company - education - coffee

Monday, May 18, 2009

Noodling around

Try everything is an approach, just not a very good one. It leads to a lot of dead ends though and doesn't always tell us anything in the process. Seriously, a lot of long and very unproductive sessions come from lacking a methodical approach and I do speak from personal experience. It's better to start with a base of knowledge, test it, and have experiences that either shape or reinforce that base. I get irritated every time somebody gives me that spin, ohhh, but we should try that because so and so did and... This is barismo though. We don't approach anything in that manner. We don't really care about famous so and so who did whatever whenever.... unless their coffee tastes amazing, at which point you have our full attention.

That brings me to our Syphon method which has grown a lot over time. It either has to do with more experience or control over the roast. We did, once, try a glass rod and decided never to bother again. We tried paper filters one time and it was an incredible waste of time. Cloth is pretty much the best and if you think about the physics, it makes sense. You can't really beat depth filtration no matter how you hack or modify other filtration methods. Metal screens and glass rods will always need a slightly coarser grind and always have too much silt(one problem creates the other). Paper can provide a clean cup but it restricts fines and flow, traps oils, and often tastes strongly of paper unless rinsed religiously. Cloth is however, harder to keep clean and takes a bit more effort. It's hard to rinse it out after each use and before each use.

Sometimes I think the noodling done in our online forums and blogs is not a search for quality but trying to simply luck upon some particularly cool looking method using the simplest technique with the easiest cleanup (Like that nylon filter tried in Abid that was akin to brewing coffee in a swimsuit and tasted as such or the halogen lamp heater). I wish it was that easy, but the most rewarding methods take the most investment.

Truth is, the two best brews I have had in the last two weeks were a cloth pour over in a v60 and a Syphon. Therein lie two commonalities. Stable temps and depth filtration. The Syphon with our method is incredibly temperature controlled and the measured temp drop of our preferred pour over kettle is surprisingly small.

I now make an assumption that if the basic physics aren't there, don't bother. If it doesn't have a stable temperature or depth filtration, I might not like the results. You would think I might like chemex but the third component I always look for is an even extraction and loyal reader, I have yet to see a chemex methodology that gets just that. The v60 is comparable in visuals but has more side ventilation or 'drainage' which separates it from chemex. I have seen some forumphiles talk about analogies relating evenness to cooking a steak. The retort is that we don't want channeling in our espresso, why would we think it so romantic in our drip coffee? Poetic prose sounds good but it better have the taste buds to back it up.

Don't get me wrong, I care about a better cup and am not into rigid methodology. I just believe our approach as a community is often too loose and empirical.

I am not going to be diplomatic for our dear readers. Garbage in and simply put, garbage out. Without diligence and serious effort as input, you might be simply rolling the dice with varying brewing methods. On the other hand, if it tastes good to you, enjoy. If you are curious that it could taste even better, set up some variables to test and experiment.