company - education - coffee

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The difficulties of per cup

Articulated Water Delivery System: Simply put, the manual version of this concept is the hand pour kettle. Unlike a simple hot water boiling kettle, this version is designed with flow rate control in mind and the end user has an approximate but not precise control over the temperature. AWDS implies pouring where you want it at a flow rate you are trying to control. This is an important concept to think about when considering the usefulness and value of having control over flow. For the kettle though, this is an art form that takes an exceptionally long time to master. The difficult learning curve of balancing a kettle to get optimal flow presents a problem all it's own.

We can easily find other problems with nearly every option available for hot water delivery. They are inefficient, time consuming, and often impractical. So, let's take a moment to evaluate our options.

Table top boilers dispense water but you need to transfer that water to another container or bring the brew device to the water source. These boilers range from a large water tower down to a simple Zojirushi water boiler. These are always on and run continuously, tend to be very energy inefficient and the water is often stale.

Small hot water kettles are typically electric and boil water on demand. The main problems being that they need to have time to get up to boil and cannot handle any significant volume with speed. While fine for home use, they become increasingly impractical in cafe settings where any real volume is present.

The standalone brewer would be the so called 'per cup concept' that requires either a new brew method adoption or for the user to work with an entirely revised set of brew physics. The goal is often a tweaking of variables to attempt a quicker 'per cup.' This self contained brewer uses some new fancy way of brewing to set itself aside by trying to 'reinvent the wheel.' This kind of design concept is not only often expensive, it can easily have many flaws in design that may not show up until many users are out there testing it in real world scenarios well into sales and production. The real problem being that cup quality was often secondary to speed to balance the third item, cost.

So we acknowledge the problems and the question is, what's the solution?

We have an answer to that.

An AWDS that uses technology to provide flow controls and temperature controls would meet the need. It would not be a brewer by itself. Instead, it would provide hot water at precision controlled temperatures and adjustable flow rates through an articulated 'wand'. This would theoretically be the hot water delivery system that worked with all brew methods that could benefit from precision water temperatures and adjustable flow rate controls. All existing and widely used hand pour and general pour over methods would benefit from this system.

Instead of trying to create a new standalone brew system with new brew physics, a group of engineers have spent the last two years developing a hot water delivery system that functions as an AWDS. After an initial goal of stable temperatures and fixed flow rates, they have now tuned the device to respond to temperature and flow rate changes. That is unprecedented and as yet a largely unexplored avenue of brewing coffee outside of a few lab situations.

This would be an exteremly useful item for chemex lovers and melitta fans, but the real novel application seems to be when you tie in a product invented in 2006, the v60, it gets exciting. The v60 is designed in such a way that the flow rate of the water has an effect on the cup profile of the brew and adds another point of control. When used incorrectly or carelessly, it's a detriment to the resulting taste which creates a bit of a learning curve. The benefit of this control is that tied to a water delivery system with an articulated spout, dynamic temperature control, and adjustable flow rates, you have every variable in pour over brewing under control. Using technology to assist in brewing with an already familiar method speeds up the process to the point that brewing per cup now becomes very attainable in most cafe settings. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they came up with a design that works with all wheels making them more finely tuned and faster.

Resulting grinds from woodneck

Brilliant and yet simple in it's vision. I am lucky to continue to be a beta tester and have input on this project while this concept goes into production and heads towards market. Lex and I are code naming this 'The Hippocrene Project' but you can find out more in the next few weeks on the Luminaire Bravo 1 water delivery system via:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

About this pour over thing

This is a scan from a Hario campaign piece for v60. We linked to it earlier but I felt like we needed to explain it a bit more after seeing Sweet Maria's video set on Pour Over Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The Hario Adv reads as follows:
Step 1: Pour freshly ground coffee, your choice, in the the dripper. Shake lightly to level.

Step 2: Pour hot water slowly, little by little, to moisten the grinds, starting at the center. Let drip 30 seconds.

Step 3: From the center, pour water in a circular motion, not letting it touch the paper filter. Brew the coffee for 3 minutes total.

Step 4: When the brew reaches the measurement line, remove the dripper.

The points to take away from this are simple. Prewet with just enough water to wet the grounds and let bloom for 30 seconds. Then pour in a deliberate and circular motion without pouring at the edges of the paper for a total time of 3 minutes. It can be compared to a little more technical and specific to our roast style version of the v60-02 in our brew guide section.

Pouring at the edges is the one that really gets me. Why do so many people think this is a good idea to wash the grinds away and allow water to flow out the sides of the filter (and not through the coffee)? Rhetorical question because the answer is, they are brewing it like a melitta or chemex.

The earlier mentioned videos are a good example of brewing the v60 like a Melitta and getting results that lead to criticism. The grind and pour rate are 'kinda important' and I think that was missed in a video review that will mislead a lot of home users. Seeing someone use an incorrect grind and then use a pour method that would only work with a pour over device that restricted flow is difficult to watch.

I wouldn't normally note something that looks more like a disguised sales pitch for Abids than honest exploration but there were vague references throughout the video and criticisms of v60, kettles, and references to 'some people' that seemed to be aimed at our methods or in the very least, those that agree with us.

I guess what irks me is not the talk but the continued criticism of hand pour by people who do not have a depth of knowledge or any real experience on the subject. It's as if hand pour with kettles and all the methods never existed and were not widely used in Taiwan and Japan for many years already but only came into existence with their recent growing popularity. I believe the language barrier accounts for a lot of that but there is also a certain arrogance that comes with many of the voices in our coffee community.

We all talk as barista about the old Italians that may come in every now and then to lament either the cup/espresso not being hot enough or the shot not being lungo, or simply unwilling to acknowledge anything that isn't old world Italian style as being good espresso. This resistance to hand pour methodology is the same thing as the bias these Italian espresso drinkers can carry for the old ways.

Failing to acknowledge there exists a library of kettles and per cup methodology well beyond those we are commonly exposed to with Hario and the knock off Bonmac brewers is our own shortsightedness and arrogance. The potential usefulness of these items is not explored unless we put the time and effort into them. The first step in that though is to explore their design and intended use, not to measure them unfairly by applying an incorrect methodology. Ignoring design when evaluating a product is a statement about the reviewer more than the product itself.

The more intriguing aspect is that I think we are on the verge of a coffee cultural shift toward full manual per cup and the old guard are fighting to have a say in it or simply attempt to voice some kind authority on the subject. If this is the case, as it has happened many times before in the last decade of our current coffee culture, it should be interesting to see which side takes the message to the bank.

Class updates and new espresso options

Kagumoini has been roasted as espresso for our S3 and S4 blends for some time. Recently at Hi Rise on Brattle Street, they requested it as a SOE. We obliged and have since had great feedback on this particular espresso. Where the Kiamabara is big and holds up even through short milk with unique fruitiness, the Kagumoini is best enjoy as a delicate but intensely sweet and delicious shot.

To get ahead of new coffees coming in and have creative diversity in our lineup of espresso, we are starting a new series. Where the Sonata series is built for consistent yet still quality results, this series will be about creativity and will change frequently. The staff and sometimes accounts will make unique sugestions for pairings we will explore for short timelines. The focus will be not on balance, but on asymmetry and finding beauty in what is essentially a work in progress. To express the beauty, impermanence, and the uniqueness of this series, we decided to give a nod to the term Wabi-sabi.

Next week's Wabi-sabi series will be codenamed 'Doppleganger' and will consist of two Kenyas, the Kagumoini and Kiamabara espresso paired together.

February classes are up online and ready for registration. We expect the classes to be informative and we recommend checking them out. Like all things barismo, the materials will be hands on, technical, and thorough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Adjusting the grind

Our approach to espresso is the same as our approach to manual methods. It involves eliminating (by controlling or making fixed) the majority of variables. Our approach to espresso has been to work from a point of the ideal situations for time, temperature, volume, and dose backwards. Once we find the sweet spot in an espresso, it becomes a formula of adjusting the grind to account for environmental or outside factors.

So, we use our ideal settings for dose, time, and temp as rather fixed and then tune the grind to adjust volume as needed.

The same approach is taken with Syphon as it is with all hand pour methods we work with. Find an ideal set of parameters and work backwards. Determine an ideal temperature relative to dose, timing, and volume.

For our Syphon methods, grind is easy to adjust. Once you choose a dose, temp, and brew volume relative to a specific time. In this instance, we choose the draw down time as the coffee comes from the top to the bottom globe. We treat it as a fixed value which for our method, relative to our specific dose and time, which is 30 seconds. Change the brew time or dose significantly and this value of 30 seconds becomes a bit arbitrary, needing a recalibration.

For v60 and other free pour methods like the Cloth Flannel Woodneck, grind is not alone in affecting the brew volume. The pour rate has a large effect.

For beginners to v60, we recommend using a scale underneath to measure pour rates. Rather than using it for resulting brew volumes, we use it as a measure to know for certain we have (for example) poured 6 ounces in the first minute. Knowing the rate of pour is a good way to pin that down as a variable and then adjust the grind.

In the same way as we do the Syphon, we choose the last 30 seconds for draw down in the one cup method as a point for grind calibration. If we stop pouring at 30 seconds and the last drips flow through before the time is up, the grind is too coarse. If there is substantial water left, the grind is too fine.

This is, of course, subjective to dose and whether the pour itself created an even dispersion of grinds in the filter bed.

The summary being, we attempt to hold all variables firm to the only one that is most effective in compensating for environmental variables, the grind. The grind has an effect on flow and resulting brew volume so the key is constantly adjusting the brew volume back towards ideal throughout the day with a fixed dose, time, and temp.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A few notes on certain Hario products

Check out this commercial on v60:
.Here's some proof on the whole Skeleton (misprint Skerton) hand mill.

This one is from a scan of campaign materials that we thought was very informative. We are asking for a more detailed version.

It's a good example of the basic methodology a v60 needs. Prewet or pre-infusion, a spiral pour in the center, and using the range servers for measurements.

I think it's essential to keep reinforcing that the methodology is important. Dose and resulting volume can be specific to roast styles and certain coffees, but using the v60 like a Chemex or Melitta is a waste of it's superior design.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A bit of good barismo press and Hario in the North East

We got a blurb in the Boston Globe for our gear. It was a quick piece that covered a little bit about what we are doing here. Adding in the Atlantic piece has kept us working hard to introduce new customers to barismo coffee and 'the Hario way.'

Another piece came up this morning in the New York Times blog. It referenced a project we have been very involved in, Hario gear.

In December of 09, we visited Hario Japan's offices in Tokyo. We learned a lot, shared a lot, and are looking forward to new products coming out this year. It was a unique experience and came after at a time when we had recently invested a lot of energy using the Hario gear on our coffee bar.

Hario drink bar

Hario has been a long road for us but it's just the beginning. We are happy to announce we will be the regional representative for HarioUSA. Beyond working to support Hario product distribution in New England, we will be doing training and bar setups for cafes wanting to execute a precision and efficient per cup bar.

Part of that will include a lot of training with kettles but it will also involve another product from a new engineering startup. More details and a full review on that in three days.

We will be looking for cafes who want to be on the leading edge with the Hario v60 gear to get in contact with us soon. Get ready for a new wave of per cup brew bars!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The NERBC March 19-21, 2010

For the hand full of you out there who haven't heard, we are the new host for the Northeast Regional Barista Competition. What that means is a mess of barista will come into town to compete for top honors.

Beyond the competition, and there will be plenty, we felt strongly our local community needed this. The desire to compete has been there the last few years but the costs and distance were too great for many locally to attend. After the turnout for the Barista Jam @ ERC, I expect a very large turnout of local barista and first time competitors. We are patiently looking forward to it and working hard to settle the location.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Notes from the shop

Several projects underway will be good goals in the New Year. I am looking forward to arrival of the final teas from our travels in Taiwan. There are several new items on the horizon but the teas are particularly exciting.

Looking back on 09, glad it's over. It ended with a flourish of busy heading into Christmas. I won't do a year in review because I have too much work to do in the next week. I will do a review of the last few days before the New Year!

Gus over at Tosci clattered away at his keyboard to produce a piece for the Atlantic that involved a bit of descriptive storytelling involving us. Very nice little read actually.

On new Year's eve, I found myself dropping by Simon's to do equipment maintenance. Had Simon pull be a shot of Sonata 7 that was probably the best shot I have had there since they started serving our coffees exclusively. I would guess they are getting more comfortable with the consistency of having one roast/blend to dial in. Regardless, the shot was good. More volume than I have been pulling S7, but short enough to be layered, sweet, and complex.

Good notes to end the year on.