Tuesday, August 23, 2005

   from trish

to win Roasters Guild challenge...

Another fine Roasters Guild retreat was had by all again this year! Sorry there was no cell phone signal strong enough for a call in to the podcast, but I think that Peter G got some audio of 200 roasters cupping during the Sunday morning showdown. Maybe he can get that to Nick for the next podcast.

The challenge this time was really great. Nineteen teams were created, each with about 8 roasters of varying skill levels. Every team got eight coffees (4lbs. of each) that had been cupped by GW of Intelly and coded from 1 to 13. He kept the types and scores secret until Sunday. A team did not have all coffees.... you had to find out which you were missing and how to cup them...then if you liked them, you had to find a way to get them ....and so, THE BLEND OR BARTER CHALLENGE was underway early Friday morning!

All right, so I had a very solid strategy to win this thing...trouble is that I am on the Executive Council, and we are not allowed to play. Still, I feel the need to be on record for how I would have crushed them all and why it NEVER would have worked even if I could have played.

From the outset, a few coffees stood out as really fab. "number three...number three..." , you could hear teams muttering to one another as if they could keep it quiet. As if no one else had done the happy dance after a slurp of the heady, clean and vibrant #3... a Kenya for sure. And number 5 was a hit (a Yirg the roasters wondered?) - but interestingly, only with half the crowd. Cupping a few flights of five cups of #5 would have been prudent, if you know what I mean. Yes, the Africans were the rock stars, with a Harrar (#2?) generating another kind of buzz. Somewhere in there was a respectable Guat Antigua, a Tanzania peaberry, a pulped natural El Sal, another Yirg, a Colombia, some Indonesians and Brazils.

By Saturday night your team needed to turn in 5 lbs of coffee...one that would beat all others at the table on Sunday morning.

My strategy (and I told a number of roasters this strategy, by the way. No one was interested, but it still kicks ass)... Okay, so my strategy would have been a single origin roasted to its optimum development- plain and simple. The theory was that this crowd would rank a serious single origin well amid a table of blends. I also thought that no team that had #3 would be bartering it away. If you had some, you wouldn't want anyone else to have it, even if you weren't going to use it.

So if you could barter away enough of the #5 to those that loved it, you could acquire all of the Harrar or the Guat or the Tanzania. And if you really had some killer negotiators on your team this would have been the key... to have no other examples of your coffee in any other blends. You could manage this by getting rid of your 3 or 5.
Personally, I would have made a push for the Guat. Then I would have roasted it just once to the crescendo of the second crack....no S.O. blend!! No way!!

But sadly, this plan could never be realized.

Why: In a team setting, this plan does not allow for enough playing around with the coffee. With 8 roasters you'll have about 20 opinions and all are valid. By its nature, the team challenge will always compromise the final coffee. With 8 roasters, there would never be an agreement to barter away the #3... someone would have dug in their heels for sure. Everyone would want to contribute to the production roasting, when really they would be best used to grade the final coffee (pre and post roast)... and that's boring and they would feel like chumps. But probably most importantly, it would never happen because no one would ever agree to this strategy.......discuss. (especially interested in discussions about how a team will always compromise coffee in a blend)

...and anyone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the winning coffee did NOT contain the #3, but it did contain the #5 and #2 and maybe the Colombia???

Sunday, August 21, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #11

Podcast Number 11. Pick your link below and 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 (AAC format).

Special guest: Mark Inman, President and Green Buyer, Taylor Maid Farms Organic Coffee and Tea
Podcasting from murky coffee, Arlington, VA... and Las Vegas, NV

Jay's in Vegas! Thank God for cellphones. Quick note: we mention that we're gonna do a call-in to the Roasters' Guild annual retreat... and it never happened. We'll catch up with the roaster-folks later, but we should have explained that but we didn't. Oh well. Good stuff otherwise.

Show highlights:
- Jay in Vegas
- Nick responds to coffee geeks
- call-in with Mark Inman, with discussion about organic farming, possible innovations in coffee production for espresso, etc. Information overload! Great stuff!
- a very special and exclusive and important announcement from Mr. Inman!

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better and includes "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off) both: 1 hour 50 minutes and 56 seconds, 32 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz (16 kHz for MP3) sample rate.
MP3 format, 25.5 MB,
AAC format, 26.7 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.

-- AAC XML feed -:- MP3 XML feed --

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

   from trish

Interconnectedness

I think it was artist Jenny Holzer who said it best in her truism series: "Everything is delicately interconnected".
In coffee, that thought slaps me upside the head everyday...maybe not indelicately...but it is certainly not subtle.

I am late for bed. I need to wake up at 3 am to catch a plane to Roasters Guild Retreat which is going down this weekend at Sugar Lake Lodge in Grand Rapids, MN. There, I will meet roasters from all over the world. It's a condensed and slightly more specialized version of the annual SCAA conference. At this thing, coffee is the purpose. Sure, there are a bunch of roasting machines there to mess with, but still, the coffee is why we show up.
And the connection.
We are assigned to a team of roasters and asked to craft the best coffee possible. We give our team a goofy name and set to work..arguing and grandstanding, slurping and sampling again, grading and blending. After all of that, you can't help but feel a connection to eachother and the coffee.

A couple of years ago I met a woman in Nicaragua at a cupping table. She was heading out to Rimini, Italy the next day. At that conference she met two of my good friends - one from Seattle and one from Oslo.
Last week I met a group of amazing women at a seminar in Costa Rica. I get to see at least two of them again in Grand Rapids this weekend. A dude in Costa Rica gave me Peter G's cupping spoons that he left behind in New York at the Q exams... I'll give them to Peter when I see him at the retreat.

Not sure where I am going with this, but maybe I'm just thinking about how global and specific this coffee thing is...all at the same time. It's intimate and huge. And it's just so cool.

Friday, August 12, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #10 GRRRGGRGRGRRRRRR!!!

Podcast Number Ten. Pick your link below and 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 (AAC format).

Special guests: An angry swarm of bees, wasps, and mosquitos.
Podcasting from Jay's Shave Ice, Timonium, MD.

Holy crap, this is the worst sounding podcast that we've not only produced, but ever heard. There was a power-supply grounding issue with the laptop that we recorded on, which resulted in a loud buzzzzz through the whole recording. We'd pitch it and start from scratch, except we love ourselves too much to do that.

HUGE APOLOGIES. We know that even a couple of minutes in, you'll find this pretty much unbearable to listen to. Oh well. Show us how much you care and just endure the aural nightmare.

Show highlights and discussion topics:
- News bits ("Old Timers' Barista Competition, etc.)
- Special surprise treat for Jay
- "What's Chris Tacy Thinking About Today?"
- Mailbag!

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better and includes "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off) both: 1 hour 49 minutes and 00 seconds, 24 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz (12 kHz for MP3) sample rate... it already sounds like poop, so let's cut the file size down, eh?
MP3 format, 18.8 MB,
AAC format, 20 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.

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

Friday, August 05, 2005

   from Nick

Coffee: culinary craft, community, or convenience?

So there are people out there who seem to believe that the BGA, and for that matter, the SCAA should be held responsible for the quality of coffee at independent coffeeshops all over. Now while I disagree with the premise, I also understand where it's coming from. There is this percentage of consumers who are frustrated at the poor quality of coffee in their communities, and to some of them, the BGA and the SCAA appear to be the ones best equipped to "make things right."

But this got me thinking about some of the big-picture issues at hand, and I thought I'd share some of them to see what y'all think.

I'd like to propose a not-really-very-unique idea that coffeehouses can provide three things: a culinary craft (the coffee), community (the people), and convenience.

It's frankly the community-part that drew me to coffee in the first place. I'd have opened a bar, but I'm not the biggest fan of alcohol. "People" has always been my primary focus from the very beginning, be it our customers, or my staff, or my colleagues in the industry.

But when I think back to when I first got started, there was a point at which I realized that at its core, a coffeehouse is a convenience business. People generally won't travel very far just for a cup of coffee, especially when every convenience store and fast-food joint seems to be brewing a pot. This fact set me on a search for a great location for my shop.

But I had a hunch that the craft of coffee, the culinary experience of coffee, had a hell of a long way to go beyond what the shops around here had to offer. I had the fortunate experience early on of meeting David Schomer, who was wholly committed to the craft of coffee, working to push the bar ever higher. Nowadays, I find myself in the midst of the larger community of coffee professionals, committed not only to improving the coffee in their own businesses, but indeed, in those communities... those very communities with the folks complaining about bad coffee.

So here's my point: maybe the problem with "bad coffee" isn't really that people don't know what good coffee is, or that they don't know about all of the nuanced things about coffee that a lot of us often spend our time talking or thinking about... but that to the independent coffeeshop owners in question, a coffeeshop is simply: community and/or convenience?

Again, nothing that I think of as particularly profound, but this does beg some other questions: does a shop need all three (community, convenience, and culinary craft)? Is it all about the culinary craft? What if you have the best coffee, but poorly executed convenience and community? Of course, the craft has a long way to go... but what about the community and convenience parts? Which is more harmful to the perception in the general consumer base: poorly-executed attempts at culinary-craft focus, or the purely convenience-focused shops? Or is the true enemy purely community-focused shops?