker roast profile.

Working with the Kiandu has been a real lesson in reminding us how important keeping the coffees fresh can be. We can really push this coffee lighter and just make it pop. It's a real interesting issue as we have about four more coffee coming over the next few weeks that are really fresh or should be because they were all vacuum packed at origin.

That should be exciting but the work of getting this massive load of coffees into storage and then setting out to profile them for a production roast is a serious challenge.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

New crops arriving...

It's been a busy week. Last week and it looks like next week also.

This week, our new premium Kenya arrived in beautiful boxes sealed in shiny bags that popped open with the smell of fresh coffee. We profiled it and I think the final production profile was laid out Saturday morning. There will be more tweaks but I think we found the sweet spot. From that Saturday morning berried vanilla result came a much sweeter and more powerful cup. A tiny adjustment in a variable most have no control over put this coffee on the top shelf for me. I'll talk more about that soon as I have more fresh new coffees coming. Some more vacuum packaged stuff like the Kiandu was and a lot more work to do.

We debuted the newest Kenya, the Kiandu Microlot 9686, in an open house event this Saturday. We received a lot of positive response from the visitors who tried it. It went over great in Syphon but I noticed something odd. A lot of people in this area seem to cringe about Kenyan coffees. It's the acidity issue which I think is a touchy topic. Our fruit in the Kenya is juicy but not the tannin tart acidity you very often taste. To which, the response I have formulated is that drying astringency is not necessarily the terroir of the coffee, quite often it is a byproduct of the roast applied to it. Don't throw out the whole origin based on a few bad experiences. It's hard to get people to try something when previous experiences have been unpleasant. The feedback on this Kiandu was that it was really sweet, really juicy, and we won over more than a few converts to what Kenyan coffees are like in our profile.

Today was also another chance for us to debut our Kiandu at an event hosted by the coffee club at Olin College. We went out and did a talk on everything from processing methods to grinders and brewing. It was a good turnout (by one observer's note, almost 10% of enrollment showed for the event ;)) and we were appreciative of the interest. We kept it free flowing and informal but the audience was great and it was a lot of fun. The Kiandu in Syphon really was the highlight of the tasting though only a few days earlier, I was really sweating bullets over that coffee's roast profile.

That's generally how the business has been as we have fought so much to get up and running. A lot of ups and so many downs but we keep pushing forward. There are moments of doubt, self reflection, and then I just push forward. For that, there is nothing else I can say.

Next week, it will take a few roasts to get the Guatemalan coffees profiled to my overly critical group's liking but the lessons learned from this week will surely be essential to getting those Guatemalan coffees nailed quickly. Keep an eye out for them, we'll be busy working them over.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

barismo: Retail hours

The shop will be open to the public 12-6pm, Wed through Sun.

You can also catch us in house from time to time outside of those hours but those are firm.

We have Syphons, pour over kettles, and Skelton mills from Hario in shop. We will have more product from Japan and Taiwan in the near future. Along with our regular offerings of retail roasted bags. Retail roasts happen twice a week.

Events are scheduled and will continue to progress, stay tuned to the site for updates. We will update with a few of our partner accounts as things progress.

Our new Kenya has arrived and the much talked about Guatemalan offerings are being profiled right now.

169 Mass Ave
Arlington MA, 02474

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pourover demo

Today at the shop we will have a demo of different pour over methods. Cloth and paper cone pour overs as well as Abid and possibly Chemex styles if we have time.

Drop by and check it out.

Very informal today from 2-5pm.
[where: 169 Mass Ave Arlington, MA 02474]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Syphon Primer Companion

Forward: With Syphon brewing becoming tragically hip lately, we decided to go back and do a comprehensive look at our development in this Simon Hsieh inspired methodology for the Hario TCA-2 and how it has expanded in our community.

We started getting deep into Syphon more than a year ago. It was when we had access to some of Simon Hsieh's coffee and were inspired to understand more that we became serious. We adopted his methods off his blog and began an exchange with him about coffee and brewing in general that has really shaped our current direction away from where our community was headed (see Clover) at the time. We quickly adapted as much as we could understand and began quantifying the methods. We spent time evaluating why each step was important in the brewing process and where could we go with it. We attempted a basic video that got solid feedback and that was the beginning of a series of steps focused around Syphon brewing and demos.

We did demos here in town for small groups, traveled out west for a friend's Jam, and shared the methodology with others who were interested. Which brought us back to the beginning when Simon Hsieh visited us in the US. Some hands on technique was applied and some extra movements were removed to simplify and refine our brewing method. A few autographed copies of his book for good measure and a Syphon demo event topped the visit.

Fast forward to the future and you see competing methods being posted on other sites and more discussion about this old school method but more to the point, three of the six USBC finalists use a version of our preferred method!

So as we are moving on to new subjects we decided to compile a comprehensive primer and updated video people can use based on our experience. This is especially relevant as we now have the TCA-2 for sale at the brick and mortar shop. Enjoy~

The Complete Syphon Primer

Barismo Syphon Primer Demo

barismo: Syphon Coffee Primer

by Benjamin Chen (based on Simon Hsieh method).
For brewing with a Hario TCA-2
Before you start:

1. Rinse your filter in hot water and wash with cold water until it runs clear.
If this is a new filter, run through the brewing once without coffee to get rid of the cloth smell.

2. Rinse your Syphon to make sure it's clean. Check for cracks, Dry all exterior and make sure the lower globe is secured.

3. Hook the filter to the top. Make sure it's centered.

4. Pre-boil water in kettle and prepare a cold, damp towel.

5. Place ~35g of beans in the grinder. Run a little bit through to clean up previous grinds.


1. Fill hot water to the "2" mark on the side of the lower globe. These are little number inside a cup logo near the "hario" mark. (this works both for TCA-2 and TCA-3).

2. Insert upper chamber at an angle into the lower globe. DO NOT seal the top.
Make sure there is a gap for steam to escape.

3. Start your burner and place it in the center of the globe. Set it at max to speed up the heating.

4. Grind the bean into a container/cup. Scoop from the top, 32g of coffee into another cup. I recommend using the cupping cups. They are of nice size. Try to finish this step as close to "drop" as possible, but you can grind/weight before step 1 to avoid messing up.

5. Watch the water in the lower globe start to boil. At the sign of boiling (rapid bubble formation), straighten the top and lightly seat it. Do not "push/seal" the top hard. A very gentle downward pressure is enough. Make sure the top is center and straight.

6. Place the thermometer probe on top, near the bottom of the chamber, away from the center.

Adjust the burner to as low as you can without water falling from the top globe.

7. Watch the temp on top stabilize. There should only be very tiny bubbles and no turbulence. If you have leakage from the side, shift the filter with the stirring paddle until it's sealed. If you cannot get rid of that, start over and re-adjust the filter.

9. If your stabilized temperature is less than 91C, replace the top and increase the heat until it increase to 91C. If the temperature is more than 91C, stir the water on the top w/ your paddle rigorously until it decrease to 91C. (note: 91C is your target brewing temperature. Adjust per degree or roast... see further notes at the end).

10. Get your stirring paddle, coffee, and timer ready to go.


1. When water temp stabilizes to 91C, take out the thermometer probe.

2. Hold the coffee on your left hand and stirring paddle on your right.

3. Dump the coffee into the top chamber and immediately start the timer with your pinky finger.

Start your stirring immediately.

1st stir:

Below is my personal technique. You can do whatever you want. Just make sure you do not create any vortex, saturate the coffee completely, and finish your move in 5 sec. The faster the better.

Longer/vortex stir will result in bitterness in the cup...

1. Holding the paddle like a pen with the flat section parallel to the "x-axis" (left-n-right).

Starting on the left most of the "circle", stick the paddle into the coffee.
Move the paddle in a "N" motion (up, down, up) toward the right. You should be able to do 4 "stokes" in about a second.

2. Repeat the motion along the "y-axis" if you felt more agitation is needed.

3.Start from the very top (+Y), "scrape" the side of the top clock-wise 180 degrees.

Repeat the motion counter clock-wise.

If you did the stirring correctly, you should have something like this:

If you do not see the pale "crema" on top, that means your grinds are not fully saturated. Don't be afraid to REALLY stir up the grinds (as long as you don't create a vortex/whirlpool).

Stirring is the hardest part of the whole thing. Takes some practice to get use to. Whatever you do, make sure everything is well mixed, no vortex is created, and do it in 5 seconds.

An Aeropress paddle works REALLY well for stirring ;-)

*Tip about stirring: a lazy rhythmic motion actually works better than fast and violent motion.

Basically you are creating "waves" that crash into each other, mixing the top and bottom layer of the coffee.

2nd Stir:

When the timer hits 30 seconds, do a second stir. Sometimes when the coffee are fresh, it will be really sticky and you will felt like you aren't stirring at all. Make sure you DO stir it well like your first stir. You should see mostly black layers of coffee when you are done.

3rd Stir:

1. At 55 sec mark, turn off the heat and remove the burner from the lower chamber. Stir immediately. When done properly, you should only have a top layer of light-colored coffee of no more than 1/4" (~6 mm) thick. (Note: After your stir, pay attention to how much coffee remained on the top. The thicker the layer is, the less of extraction it got. Work on your stirring if it's the case.)

Draw down:

1. Immediately after 3nd stir, wrap the cold, damp towel on the upper left side of the lower globe near the "neck" (right side is where the handle is). Make sure the wet towel does not touch the lower portion of the bottom globe where the flamed touched.

2. The draw-down should be around 30~50 seconds. Darker roast and higher dose will increase the draw-down time. Longer drawn-down results in continued/over-extraction and will cause bitters in the cup.

Clean up:

1. When the draw-down is complete, wrap the towel with your left hand around the neck of the vacpot (the metal ring); holding the top with your right near the top rim, gently rock the top back and forth until it comes loose. Careful it's a bit hot.

2. Holding the top with your left hand, gently tap the rim downwards with your right to loosen the grinds. Dump the spent coffee and rinse with water.

3. Release the hook and take out the filter. Wash both top and the filter as clean as you can.

4. Place the filter in a small cup of hot water. The water will turn brown immediately. Shake the filter to rinse it for about 10 sec, then rinse with cold water until it run clear. Submerse the filter with clean cold water and store it (outside if you use frequent, in the fridge for longer term storage).

5. Pour the coffee out and rinse the lower globe both inside and out. After some usage, a brown stop might appear near the very bottom. This is most likely dried coffee.
Soaking it in cafiza once in a while takes that right off.

6. Wash your paddle and clean your towel.

Parameters for various methods:

Grind setting:

1. Super Jolly = 24~26 small notches coarser than espresso grind

2. Rocky = 27~30 from true "0" (burrs touching) fineness should be similar to table salt.

Directions for TCA-2/3:

Dark Roast (> Full City):
Temp = 89~90.5C
Dose = 20~30g (28 recommended, decrease if you have a lot of trouble stirring)

Light Roast (< Full City):
Temp = 90.5~92C
Dose = 24~32g (32 recommended)

1st stir = right after drop
2nd stir = @ 30sec
3rd stir = @ 55sec

note 1: temp is measured at the bottom, away from the center of the syphon top.
note 2: keep the stir under 5 seconds. Stir to fully saturate the grinds but not creating a vortex. A zig-zag/cross pattern works well.
note 3: kill the flame right before the 3rd/final stir. The top won't drop down
on you for another couple seconds.

Method II (aroma enhancement):

Roast: City+
Dose: 32g
Temp: 91C

- Same as method 1 but SKIP the 2nd stir @ 30sec.
- Keep the stir under 3 sec if possible

Method II will have thinner extraction compared to method I but preserves aroma.
Works wonders for a certain roast style/bean but under extracts most coffee. Use w/ caution.

Definition for full city is right before 2nd crack to 10 sec into 2nd. City+ is 30~60 sec after 1st ends.

And that is it. I think that is about as detail as I can give without step-by-step photos. Feel free to email with any more questions.


- A Zojirushi hot water pot is a great companion to the Syphon (and any manual coffee methods).
- The timer a thermometer probe similar to what was used in the video is great with vacpot (and any manual coffee methods).

Linnaean St. Espresso

We have been playing around with multiple names for the espresso blends lately. Our stock blend though it has changed was called (Ben K.'s idea), Rudiments. Honestly, we really want to call it elements but we aren't sure how the guys at Supreme are going to play that theme out and don't want to sound overtly similar. Rudiments is the essential basic blend barismo style. Since it is not set, we will come back to it later.

What I decided on with much harumphing from the group is that I want to name the one blend right now that is completely set something personal. We were calling the blend that was 25% CR Las Lajas miel, 10% Kenya Ichimara pb, 65% Brasil Morenihna Formosa screen dried, our 'Barista's Pick.' It's a simple blend highlighted by maple red apple notes mid palate and it just works really well. After playing with a few points on the acidity and mid tone, we settled on one line and percentages. I am changing the name to reflect a static blend called Linnaean St. Espresso even though I am sure there will be mispronunciations because the nonlocals give it a little more effort on the first 'a'.

When I first moved to Cambridge, we lived in a cramped Studio on Gray St. off Linnaean in Cambridge. It was also a block from where I cut my teeth as a barista. Taking a shop from Hazelnut coffee, nameless dark blends in jumbo cups, dull grinders, scalded milk, and ancient equipment with bad training to Estate Coffees and a decent reputation for espresso. That was a long time ago and many battles were fought that I don't care to recount but I will always have an affinity for the people I met, the relationships made, and the support they gave me.

I am now detached from the shop and doing my own thing but I don't forget the uniqueness of that area community. The willingness of the people I met to get personally invested or simply interested still impresses me even today. I grew so much so quickly with the confidence that people believed in us and the directions we were moving. In few other places could I have flourished the way I did. For that being said, the area has a lot of familiar faces and a personal attachment still.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Degree of roast

I have always had a lot of problems with discussion of roast degree. There are so many definitions floating around and many interpretations. Some of that lies in the liberal interpretations that are taken in descriptions.

I have seen fancy color coded color bars, listing actual agtron numbers on the bags, and even creating new roast degrees like 'full flavor'.

There is a problem.

If your roast has a high delta (outside bean color is in stark color contrast with grind samples) vs a very even roast, the same end level of agrton(grind sample) or drop point can mean something entirely different.

Our roasters are kinda special. The three we have are the only ones in North America like them.

Having an airflow where a normal roast that uses 5 of 10 settings, total control of drum RPM through a roast, a small enough batch size to really do some things you couldn't in larger batch sizes but large enough to be consistent, and a wicked patented hybrid drum. The drum is about ~60lbs of ~1" cast iron with some 2000 holes drilled by hand in the side and around the barrel. This allows for some really neat profiles that somewhat defy classic experience and traditional approaches.

We avoid the issues commonly associated with a perforated drum by having the large drum mass and a small ratio of perforations instead of the traditional screen. This also seems to make the roasts more stable since you are depending on the stored heat instead of ambient chamber air. Something that is more of an issue with an air roaster or any roaster that uses convection. You have such a tight control of airflow and still heat can penetrate so quickly that you can literally approach the roast in a solid drum/hot air hybrid profile and get some really unique elements out of the coffees.

Roasting is fairly consistent, keep tabs on the gas gauge, adjust for the ambient temp/humidity and go. Variance depends on humidity but there have not been any grassy or raw roasts produced, I promise. That's why I sign every roast that goes out because we cupped it first.

The point is, I can get to the exact same color or drop temp a myriad of ways. This renders a lot of the normal terminology a bit useless to a consumer. Our goal is to get the consumer into focusing on flavor decisions, not roast or origin buys so we had to come at it differently.

So I came up with a basic method we will use for now. Roast the coffees to the profile that works best. Note the 'degree of roast' by how much origin character vs roast development.

The idea is to use a number, 1 through 6, 1 being the most origin forward, 6 being the most roast development in the prescribed brewing method. Since we neither do a french roast nor a decaf, this works for now.

Style 5 would have a lot of roast development and softened origin characters, sweet deep roast notes would be dveloped. Style 2 would have little to no roast notes and intense origin characters like aroma and acidity would be enhanced.

It's a subtle thing on the bags and it doesn't really affect our overall approach that much but it was the best compromise. We are medium roasters, not dark simply for dark or light for the sake of light. We stay in that medium range and look for balance unless the coffee likes a little roast or a lot less.

By the way, the Kiandu is in the US, will be here soon. One of the first coffees to come out of Kenya vac sealed, should be fun to roast really fresh coffee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

barismo: Upcoming events

Based on the requests by those who missed out on a visit at the open house, we will split up and do a few follow up events so everyone can have a chance to have the same experience. Repeats welcome, new faces appreciated.

Other upcoming chances to sample coffees:
A Syphon demo at the shop hosted by Ben Chen.
Saturday Sept. 13th from 2-4pm

A few rounds of cupping hosted by Ben Kaminsky.
Thursday Sept. 18th from 6-8pm

A round of different style espressos presented by Chris van Schyndel.
Saturday Sept. 20th From 2-4pm

No RSVP, free to the public.
[where: 169 Mass Ave Arlington, MA 02474]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

barismo: Coffee lineup

So... we now have some offerings available while we await the vac sealed Guats and Kenya coffees which are literally arriving over the next few weeks. We are making it available through this site until we have something a little more formal.

The list includes:
Ichimara 07 - Nyeri region: Mid tone fruit, notes of black cherry, ripe and sweet, strong red fruit aromas. This is a Syphon coffee with a slightly lower temp.
Ichimara 08 - Nyeri region: A singularly (as peaberry are) sweet sugar cane note with classic Kenya fruit notes.
Kiandu 08 - This coffee arrives shortly. Vacuum packed and sealed at origin, more notes to come.

Las Pastorales 07 - Antigua region: Molasses, anise, vanilla, smoked plum. This sweet coffee is the darkest 'medium' roast we have done. It's a strong drip profile recommended for pour overs.
Nimac Kape 08 - Atitlan Region: This coffee arrives shortly. Vacuum packed at origin, this is one of a few coffees that were the first to leave Guatemala in something other than Jute. Intense sweetness, juicy fruit and strong aromas. We will detail the specific story of this find in a later post.
Alex Cardenas 08 - Atitlan Region: This coffee arrives shortly. Vacuum packed at origin, this is one of a few coffees that were the first to leave Guatemala in something other than Jute. Cupped like darjeeling tea with distinctly intense rose aromas. We will detail the specific story of this find in a later post.

Morenihna Formosa 07 - Cerrado region: African raised bed prep. Almond, pistachio, dried cherry. A Smooth softly fruited coffee. Makes for a good shot.

Costa Rica
Las Lajas 08 - Miel honey prep. Red apple, maple notes dominate. This is a stellar coffee because it isn't a classic pine cedar Costa Rica. Sweet, round, ripe, good challenge as a shot.

Barista's Pick
65% Formosa 25% Las Lajas 10% Ichimara peaberry.
Maple forward, sugar cane finish, apple mid palate and notes of nut and cherry.
This is a lighter roast, 196F to 198F 16g, 1.5 to 2oz. If the acidity dominates, lower the temperature or raise the volume a bit. Best on 5-7 days rest.

All coffees that aren't sealed at origin have been nitrogen flushed, vacuum packed on arrival and stored in a climate controlled cool storage.

In summary, there are a few more coffees coming but we will note them as they are closer. We have the online option but we highly recommend you drop by our space if you want a bag and save on shipping(if you can). You'll have to come off the feed reader onto the site if you want to sample one of these or visit us at the shop. Public hours are currently 12pm-6pm Tues. - Sat.
169 Mass Ave
Arlington, MA 02474

Saturday, September 06, 2008

barismo: full house

Thanks to everyone who took the time to drop by and sample some coffees. There is always the uncertainty of turnout but a big thanks to those who braved the heat and humidity to have some hot coffees because they made it a smashing success. To put it bluntly, it was as busy through the 2 hours as we could want and still keep control. It was great to meet so many new people and get honest feedback on the coffees.

One of the most rewarding things after months on the roaster working on profiles is to share your coffees with someone else and see them get the descriptors right. For this, it was a great revelation even if I am seriously tired tonight.

For those too busy or otherwise committed. Many shots were pulled, a few pounds worth of two different espresso offerings. A few rounds of cupping were later followed by some Syphon brews and I can honestly say, I did hear from a few people that it was the most caffeinated they have been by choice in a while.

The newest espresso blend, still searching for a name (currently called barista's pick), was really knocking out some good shots with the help of Chris (much props to the mad barista). A Brazil component that was almond and soft cherry @ 65%. A Costa Rica Miel component that was maple and red apple @ 25%. A Kenya Peaberry that was a clean sugar cane soft taffy cherry @ 10%. The maple note really sealed it paired with the clean sugar cane of the Peaberry in the finish while the acidity was very toned but clean and pleasant. Really happy with it but need to call it something a little more expressive.

This was the first time in a long time I felt like I got some of the mojo back from the last big event. Next time, we will keep it to one theme or another like Syphon or Espresso.

A lot of requests for home user events have been made and it is on the list so keep you readers linked here.

Thanks again to all of those who stopped by.

Friday, August 29, 2008

barismo: Open House September 6th 2pm

We will open the shop to the general public Sat. September 6th from 2-4pm for an informal coffee tasting.
[Where:169 Mass Ave Arlington, MA 02474]

There will be rounds of cupping and the espresso blend known in Porter Sq. as 'You're Beautiful' will be on tap pulled by a local barista.

No fees, No RSVP, a few rounds of cuppings, lots of chatter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clover coffee brewer

Let me preface this and say Zander and Co. are good people. Visiting them and seeing the production facility was great fun back in the day and the swag was exceptionally nice. I am happy they made out well.

Gucci Stumptown, originally uploaded by jaminsky.

Problem is, I was never on the bandwagon with the hipsters who fell hard for the Clover brewer. I know it's unfairly hip now to be anti clover and tote the 'back to manual' bit even when few are willing to spend the time to learn what that really means. Sadly, that's how the online community works. So many people are trying to reinvent the wheel with approaches to pour over and syphon when you really just need to start with a good base. If it was easy, everyone could do it amazingly well and yet we have a generation of barista who came into coffee focused on espresso and latte art that are just in the last year finding these old brewing methods again. The book is still open on that one.

Clover always had a few problems with it's design that kept me from getting behind it. So let's go.

Top 5 reasons you shouldn't feel bad you didn't get a Clover:

#1 Fines. The metal filtration really just didn't do it. Clean cup? Out of the question. You could go with a finer screen but the simple fact was that you cannot equate the depth filtration of a cloth filter or the cleanliness of a paper filter in any metal filtration. If you want a very expensive french press brewer where you end up using a coarse grind and enjoy the sediment, you missed out when Clover was available.

#2 Temperature. On several machines we tested, the actual temperature seemed to have different drifts. It could have been issues with different versions but we noticed very quickly there was a temperature drop in the brewing chamber on the machines we had access to. This one never really made sense when you had a heat wrap that was essentially limited in how high it could be set which would have cured the temperature drop problem. It's hard to argue that anything other than flat line brew temperatures in espresso or any other method is a good thing yet nobody voiced this concern in public.

#3 Extraction.
Because of the declining temperature and the fines issue, you simply had an under extraction problem. Shooting for short brew times and volume duty in this design meant sacrificing a full extraction. You could compensate by upping the dose but often the cups were either paper thin with a light dose or all high end and fleeting with a hefty dose. Some rationalized this as a 'Clover Cup' vs a paper filter but it was a widely known issue.

#4 Agitation.
The trick to squeezing a little more sweetness always seemed to be contentious. Our version which was not widely practiced is as follows: Make sure the water is up to temp and the chamber is full. Then add the coffee and stir it to get a full immersion. Another optional stir mid brew and then a final stir just as it draws down. Just like a Syphon which allowed our brew times on Clover to be longer than others who used the stock whisk and recommended method. While that could do something towards getting a little fuller sweetness, the other problems of filtration were often made worse by agitation that caused fines to filter to the bottom or center. Anyone who has spent time time with technical Syphon methodology (not the steaming scalding ones of tradition) and pour over begins to see this relationship is very important relative to draw downs and the extraction of bitter and astringent flavors.

#5 Clovernet. Did any of the indy shops who bought a Clover ever have a need for this?

Of course, I now wear my Clover shirt proudly and bring the mug out for special visitors. I like it particularly because the hipsters want to ditch the Clover so badly and knock on it's sale to Starbucks yet when they bought it, it was the best thing ever. Clover is not any better or worse than it was before it was bought but the truth is that like many things in our community, the signal to noise ratio is often pretty poor.

Frankly for the perfect fit, you would need a fairly dark roasted coffee for which you could under extract the roast bitters and then the heavy up dose might squeeze some origin character out of otherwise very stale coffee. Then you just need a customer base that would interpret sediment as body. The coup de grâce would be hundreds or possibly thousands of shops that would need to be coordinated by a simple electronic or possibly online interface that superseded dependence on it's end user for calibration(aka Clovernet).

Grinder Dynamics

You are probably expecting a big amazing post about grinder function and design which isn't coming. Frankly, as hardcore as you can be about every little detail, the state of a grinder's blades are something that escaped me the other day. We were comparing shots of two espresso down at Simon's and one grinder turns out to have much older blades. Not completely dull but just enough to smooth out the character and add some weird mid tones.

I loaned him one with a timer mod because his switch broke, it's not unlike the one pictured in the previous post but with a different style and push button. Pulling a shot on that was a revelation on how much the blades have an effect on your coffee. Same class grinder, new blades.

While so many shots in town are pulling 20 second gushers on dead -never been changed- blades, I realistically might be able to count on one hand the shops that change them on their own here. There are many shops, the kind where you can't adjust the grind because it's so worn into a groove, any change will make unpullable shots.

Most of us have been there who have worked at more than one shop. I followed (some would proffer instigated) the whole series of upgrades at Simon's from replacing the utterly shot blades on an SM90 right up to the current row of Mazzers. The clarity of fresh blades should be something I would be used to but it's rare times when you are forcefully reminded of the difference.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grinder timer modification

Ginder timer mod

Omron timer (00.01~99.99 seconds), ebay
Aluminum project box, RadioShack
Momentary pushbutton, RadioShack

Reducing coffee waste and able to grind on push of a button, priceless...

Monday, August 18, 2008

On tap

We did a signature espresso blend for a local friend based on our knowledge of his preferences. It's something we plan to do for each of the handful of people we work with. Just a simple pairing of two coffees to give him something that fit his flavor profile for espresso.

A few notes about what came of it. We received a slew of positive feedback among which I will take the time to share a few bits and pieces I found funny.

One comment from a Brooklyn interloper was that it was a traditional North Italian. It's a medium roast and yes, it does technically fit in that range but it's not something I would say because that wasn't the idea going in. Point is, it's not a triple ristretto deep disco type of thing but it's simply light because there was only a goal of a specific taste profile, not agtron.

A former Copacafe barista said simply, it's very good but there is too much of X component in the blend. Yes, putting the percentages on the bags makes for some armchair quarterbacking but we expect that. In a way it's fun because when you watch people read the components after sampling, you notice them saying, oh that's what flavor X was.

It's strangely awkward.

You work a long time to develop something, a concept or an idea. Then you get to the stage where you have to share and realize it. You have to come out of the lab and talk with real humans beings which is entirely tiring but likewise cathartic. You get wrapped up in your own world of 'Skeleton grinders' and Vacuum Packing for so long, it becomes easy to forget just how novel all of it is. I'm in a place where the worry over if it lives up to the expectations is met with the reality of how it is actually served up. The irony is that you almost expect issues after having so many months of problem solving sessions and it becomes hard to sit back to just enjoy the positive feedback and stop to have a shot. Getting an excited text message about 'ice cream cappa' is almost a bit hard to share in the excitement when you are refining and critiquing but you have trouble switching into sell mode to talk about how great it is.

Of course the next phase is a lot of training sessions, calibrations, machine mods, well... you know the drill.

Favorite quote has to be when the shop owner visited us and I pulled him a shot only an hour or two off the roast. He responds by telling me, 'shots are pulling better at the shop.' While we are barismo, I don't think I am good enough to beat three days worth of shots in a single pull but I digress. That's kinda cool in it's own way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Godshot and the flowvana

I was a barista.

We are moving in a lot of directions at once right now so it's hard to really say what I have moved from barista to doing specifically. As I go forward, given the reputation I had on bar, there has been a lot of discussion by those in our circle and around us that is making me feel a bit introspective. One friend described my time behind bar as a cult with it's own mythology. Like the legend of what we were doing behind bar became greater than the actuality. In some way, I agree because we were doing a lot of things that were very progressive at the time though more common now, the void after it suddenly stopped created an emptiness I myself sometimes struggled to fill. Another friend related to me yesterday that it was like the first battle of the civil war. Without the press and attention or had competing shops and our roaster taken us more seriously, we would not be here because it should have been over before it started.

I am easily willing to attest to the fact I wouldn't be dabbling in roasting or sourcing if I had not had so much friction with roasters and middlemen when I was on bar. That friction literally gave us a name and in part allowed us to second guess and test everything freeing us from the almost ideological obsession many get working with one roast style. I might have had a hand in sourcing some equipment and gone that direction but you can never say for sure. The thought has occurred to me more than once I could have been a working barista for much longer had I not been forced down the road of learning what was going on with the roast. When you are not in control, you might be encouraged to take the next step forward, more of a plunge and you either sink or swim which remains to be seen.

At that point, the vision of a large cafe with multiple SOE and a sweeping bar laden with top notch barista and dual espresso machines went down the drain like a sink shot. We shifted directions because it was no longer an option when you didn't have a product to believe in. Now my focus is set on training and working on concepts that will play a supporting role to others in the cafe. That means, some light roasting duty for limited volume and a heck of a lot of ambitious focus on getting some unique gear and equipment to play in cafes. To which a huge syphon post is about to land on barismo...

I guess it's true of anyone who tries to focus on the task at hand with seriousness and pride. You expect a lot and you desire to deliver but rarely do things align where you can actually deliver. You get the equipment, you find the training, and then finally, you realize you cannot control the coffee or function in the bureaucracy. Coffee becomes the last uncontrolled variable in the equation. This leads the obsessive types having urges to begin moving backwards in the supply chain to try and take total control of the product.

Coming in as a barista may actually be a blessing. I know it brings a specific perspective to how I approach everything.

I have had some pretty good shots in the lab lately and I feel a little yearning to get back on bar though that is quickly quashed by discussions of ghetto lattes and blender drinks. Really, it's almost a fear I can't bust out and tune that shot in the middle of a rush anymore but I know I can even if it may take a day or two to get my mojo back. I do prefer to play backup these days and just focus on tuning shots and training. To let someone else pull shots and work the blend giving advice and only stepping in when it's not getting closer is much less stressful. Quite enjoyable if not quite as sexy as the dream of the cafe that someday will happen.

Friday, August 08, 2008

10 Reasons coffee doesn't taste like the bag descriptions

10. Water - There are times when water plays an issue in what tastes are coming from a brew. Use good water, filtered, or even bottled if you are not sure. Sample different waters and compare.

9. Grind - The grind is off or worse, your blades are dull and worn out. Worn out blades are the most common problem in cafes and frequent home users.

8. Brew time - Over or under steeping can leave you with an undeveloped cup or some unpleasantly bitter or dry notes. Pay attention to time.

7. Temperature - If you have a home drip coffee maker, your temp is probably too low, a common espresso machine, your temp is either way too high or way too low. Either way, check it and eliminate it as an issue.

6. Crop variance - Few coffees will ever be exactly the same throughout an entire offering. The more bags, the more likely there will be some natural crop variance throughout. This is unavoidable in all but the most premium lots.

5. Weather - Humidity or ambient temperature could have played a part in either storage or in creating variance during the production roast. This is an unseen factor which cannot be accounted for by the end consumer.

4. Roaster error - You could write a novel on this point. Needless to say, nobody is perfect and sometimes the coffees run the profile but something was wrong. Something wasn't cleaned, an appropriate change was not made to compensate for environmental variation, or worse in that the roaster could not identify the error even post roast. I know some roasters just cannot handle the wet and high grown coffees so they end up with raw tasting sharp astringency and other weird flavors that vary batch to batch.

3. Brew method - Everyone has different evaluation methods. We cup and then vac pot, (then espresso for some roasts) but that's not common. We heard one roaster uses a technivorm for evaluation but most people just use traditional cupping which often doesn't taste like your home brewer's profile. For espresso, it's as simple as the difference between using a GB5 and a Robur vs an E61 with a Jolly, don't expect the same tastes.

2. Age - Coffee gets old. Roasts age and fade in the weeks after roast but more interestingly, unroasted coffees fade and change. So X roaster prints a thousand fancy labels and you buy one bag of retail coffee the first month it arrives. Buying a second retail bag three months later, the chances are it won't be the same but the label won't change because it's cheaper to print labels ahead. Simple common sense tells us that as raw coffee fades in color, something is lost so it should be a given for anyone who reads this blog to accept coffee gets old.

1. Personal palette - I think of some of our west coast friends who caught the light roast bug. They constantly use terms they are familiar with like 'jolly rancher' or 'stone fruit' which is probably accurate but not everyone will relate. Tasting notes can be very subjective simply because your vocabulary is based on your own personal experiences. Worse, some cuppers give you notes that are romantically inclined and can border on romantic imagery vs the impression of a distinct taste.

Personal palette is most often the reason or excuse given when you buy a bag and don't get the taste descriptors. This can often be followed by either delicate or often abrasive critique of your brew method/water/personal ability depending on how customer service is at that roaster. Let's put it simple, chances are you won't get the bag descriptors in your cup.

It begs the simple question, how useful are taste descriptors on the bags?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Rebagging coffee

This is one of my least favorite things to do. Reading a bit on the Wendelblog about re-bagging Kenyan coffee's, it reminded me how much I hate doing it.

We had a lot of Brasil coffee that were worrisome. We transferred them out of jute (as we do any coffee not sealed at origin) and had them in liner bags until we vacuum packed them a bit later when the equipment arrived. It was not fun packing. You really had to be careful how you bagged them and how you stacked them because if the seal broke, the entire purpose of repacking was lost. It took us a while to get a method down so that you could stack the 'bricks' and not worry about the pressure breaking the seal. We used nice bags and though I don't have photos to share, it is impressive to see the pallets of silver bags.

What made the Brasil so worrisome and really bothered me was every time I opened a bag to profile on the Mini, the coffee would change and fade relatively quick. We are talking about two to three weeks of time in my kitchen closet and the coffee just died. Rather strangely, this remarkably clean tasting screen dried natural became a fermenty wild 'strawberry' natural with the bready Brasil character I hate so much. A few times it even became peasy and/or dirty peanut. I doubt I will buy more Brasil in the future if I can get a good Rwanda source but that's another discussion entirely.

The weird thing was going back after six months, the vacuum packed bags are still fine though lacking that fresh character but I have a lot of half opened bags that just went nasty quick. Makes you really wonder what's going on when people say coffee can last so long or be stored in such poor conditions without them noticing an issue.

Jute is out, nitrogen flushing and vac packing is the new progressive standard.

Monday, August 04, 2008

barismo coffee: notes

IMG_3453, originally uploaded by edwinfvh.

I saw this photo and it reminded me to take a moment and breathe. This is a photo of some of the first Guatemalan coffees to exit Guatemala in something other than jute. We are proud to have a hand in that process and look forward to seeing more lots exit the country that way. Guatemala is such a great place for good coffees. I am told the 18th of this month, our premium Kenyan coffee arrives which is also vacuum sealed at origin. We were lucky on this one because someone else already established the demand. We were all set to have our pick flown in at what is a pretty high cost until we found out vacuum packaging was ready and of course we jumped on it.

People talk a lot about quality but if you really look at the handful of people who have pushed progressive packing, that set the bar for me. Anyone can fawn over 2 buck chuck or overpay for the right to have paid the most but I respect those who put the money into preserving the coffee. How much of that proverbial 90pt+ coffee faded on the boat over bagged in jute? Who is legit if they ignore that, stuff the green in a hot and humid warehouse, then pitch you a romantic story? There is a lot of showmanship and you have to dig deeper to feel out what's behind the bravado.

This is a fun week. Profiling and working on the big roasters. Waiting for coffees to arrive. I owe a lot to Simon Hsieh for giving us a starting point to work from. I don't disrespect the influence he has had among others.

Roasting is complicated. Imagine working three variables: drum speed, air flow, BTU(heat). Now imagine you had no base, how long would it take you to find the right drum speeds, air settings, and gas settings for one coffee? If you apply true scientific method(which almost no professional roasters do), you would only change one variable at a time and test each single variable independently.


Take a basic profile and then test variations with a scientific process and you can progress very quickly gathering a mountain of data quickly.

We have a special roaster which was a great burden but I really believe it will be something great. It is a 4 kilo called a direct flame but it's really a hybrid. The drum is solid cast iron with a couple thousand holes drilled in it so it's not the mesh of traditional direct flame drums. This overcomes a lot of issues in the roast inherent in traditional direct flame roasters. The profile is a combination of an air roaster with a solid drum slash direct flame. You can get explosive aroma, deep sweetness, and the acidity can be decidedly candied instead of sparkling or the more common sharpness. The air flow is amazing and patented by the way. I won't post photos but the mfg developed a manner to make the airflow fairly linear. It operates, in essence, like a camera aperture. Gone are the dorky damper style flaps which are often limited to open, half, or closed where one quarter may not really mean one quarter. The custom air flow has 10 settings of which I use about 5 during a normal roast.

Other specs: variable drum speed, gas gauge, digital bean probe with measurement to one tenth of a degree(can be ported and data logged), and an analog probe in the exhaust. All of those components are controlled on a box that is located about chest high which beats bending over to adjust/log or having a stand with cords you can trip over. The flame pilot and lighting sequence is absolutely b-spec, automated with a flame sensor, timed lighting sequence, and the gas valve has an auto shutoff sequence when it reaches the over temp alarm. The kicker is an external chaff collector which is massive and completely unheard of for a roaster this size.

There were definitely some growing pains but thankfully I had been working the baby version of this, affectionately called the Mini, for half a year previous. The profile scaled up very well so it only took a dozen roasts to get comfortable. Though, honestly, I don't think we will ever stop long enough to really get comfortable so it's all relative.

All I can say is that for the first time in months, I had one of those moments the other day where I was smiling and goofy instead of deep in problem solving mode. It's a good feeling.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How to b-spec your coffee roaster

Take one coffee roaster. Replace every single wire and connectors. Sprinkle in some new components. Add a lot of sweat and frustrations... b-spec!

Before and After(control panel):


Before and After(Power Distribution):


Before and After(Chassis):


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The biggest known secret in town

I have gotten the requests for coffees via text messaging and email. When the Guatemalan coffees arrive at the end of this month, I will be sending out samples. I am a bit overextended right now trying to juggle several things so pardon the space in emails. With a little help from friends, the project is coming together as I write.

So about those Guatemalan coffees.

Earlier this year, we had an interesting venture organized in Guatemala. The idea was to identify three things: 1. Packaging 2. Sorting 3. Distribution

We wanted to know how to get the packing we wanted, the sorting we desired, at the earliest distribution point where we could still control these factors while having access to a large selection of traceable sources.

Sorted outThat was the idea but it quickly grew into something a bit more complicated. We became pitchmen working to get our brand access in venues which normally only deal in very large volumes. It was a tough sell but we found people willing to listen. Easiest of the three were our sorting requests. While brokers and exporters were either unsure or ambivalent about this request, it really resonated with the mill managers we met. Getting milling to better than a specialty Grade 1 sort with substantially less defects therein justifying us to call it a 'Grade Zero.' After about the third place we visited, we had a clearer idea of how distribution works, how receipts are tracked, who makes decisions, and what the demand is currently on the system. We came across the most interesting idea that sounds stupid simple. There are a lot of great coffees that go through channels we will never see. There are also so many exceptional coffees mixed in large blends that disappear, roasted into oblivion. We need to get at some of those coffees and that became a defining goal.

A lot of cuppingI can't think of a better place than Guatemala for this because of the range in micro climate, consistently high elevation, and clean production methods. For all the great coffees in Guatemala, they suffer one problem. The obsession with profile. Way too many people we met were focused on what the profiles should be when our simple goal was to identify the cleanest, sweetest, most aromatic and distinct. There are plenty of classic mineral acidity Guatemalan coffees though there are also so many more profiles that get blended away or devalued for lack of demand that are coffees I would pay money to have kept separate.

Posh labsAfter tables and tables of coffees, and having lots broken down smaller and smaller, we found coffees we were excited about. I had to leave one behind but found an exceptional aromatic coffee with a floral rose tea like character and another that can only be described as sickly sweet, juicy, and strong aromatics and yet both from the same area. In the end, we are likely to have 5 Guatemalan coffees of which none are really similar.

The final bit which was contingent on getting the floral stuff was getting the packaging done. We were hesitant to believe this would happen but after a lot of footwork by Edwin and a bit of luck, we got the sealing together at the last minute. Multiple box designs and time spent testing led to some solid results. They ended up with 19lb vacuum sealed bags in custom cardboard boxes. These are the first coffees exported from Guatemala that are in something other than jute. To which Anacafe gets a big thanks for allowing this to happen and supporting the desire to do this. The result of these efforts is that there is now a way to get vac sealed coffees out of Guatemala be it Cup of Excellence or just something you want to protect.

Work hard to create a demand, do the footwork, and put your money where your mouth is. It may work out or it may not but you have to play it out. I'm happy with how it turned out and I can't wait until the coffees get here. I am already looking at farms to visit, new brokers willing to host, and getting in deeper next year by returning with a larger group of buyers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

This week's trade news

Photo blogger and roaster Steve Ford was traded from team Ecco to team Ritual for Drew Caitlin and a bag of coffee to be named later. Details of the across the bay blockbuster are still mum.

Rumors of a Ryan Brown (Ritual) for Aleco (Stumptown) trade still swirl but appear unlikely in the wake of this deal. With a starting rotation bolstered by the addition of crafty veteran Ford, it relieves the pressure on rookie Owens and the oft injured Brown. It is rumored team Ritual will now be looking for an acquisition to bolster it's offense.
and now back to your normal non sucka free program of things that actually make sense.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Jamin Haddox @ Cafe Imports

The following is an interview with Jamin Haddox of Cafe Imports. This flows from conversations in early November 07. It's good that the questions asked then are still so pertinent. Jamin's boss has a scathing article on storage/transport bagging methods for green coffees in the recent issue of Roast Magazine that is worth a read. His opinion's on freezing are worth noting as they break with notable wavers on the subject. We will follow up this green storage focus with a post of our own trip to Guatemala and the success barismo has had in this area with the invaluable Mr. Martinez which addresses the last answer Jamin provided in this interview.

barismo: What is your role with Cafe imports and how long have you been with the company?

Jamin: I'm the Quality Control Manager for Café Imports. I'm in charge of the cupping lab, and am responsible for roasting, cupping, grading, and all other quality-related issues. I've been with Café Imports since September of 2006.

barismo: We talk a lot about preservation of coffee but it's a very complex topic.
What factors affect fading/aging/decay and what factors are qualified as contamination?

Jamin: It is very complex. At Café Imports, we've designed some basic experiments to help us learn and understand in more detail what these factors are. Let me point out that I'm not a scientist, but am learning, slowly, what some of these factors may be. A lot of things can cause coffee to age, including its own respiratory processes as it sits after processing. Free moisture and water activity play a key factor in coffee flavor deterioration. Water activity is a way to describe water's specific energy, which can be explained in simpler terms as how stable the free moisture is inside the coffee. Put another way, water activity can describe how willing water is to enter or leave the bean. Water bonds readily to volatile chemicals in coffee, many of which are responsible for coffee's unique flavors and positive cup attributes. So water in coffee can act like a transport mechanism, carrying materials either in or out of the bean. Once volatiles are transported to the surface of the bean, they are oxidized or evaporate, and you can never recover that loss. Eventually all desirable compounds are lost or transformed, leaving mainly the cellulose structure of the bean. Many call this "baggy" or "wet cardboard", which is essentially, all that's left.

We don't consider oldish flavors in a past crop coffee to be contamination or defect, but rather an expected and accepted part of coffee "fading" in un-protected jute. However, in a new crop coffee, we would never accept a coffee that exhibited signs of oldishness or "baggy" jute flavors.

As far as contamination is concerned, there are a lot of weird flavors that can end up in coffee. We recently cupped an incredibly floral central American coffee, and learned that somehow handsoap had been spilled on the bag prior to shipment and the artificial fragrance had leeched through the plastic sample bag and into the coffee. This fragrance survived the roast and ended up in the cup. Coffee is hygroscopic and will soak up almost anything placed next to it and store this contamination mainly in its fats. Some countries treat jute with a petroleum-based preservative which imparts a fumy, menthol and diesel flavor to the cup. Many times, the first indication of contamination can be detected from simply smelling the green beans prior to roasting.

We want to find ways to preserve coffee's nuance and delicate flavors. Coffee that's only 3 months off the tree should still taste fresh and vibrant, but many times this is not the case. Coffee is easily damaged by fluctuation in temperature and humidity, and can suffer considerable loss of quality during transport from origin to its destination alone. This is so common in the industry, that many cuppers (including myself at times) fail to recognize it in the cup. Most coffee shops would never accept stale pastries from their baker, yet they sell old coffee (green as well as roasted) all the time. The question that we're interested in exploring is how to minimize fading in green coffee in a realistic and sustainable way. What are the ideal storage conditions for green and how much fading naturally occurs under ideal storage conditions verses how much do we enforce and expedite because of careless practices and lack of good information?

barismo: Moisture appears the biggest problem in green, can you detail some byproducts of moisture problems?

Jamin: Mold growth is probably the biggest problem. Mold growth can occur in green coffee when water activity in the bean is at favorable levels to support mold growth. Mold growth can lead to Orchratoxin contamination in green coffee. This is regulated quite heavily in Europe and other countries around the world (though not in the US), since Ochratoxin A is a mycotoxin that has been shown to cause renal toxicity and liver and kidney cancer. Most studies I've seen involving mold and roasted coffee, however, refer to the fate of Ochratoxin A during further processing (roasting, brewing, etc.).

Other problems include flavor taints, or loss of flavor, as described earlier. Mold is a terrible thing to taste in coffee.

barismo: We have focused a lot on defects (not taints) on the small scale and have actually noted increases in pales, molds, and other discolorations as coffees age, can you elaborate on this phenomena and what roasters can do to slow or stop this once coffees are to be warehoused?

Jamin: Coffee that is improperly dried at origin can exhibit these characteristics. Also, coffee that is stored in high humidity can mold and change color. Certain coffees from Indonesia are shipped with very high initial moisture. These coffees are less stable and can break down, discolor, or mold more readily than properly dried coffee. They are also more susceptible to insect damage. Coffee that has been exposed to extremes in temperature and humidity, especially large fluctuations, can also exhibit these traits.

barismo: Can you detail the hermetic grain tent (GrainPro)at origin idea?

Jamin: I can offer a brief explanation. Storing coffee at origin can be challenging because of infrastructure and lack of adequate storage conditions. GrainPro, Inc. is a company that manufactures products mainly for the seed industry and has a product for preserving food sources such as grain and seed in countries of origin, mainly in the third world. They've developed a tent or "cocoon" for controlling temperature and humidity for storage of bulk coffee at origin. Coffee in parchment is placed into shipping container-sized cocoons that are designed much like a Hazmat suit with special zippers and a layer of nearly-impermeable plastic. These can be set up outdoors with a refractive tarp for shade and seal hermetically to keep pests and other maladies at bay. An interesting side effect of hermetically sealing coffee, however, is that the natural respiration of the coffee actually flushes the chamber with CO2, creating an almost ideal environment for coffee storage while killing insects and molds. Studies have been undertaken that show almost no decrease in cup quality or moisture content of coffee stored this way for 9 months.

barismo: Freezing is a controversial topic. Can you detail current investigations into freezing, flash freezing, and related thawing issues?

Jamin: Freezing is controversial, and I don't have enough direct experience to feel comfortable commenting on this.

barismo: What are the issues we face economically and customs related in supplanting jute as a packing material?

Jamin: Jute has some great things going for it: It's cheap, and relative to other man-made products, especially petroleum based plastics, it is environmentally friendly. The drawback is that it provides almost no protection from environmental conditions that are detrimental to coffee quality. Coffee is largely a cost-driven economy, with few willing to compete on quality. Like anything, there must be a desire within the market for emerging storage technologies, and a willingness to embrace the pricing changes that this would certainly demand, before this will be explored seriously by those able to provide it.