company - education - coffee

Friday, October 23, 2009

Label changes and new SOMA

Soma espresso is back out again with a new base. Our new Guatemala, La Trinidad, will work as the base for this blend in the foreseeable future. Armando Melgar's Finca la Trinidad is a coffee that has deep base notes and provides a round body for the sparkle of the Kenya component. We will be producing SOMA in editions with each of our Kenyas featured in this blend. We will start with the last of our Kenya Kiandu and then move over to Kiamabara followed by Kieni.

With the new espresso, we decided to do an art label and have some fun. SOMA will switch back and forth between an art label on the front with the classic label on the back to the classic label on front with more brewing and quality preserving information on the back. We are moving towards adding brewing tips, storage tips, and more detailed information about the coffees in finer print on back labels.

Keep an eye out for it in the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Similarities between rice and coffee storage

Rice is about as commodity as it gets. Well, I like to think that but then I have been noticing that even with something like rice, care given to packaging is moving well ahead of what we deal with in green coffee.

A trip to the local mega asian grocer (Kan Man in Quincy) led me to make note of a few interesting things with one strong observation, the packaging is getting serious.

At our local Korean grocer in Union Sq. Somerville, there is an assortment of rice available in many grades. What's interesting about it was how they noted crop year and an emphasis on packing as each bag had it's own 'patent pending' method of storage. Most of which seemed to be nitrogen flushed or tightly vacuum sealed which I must say does seem to make a difference.

In wandering around Kan Man viewing the stacks of vacuum sealed rice varieties stacked on the shelf, that I had a good chuckle. So much obsession over rice, a product I have been used to seeing in bags akin to dog food packaging. Then it hit me how young our coffee industry is and how absurdly ironic it was.

The fact that preservation packaging is still such a novel and absurd idea really instills a sense of how far coffee still has to go and just how far behind it is. The truth is that there is so much information out there to digest and yet not nearly enough quality data therein. Like most things coffee, too many opinions and not enough data or research being done.

Without vacuum packaging, our business would not be enjoying it's first year in celebration. Putting it in perspective, packaging for preservation makes a difference and we have the experiences under our belt to prove it. If other people don't agree with us, that's fine because everyone needs to learn their own lessons but we know what works and will keep working with it.

As the weather turns, let's keep an eye on the temperature and think about the effort that goes at every stage into one taste of coffee down the line. There are so many things that can destroy a coffee from the time is is picked through processing, transport, the roast, and then with brewing at the barista level. It does not begin and end solely in the hands of a barista, it's a process that started months ago and continues even while sitting in a warehouse.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Friday the 13th barista jam November, 2009

Posters will be going out ASAP to many shops and respectable coffee houses. For a poster or flier, contact us at baristajam(at)

7pm @ Espresso Royale
736 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

More on

There will be a cup tasting competition hosted by Atomic.
- A tournament based on cupping triangulation for speed and accuracy.

An Espresso Throwdown hosted by barismo.
-A tournament involving espresso, with technical and sensory evaluation.

A Latte Art Pour Off
- One pour, one shot best pour wins.

$5 dollars for each event but space is limited for signups. There will be a barista social/after party around the corner at a local Tavern TBD. More details to follow as more contributors are added.

The last jam/throwdown in the Boston area was one we organized and put the money down on. We are excited to be a part of this one and pleasantly happy to play a support role this time around. We hope other shops in town will take the torch and continue the charge of trying to raise morale and awareness of better coffee. Be it in method, ingredients, equipment, or simple motivation, community can be the excuse to get together but coffee is the medium that gives us a common denominator.

See you there barista.

Monday, October 05, 2009

5 things consumers should think about when adding value to coffee drink service

In reading up on blogs and forums the other day, I realize that as there are great leaps being made locally, there is still a lot of confusion about coffee. How people value coffee and particularly espresso is a bit funny. While a straight shot comes to personal preference, milk drinks in the Boston metro are out of control. Perceptions of value get skewed to focus on aspects that may or may not add any tangible value.

Proper cappuccino being talked about as 'light' weight and lattes rated by 'strength' leave me feeling it's time to voice some concern about quality perceptions. It seems to me the ingredients and labeling should be as important as anything in the process so let me put out a short list of things I look for when I go into a cafe.

1. Local: This one is silly obvious but think about it. I know that a big part of our rabid aficionado community has been built on hip national 'but still independent' roasters. The natural evolution though is that the better cafes and serious fanatics will take the next step and open small roasteries in different regional/local settings. Coffee that is roasted locally will not in fact be very good by that measure alone but I believe that shipping roasted coffee across time zones is not a sustainable business/environmental model long term. Competent local and small regional roasters will move in to fill the void. Too many local cafes right now are getting into dangerous territory marketing 'zero waste' and 'buy local' for everything but their coffee. Why not the roasted coffee? The carbon footprint of buying hundreds of pounds a week from a roaster in another time zone is wasteful and silly if there are comparable or reasonable alternatives locally.

2. Roast dates: Not best buy dates, not sell by dates, clear and direct 'roasted on' dates. Fresh roast is the basic bare minimum tenet of quality in coffee. You can easily add fresh brewed as the second item there but let's focus more on roast dates as fresh brewed is something even convenience stores talk about. Fresh roast is inherent to quality. To pretend otherwise as a roaster myself would be a compromise made to justify accounts in less than ideal situations, a compromise I feel uncomfortable with making. Bags of coffee without any roast date information treat coffee as a commodity not unlike the grocery grade coffee you find in supermarkets. If the roaster treats their product in this manner, we should view it that way also.

3. Good milk: This is tough because good local grass fed milk is not always available and is often quite expensive. The question though is in rating a good cappuccino, the quality of the milk and not simply just texture or portion is key. My local favorites are Oak Hurst and High Lawn right now but the high cost puts these largely out of reach for the volume shops that have Starbucks sizes. For the quality oriented shops, one balance is to limit sizes to smaller drinks to account for the pricey milk so it should be perceived that drink sizes can be relative to quality.

4. A traditional cappuccino: I look for a traditional cappuccino when I go into any new shop. A good 5 oz cappuccino with definition on top. I care less about proportions and more about quality texturing. I have to say these 'airy' or foamy cappuccino are simply not as pleasurable as a richly textured and micro-foamed cappuccino. The dry foam lacks sweetness and we'd be better off with a dollop of whipped cream as opposed to wasting a lot of milk to get a large portion of stiff dry foam. When I walk into a shop and see stiff dry foam served as a standard, I avoid the milk and espresso drinks entirely because I know it will need some sugar to taste decent. The key behind quality of foam, not quantity, is that a cappuccino is a small drink. Good milk is often also high in fat content as well as higher in price so there are other reasons to limit the sizes beyond purist arguments. It's quite unpleasant sounding to think about drinking a pint glass full of steamed high fat grass fed cow's milk. A small rich and sweet cappuccino where the coffee balances out complexly and isn't drowned out in the milk sounds so much better. Large drinks require very strong and often bitter espresso to cut through a large volume of milk so it is not unreasonable to assume that the espresso and milk quality are not as good when the cup sizes are excessively large.

5. Transparency: This bundles some of the earlier ideas together like putting the roast date on the bag and goes a few steps farther. Walking into a cafe and trying to determine what coffee is being served is the clearest concept of defining quality. If the barista doesn't know what's in the bag or being brewed, that's a clear vote against good expectations. Granted, it could be the one individual but if there is no information available, you have to wonder. In this day and age of coffee, there is no excuse for roasters to continue hiding blends or describing coffees by country and region solely without denoting specific farms/coops/etc. The specific examples are the famous blends that 'must be gold' but nobody tells you what's actually in it. Would giving that recipe up then devalue the blend and make clear that it's components may be less than stellar inputs? In roasting, there are no real secrets to recipes, only ability to roast and identify good coffees to purchase. Skill in blending is a direct result of the previous so there is zero value in hiding blend components unless the individual components are not as attractive as the branding leads you to believe.

There are other ways to rate a cafe: ambiance, free wifi, service and all manner of pastry bits. When rating purely the coffee and espresso drinks though, those 5 items are something to think about next time you go for a coffee or cappuccino.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

New! Guatemala: Puerta Verde

puerta verde, Guatemala, originally uploaded by coffeedirtdog.

The new Guatemala Puerta Verde arrived and is available online. I recommend it in pour over, particularly works well in the v60s. Coffee came packed in grainpro and the farm submitted lots that placed 7th in this year's Cup of Excellence.

SOMA classic is back online temporarily and we are a week from the new crop tweaked SOMA. More on that later.

Big local barista jam is about to go down in a month. Follow us on twitter for updates or check back on the blog. There will be a cupping competition, espresso throw down, and latte art comp.

Details to follow but it's going to be fairly large.