company - education - coffee - tea - equipment

Friday, May 29, 2009

Before the weekend

Dreary weather lately. Hasn't affected the roasts but has made some of the cafes a bit slow. Makes the shop feel cold when it's overcast.

Our new site goes live soon. More on that later. Final bits of construction will happen this weekend. Much delayed but that's about how it goes.

GabeR was in town the other day, thanks for the photos! Merry 'corky' White was around the shop the other day. Anthropological type coffee studies in Japan. Book coming out soon, will keep our readers posted. She had taken some of my coffee to Japan and had feedback for us. She also brought a new gadget to muck around a bit with, thanks!

Coffees are on the shelf if anyone intends to make it out to Arlington. Later barista-

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Soma in the rock garden @ grumpy

Props to Liz on this shot.

That reminds me, Cafe Grumpy has some Kenya of ours and one of the locations has some Soma on guest. Three of our new crop Kenyas arrive in only a couple of weeks so keep an eye on our site.

Locally, I think the (Hi Rise brattle St.) has some Soma or will open some up tomorrow.

Kinda busy lately but that's a good thing. Thanks for the support!

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.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Micro and macro

I have been talking a lot lately with people about roaster sizes and why we chose our roasting equipment. Since there are about 5 new coffees arriving over the next 3-4 weeks, this is a good time to address some roaster nonsense.

I spend a lot of time worrying about how large is too large in regards to our long term goals. There are many reputable roasting outfits that are what I would think of as very large. The problem is that they are not quite large by general industry standards but by a layman's concept of size, they are on an obviously big scale to be romancing anything micro(thought they frequently do).

At what point do you lose control of quality as it relates to volume and output? In my eyes, there must be a point where quality roasting no longer means finessing and tweaking a roast but rather relates keeping the production consistent and avoiding problems. At larger volumes, it then becomes about repeatability and logistics instead of refinement and optimization.

I make this statement because I believe roasting in it's truest sense is about mass and momentum. When the mass gets large enough, it becomes very stable but harder to drastically change the momentum. It's the difference between a touring car and a dump truck if that analogy works for the reader. There is an obvious cutoff point where some more challenging roast profiles would no longer be achievable.

If this, then a larger batch size in a roaster becomes increasingly predictive and slow to react to changes. Obviously, this is a common observation, but the implication is that a smaller batch can do more unique profiles if the user has the ability to utilize this properly.

The problem is that smaller roasting outfits have very little access to (due to scale) better coffees. The smaller a roasting outfit, the more dependent it becomes on existing supply lines for coffees. In a business that deals in containers, a truly small batch roaster (unless well connected) is going to be locked out from some great coffees.

Simply put, a small batch roaster with knowledge and an adequate setup has more upward roast potential but little access to exceptional coffees. A larger batch roaster has less control over the roast in comparison but can consume more coffee and has more leverage to get any coffees they want.

It is very strange right now that our community, the online one, is not having this discussion yet. How big is too big to produce quality? How small is too small to have access to quality?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Up to date

The kiosk is a little off target thanks to a longer than expected lead time on the reclaimed oak counter top. We are trying to do as much as we can to reuse materials and pay a little more for things like VOC free paints. Two weeks to a month at most. It's not quite the hangup we had when we originally opened(a 6 month setback that delayed building the kiosk) but a slow down nonetheless. Just to confirm for the locals, it's not a cafe and we won't be serving food or trying to give the neighborhood bakeries fits. Just coffee and keeping it simple.

I have classes in shop tonight and tomorrow night so though the place will look busy, we will be closed for these private functions.

I just brought on some new persons to help in several areas. For readers, that means a new website is coming soon with someone to monitor the shipping and updates. I need this to help refocus. It's easy to micromanage but I am the roaster and not a web guy. I spend hours behind the till and cupping production roasts so that's what I need to continue to focus on.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Noting the name

I had a funny conversation today about our blends and labels which got me thinking I should update some bits on the blends around town right now.

Syphon Saturdays are a new thing at Hi Rise on Brattle St. I hear it's finally starting to get a little more headway and we hope people will go out and give it a push forward. Weather permitting, the patio will be a nice place to enjoy a beautiful Syphon experience this weekend. They have classic Linnaean St. named after the first place I lived by when I moved to Cambridge.

Taste has a batch of Soma right now on bar. For those of you wondering about the name, it has little to do with Brave New World, Nectar of the Gods, a song reference, or anything quite that complex beyond the simple etymology of a word. While reading up on the term, I noticed a bit that stated the word is derived from an Indo-Iranian root *sav- (Sanskrit sav-) "to press" and thought it too funny to pass up given all the alternative meanings and the misdirection it would provide.

On other espresso naming fronts, Simon's has this new blend reverting to an old name called 'You're Beautiful'. When Simon took over the shop from Hollywood Espresso, his visiting friends did a bit of art in several places around the cafe. One was a mirror placement that had Simon's face and the phrase'You're Beautiful' placed there. A delightfully cheeky statement that I was always fond of.

I wish naming was more complex or thought out but the components change and new names are defined by the coffees and profiles therein. Rather than trying to define a blend as a brand, we are going to have fun with it. Espresso is espresso and we aren't trying to rebrand a blend of coffees with an umbrella term for 'our espresso.' Keep it simple and rough, function over form. We are going to roast through a lot of coffees this year and there will be a ton of pairings to keep our barismo espressophiles satiated regardless of the identifier on the bag.