company - education - coffee - tea - equipment
Showing posts with label Simon Hsieh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Simon Hsieh. Show all posts

Monday, April 21, 2008

Barista magazine meet Simon Hsieh

Current issue (April/May 2008)of B-Mag has a brief piece (pg 18) I wrote on Mr. Clean Green's visit to the US.

Some people still wonder about the towel method. As Simon would say when you ask him any substantiative what if, 'try it.' Like everything we do, it isn't for show, it serves a purpose. I remember one full time internet coffee pundit questioned the method as just for show. I thought, this guy never tried the method nor does he bother to measure temp or time when brewing vac pot, am I supposed to take him seriously?

All that said, having a spiffy new GB5 will really limit brew time on the vac pot so... remember this:

Test everything, try everything, but sometimes it just comes down to being in the same room with the same coffee in a specific roast style. If you are lucky enough to have a TCA 2 from Hario, Simon does do overseas orders.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Simon visits US

Photo Courtesy of Erwin ChukThe last two weeks have had a lot of interesting events. From a series of problems with different bits of equipment to getting to play chef for a night as an assistant at the culinary school.

Simon's visit this week continued that as we started with a set of mishaps. After struggling with the injectors to sensitive yet troublesome probes, there was a bit of tension that we were going to lack the time to get everything ready for events at weeks end. We eventually got everything worked out but it took a few days of struggling to get it tuned right.

The first event was to have a lineup of espresso done as close to our approach as possible. To show people the potential in espresso and why single origin shots don't have to be Harrar, wild dirty coffees, or generally unimpressive blends.

These shots were impressive. The lack of strong ferment note and the sweet thick jam notes with a gentle aroma in the Yirg Blend just blew me away. The Esmeralda was intense and showed the potential of roasting for aroma and how a direct flame setup can control a monster coffee.

Photo Courtesy of Erwin ChukThe sheer volume of people that came in for the espresso event and the amount that showed up in the first hour was not only unexpected, it was a reminder of the potential for espresso in this region. Sure vac pot is great, but the espresso is what emphasized the sweetness, the aroma, and the complexity with the intensity only espresso has.

The vac pot event was much lower key. I think fatigue from preparing the two events was catching up to me. Simon brewed what felt like a dozen vac pots one after another, sometimes multiple at once. It was interesting and I know I need more practice. The great thing about vac pot is the instant feedback it gives. A clarity in taste you can't get in paper filter. The other benefit is if you tune the roast right in Siphon, you can translate it to espresso easily.

I know there is fascination with vac pot and yet many of the industry elite profess it's 'too hard' or 'takes too much time to learn' which I really don't get. With all the blogs and forums, is it about finding shortcuts or better cups? Maybe it's all talk.

Overall, I can say the events went over well and the espresso event left me wanting to do more. Soon...

Friday, February 01, 2008

If shots could talk...

This lineup would be a chorus.

I did a quick trial of the coffees for the espresso event and wow. I mean, I am not the guy who professes love and romance over the cup often but this was wow. Even the straight shot brazil was simply fantastic. I am so happy and maybe after all the intense work and suffering this week, the shots are that much more worth it.

We will run out of these coffees quick at the espresso event because they are simply fantastic. Though I was skeptical of the blends, they were amazing pairings. The Yirg blend pairing is so sweet and just jammy fruit with pleasant wine notes(lacks the tannins and sharp acidity though) and lavender aroma. I thought it would be a challenge to pull but they just lined up because they were all roasted for the same brew range... The Esmeralda was a monster of aroma that could even be felt in the aftertaste like drinking honeysuckle... Thankfully, there is a lot of the Brazil Moreninha Formosa so go nuts people, have a shot!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Events: Syphon Brewing and $3 espresso day

Simon Hsieh will be traveling to the US this month as our guest and we plan on having two Barismo sponsored events while he is in Cambridge:

Saturday Feb. 2:
Simon Yu of Simon's coffee in Porter Sq. [where: 1736 Mass Ave, Cambridge 02138] will have an espresso centric day to celebrate his new La Marzocco FB80. Barismo is proud to feature roasts centered around unique coffees presented for maximum expression all roasted by Simon Hsieh. Prices will vary based on offerings.
Simon's FB80
Straight shots will be served in limited runs from 10am until we run out of coffees... Prices on the shots will vary and the selection will change throughout the afternoon. Please help support this ambitious venture by joining us for an afternoon of progressive coffee experiences.

Sunday Feb. 3:
A Syphon bar demo and presentation of Zero Defect Coffees roasted by master roaster Simon Hsieh will be held at an open space in Arlington TBA. The Barismo hosted event will be held from 2-4pm and will feature some fantastic coffees we won't name online. There will be a surprise coffee or two that are air freighted from origin (Kenya no less) to go with a selection of top tier coffees.
The Syphon Bar will feature multiple vac pots running simultaneously as well as a demo on brewing vac pot, and a presentation on defects in coffee followed by a meet and greet with Simon Hsieh. The possibility of a sorting competition for education purposes and other items to be decided. This event will cost $15.00 and due to the price of these coffees we have a space limit which may fill up quickly so please register in advance.

To register, email events @ barismo . com

Saturday, September 08, 2007


simon_book 001simon_book 002

Thanks Simon. I DO enjoy this!! ;-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cupping Esmeralda

Coffee: La Hacienda Esmerelda 2007, gesha varietal
Roaster: Simon Hsieh, Taiwan
Sorted with a 30% rejection rate

Simon's labelgrounds aroma: Blueberry compote (fruity sugary - not rotten fruit ferment 'fake blueberry')

cup aroma: Distinctly floral, balanced, pleasant, sweet

hot cup profile: Distinct floral honeysuckle. Not the soapy perfume potpourri we expected. Reminiscent of chamomile. Clean and effervescent with a cream soda finish. Wonderful light berried fruits.
Very balanced character, drinks like an extremely high grade tea.

cool cup profile: Clean, clean, clean. Orange citrus. Sugary longan fruit.

So you are asking why I am posting cupping notes for this coffee after proclaiming no reviews? Largely to point out one thing, reviews are often bunk. Our cupping notes for coffees almost never are the same as other roaster's notes. While CoE notes have always proved valuable, it leaves us largely confused by cupping notes made by others on coffees like Esmeralda. The point is, it all depends on the roast and the cupper.

Remnants of a vac pot and a single very evenly light roasted beanI read reviews about Esmeralda being so potent and intense with people layering descriptions on it about how they could not drink it everyday. I don't think they are drinking the same roast as this to make those statements. It's so balanced and clean, it makes you wonder what the others are cupping. I could drink this everyday. Part of that is the excessive sorting and a larger part is the roast. Simon does a unique roast.

I think half of the feedback I have given Simon Hsieh on his coffees probably would make/has made many roasters upset or simply stop talking to me. The reason behind that in this specific case is Simon's approach lets you evaluate the beans for what they are. It really is whether I like the coffee and not about what the roaster did to it. There are no complaints, merely observations about character which at times can be simply, I don't like this coffee even though you did a spectacular roast. There is no baking, tipping, scorching, dulling, muting, or dozens of other adjectives I can use to describe the hundreds of ways a roaster can mess up a coffee's potential. The Esmeralda Simon roasted/sorted is amazing and I look forward to trying to repeat it with our green samples of the lady Esmeralda.

Cheers to Simon for this coffee and a big thanks to Eugene for shipping and gifting it to us (~$35 for 100g[3.5oz] which is two brews of 2 cup vac pot and two 5oz cupping).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Roaster Profile: Simon Hsieh

Simon Hsieh is a coffee roaster, author, translator, and gourmet columnist in Taiwan. We took notice of Mr. Hsieh after Ben C. met him in recent travels. Ben brought his coffees back for us to sample and it left a lasting impression on us. We at Barismo decided an interview would offer us a chance to learn more about Mr. Hsieh and his visionary approach to coffee quality.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Hi, I'm Simon Hsieh, a Taiwanese coffee book writer and the Chinese version translator of Ken Davids' Home Coffee Roasting. I started as a home roaster in 1999. Due to my passion for a better cup of coffee, I decided to step deeper into the coffee industry in Taiwan.

Since then, I have been working on improving quality in the Taiwanese market. I truely hope that every cup served can have better quality rather than just commodity grade. To achieve this, I devoted myself to take part in many tasting & brewing events in places all over Taiwan, exemplifying the true tastes of good coffees.

What is your roasting philosophy?

My goal is the "true tastes in good coffees". I roast most of the good single origin coffees in a light to medium roast style to preserve as much varietal/origin characteristics as possible. I believe every good S.O. has something more exciting when they are less costumed with roast flavors; that is to say, they can express themselves well enough in the lighter stages of roasts. That's why they cost so much, isn't it?

Even though I personally prefer the light to medium roast style, it doesn't mean that I can't do well with the darker roasts. Whatever the roast style I do, I do it to achieve a balanced "sweet/fruity/complex" profile. But the most important thing is, I always want to optimize the aroma for every coffee.

Where did the concept of "zero-defect" coffee come from? And what do you seek to accomplish with it?

The "zero defect" concept just appeared to me when I got my first delivery of green coffees as a home roaster. I can still recall that package of green coffees which consisted of a Peru Norte, a Sumatra Gr.1, a Costa Rica La Minita, and a Kenya AA Auction Lot. When I opened the bags, I felt so happy to smell the fresh greens until the Sumatra was opened. I thought to myself 'ughhh.... I wonder how it would look by how it smelled.'

Then I looked further into the Sumatra greens and found so many disgusting moldy and black beans inside. I wondered, 'Am I gonna get sick if I drink the coffee made from those moldy greens?' It's horrible, at least to me, so I started my "sorting journey" with this Sumatra. That gave me a great shock after I rejected almost 50% of those eye-offenders in the Sumatra. What the hell had I drunk before I did this?! As I dug further into other bags, I also found some unbelievable percentage of defects in those green coffees. These were purchased from a famous US specialty green coffee retailer and all were so-called 'specialty grade' coffees. From that day on, I haven't believed the 0 defect/300 gram descriptions anymore. Whatever I get, I sort before I roast. At first it was just to make myself feel easier to drink a cup from clean greens; but soon I found that the cup was improved remarkably due to the sorting. This has driven me to the unremitting "sorting movement".

Since I was alone in this practice, I felt the need to address this injustice. I then decided to introduce the concept of "Zero Defect Coffees" to deliver a more direct message for people and my roasting business started (4-Arts Zero Defects Coffees).

You might be confused by the industry-wide sayings that you can get a better cup if you buy the "specialty grade coffees" and use the fancy equipment. Yes, better equipment is an important element for a good cup of coffee and specialty grade coffees are indeed better than the commodity grade ones. But, what does the word "specialty" really mean? Obviously the current definition for "specialty" isn't quite special enough for me.

IMHO, a good coffee can never be good enough if there is a great deal of defects still in it. Even a pricey Jamaican Blue Mtn. No.1 has up to a 30% rejection rate. If pricey coffees are so bad and you are willing to pay that much for it, why not get a cleaner one? If you really care about quality, then the defects in the coffee shouldn't be ignored. It should be of equal emphasis in determining the cup quality. For this reason, I choose premium greens to sort and sell the roasted products in hope to draw people's attention to the subject that I'm selling "defect free" coffee concept rather than just "specialty" coffee.

What are some of your favorite coffee in the past?

I especially love the "aroma bombs"--to be specific, the Kenya AA's, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha and Hawaiian Kona. If I need to take price into account, I would choose the Kenya AA's because I can get the most pleasure while spending the least.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your job now?

The biggest challenge for me is still the mainstream Taiwanese coffee drinkers' tastebuds. For most older generation coffee drinkers, they still regard coffee as a "bitter and smokey beverage" and cannot accept any acidity in the cup. Those older generation drinkers affect their children directly in their impressions of coffee. So we always need to face people with the "bitterness" issue first. It's painful but I know it's inevitable. If I want to convince more people to appreciate how good coffee can taste, I need to tell them early in their coffee experiences every time. There are no other ways to achieve this goal.

So, I just keep telling and showing people. People will realize after many experiences of comparing and contrasting different coffees. Some will come back eventually and tell me, " I know how good coffees should taste like."

-Simon Hsieh

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

So that's what zero defect coffee tastes like...

We got a shipment of coffees from Mr. Simon Hsieh who is a roaster going by the moniker of 4-Arts zero-defects coffees in Taiwan. It's not just a fancy name when he says zero defects. Simon sorts his coffee personally to achieve a promise of zero cup defects in all of his roasts.

So you may be thinking about what zero defects means. There are obvious defects as pictured here via What we know is that Simon removes any obvious defects found but also sorts the coffee to a more even size and color consistency. This means cleaning a coffee up the hard way with some manual labor. When Simon says zero defects, he's not joking.

Simon can turn a bean up to five times sorting pre-roast and then once more post-roast to identify visible defects or what he determines as off beans that may ruin a cup. This is a very intense and dedicated way to get a better cup. As all searches for a better cup go, it's never easy. Sorting at the roasterie is something that would be cost prohibitive to almost everyone in our American industry beyond the fanatical home roaster. It is the home roaster who has little access to good green that this process is intriguing though because it appears that a little extra sorting could potentially clean up an otherwise funky coffee.

It is a very unique and somewhat extreme approach that at first you may be inclined to question. Rightfully so, but you should give it a go and see what he is looking at and attempt to contemplate the logic behind it a bit. There are two ways to do this. One, you have Simon do this for you and pay him well, plus shipping costs to achieve this. Two, you sit down and sort out some home roast. I suggest you do a high grade coffee like a CoE and compare it to a C-Grade Sumatra. Measure the throw away percent on both and report back to us on the results should you choose to accept this mission...
Carlos identifying defects at Anacafe
Image Courtesy of Jason Silberschlag

At first glance it would be easy to throw this out the window and say it's a bit crazy to do this. I think too many people in the industry are easily willing to ignore what others are doing without trying to understand the reasoning behind their choices. The logic may be flawed or it may be correct. Truth is, you don't know what the results are until you take the time and do the experiment for yourself.

Simon's exercise in sorting has a lesson to teach us. Sorting makes a difference. In fact, the simple exercise of sitting down and sorting a few rows of coffee will give you new perspective on exactly what defects are and how one bean can easily ruin a cup. Sort out the defects, roast them and cup them next to the sorted cup. You will then better understand what is causing each cup's components and then the mushrooms may not be so charming any more.

It's not a clean coffee rant today though. It's a question of what is in my cup and why does it taste the way it does? Can you identify the good as well as the bad? Equating input to output and identifying the causes of flavors in the cups is harder than you think.

Doing sorting is like an educational adventure. After a few episodes, you will appreciate the great lots which require less than 20% rejection rates while you will fall apart at the purchase of a green which has a 50%+ rejection rate. Something to think about next time you try any coffee.

As for Simon's coffees, we sampled a Nicaragua CoE#14, 20% CoE espresso Blend, and Idido Misty Valley Grade 1. That last one may strike you as odd for our crew but we have tried a few versions of this coffee in the US (though not Grade 1), so it was to be a comparison cup. It was a strange cup. Simon describes it as orange juice and that's pretty accurate. Not my personal choice of coffees though as I still cling to dreams about an aromatic washed Yirgacheffe that may someday resurface when our fermented Ethiopian naturals fascination ends...
Idido MIsty Valley Gr.1

All that aside, Simon achieved something I had not tasted before, previous versions of Misty Valley bordered on rank and pungent, almost rotten fruits at times ready to kick you in the face with their untamed intensity. This offering was balanced and persisted like a heavy perfume that weighed down my nostrils leaving a strong aroma and thick sweetness. It did not really resemble what we had tasted in our cupping sessions or varied trips to famous coffee houses. Shocking indeed.
Nicaragua CoE

The Nicaragua was a dark sugar cup, a balanced roast which came out well in the vac pot, being my pick of his offerings. The 15% at the bottom of the label is Simon's rejection rate for the Nicaragua.

The 20% CoE espresso blend was nice and very clean but I have such bias against earthiness in coffees, I would love to replace that Java Jampit component with something else. It was however, on the level with Stumptown's hairbender in that it was ripe and had good fruit in the cup and a defined sweetness. It was brewed in the low 190'sF and pulled very ristretto making for what was a lingering sweet cup with a winey aftertaste and lacking in pronounced bitterness. Again, it was balanced but complex with a heavy candied sweetness which seems to be Simon's signature style.
Bags of 4-arts zero defects coffees from Taiwan

Go ahead and add meticulous sorting to our wish list along with fresher green and high grown coffees.