company - education - coffee

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Storing roasted coffee

I get asked a lot about how to store coffees once roasted. Freezing, vac sealing, canning, you name it, I have heard it. So here is a bit of advice for those using fresh coffee:

Oxygen is your enemy. Do not use anything with head space for storage. Canning jars with the nifty valves do not work. Even small amounts of Oxygen expedite the coffee's volatiles toward flavor degradation. For oily darker roasts, it can even speed up the development of rancid flavors so think about keeping the air out.

Moisture is very bad. Freezing can be fine but if you don't protect the coffee from condensation adequately, moisture will contaminate it. Much like green coffee, humidity is always a contamination problem but it is the day to day variance in humidity that presents the biggest problem. Reseal if you can but think about a storage space with the idea of keeping moisture out.

Heat is not a good thing. I shouldn't even need to explain this one. Store your coffee in a cool dark place at a very controlled and consistent temperature, not your counter top by the kitchen window...

So there, it's really simple. If you are one of those low consumption coffee drinkers who needs time to work through a bag, get a vacuum sealer like a food saver canister or one of the hand pump vacuum canisters that's so popular right now. Either put your coffee in the fridge or a cool pantry/wine cellar and pay attention. It's not milk but treat it as such and you can be assured if it wasn't good on day 5, it wasn't something you did in storage.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mis-understood drip

Drip Coffee, photo by Ben Kaminksy

To many, drip coffee is the ugly blemish that they want to forget. I mean, no self-respecting "waver" will ever allow that dreadful Fetco compared side by side with Clover at their shops. The truth is, drip coffee accounts for quite a bit of business and is probably the most common method that home users (the normal kind, not your "geek" type that make up very small percentage of the market) utilize to prepare their daily coffee.

I have to admit that we too had our own bias against drip a while back. From our earlier experiences, the drip cup profile just did not have the intensity and flavor that a Syphon or Espresso profile possessed. It was not until we started to dabble in manual pour technique and have a better understanding of the roasting process that we finally understood the potential and power in drip coffee.

Just like ANY other coffee brewing techniques, when tuned with proper dose, temperature, time and roast, a cup of drip coffee can be just as flavorful, intense and satisfying as a vacpot cup. In fact, at a recent home gathering, a coffee drinking friend told me the cup of drip I prepared for him is nearly as intense and flavorful as a shot of espresso.

The following is my drip brewing technique. This method is based on the one presented in Simon Hsieh's book with my tweaks to tune for my machine/coffee/roasts.

The gears:
- Presto Scandinavian with modified shower head
- Mazzer Kony
- Melitta #4 filter - white (note 1)

- Use 10~14g per 6oz of water. Adjust if the cup is too intense for you...
- A fine grind (10~15 small notches from espresso on Mazzer SJ, 18~21 notches from true zero on Rocky).

Grind Setting, photo by Ben Kaminksy
1. Fill the machine with approximately 8oz of water. Start the machine without coffee/filter in it. This preheats the machine.
2. Grind coffee while the machine pre-heats.
3. As soon as the machine is done pre-heating, place coffee in the basket, level the grinds (note 2), and start brewing immediately (before the machine cools down).
4. Turn the machine OFF after about 20 seconds. For me, this is about 3 "gurgles". The purpose of this is to pre-infuse the coffee and allow all the grinds to be saturated(bloom) before starting the remaining extraction. You will have to experiment with the timing of this cut-off - just pull the basket out to see if all the grinds are properly wet at various time.

Pre-infusion, photo by Ben Kaminksy

5. Turn the machine back on after 20 seconds of wait time(the end of pre-infusion).
6. Complete the brew within 3~4 minutes if possible. Play with the dose to find out the optimum capacity of your machine. For my Presto, the upper limit is at around the 5 cup mark.
7. Remove the carafe immediate after brewing and serve.

Spent ground, photo by Ben Kaminksy

That is it. With a little bit of care, this simple method can produce just as good of a cup as with most other brew methods!

Cup of Drip, photo by Ben Kaminksy

note 1: I like Melitta filters because the small holes in the paper seem to allow a bit more oil to pass thru; not as much as a cloth filter but is better than any paper filter I've used. To me, the natural/brown paper filters are quite foul and imparts a very strong brown paper bag taste to any liquid that passes thru. If you insist on using it, please rinse it with some hot water first to reduce as much of the off flavor as possible. And for those of you who just have to use a gold/metal filter, please be aware that your brew time will be altered due to the different flow rate. It will flow a bit faster than the paper filter and will most likely require a even finer grind setting to achieve the same dwell time (which puts even more sludge to the cup... hmmm... gritty...).

note 2: Simon advocates shaping the coffee mound in the basket to match that of the shower head - putting divots where the exit holes are located (imagine using the shower head to make an indention on the coffee mound). Since I have modified my shower head to have near full coverage, it does not make much of a difference for me. For those machines with limited water exit holes, try Simon's recommendation to see if it makes a difference.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why is fresh coffee so confusing?

This is one problem this industry really needs to get in gear on. We have this muddled idea of fresh ending at fresh roasted. Even the most transparent and progressive roasters are a bit vague on how far coffees are from harvest and that presents a crossroads for our industry.

When I think of fresh, there are four parameters: harvest, roast, grind, brew.

Harvest fresh being within 3-4 months off milling from parchment state or progressively packed in 'non-jute' to preserve that fresh flavor profile. From 4-7 months off harvest, coffees will be fine but aromas will already begin to diminish. 6 months and on, you are pushing how well the coffee can hold up and the acidity will diminish or turn rancid. Forget the soft coffees from places like Brasil or Colombia, they will be long gone by then. Wood, paper, lacking aroma... Do I really need to explain this again?

Roast freshness is the boutique industry(the online cognoscenti and niche roaters) standard. This seems to be the only way most 'Specialty' roasters distinguish themselves from the major chains. While most aggregate to the 2 week mark, a handful put best by dates going as far as six months out. You can almost guarantee these roasters have a market at a Whole Foods type grocer where turnover is hard to control. No roast date though, no idea of freshness.

Grind is a shop to shop issue. While more and more shops are grinding fresh or on demand, a lot of shops are still using the auto feature and filling hoppers or pre grinding drip brew. Whether the blades are serviced or sharp is another issue. As a home user, unless you absolutely cannot afford a grinder, there is no excuse for pre grinding coffee. Think of it this way: The bean is the final package and once it's open, all the flavors can escape.

Brewing fresh is a classic pitch that goes way back. Everyone has experienced the poor flavor of a pot that sat too long.

How important are all of these factors really? Do the customers care?

In the common market place, probably not. When you are asked to justify paying a bit extra for a shot or you are requested to splurge a bit at a cafe, yes. Not every shop in every market place can make these points matter but if one boutique roaster jumps in the deep end on all these points, it's likely many others will follow. Think about what that would mean for the purists among us wishing to really treat certain coffees like high end teas or begin to glimpse the wine model of labeling and marketing. A few bits and pieces to chew on while you think about what goes in your cup.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dairy don't

I'm sure somebody would love us to make some scathing commentary about the WBC and why US baristi have failed to claim the top spot or make the finals. Maybe a scintillating discussion on the problems in the SCAA and BGA. No, not today... or anytime soon because thanks to Doug's pointing it out, we have a more vile and horrible thing out there.


Coffee and Milk, originally uploaded by Ls³.

I know, I know, how elite can you get? No milk in your coffee. Don't take my mocking seriously. It has it's place, really, it does. I'm not lactose intolerant but I also am not an addicted coffee drinker. When I am not working in coffee, I am not an everyday drinker. If I was, I might be a whole lot more tolerant of what was in the cup.

I live in Inman Sq. and let me tell you, going to the neighborhood shop and getting french roast off the heated pots, having sat who knows how long, extra cream and sugar won't hurt. Nobody should cast aspersions on the cream and sugar kind because it's always relative. It has a place in the hearts of habitual drinkers used to strong (dark and bitter) coffee or bland sour coffee(think D&D iced).

On the other side of the argument, a cup of Panama Esmeralda or a berried Kenya light roast might not be so hot in that milk. At steep per cup price tags, why would you be drinking it unless you wanted to experience the coffee straight? It's a case of a good match and getting elitist about it would imply we have come farther than we really are in the industry. Being insulted as a barista that someone added cream or sugar to your drink is really a bit immature and snotty.

I once had a goal to reduce the sugar usage and reduce drinks sizes. I achieved it not by lectures and attitude but by calculated changes in the product itself and specifically marketing towards the segment of drinkers already in the know. Now I realize, just approach the coffee as the best expression you can create and don't worry about being a soup nazi to how it is imbibed. In truth, your coffee may not be as good as you think, in which case a little cream or sugar might help.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

About a machine

Yellow, originally uploaded by jaminsky.

I love having a good lab machine. Ours is a GB5 and it is really giving me a go around. Being able to dial in different temps and work different extractions with nominal turnaround time between roats is a blessing.

Having started on an old Rancilio and some burnt out SM90s with some pretty questionable training if you could call it that (sorry Angry Andy), I appreciate this newer equipment. That was several years ago and I am not interested in going back or ever working with those who insist on keeping the dirty dull blades and uncontrolled HX machines in service. That shop now has an FB80 and some Majors, so it's safe to say things have changed.

Looking forward though, there is something we were aware of for some time. The equipment has caught up with our needs and no longer presents an issue or in the very least, the obstacle it once was.

That brings us to a new stage for a section of the community where there is some change happening. The move to manual methods. It can either be seen as a reaction to Clover now being unavailable or it could be a new focus for our endless tinkering and fidgety energy. The perpetual modding of our machines has come to the realization that the equipment exists in (nearly) finished form for the right price. A gicleur. a few new baskets, nice tamper, solid grinder, and go. That leaves us to spend some time practicing our pourover method and tweaking our syphon skills. A return to the simple art of manual method for a community so fascinated on technical mods and hacks.

I'm not really endorsing this movement but merely acknowleding it as a cranky forebearer. For long enough, the focus has been everything but the cup character with the misleading sermon on 'letting the coffee speak for itself.'

Self indulgence. Beautiful and incredibly fun, but indulgence still. Dog and pony shows where barista behave like ego driven rock stars and the coffees are accredited to the counter on which served and not the farm which bore them.

It is perhaps best expressed in the simple irony of how we obtained our site moniker back in the day when we had a more ideaoligical tint in coffee. Being criticized for being overly technical barista in a multi page diatribe by a famous figurehead of the coffee cognisceti where he offered this term up to put us down. It stuck and yet we are reinventing it as we go.

It is great having a wonderful beast of a machine that can jump through flaming hoops (figuratively) but the real beauty is that it helps take one more piece out of the equation towards better coffee. That just means more work on the coffee itself and less time alloted for excuses about the equipment.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Herbs and veggies...

Good For Pictures..., originally uploaded by jaminsky.

The vegetal taste in coffee seems to come from two main sources. Neither of which should be considered desirable.

One is the under ripe coffee cherry that adds a vegetal or herbacious note. You know your stuff when you can pick out the under ripes in a batch of unroasted coffee. The hemp descriptions of Sumatras and coffees like Chiapas come to me as more of a high under ripe percentage than true origin character. Under ripe are dulling so in a good roast, the sweetness is severely diminished by these buggers.

The other source is often a very common roast error known as roasting raw. This grassy astringency doesn't always become evident until the coffee is allowed to rest a few days and settle. Roasting raw is defined in the cup by a grassy smell identical to that of steamed green coffee and a punchy acidity that can turn weaker stomaches. It is often the hollow flavors and strong acidity that make this easy to identify as what we jokingly call 'green'.

Roasting raw is excessively common and can hide other problems in the cup while giving the fleeting impression of sweetness. The joke is that roasting raw can hide the age in a coffee and cover over a lack of character in some less stellar coffees where fixing the profile would make the coffees look decidedly poor. The cup will be initially sweet but eventually become hollow, have quickly fading flavors post roast, prove difficult in consistent brewing as a bag ages, and just unpleasant difficult to control acidity.