company - education - coffee

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Latte art

Latte art is a pet peeve for me really. I can pour with the best of them, and really, anyone can with enough time and repetition. Latte art isn't that hard and contrary to Jon's comment in the video, you don't need particularly good or well executed espresso. In fact, you can have some pretty average milk and still pull off a decent rosetta.

As someone who is very passionate about the cup taste, it is a frustration that latte art often becomes the focus of many the barista and customer. I know that within a single training session, most people can pour latte art but it will take close to a thousand pulls to really build a feel for good espresso. Sure, triple rosettas, pac man breathing fire, it's all novel at first but after a while, it isn't as rewarding as a straight shot drinker showing appreciation over the cup flavor.

I taught myself how to pour latte art with a mostly trial and error approach. I had never seen it except in some Schomer print article. I had not found the forums or the online community obsessed with latte art and the (new at the time) bottomless portafilter until later. The comments from customers were warm and reassuring, sometimes humorous. 'Did you see this?' being curious and 'I thought he only poured those for me but he pours them for everyone' being my favorite.

After a bit of time, customers became accommodated to the art and you could pour five in a cup and nobody would bat an eye. In fact, I would get taken aback when someone actually mentioned the latte art.

It is in this that I believe latte art has it's limits. It's the bare minimum, in my opinion because it is a visual aspect not essential to cup flavor. I rue the shops that post latte art on the walls because it is almost a statement of evolution and that the customer base has not moved beyond that point. When everyone in shop is pouring art everyday, you don't need photos to make the point. Maybe I am thinking too deeply.

Of the few shops here in Cambridge that have a barista or two pouring latte art, maybe two actually have sharp (or even ever changed the) blades on the grinders and use a proper dosing technique with a real tamper that actually fits the basket. So as I simultaneously condemn latte art I also realize it is rarer than it should be.
Latte Art
By the way, if anyone wants a latte art class, let me know ;-)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Iced coffee

iced coffee, originally uploaded by coffeedirtdog.

A friend challenged me to do an iced coffee that could be approachable but still be interesting. Maybe the warm weather had him convinced summer had already arrived. The foul weather today would easily discourage that belief.

We experimented a lot with overnight brews and variations of the full immersion cold brew. It's fantastic but way over caffeinated. Currently, I am just brewing a pour over of each sample I work with and then chill over night because that is more relevant to what most people are working with. I drink the sample the next few days and see where it's at. So far one excellent profile has stood out.

In my experiences, a coffee where the roast profile mellows the acidity and builds mid tone works best. I found that going just into second crack seems to be just enough roast note for balance in the coffees I like. From experience, the worst versions of iced coffees seem to be the black and tan or melanges which have simultaneously too much bitter roast and strong acidity. I hope to avoid that and just have a very balanced and very drinkable every day style iced coffee. Refined, simple, clean, and balanced.

I know iced coffee is a real New England thing. Everyone here goes crazy over iced coffee during the rare summer-like days. I'll admit that until recently, I had not given much thought to it. Much of the iced coffee offerings seemed unappealing and I felt very little interest. When someone throws down the gauntlet though, I will take it seriously.

The truth I have come to behind my lack of drip(and iced coffee) coffee love is the amount of grassy and often bitter roasts I was exposed to were really tearing up my poor stomach. The grassy astringency of some people 'roasting raw' can turn my acid sensitive stomach into knots in minutes. Getting deep into roasting helped me notice this. Grassy is generally something that becomes even more present in an iced coffee but equally as hard on the stomach as a hot brewed cup. Clean up the grassy notes and it's fine, I can drink it, no problem.

The current cup, already gone at this point of writing, is an Antigua roasted for an ice coffee brew and I'm feeling it enough to write this post. I just hope summer weather arrives soon so we can start having a real excuse to drink it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Barista magazine meet Simon Hsieh

Current issue (April/May 2008)of B-Mag has a brief piece (pg 18) I wrote on Mr. Clean Green's visit to the US.

Some people still wonder about the towel method. As Simon would say when you ask him any substantiative what if, 'try it.' Like everything we do, it isn't for show, it serves a purpose. I remember one full time internet coffee pundit questioned the method as just for show. I thought, this guy never tried the method nor does he bother to measure temp or time when brewing vac pot, am I supposed to take him seriously?

All that said, having a spiffy new GB5 will really limit brew time on the vac pot so... remember this:

Test everything, try everything, but sometimes it just comes down to being in the same room with the same coffee in a specific roast style. If you are lucky enough to have a TCA 2 from Hario, Simon does do overseas orders.

A Wee Bit Of Coffee

A Wee Bit Of Coffee, originally uploaded by jaminsky.

I just received an email entitled 'Update on your Guatemalan vac sealed coffees' and it made me smile. An update on that sometime later.

You'd be surprised how 'not like we think it is' the whole coffee exporting system is. There are fantastic coffees that just never make it to the tiny percentile of specialty roasters looking for it. Part of it is the simple fact they are unaware of us and our market. If they were somehow more aware of our tiny segment's demands, it would open a lot more doors for great coffees to reach our market.

Somewhere in a stack like this is an amazing coffee or two.... or three...