company - education - coffee

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Espresso updates

A few new things to take a look at in the next few weeks as for our espresso lineup. We are adding a new Wabi in a few days.

A pairing of two Colombia lots: Meridiano and Matambo. We will be looking for feedback on this but the idea is an espresso that's clean, bright, fruited, with a layered clarity. We are going ot test the lighter end of our espresso roast profiles for this one. To that end our proposed name is Lucid. Expect Lucid espresso to hit the hoppers in a couple of weeks.

We are also planning on updating the Soma to get back to the Guatemala, Guatemala, and something fruited equation it had previously been. We worked on adding a Kenya to it earlier but struggled to get what we wanted out of it. We are now adding some of Miriam de Villanueva's El Bosque to the mix. That coffee paired so amazingly well with Armando Melgar's La Trinidad in Z10 that we just love how it can bridge the flavors of the other two coffees so well.

That put's the current blend ratios as such:
40% Colombia El Meridiano
40% Guatemala La Trinidad
20% Guatemala El Bosque

We have also been playing around with added materials for coffees including back labels with tidbits about some of the farms and helpful brewing advice. Keep an eye out for those!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A little information about potential pour over filters

There are three basic kinds of filter medium wide spread in use in the industry we would like to talk about: Paper, metal, and cloth.

Paper as a filter medium: Everyone always says paper wicks away oils and flavors. What you need to know is that rinsing paper filters help but many paper filters are just going to taste like paper. To really understand this, you need to stop drinking coffees with paper filters for a while and then come back to it. The contrast really makes it clear.
The other thing you need to know is that fines will build up against the walls of the filter (subject to the shape of the filter). Cumulatively, we describe the tastes from paper as thin, brighter, and crisp. Look for paper filters that are less thick and avoid brown filters.

Metal as a filter medium: Metal mediums (much like glass) depend highly on the hole sizes (and their spacing). Amounts of fine particulate are expected to pass through to the resulting cup. The effects in taste notes are simple, regardless of what form factor. This filtration that lets sediment through will have more body, more texture, less clarity, and can result in an over extracted harsh taste in the cool cup (from sediment). The fine particulate should be avoided and compensated for in methodology as much as possible.

Cloth as a filter medium: Cloth is unique and a bit unorthodox these days. It is the only filter medium in common use that has natural depth filtration. The fines will be trapped effectively and oils will pass through resulting in a heavier cup with great clarity. Cloth is hard to care for and can easily impart off flavor notes if not rinsed properly after use, cared for in between uses, and cleaned properly as needed. It also requires a seasoning brew the first time it will be used! That's a lot of work so we often recommend cloth for the diligent or advanced user.

Sidebar: Surface Filtration vs Depth Filtration + Cake Filtration
Surface filtration is where the filter medium keeps all particles, that do not pass through at the surface of the filter, on the surface. Depth filtration allows for particulate to pass through the surface layer and into the depth or layers of the medium. This means that the finest particulate is less likely to build up in a layer on the surface and is captured in that depth.

Cake filtration happens in the brew cake of a pour over (espresso pucks as well). As the grinds settle in a brew cake, the layers of grounds act themselves as a filter. This extra bit of filtration is dependent on two things: depth and agitation. Two good examples of cake filtration are the narrow top chamber of a Syphon and the shallow wide brew puck in a Clover brewer. Unlike a Syphon, the brew chamber design in a Clover has a shallow puck with very little cake filtration. (However, by whisking or strong late agitation, a brew cake will not form and have little to no effect on filtering the resulting brew of a Syphon).

This is why we push for less circular stirring agitation in Abids/Syphons/Clover, less pours around the edge of the brew cake in hand pour, and less aggressive pouring (lower steady flows are better). To achieve more clarity and layers of flavor in the resulting cup, a focus on achieving cake filtration seems essential.

We recommend paper if rinsed well for the every day user, cloth for the advanced or technical focused, metal filters for those who are looking for most ease of use. Cloth is our favorite in shop as it works extremely well for the volume we have. Some time ago while in Japan, I played around with and got a Cafeor (a metal screen filter v60) from Hario which is similar to the K-One (has larger holes spaced differently). We found that it worked reasonably well with it's screen configuration where the screen was only about 60% of the surface area but the sediment was still a problem. We adjusted our method quite a bit to compensate for the sediment and found a coarser grind, longer pre-infusion bloom, and dumping the first drops during pre-infusion helped. The sediment though proved for a often unpleasant cool cup and we much preferred the results we get in Syphon and Cloth hand pours.

Aside from the Cafeor, our trainer and an engineering friend played with the new K-One. Neither liked the results and were caught off guard by the enthusiasm others had when tasting the same cup. Regardless, we are going to play in shop with one tomorrow care of Dylan Evans who is gonna bring it in to give it a full working over. I believe our experiences with the Cafeor will hold true. We've tested everything and choose to stick with the methods we like the most regardless of how difficult or complex they get as long as we can find a way to execute consistently with them on bar.

In the end, choice of filter medium is really about a match of personal taste, patience for details, and ease of use. Try them all and work until you find what you like.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Telling you it's good vs Sharing the good

Our trainer Chris and I had a long discussion over lunch today about our business vision. With too much of the coffee community, it really is a bit hard to get a cup of coffee at many establishments without some snark. Attitude seems to go hand in hand with the service. Attitude either about the brand served or about the portions it's served in. We try hard to push back against that in what we do but because our offerings are so limited and our brand is low key, we struggle to get the right message across on some occasions. It is our fault when we don't communicate clearly.

The best way to explain this is the potential faux pas of putting milk in your drip coffee. We do a pour over brew which takes quite some time to brew and a whole lot of attention. I have been to many a shop which does just this in varying forms. If a customer asks us for milk, we politely provide it but softly encourage them to taste it first to determine if it is necessary or to what degree they would prefer it. We try to make sure they understand that defaulting to their previous dosing of milk might not get the same results. Granted, we are talking about a small group of our customers but they seem to be ones that really rattle a lot of other shops trying to present themselves as 'hard line' or 'purist'. Maybe we aren't so hard line/purist, just very focused in what we want to do.

A common occurrence I have seen or heard proudly discussed by barista at other shops is how they challenged the customer not to put milk or sugar in it or simply restricting options. A famous 'blow up' example of this type of '3rd wave behavior' is the espresso over ice situation. A less public version is when you hear a barista bragging about taunting a customer to not put milk/sugar in their coffee/espresso drink. Visiting with a few barista, one such incident came up where a barista bragged to me about wagging a finger at a customer not to put sugar in their coffee. I politely pointed out we had just been discussing the harshness of the crema in the shot only minutes before. It could be possible that the drink needed a little sugar to this person's taste preferences. As proud as we are to serve the coffees we do (as progressive barista in general), sometimes they aren't living up to the ideal we put in front of them. How you get someone to stop and think about it before doing what they always habitually do is a delicate challenge. Sometimes they may be right, there might be something off and it needs a little something to correct.

That's what it really is about. People and their preferences, finding a good match when they enter our shop. When someone comes in, we try to put them with the coffee they will really enjoy, not force our preferred coffee choices on them. We are however a business that only seeks to showcase coffees we like in methods we have vetted and chosen for the most unique expressions. This means we always run the line between denying certain customers and turning some people away to get at the ones who will appreciate the things we do.

The idea is really simple. Don't lecture good, share what is good. When someone likes a french press, we push them towards the deeper roast. When they like Kenyas, we push them towards v60s. So, it becomes interpretation of what they may want in our lineup rather than instigation. With trust and good interaction, eventually a discussion forms and there is room to expand the discussion to include coffees they may never have considered.

Customer is not always king, but my particular customer is. Defining what customers we want makes for an interesting debate. It starts with deciding what we want to serve, the message we want to convey around it, and if those things click then you really don't have to work as hard. We are lucky at our small outpost that the majority of our customer base comes in knowing what to expect. The lack of protruding signage and glaring marketing campaigns keeps us low key. People find us less organically and more by recommendation of others. Kinda backwards tot eh traditional business model. There is less desire to look for a normal cup of coffee and more exploration of brew methods and coffee offerings by those who find us. We are lucky to have the customers we do and we know it. Making enough menu and offering changes to get to the point that it had clarity has helped. We depend on word of mouth more than we do on anything else. Customers who like us telling their friends what we do helps ease the burden on us to explain exactly what it is we do. It's not easy to get into that position and it means you have to close a few doors and take a few chances but we're better off for it.

At the end of the day, I love coffee but I really wouldn't enjoy coffee without the people we have found as customers. The conversations, the interactions, these things make it special. I've watched customers follow us from other shops drinking large lattes and get down to 5oz cappuccino and yes, even a tight double shot from time to time. It's validating that we are doing something unique, but it's also great fun. Once you are on the same page, there is so much to talk about and so much to share.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Louisville Barista Bash 004

Friday night was an awesome event held by the Folks at Prima Coffee equipment in Louisville, KY. It was held at the Anchorage Cafe and the staff there were awesome hosts. I got the honor of being a judge for their per cup competition and having a short discussion about per cup bars with attendees. I look forward to hearing more out of Louisville's coffee scene in the near future.

There are a few things you need to know about the scene in Louisville: they are great hosts, serious about coffee, and the shop to shop camaraderie is something we could all learn from. I was certainly surprised by the amount of home roasters locally and how engaged, curious, and yes... polite that everyone was. It was refreshing that while the community may feel it has a long way to go to catch up with the noise coming out of the perceived coffee hubs, there is a good group of people there at the forefront.

I was honored by the discussions, the attention to what we are doing here in Arlington and I want to extended a big thanks to everyone there for having me down to speak. It was a lot of fun, great perspective, and I am more than a little worn out afterward!

Inserts of the core presentation on per cup bars I gave at the Louisville Barista Bash 004. These concepts are borrowed from some core Marketing concepts and the talk was an overview with Q&A rather than specific execution of a bar.

Building a per cup bar:

Goals for Per Cup (Coffee on demand)
As A Main Service
  • To Contrast bulk brewing drip programs with freshly brewed cups.
  1. The Pros:
  2. The Cons:

As A Supplementary Service

  • A coffee of the day (or method of the moment) service to provide an alternative to the standard offerings.
  1. The Pros:
  2. The Cons:

Conveying a clear message is key.
  • Menu
  • Appearance
  • Service
The dialogue that results.
  • Interaction
  • Engagement
  • Discussion (Customer to Server AND Customer to Customer)