Monday, June 27, 2005

   from Nick

Portafilter Podcast Episode V - The Final Battle

Podcast Number Five. Right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed.

Special guest, Mr. Aaron Ultimo, Head Trainer and Coffeeboy, and Mr. Ryan Jensen, General Retail Manager, both from murky coffee, Washington, DC.;

Show highlights:
- A couple of news bits (Starbucks, Intelly leveling-tool)
- Regional Barista Competition calendar
- Is winning a regional barista competition a disadvantage at the USBC?
- "Guest Espresso"
- Baristas vs. Coffeebar owners :-/
- What's up with the BGA?
- oh, and we do an impression of Mark Prince's lady-friend, Beata.

MP3 format, 12.6 MB, 1:13:08. 24 kbps bitrate, 11.025 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

P.S. Yes, indeed, we've registered the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes. Download the new version 4.9 if you haven't yet, and you should be able to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. If you're not a regular podcast junkie, check out some of the others out there... ours sounds pretty not-so-bad there, eh?
   from chris
   from trish

The beloved Roaster's Log

Most roasters like to log little bits of information constantly, methodically and sometimes obsessively during the day. If you happen by the roaster's station...hoping for a chat or a "whatdya do this weekend?" type of howdy, you may find him/her stopping in mid-sentance to jot down a digit on a spreadsheet. They may punctuate it with a comment under their breath, ... "dang, running hot today..."

The roasting log may just be a page of numbers to you, but to me and a lot of other roasters, it is the text book we are writing to ourselves.... our oracle, our memoirs.

Oh my roast log...how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. You show me the way: A fellow roaster goes to lunch and I take over. I read his day so far, I know where to go because I know where we've been.

2. You show me the coffee: sumatra and java will run off like a bat outta hell at the end if I don't ease up. I'm babying the Ethiopia natural, starting it off easy.

3. You remind me of the season: It's summer and the times can go faster. The Guatemala is new and super green...look at the drying times. It's rainy, a low-pressure day... watch the smoke fall in the street. Look out for neighbors.

4. You give me the history of a region: My logs from 1993 and 2003 show me very different stories about Jamaica Blue Mountain.

5. You tell me the truth: someone said they cleaned the fan and stacks....hmmm, still kinda sluggish.....liar!

(Chris insert picture of Tonx's log here, because
I don't have one of my own)


If it weren't for you, my lovely log, I'd be nothing! (and I'd know even less)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

   from chris

attributes

What are the most important attributes for success in coffee?

A great palate? Dedication? A high tolerance for pain?

I've been thinking about this a lot and trying to take a lot of positives and eliminate the ones that are too vague or have negative sides and trying to distill it all down to a simple statement.

In the end I think that there are four primary attributes that can be used as predictors of success in coffee.

  1. Passion.
  2. Curiousity.
  3. Humility.
  4. Flavour-obsessed.

Passion. Without the passion you cannot maintain the level of focus, you cannot maintain the required sacrifices... you cannot continue to care to the degree you need to to be successful. With passion you get resiliance. Passion feeds all other attributes and allows you to soldier on - in spite of all the odds.

Curiousity. I think that this is a key and often under-rated attribute for coffee professionals. In many cases, it is this which seperates the average from the great. You need to wonder - about everything. You need to constantly be looking for new knowledge, to put together new ideas and new concepts. You need to have that itch in the back of the head... that drive to understand.

Humility. This is too hard of a business, too rough of a business, and too fast-changing of a business for an ego-maniac to survive in it. You need to ego to keep on going (see Passion) but you cannot mind being wrong, you cannot mind failing. You have to be okay with not being a star - because at the end of the day the coffee is always the star.

Flavour-obsessed. I don't know how else to say this but it seems like everyone who is successful in this industry is passionate not just about coffee, but about food and about wine and about beer and about anything that is all about taste. It makes sense because, while the toys are all fun and all, it's what's in the cup that matters.

Perhaps we can use these as a starting point to help us make better hiring decisions. Perhaps we can just use them as a curiosity. Perhaps I'm wrong on one, some or all of these.

But it's cool to think about.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

   from Nick

W.W.D.Z.D.?

What phrase strikes more fear in the hearts of competition-level coffeebar owners more than any other?

"Hey, I finally get to go to your shop tomorrow!"

(On a side note, I'm trying out the term "competition-level" to describe retail shops that are going for that "ultimate espresso experience." Actual participation in barista competitions isn't the issue... the skill, knowledge and passion that the competitions are trying to embody is.)

The thoughts and feelings that I'm feeling at that moment are mixed for sure. Of course, it's always a pleasure to receive guests, and I'm always appreciative of the fact that our passion for coffee is being recognized. On the other hand, there's this anxiousness that usually accompanies a visit by your parents to your third grade teacher. What will happen? What will they talk about? Will I be praised? Will I be embarrassed? Should I just ground myself now?

The anxiousness that I speak of is, of course, due to the fact that though my shop has gained some sort of good reputation out there, not every barista in my stable is competition-caliber. Horrible images pass through my brain. Crema... breaking atop the moderately overextracted double espresso, as the just-started-solo-on-bar barista hands the not-quite-preheated-enough demitasse across the counter into the expectant hands of a "V.I.P." Maybe it's Mark Prince. Maybe it's my third grade teacher.

The next thought as perspiration begins to appear on my forehead and my breath quickens, is, "Who the heck is gonna be working bar?" Then, "Maybe I should try to be there and make their drink," then, "No, if I do that, then I'll seem like I'm trying to cover-up poor barista training." Then, you resort to the mantra that any coffeebar owner in any sort of stressful situation repeats in their mind on a daily, often hourly basis: "W.W.D.Z.D.?" (What Would Doug Zell Do?)

True role models nowadays are a rare commodity for sure, but there's nothing that can inspire someone like seeing someone, as Aaron likes to say, "BRING IT" on a consistent level. I might even add, if you're finding yourself in situations where you feel like the most hard-core, most passionate coffee person around... pick up yo ass and get yo self to somewhere that will humble you.

I started out just rambling about the whole anxiety thing, and hadn't really planned on how to finish this entry. But as I stare at the letters: W.W.D.Z.D., I realize that it's all about inspiration. I took a trip to Chicago a couple of months ago specifically to see Intelligentsia in action, and you'd better believe I came back even more fired up about "BRINGING IT" than before. With all due respect to the others in our fair industry, I have never seen a group of people with their cumulative level of passion and professionalism.

This still being June, and the first USBC Regional Barista Competition this year still at least a couple of months away, I just wanted to reiterate what I've been saying a lot these days. These competitions and barista jams can make a huge difference in igniting some real passion in a barista. It's not really about education or skill-building. It's the experience of spending time with other coffee professionals who are clearly MORE dedicated to the craft than you are.

Thankfully, I'm feeling this "barista anxiety" less and less these days. It's because I have a full-time barista trainer and coffee manager like Aaron, a general manager like Ryan, and baristas like Katie, Mandy, Dan, and the rest of the crew.

While I'd love to just credit them as people for their passion and dedication, there's one more fact that has undeniably been what turned the corner for them: participation in barista competitions and jams. Not coincidentally, that's what the competitions and jams have really been all about. They are the match that can really start an explosion.

On the other hand, you need a good fuse... though I guess that may be the harder part... and a topic for another post.

Monday, June 20, 2005

   from bronwen

What ever happened to cafe culture?

One of my favorite activities during my days off is to visit other cafes. A barista has to get out of her natural work habitat sometime and it's always good to taste different coffee. Here in Seattle, I'm lucky to have many cafes at my disposal for relaxing, having other baristas serve me coffee, and taking in some Seattle cafe culture. On a very recent visit to my favorite Sunday/Monday morning cafe, Lighthouse Coffee Roasters, I wondered is cafe culture in North America is truly evolving?

Between sips of my Americano and morning paper, I caught up with the Lighthouse boys, watched neighbors come and go, and talked with a few of my coffeehouse friends. Around me, my cafe compatriots were reading the paper, chatting with friends and family, kids and pets were running around. The perfect cafe scene, much like the one that drew me into this profession. However, not all cafes are alike. This is especially true in a country where the coffee history is still young and 16oz to go lattes are the norm. More often than not, much of what you find are people rushing to get their caffeine fix before work, students deep into their books, and laptop junkies surfing the internet. Whatever happened to relaxing with a cup of coffee and great conversation? Does the American public have an aversion to itself and the cafe environment? I mean really people -- there are enough cafes out there to feed a caffeinated army! Very few of them actually serve a true cafe culture where people come together to enjoy coffee, company, and conversation.

Is the cafe as it should be a dying breed or is just beginning to emerge in this young American coffee culture? I know that I'm not the only one captivated by the romanticism and charm of cafes experienced in travels around Europe. Many Americans vacation there every year. They come home, reminisce about how the coffee and cafe were so great, and wonder why they can't get the same thing at home. Are they really that blind and ignorant? I don't think so. I have faith in my customers. Who says that we baristas and cafe owners can't give them that same experience? On our part of the equation is providing the environment and the product -- focus on the quality of the products, keep the menu simple, and get rid of that darn wi-fi (computers easily kill actual human interaction -- last time I checked it took two people to have a conversation in a cafe and my ibook isn't a person). The other part of the equation is dependent on the actual customer -- help them break out of their shell. They were able to sit in a cafe during their vacation, why can't they do it on a regular basis? Encourage your customers to sit and enjoy their morning cup -- it only takes a few minutes...I know I take mine when I can.

bronwen
   from Nick

Portafilter Podcast Episode IV - Live from the SERBGJ

Podcast Number Four. Right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed.


Live from the South East Regional Barista Guild Jam, hosted by Stockton Graham and Company

Special guests: Bronwen Serna (Hines Public Market Coffee, Seattle, WA and 2004 USBC Champion), Cindy Chang (Counter Culture Coffee; WBC Hemisphere Coordinator), Gee Barger (Counter Culture Coffee), Russell Chisholm (The Easy Chair Coffee Shop, Blacksburg, VA), Jeff Vojta (Stockton Graham & Co., and SCAA Board member)

Show highlights:
- USBC/WBC official espresso machine changes?
- Barista competitions... relevant to "real life?"
- Judging at barista competitions
- CoffeeGeek.com, Mark Prince, and coffee enthusiasts
- and much more

We had a lot of people around the table for this one... please excuse the wandering ramblings!

MP3 format, 15.0 MB, 1:27:20. 24 kbps bitrate, 11.025 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

   from Peter G

Update from Kenya

As of today, Duane and I finished the classes we were teaching at the Kenya Coffee College, located at the Kenya Coffee Research Foundation in Ruiru. We taught two seminars, for two days each. The first was to coffee managers, mainly the management of the mills and marketing agents here, and the second was to farmers and co-op managers.

The classes were quite interesting. Our task was to explain the details of the specialty coffee market in the United States to a group who, formerly, had little knowledge of this market. Folks might be surprised at this, given Kenya's great reputation in the specialty coffee industry. The truth is, because the system here is highly specialized (farmers farm, millers mill, and dealers sell), farmers and millers have traditionally had little knowledge about what is going on in our market. For this reason, there are lots of misconceptions here about what roasters do, and what specialty consumers want. Most of the farmers here believed that bean size was the most important factor in the quality of their coffee!

The seminars were jam-packed with information. We talked about the size of the specialty market, the essentials of quality coffee production, the importance of lot separation and cupping, the relationship coffee model, the marketing of specialty coffee in the U.S., certification programs, the importance of recordkeeping, and the potential of appellation programs. And that was just the first day! The second day, we designed a series of projects, and broke down the class into groups to work on these projects. The projects were: design a system of lot separation, develop a "producer profile" for a co-op or estate, develop a "photographic profile" for a co-op or estate, and design a system of cupping at the producer level. All the groups really embraced the projects, and did a great job on them. The most exciting moment, for me, was when a bunch of coffee farmers gathered in the cupping lab for their first coffee tasting. Most had never tasted anything but instant coffee and coffee rejects (called bunni here). We tasted bunni, a past-crop lot, a current-crop medium quality lot, and an exceptional lot. Every farmer was able to perceive the difference, and even describe the flavors precisely! They became excited, laughing and bragging that they had cupped coffee successfully. This experience brought tears to my eyes.

Next week, we begin cupping training for a number of cuppers here in Kenya. Tasters here practice a form of cupping called "liquoring" which focuses only on the taste of the lukewarm beverage, rather than the whole process of cupping we are familiar with. The idea is to train these cuppers on the SCAA standard of cupping, and orient them to the kinds of qualities we are looking for in Kenya coffee. Duane and I have our hands full, trying to squeeze as much cupping training for 30 people as we can in 5 days. Wish us luck!

-Peter

Thursday, June 16, 2005

   from Ellie

teaching tasting

This week I did a blind tasting with some of our staff at the Broadway store. Usually when tasting I don't keep the coffee identities hidden but this time I wanted to try something different. Anyway, I just brewed Black Cat and Decaf Black Cat in French Presses and had each of the staff write down what they thought the coffees were. I told them that I would buy lunch for anyone that correctly identified either one of the coffees.

The purpose of the exercise was multi-fold. One, I guessed (correctly) that not one of the staff members would guess a decaf. To me this indicates a few things- that our decaf Black Cat is pretty damn tasty, and also that we need to open our minds a little bit more when blind tasting. To my delight, a few of the staff guessed Organic Sumatra or Sulawesi and I think these have a lot of similar taste properties to the Decaf Black Cat, especially the O Sumatra- full body, distinct changes in flavor notes from start to finish, uncomplicated overall impact. Another purpose of this excercise was to show how a coffee that all of our baristas are sooooooo familiar with (Black Cat) can taste different to the point of not being quite as recognizeable when brewed differently and again encouraging more openmindedness with tasting.

Does anyone else out there have any experience with blind tasting and how to develop the palate as well as the psychology involved with tasting? I think an exercise like this is valuable but it seems like if one kept doing "trick" blind tastings like this it might get exhasting and be overkill. Anyone have a formula for balancing non-blind and blind tasting to maximize the impact of both?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #3

Podcast Number Three. Right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed.

The Extended Dance Mix Version (this one topped one hour)

Show highlights:
- News bytes: Canadians & birthdays
- The Barista's Code of Conduct
- Phone call to Phuong Tran, 2005 US Barista Champion and Sammy Piccolo, two-time Canadian Barista Champion
- Wi-Fi in cafes - Victrola in the News
- LONG conversation about consistency in roasting and blending... should it be the goal?

MP3 format, 11.9 MB, 1:08:44. 24 kbps bitrate, 11.025 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.
   from Peter G

Hello from Kenya!

Hello everybody. I'm writing from Nairobi.

Wanted to give a little insight about what I am up to this week. Duane from Stumptown and I are here, preparing to teach some cupping classes for the Coffee Research Foundation of Kenya. This is pretty exciting, because we are told this sort of thing has never happened before. Traditionally, only the marketing agents and coffee dealers here know how to cup; it is extremely rare for farmers or producer groups to have any cupping expertise. Our mission here is to teach as many folks as we can the details of cupping, in the belief that an ability to taste coffee leads to the ability to create better coffees and therefore create more income for farmers who are willing to take on the challenge. As I said, exciting! Moving coffee forward, one cup at a time!

What I am wanting to know is, what is Kenya's place in espresso? (this is portafilter.net and all...) many roasters consider Kenya too intense for espresso blends. However, a little bird tells me that there is a Kenyan component in Hairbender.... I have always had trouble myself. If anyone wants to share any experience with Kenyan coffees- especially S.O.S.- I would love to hear them and share with the folks over here. By the way, the Kenyan barista competitor finished something like 13th in the world, and I wager he used an all-Kenyan blend....

-Peter

Saturday, June 11, 2005

   from chris


Stumptown Guatemala Finca San Vincente Affogato... mmmm....
   from trish

not so cinchy

Okay, maybe you all won't want to read a lot of belly aching about the difficulties of making good coffees....not to mention great ones, but I feel the need to continue the discussion that Peter and Chris have been working on here.
Espresso blending and roasting - and marketing, for that matter- is not so cinchy.

A lot of folks I have worked with and admire greatly are constantly disillusioned by the effort. It's like our dirty little secret in the business and no one really wants to talk seriously about it. Yeah, I know. It is a bit of a downer to get into, but there are promising signs in our future.
Espresso components are damned hard to come by and the demand for them has grown umpteen fold. I don't care who you are or what your espresso reputation is, your blend is not consistent. Some of us can pull it off better than others, but espresso truly is what Nick Cho called the "bikini contest" of coffee. Your blend is a continuously moving target. I have made a point of tasting some highly touted blends dozens of times. Some of them have not rocked my world as was promised. This is not an indictment on them because I know that was just a moment in time. Others have reported godshots with these same blends and I believe them. Still others float above the fray, never coming in contact with our terrestrial espresso pitfalls...who the hell do these coffees think they are? God's gift? (Dammit I guess they are.)

It is nerve racking to go to a friend's shop and not be able to give them the thumbs up on the shot...and then they ask, "...really, what do you think?" All I can say is, "I think you haven't tasted it recently."
But you see, I *know*! I know what is happening. I have been there, we all have.

It's nerve racking to get a sample from an importer...tiny tiny these samples are. They need to know, like yesterday, if you want the coffee and how much. How can you test blends with these itty bitty samples? You need to trust that you understand how the crema will really perform after degassing....2 days, 4 days, 10 days? Who knows, but you don't really have the time needed to try it out, you have to act because the importer wants to sell it to someone today.

Enough poor me venting...can you hear my violins? Here comes the promising future for the big finish:

The conventional wisdom about espresso is now being examined and either accepted or debunked. In some case, both at the same time. Weird, huh? Just as we have religiously logged our roasts, some baristas are brewing everything all different ways. To me, it seems more than ever that the brewing will be matched to the coffee not the other way around. That means that there will be even more reason to say that espresso is anything you want it to be. If you have a hard time defining Third Wave, this would be one of its cornerstones: You can make coffee anything and any way you want to so long as it works. But that means we have a responsibility.
A little Star Wars symbolism...... Black= absence of all light
White is the presence of all light
   from Nick

Next podcast coming Monday

That means you have 2 days to submit topic ideas, insider tips, etc.

podcast@portafilter.net

Friday, June 10, 2005

   from chris

Save your local small dairy

It's been all over the internet in the last few days, but in case you've been living under your counter or something...

The USDA has proposed new rules and regulations that are likely to result in the disappearance of small and family owned dairy farms. The proposal flies in the face of everything that we, quality conscious coffee people, love and care about. It will result in milk being aggregated into huge lots, with no differentation for quality or source. It will make it more difficult to buy locally and to support independent businesses. And it will most likely result in increased milk prices as well.

And personally, as someone who grew up surrounded by small, family owned dairy farms, I have a clear understanding of the financial challenges of such a business. The idea that the federal government is trying to make the lives of these farmers even harder is appalling to me.

Read about it - and make your voice heard.

http://www.keepmilkpriceslow.org/

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

   from Nick

Barista code of conduct?

So I have another article up on CoffeeGeek under "the BGA files," thanks to Mr. Mark Prince and his continuing support of the Barista Guild.

It's called "The Baristas' Code of Conduct."

I've been getting some intriguing feedback on it... I'd love to hear more. I'm all about "continuing the discussion."

Thoughts?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

   from chris
   from chris

Don't try this at home

Roasters are going to need to rethink their espresso blends if they've not already done so.

There, I've come out and said it.

I'll explain. More than 3/4 of all coffee consumed in the US is consumed at home. Sales of home espresso equipment have exploded. But the vast majority of espressos available to the consumer are not made for, evaluated on or in many cases even suitable for use on home machines.

It's a bit shocking to me to have come to this realization - but now it seems so obvious in retrospect. Commercial roasters evaluate their espressos on commercial equipment, often in the hands of highly trained professional baristas. In addition, with all the cupping and evaluation that is going on in good commercial roasters - what the desired attributes in an espresso are have in many cases diverged from the norm.

To me - this presents both a problem and an opportunity. I talked a bit with Duane about it and some more with Tonx. I still don't have my head wrapped around it, and in no way do I have any concrete solutions or even a real understanding of the situation. But, to me, if much time passes, the opportunity will be lost and the vast majority of serious home espresso fans will start home-roasting. The truth is that the differences between what they are experiencing from their own home roasts (given their equipment, technique and palate) simply are not worse than what they're getting from the best commercial blends. And this is not just a technique or palate issue. It's also an equipment issue. And we need to be honest about that.

I think that the current commercial espresso blends that try to achieve near-perfection at the cost of becoming very demanding simply are not going to work with home equipment and home baristas - ever. My current thoughts are that espresso blends that have a narrow range of acceptable brew temp are problematic for most home espresso. This is not just due to temp stability problems with home machines - it's also due to brew temp instability during the extraction of a shot with these machine. It also seems like blends with a huge number of beans complicate the issue. In fact, oddly enough, single origin espressos often taste better than many blends with home machines (and sometimes better than when pulled from commercial machines in a few, rare, cases).

Coffees that contain a larger number of beans, are roasted on the light side, that require very high brew temp and that are incredibly dose dependent are a recipe for unsatisfied home users. Of course, the above describes many of the most favored commercial espresso blends.

Finally, it seems like there are some particular beans that present their very own complications and problems. Certain dry processed coffees become very ashy (cigarette ash) and can even get a fish oil note when brewed at temps that are above their target range. Some aged coffees can become astringent and give a strong "wet cardboard" note when brewed at a temp below their target range. As a result, blends that combine beans of both types are a disaster with home machines as even top home machines tend to see intra-shot variance that would exceed the range between these various beans. And the odds of getting a shot that doesn't possess at least one of these negatives is very low. In some cases, temp variance on home machines is great enough that even one of these beans is likely to present problems for a home barista.

The goal, as a result, is to create an espresso blend that possesses the following attributes:
1 - tastes good at brew temps between 198F and 202F. It doesn't have to taste the same at all these brew temps, it just has to taste good.
2 - tastes good with doses from 14 grams to 20 grams in a double, and tastes good with a similar variance in a triple basket

To do this, roasters are going to have to actually buy home machines to evaluate blends on. They're going to have to be deliberate about the variance and the range. They're going to have to accept that the goal is no longer the perfect espresso - but rather the most forgiving good tasting espresso. This, obviously, should not be their only espresso. It is a home espresso. Or they're going to have to be honest with people and say, "our espresso isn't suitable for home use."

Last weekend, Tonx, Bronwen and I came up with a example blend that was an excellent proof of concept. It performed reasonably well at lower temps and equally well at higher temps. It handled sloppy technique as well as can be expected. It was tolerant of a range of doses. It was not an amazing espresso - but it tasted good, all the time.

It had only three beans, it had no "finicky" beans and the base was a coffee that was wonderful as a single origin espresso (and was 50% of the total blend). As we concluded, it tasted "like Illy but better." It's not a noble goal - but it's a realistic and pragmatic one.
   from Nick

Portafilter Podcast Episode II - Cupping and Cup of Excellence with Peter Giuliano

Special podcast. Right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed


Already doing "special" podcasts. Jeez.

An intimate talk with Peter Giuliano, Director of Coffee at Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC

Show highlights:
- All about cupping coffee
- The Cup of Excellence
- More Star Wars nonsense

MP3 format, 5.6MB, 48:06 mins. 32 kbps bitrate, 11 kHz sample rate (low-quality audio)

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at podcast@portafilter.net, and we might read your email during the next show.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

   from trish

disclosure

Hi, I am trish, and like so many others here, I cannot be classified under just one category. In the interest of full disclosure, there are some who consider me a barista, some consider me a roaster, others consider me a pest.
I don't suppose it matters much that I stick with my designation, but in the interest of full disclosure, I do not spend 8 hours a day roasting..... Peter G is not always green buying...sometimes he is roasting or training bartistas. Bronwen will be disclosing her journey as a roasting apprentice, I assume. Sometimes Chris will disclose his techie tendencies along with photography skills. Just the other day Nick made a full disclosure that he has experience with broadcasting....and so on.
Why have I spent the past 18 years working in coffee? Why would I give up a pretty good gig painting pretty pictures for a living just to roast coffee? Alchemy...because roasting coffee is like alchemy everytime!
   from Peter G

At Last!

Got the first new-crop Latin American arrival in this week. Feels great.
It's from Oaxaca, Mexico. The La Trinidad co-op in Pluma.
We cupped a few different roasts yesterday, and I had a French press today. Nice.
I agree that chocolatey is a much overused word when it comes to coffees, but this is the only descriptor for this coffee. Huge chocolate, with a beautiful almond aroma and hints of spice and citrus. Here is the weird thing about this coffee: it comes from the state of Oaxaca, which is famous for a number of things, including the chocolate grown and made there. The city of Oaxaca is home to a number of chocolaterias, including the magnificent Chocolate Mayordomo. In Oaxaca, the tradition includes grinding roasted cocoa beans with coarse cane sugar, cinnamon sticks, and almonds to make drinking and cooking chocolate, which can be whisked with hot milk or water to make a deeeelicious drink. So here is the weird thing. THE COFFEE TASTES JUST LIKE THE CHOCOLATE. Right down to the cinammon aroma and slightly oily body. Now, this is not because the coffee is processed in the same facilities the cocoa is or anything; the only explanation has to do with the spirit of the place itself. I love that this happens in coffee- that the flavors which exist in the coffee transport you right smack dab to the birthplace of that coffee.

The citrus-peel fragrance to this coffee is a new one. Last year, the coffee had a strong grape fruitiness, which was charming and interesting. I kept writing "Manechevitz" on the cupping forms. The two previous years, the coffee had a beautiful black cherry fruit, which complemented the chocolate well. This year, the fruit is much more subdued, with the chocolate note ramped up substantially. So is the spice.

As some of you may know, this year was a hard one for many parts of Latin America. Many coffee farmers produced much less coffee this year, probably due to weather factors. In Nicaragua, I spoke to farmers who were expecting 60% less coffee this year. Low crop years are a tragedy for a small farmer, whose income depends on the crop. How would you feel if someone just told you that you would be recieving 60% less income this year? Anyway, it has been a low yield year in many parts of Mexico as well. So, I'm glad that this coffee turned out so well. There is less of it, sure, but what little there is is just wonderful.

This brings up an interesting thing that coffee buyers are dealing with this year: scarcity. Great coffees have always been hard to find, and require a tremendous amount of work to land. Good coffee buyers put in a tremendous amount of travel time, cupping time, communication energy, logistical planning, and money into sourcing great coffees. Things seem to have gotten even harder this year. Scarcity and disaster in Indonesia, along with low crops in Latin America, combined with an increased demand for higher quality coffee in the U.S. (the specialty sector is growing like gangbusters) have tightened the belt considerably.

I'm not complaining or anything, I'm just saying that you might want to give your favorite coffee buyer a hug. He or she's had a hard year.

-Peter G
   from chris

too much coffee, man