company - education - coffee

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

NERBC, things to look for

We've been lucky to work with two competitors this year who will be in the mix. Keep an eye out for Calen Robinette of Voltage coffee and Brandon Duff of RBCNYC. Both have high expectations of executing the routines they've been polishing for the NERBC stage.

Calen is doing a coffee cherry theme around fresh crop (literally weeks off the patio) Hacienda Santa Rosa's Buena Esperanza Alfaro. After meeting the owner, Gustavo Alfaro, Calen made Esperanza his coffees of choice.  The espresso is a pairing of a rare Mundo Nuevo lot and a seperately grown Tekisik lot. Both are grown at 1800m which makes the Mundo Nuevo turn out as a bit of an over achiever given common expectations for this varietal based on cuppings of lower elevation plantings. Both coffees are also stellar picks, as Edwin Martinez puts it 'unusually ripe and even cherry'. The same patio day of Mundo Nuevo for Calen was pulped and the remaining fruit was prepped as Cascara.  The freshness and extreme ripeness of the cascara made for a suprisingly pleasant tasting whereas many we've tried have been quite dissappointing (especially in comparison) Calen also plans to use some of Gustavo's coffee flower honey as well in his signature drink.

Brandon is planning on using our Soma espresso, a pairing of two Guatemalan coffees with a Kenya. The Guatemalan coffees are Las Rosas (Huehuetenango) and Miriam de Villanueva's El Bosque (right outside of Antigua) while the Kenya is our Othaya. Brandon bar tends on the side and his approach for sig drink will be that of a cocktail. Current secret version looks tight and brings a clever approach to sig drinks that will be fun and tasty.Brandon placed in the finals last year so keep an eye on him and his trajectory in the competitions.

Coffee community

One of the biggest driving forces locally has been the Boston TNT.  It was definately inspired by the Providence coffee society and the Tulip Tuesdays Providence Throwdown.  It is really not roaster focused and remains really laid back and approachable.

This is a contrast to the heavily roaster driven and branded events in other major cities. Having been to many of these, it often felt like a sales outreach by one aggressive company rather than a true community driven event.  That really kept many of us from having one here until seeing how well the ones in Providence were run.

The key was keeping sales people at bay and making the shop it was being hosted at the focus. This made for a really relaxing event where turnout peaked over a hundred for the first Boston TNT and was solid for the most recent.  The diversity of shops represented as well was most impressive to me and yet no tension or posturing.

A big piece to that has been shops like Voltage and Render which bridged what has been a very tight and active coffee community in Cambridge to the rest of the larger community.  Living on either side of the Charles means you don't visit the other side that much. The TNT changed that and merged the Boston and Cambridge communities for now.

A big thanks to those involved and please keep supporting the TNT.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Branding roast

After the On Point piece, I realized clearly we don't talk as much about roast level as other roasters do.  We talk about matching the right brew method up with the right coffee more than the roast degree.  The reasoning is that we don't want to throttle customers with our opinions or 'ideology', we want to focus on the right match.  That is in theory doing our best job to present a range of coffees we feel strongly about and making sure customers can take an experience home more times than not that they will enjoy.  It is in the end about customers finding some level of attachment to the farm brand (and therefore the producer).

Though there are fewer and fewer trying defend the losing argument that is dark roasting somehow equals quality, a light roast does not guarantee quality coffee in itself either.  That's the issue at hand, which is better, and we decide not to talk about it most of the time.

For me personally, I do not enjoy dark roasts.  I do not therefor roast into second crack on our coffees.  We may be the only local roaster whose lineup is roasted between first and second but that often escapes the discussion when others are branding themselves as light roasters and we are silent on the issue.  It is my suggestion that if you are to take the mantle that light roasts equal quality, your company should boldly abandon roasting french roasts, vienna roasts, South Italian, and all other roasts that are focused on dark.  You can't have it both ways and still be sincere.

While I may not enjoy dark roasts, there are very few good light roasters out there.  More times than I can count I've been served up grassy and underdeveloped roasts that seemed more about getting the lightest possible aesthetic color than palatable drink.  It is that same astringency and unpleasant acidity that shows up in poorly done dark roasts that is even more intense and stomach churning in poorly done light roasts.  The few good light roasters there are seem to be frustratingly inconsistent which compounds the consumer perception of what light roasts are.

When someone says they don't like a light roast, I'm never shocked because a lot of things have to line up to make a good cup.  That's why we put our focus on brewing it correctly and trying to teach our customers how to take that experience home.  It is a barista focus for sure but it has helped us immensely moving forward.

In the meantime, we are going to continue refining what we've been doing and keep moving forward.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Found two bags of old coffee

While collecting items in our kitchen coffee setup to cup late night, I came across these two bags.  The design is one I worked on with Lex Nemzer and I still like it a lot.  It really brought me back.

I am now cupping this against a 'blonde roast' and some of our newer coffees late night to get ready for radio time Friday morning.   I only opened the Costa to try now, saving the other for the late. Honestly, it still had some character but not a bit of surface oil which considering how old it is I was impressed.  The flavor though was quite stale compared to fresh coffees so it was not all that unexpected.

Lesson, drink fresh coffee, store the labels for posterity. It was really fun to look back at the old label to remind me what an uphill battle it had been to push quality the way we have.  Glad to see things progressing so quickly these days.

On Point

Our own Jaime van Schyndel will be joining Tom Ashbrook for a segment on NPR's On Point tomorrow morning Feb 10th at 11:00am. The topic? Light roast coffee. Tune in to 90.0 WBUR for a live broadcast or listen anytime after the broadcast online.