Saturday, January 28, 2006

   from AndyS

Updosing Again, Again

Trying to put my "money" where my mouth is, I've been doing updose experiments, trading off shots between 18g of coffee in a LM ridged basket and 18g of coffee in a generic triple basket. The coffee is Barry Jarrett's Decatur Street Blend pulled at 199F in the GS3.

In the LM basket it feels like a mildly "updosed" extraction. In other words, it's fairly close against the shower screen, but not crazy tight. In the triple basket, the 18g is a significantly underdosed extraction, requiring a finer Mazzer Mini grind setting by about 1.5 notches to maintain the same (~25 sec) shot timing.

I'm using a bottomless PF, cutting the shots off manually, getting about 28g of liquid espresso from the 18g of coffee. This makes the extraction ratio 28/18, or about 1.55. For you old-timers still measuring shots volumetrically, they're about 45ml (1.5 fl. oz.)

The nice thing about this experiment is that I'm pulling the same amount of liquid espresso from the same amount of ground coffee. The major variable is the clearance underneath the shower screen. What I'm NOT doing is increasing the amount of ground coffee in order to updose, because doing that will obviously result in a richer-tasting cup with a different balance.

Bottom line is, the "updosed" ("pressed") shots taste better to me.

Here's what Instaurator says about what I should be tasting: "A cup of espresso that has not been 'pressed' will have a slightly ashy characteristic and will be much thinner, more watery and slightly more astringent."

I taste the ashiness in the triple basket shots for sure. It has a harsher, negative impact on the shot. I really DON'T taste "thinner, more watery." Is that because:
1. my biological "tasting apparatus" isn't as good as Inny's?
2. Inny's updosed shots used more coffee to extract the same amount of liquid (ie, changed the extraction ratio)?
3. other factors (coffee, roast, northern vs. southern hemisphere, etc)?
4. I'm incompetent?

It'll be real interesting to read the second updosing article in the new Barista magazine. You know, the "Crying Game Issue" with Jay Caragay wearing a wig on the cover:

   from Nick

Podcast #23

Podcast Number 23: Introducing Juliet 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).

Discussion topics:
MWRBC, MARBC, and Coffee Fest
Our Boston trip to George Howell
Barista Magazine Feb-March 2006 and Wendelboeian dosing
SCAA Board election update
The "Small Axe" buying group
Upcoming guests

(as always) 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 22 minutes and 34 seconds, 48 kbps VBR bitrate , 44.1 kHz sample rate (35 kbps VBR/44.1 kHz for MP3).
MP3 format, 21.6 MB,
AAC format, 33.1 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.
MAC OS users, click HERE (for a one-click to subscribe in iTunes)

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

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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

   from AndyS

How the CLOVER works

Most of you probably haven't seen the Clover in action, so the way it works is probably a mystery. It's sort of a combination of a french press and a vacuum brewer. After watching a bunch of extractions at Gimme, I was fortunate to be able to ask Clover engineer Zander Nosler some questions. He was very open and answered everything. When I suggested that I might do an online writeup, he liked the idea. So here we go....

Zander, please look this over and correct the mistakes in my drawings and/or explanation! Also, this is the first time I've used Adobe Illustrator, so please take pity on my graphics.

The working parts that you see from the top are a stainless steel cylinder (drawn in black), and a piston (red) that is moved up and down by the mechanical system down below. The piston has a porous stainless mesh on top and some one-way valves (green) called "umbrella valves" underneath. The umbrella valves allow liquid to flow down, but are automatically forced closed if liquid tries to move upwards. At the bottom of the cylinder there are two drain valves (my drawing shows just one in purple) that open and close upon electronic command:

When you push the start button, the piston moves all the down to the bottom and the drain valve closes:

Meanwhile, you manually add ground coffee and the Clover automatically sprays temperature-controlled water onto the grounds:

Next the coffee/water mixture sits and steeps. You get to adjust how long this is, per your taste. Typically it's 30-45 seconds:

Next the actuator mechanism forces the piston upwards with the drain valve closed. This creates a vacuum underneath the piston, drawing liquid coffee down through the perforated screen and umbrella valves:

Hopefully in all the excitement you've remembered to put a coffee cup below the drain spout. The drain valve opens and piston moves downwards, pushing your fresh-brewed coffee out the bottom of the cylinder and into your cup:

Lastly, the piston moves all the way up, pushing the spent grounds above the top surface of the machine. Here they can be easily squeegied off into the grounds receptacle. After a quick wipe with a towel, the Clover is ready for another cup. Cycle time for a fast-moving barista is 1:15-1:30 per brew cycle:

It all seems so simple; brilliant engineering always makes it look that way.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

   from AndyS

Inside out with John Gant

Between pours at the Clover demonstration, I chatted with Gimme's roaster John Gant.

He is fascinating and fun to talk to, although this may not be apparent in most of the pictures I have of him. He usually looks very serious, as in this one where he poses with his heirloom Sivetz sample roaster:

(I think you can still buy one of these roasters direct from Sivetz for about $1000. :-) On the other hand, sometimes luck shines upon me and I capture John smiling in a photograph:

Anyway, at the demo I asked John about the statement George Sabados had made in Barista magazine: that the updose technique didn't seem to work with "two dimensional" coffees. Hmm...what's a two-dimensional coffee, you may ask? George says, "In the U.S., coffee is often roasted two-dimensionally, where the outside bean color does not vary greatly from the degree of color in the grind. This narrows the band of resistance to temperature and pressure, and therefore, my method of dosing is not recommended."

Gee, I said to John, I thought the idea WAS to roast more-or-less two dimensionally, at least for espresso. If the inside of the bean is a lot lighter than the outside, it tends to make a sour espresso. John got some roasted beans and a knife, and we cut open some beans. There were different shades of brown inside, because the bean doesn't have a uniform internal structure. Some parts necessarily roast differently than others. But still, the overall impression was that the inside was almost the same color as the outside.

Then I said to John that it seemed to me that the inside would ALWAYS be at least a wee bit lighter than the outside, because the roasting process necessarily heated the bean from the outside in.

Here's where he said something interesting that I hadn't thought of, and it's sort of the whole point of this post: John said that the beans DIDN'T heat solely from the outside in, because of the exothermic reactions that occur late in the roast. These reactions liberate heat and actually produce a heating effect that goes from the inside OUT.

Neat, that had never occurred to me and it alters the way I look at roasting. Those beans become little energy factories, and this exothermy provides heat that can help you roast from the inside out as well as from the outside in. IF you control the process with precision.

I guess this must be obvious to roasting pros, but it was a new concept for me....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

   from AndyS

Brazil COE

Nice looking coffee. Pretty good score, too. Sure wish I had one of those 25 sacas. :-)

Monday, January 16, 2006

   from AndyS


Zander Nosler demonstrated the new Clover coffee brewing system at Gimme Coffee today. Some great coffee was brewed, including a Kenya Tegu cup that brought out so much spice I was sure Kevin had thrown cinnamon in the cup! He denied it, somewhat convincingly.

The Clover is starting to build up some marketing steam. Zander and Co, your technology is most impressive. Wishing you great success!

   from Nick

Latte art vs. indie rock latte art

Good stuff AndyS.

Had a little thought today while looking at some latte art pictures.

I've come to the realization that true "indie rock" latte art is dry and bubbly looking... while "top-40" latte art is all shiny, bubble-less, and smooth.

Same goes for "punk rock" latte art, which is also a bit dry and has foam that looks a little sunken... while "only discovered Franz Ferdinand when they were on SNL" latte art is glossy and perfect.

Know what I mean?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

   from AndyS

Updosing Again

For the last year or two the UPDOSING technique has been pretty controversial. In case you're not familiar with the term, one common updosing theory states that espresso tastes better when you dose so that your coffee fills the portafilter basket right up to the shower screen.

A lot of the controversy is justified: this is a complex subject. On the other hand, the controversy drags on because people mean different things when they talk about updosing. And that holds back the progress of our quality coffee culture.

George Sabados wrote a seminal updosing article in the Oct/Nov 2005 Barista Magazine. I doubt he "invented" updosing, or whatever, but at least he put some interesting thoughts on paper. His updosing technique does NOT mean jamming extra coffee into the portafilter. Instead, if I get what he's saying, the technique involves putting just enough coffee in the portafilter so that its expansion is restricted by the shower screen. And no more.

In my opinion, if they haven't already, all serious baristas should read it and try to test out this stuff for themselves, with their coffees, on their machine. George says, rather mysteriously, that this technique may not work well with all coffees and all machines.

A lot of people have already experimented and come up with wildly varying opinions. So what I'm suggesting is that we all test at least one thing in common. It's pretty much what Nick (a guy who seems to get the principle behind running a meaningful experiment) proposed on You want to taste the difference between:

(1)a 2 oz, 28 sec espresso obtained from 20 grams of coffee in a double basket, and
(2)a similar 2 oz, 28 sec, 20 gram espresso made in a triple basket.

That 20 gram figure may have to be adjusted, but it must be the same for both samples. The point is, in sample (1), you want to use just enough coffee to lightly touch the shower screen when it's fitted into the group. Then you've got to use THE SAME WEIGHT of coffee (perhaps with a different grind) for sample (2) in a triple basket. The requirement to use the same weight of coffee for each shot will require the use of a gram scale.

Your grinder may have to be adjusted to get the timing and extracted volumes to be the same.

It's just a start, it's just a single test, but I believe THAT test is really meaningful: comparing an "expansion-restricted" extraction to an otherwise identical "expansion-unrestricted" extraction. Very significantly, you're getting the same volume of espresso from the same amount of ground coffee. The only variables that (ideally) change are the clearance to the shower screen and (if necessary) the fineness of grind.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

   from bronwen

oh where oh where has our probat gone...

today was a sad day. i saw sander's beloved 22K 1951 Probat being wrapped and prepared for shipment. please take good care of her doma coffee -- hope it she treats you as well as she has treated hines.


Friday, January 13, 2006

   from Nick

Podcast #22

Podcast Number 22: 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).

Discussion topics:
Jay went to Vegas and L.A.
Next podcast will be from Boston (next week)
What Is Chris Tacy Thinking About Today?
Talking to Katie about Crotchless & Fingerless
Chat with Vince Piccolo about how cool he is
About triangle cupping with Aaron
Chat with Matt Riddle about his GLRBC win
and much, much more

(as always) 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 43 minutes and 30 seconds, 48 kbps bitrate, 44.1 kHz (35 kbps VBR/32 kHz for MP3) sample rate.
MP3 format, 26.7 MB,
AAC format, 40.7 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.
MAC OS users, click HERE (for a one-click to subscribe in iTunes)

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

   from chris

Brazil CoE Auction

Oh, everyone is all a-flutter!!
Gossip is flying. The lines are burning up and people are going insane.

Is this a big moment?
Oh yeah - without a doubt.
But not for the reasons everyone seems to think.

Yes - we just saw a coffee set a new price record for auction lot coffee (to the best of my knowledge at least). Yes - someone just paid a ton of money for this coffee.
But that is not the big story here. And I find it really frustrating that all the discussion centers on the price paid for this coffee. Yes, it was a record price. But it was also a record score.
In other words, not only has the market said this is the most expensive auction coffee - it's also said it is "the best." And that should be the big part of the story.
Judges who I respect - cuppers whose skill I am in awe of - have given this coffee higher scores than they have given any coffee - ever. Starting last week I began to hear rumours that this auction was going to be insane as a result. People were talking about record prices for this lot weeks ago from what I hear.

But some people are (without ever having tasted the coffee) saying that it's overpriced and overhyped. People who have not tasted it are saying it's not worth the money, it's insane or it's all marketing and ego. I have to call bullshit on all that.
No-one who has tasted the coffee is saying this.
I've talked with people from both the winning and losing groups who were bidding on this lot. They were all pursuing it because they simply loved the coffee. In all cases they said the same thing - "I had to have this coffee."

Is it worth it? At a certain point, quality becomes high enough that it's one of those experiences where the question ceases to be "is it worth it" and instead becomes "can I afford it." Eating at El Bulli, going to Alba for the truffle harvest, drinking a bottle of Margaux from a great vintage... the question of value is simply thrown out the window.

Is it insane? Nope - from what it sounds like to me, the folks who bought this are going to do the right thing with it and by it.

Is it over-priced? There is no such thing unless something doesn't sell. Thus, the results of any auction cannot be considered over-priced.

Is it over-hyped? You will have to taste it yourself to make that decision.

Me? I cannot wait to get a cup of it made to order from the Clover.

It's a brave new world - and it's about damn time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

   from Nick


Friday, January 06, 2006

   from Nick

Congratulations are in order!!!

January 5, 2006... 9 lbs. = Salvatore Piccolo III.

Congratulations to Sammy and Andrea!!!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

   from AndyS

Listen to your coffee

Hi everyone, I'm the new kid in class. I guess Mr. Nick wanted to stir things a little, and he asked me to join this blog. Unlike the other members of the group, I'm purely an amateur: a coffee geek, to coin a phrase. :-)

Frankly, it's a little intimidating for me to participate here, since you awesome professional-type folks have a great deal more experience in coffee than I do. So I'll do my best to add a comment or two, and try not to embarrass myself too much. On the other hand, I've gotten pretty cyber-friendly with Jay, and I make a solemn promise to try and to embarrass HIM whenever I can! :-)

I'm one of the lucky folks who's been lent the new La Marzocco GS3 espresso machine for testing. Yes, I've already been asked, "Who did you have to sleep with to get the machine?" But I'm not least not in my very first post.

Recently Chris Deferio (from Gimme Coffee and the Carriage House Cafe) came over to check out the GS3. That's him in the photo below. Those of you who've met Chris know that in addition to being an incredible latte artist, he's deeply serious about the art of espresso preparation.

I loved the way he played with the machine for the very first time. He simply paid attention to everything that went into that espresso. He checked out the beans, he tested the grind, he felt it and made adjustments. He watched the coffee drop into the doser. He flipped the doser handle and carefully studied the way the coffee fell into the portafilter. At every step in the process, I was impressed at how much ATTENTION went into Chris's whole way of making espresso.

That's the most important thing I learned from Chris that day. Stop talking, stop thinking: pay attention. Listen closely to your coffee, you may find it has a lot to say!

   from Nick

The 2006 Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition

Best of luck all!!!

(Go Ellie!!!)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

   from chris

Drinking Tea and more

I recently returned from a family vacation (Christmas with my parents and my brother's family).

I had prepared myself in advance for a total lack of espresso. I've made the mistake in the past of trying to seek out espresso in locations like this and it has always led to a ton of frustration for me. I took with me three pounds of lovely coffee, made sure my father had two different sizes of Press Pot, etc. And, as a fallback, I took a bunch of tea with me.

Now... a little back story.

My mother is a tea fanatic and I grew up drinking more tea than coffee. My father is the coffee person, but tends to drink a lot of drip coffee. In addition, I've spent a lot of time hanging out with various Brits and developed a tea habit as a result. Even now that I drink espresso most of the time, I still enjoy tea in the afternoon (especially with a stem ginger shortbread).

In any event, I arrived at the family homestead prepared.

In a week there I discovered three things - one forgotten, one expected and one unknown.

First - I re-discovered the flavour complexity of tea. My mother has a relatively large collection of very nice and often rare teas in house at all times. By not just drinking tea for social or pharmaceutical purposes (sound familiar?) but rather tasting and evaluating a range of teas I started to really develop an appreciation for the flavours of tea. In fact - I would say that I developed just enough understanding to realize how big the unknown world of tea really is for me. Most coffee people have a knee-jerk disdain for tea and tea drinkers. Many are, in fact, proud of this. I find this really silly now that I've thought more on the topic. I think we all owe it to ourselves to give tea a chance.

Second - while I knew I would get no good espresso, this did not stop me from giving local indy shops a chance. I feel like I always have to do this. Sadly, what I found in general was that the state of espresso in the US as a whole has not improved in the last few years. Filthy battered portafilters left sitting on the counter. Stale ground Costco quality coffee sitting in dosers. 1/4 inch thick baked on milk on wands. Foul, burnt, acrid gushers of so-called espresso. The owners and staff of these so-called espresso bars should be ashamed of themselves.

Third - on the other hand... I spent part of a day in the Italian section of Providence Rhode Island. While there I stopped into a very busy deli and store. They had a little espresso bar area that was rocking busy. In the case they had some lovely looking cannoli, so I figured we'd stop and get a little something-something. Almost out of habit or perhaps cultural programming I ordered an espresso as well. Was it great? No. Was it good? In a different sense. Sitting there, stirring sugar into my espresso, talking with the barista (in the true Italian sense of the word) and eating my cannoli I came to the realization that the espresso almost wasn't supposed to be great in the sense we're used to. I wasn't interested in evaluating the accuracy of the brew temp or the persistence of the crema. It was just one component of the total experience - which included everything from the banter to the music to the cannoli (which, by the way, was truly god-like) to the families dropping by for an appertif, some gossip and perhaps a little gelato. Really enjoyable - in a very different way.

Oh... Happy New Year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

   from bronwen

it's about frickin time...

yeah i know, it's been a really LOOOOOOONNNNNNG while since i've posted. shame on me. apologies to nick, the rest of of the pf crew, and you coffee lovers out there yearning for more posts on pf.

so, i'm sure the burning question on everyone's lips is "what the hell has been going on?" well kiddies, lots of things...some good, most blah. let's just say, i'm extremely happy 2005 has ended and 2006 is here. with the closing of hines retail, it has been a somewhat stressful and bittersweet ending to 2005. i have been MISSING the 5 group like mad -- it hurts not being able to work behind a bar. and it's even harder keeping up with our strange roasting schedule -- we've been to portland, vancouver, and back to seattle. needless to say, i've done a lot of car travelling.

sanders and i have been keeping up with hines wholesale and attempting to do another retail location. since then, i've started working at Vivace with mr. schomer and the gang. it's not bad, but it's no hines. i'm learning some interesting things and just keeping my hand in so i don't forget what it's like to pull a shot or steam milk.

so, the new year is here and it's ok so far. i'm hoping it gets better. i definitely resolve to write more -- promise. once a week, nick. no kidding. stay tuned for more -- gotta go to work. happy new year to all, see you around on the interweb.

bronwen =)