Monday, March 31, 2008

   from Nick

Barista shoes at last?

Congrats to gangsta barista and pf.net blogger, Chris Baca, for his super-high-scoring win at the Western Regional Barista Competition (hosted by Pacific Bay Coffee Company)! Somebody get that boy some of them shoes!

We've had an interesting mix of first-time regional champs and repeat champions at this year's regional barista competition circuit... one more in a couple of weeks and the circle will be complete: the first year with all 10 regions (that's the WHOLE USA) represented by regional barista competitions... and all 10 regional champions at the USBC.

I wanna post a blog-tribute to barista competitions... but I'll wait until after the 2008 NERBC (a.k.a. the "NERD-BC"). See you in Ithaca, NY!

(Coffee themed New Balance shoes (available in Asia only) linked from streething.com)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

   from AndyS

Coffee Mysteries

For the student of coffee, there are mysteries that tantalize one's reason and senses. I recently wrote about one: we lack a simple method to describe how fine we are grinding our coffee.

Here's another mystery: the stirring thing. It is often mentioned how full immersion brewing methods -- like french press, vac pot, Aeropress, and the Brewer Formerly Known as 'Clover' -- are extremely sensitive to the way the grounds/water mixture is stirred. A small change in technique seems to have a big effect on the end result. Along these lines, Alistair has been very particular in the way he stirs his Clover brews, and Jaime's the same with his vac pots.

So...do we have to practice stirring plain water for months (as James Freeman reportedly did) before we're "worthy" to buy a $20,000 Japanese syphon brewer? And is it necessary to carve a bamboo stirrer by hand, or will a stainless steel wisk get the job done?

To take this line of questioning a little further, could a robotic stirring mechanism do better (eg, be more accurate, more consistent) than a trained human? Or is there an irreplaceable component of motor control and feedback that the flesh-and-blood Alistair, James and Jaime are utilizing? Zander once told me about the original Clover concept; it included automated grinding and stirring mechanisms, but those complex functions were deemed unnecessary for the specialty market. Hmm...that will change, given the goals of CEC's new owner.

Like the grind fineness problem, I imagine the stirring phenomenon will slowly give up its secrets. Twenty years from now we'll know a lot more about it than we do now. But it will take many careful observations by many hyper-observant baristas before this comes to pass.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

   from Nick

Podcast #75 - "Caragay on a Rampage!!!"

From Hunt Valley, MD. Another long-awaited PF-Podcast, and we hope it's worth the wait.

- What Is Peter Giuliano Thinking About Today When Hanging Out With Geoff Watts And What Is HE Thinking About Today?
- SCAA Board of Directors Nominees Marty Curtis and Al Liu,
- and the long-awaited rant from Caragay on the Clover-Starbucks deal. Hope it doesn't disappoint!
1 hour 49 minutes and 27 seconds - MP3 format, 50.2 MB

See the sidebar to the right for more information and how to subscribe or download.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

   from trish

A little something we call the "dandelion"


Lo and behold, a resurgence of the low-tech love. I'm not kidding when I say I smelled this coffee coming more that a few months ago. I wandered into a new cute little place up by my house in Seattle called Neptune (Greenwood at 85th) where my good buddy, Reid Hickman, was appearing in a limited engagement.
First time I checked it out, Reid wasn't there, so I asked the girl for a cappuccino. All of a sudden a scrap of paper caught my eye:
"DANDELION COFFEE" was printed in sleek lettering above a list that I recognized as Stumptown's coffee selection. Incorporated into the logo was an image of a fluffy flower shooting out some drops. Hmmmm...intrigued, I asked the girl what the hell.
"Oh it's some kind of blend or something."
I decided to let her off the hook and just ask the owner, who later sidled up to my table to say a friendly howdy. I asked him, was this some kind of good-natured dig on the Clover? He admitted to it with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye, (Dan is kinda like that). Within the same breath he assured me that he desperately wanted a Clover, but could not afford one just yet. This was his way of showcasing the coffees with out it.
I came back later and took some pictures of Reid making a Dandelion...."dandelion" ha! That cracks me up!

Clever...so low-tech and so SO good. You see, Melitta pour-over is my all-time favorite. I make it for myself every morning. Practically every morning I wish I could go to a cafe and get some single origin brewed this way for me. (Sure, almost everyone in Seattle will make you a French Press, but I'm not enamored by the FP.) Now it looks as if my dream will come true in more than one cafe around town.
Just spoke to my old boss, G'pa Babcock at Zoka. He got all excited when I reported that many of "the kids" are going to be working the brew bars soon enough. I reminded him that it is HIS favorite too. (Sometimes you have to remind Jeff about things he already knows).
"Yeah! yeah...we're doing that too! I love it! LOVE it! *heh heh*", he practically shouted back at me with his signature maniacal grin.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

   from AndyS

Ritual Red Flag

Sorry to interrupt a scintillating discussion on the Clover. :-)

I ordered a couple pounds of Ritual's Red Flag espresso which arrived a few days ago. I've been working on it ever since.

Following recent trends, these beans are quite lightly roasted. And they're very small: Ethiopians, I guess, but what do I know?

Well, I know that I'm liking the espresso very much. It is refreshing, sort of like candied lemon peel. Not crazy eye-watering lemon peel, but fruity, and easy-going like a summer lemonade.

I'm reading Ritual's description about "nougaty chocolate, dried cherry and sarsaparilla," and those haven't appeared for me yet, but hopefully they will as I play around.

I also got one of those cool red and white Ritual mugs. What coffee lover's kitchen is complete without one?

Sadly, however, I was unable to order a medium brown Ritual t-shirt, they were out. What gives, guys? :-(

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my Neti pot. It is, as they say, the shit.

Friday, March 21, 2008

   from Nick

Clover

One day when I was in high school, I found myself staring down the very-wide-open sweater of a very pretty girl named Jane, when I realized that I couldn't be the only one to behold such an awesome sight. Sure enough, I turned around and saw the most amusingly contorted and dumbfounded faces looking right past me, with gazes locked tightly on Jane's bra and all that it beheld. Ever since then, I've been fascinated as much at people's reactions to interesting stimuli, than at the stimuli themselves... if not more so.

So instead of a blog post about this week's big story, a blog post about the blog posts about the story.

The coffee-blogosphere's (and online discussion forum) response to this week's big news about Starbucks' acquisition of Coffee Equipment Company, the makes of the Clover 1s coffee brewer, has been really interesting. I've had a lot of stuff going on in my own life these past couple of weeks, much of it not very pleasant... so this story was a welcome diversion. So please excuse me if I come across as a bit full-of-myself here, but I've had a few random thoughts about this:

Starbucks and CoEqCo: we're talking about effing PEOPLE. Zander Nosler is a good guy, and a nice one. He is a flesh-and-blood human being. Howard Schultz is a man, who by all accounts, is a very smart and personable one. For coffee professionals to sit around and trash, insult, and otherwise besmirch these people for the pure joy of typing bullshit online flies in the face of everything that good coffee people stand for. Coffee, at least for me, is really about bringing people together. Act like it's bringing us together... and not just when it's easy.

"It's all about the coffee." I understand that the Clover brewer was marketed to help engage the customers in the varieties of coffee that she or he offered. However, to say "it's all about the coffee" is ridiculous. I've seen at least 100 cups of Clover-brewed coffee sold at coffeeshops, and at least 75-80% of the time, the transaction and service includes the word "Clover" in it, very often with a whole explanation about the machine and what it does. If shops with Clovers were truly "all about the coffee," then you wouldn't ever mention the brewer, other than to say all your coffees are brewed by-the-cup. The Clover is a great machine. It's okay to celebrate the machine as part of the process. "It's all about the coffee" is, in most cases that it's used, just a line.

There's been a healthy dose of backlash, particularly from folks who don't have Clovers in their shops. "Sell out" and other such insults have been lobbed. This is totally ridiculous. CoEqCo is no more "selling out" than you are when you charge money for coffee drinks. I hate to say this, but one of the most common problems with many baristas is that we seem to forget that this is an industry... a business. It's great that we're passionate, but passion without discipline (or in our case, professionalism), has as much real significance as a 12-year-old girl's hysteria over Zac Efron.

About the Clover itself: I've had my own thoughts about the brewer, which I've generally kept to myself. For me, the most compelling aspect of the brewer was always the "fresh-by-the-cup" attribute, and the fact that you could brew pretty much any coffee that you had this way. However, the thing that always bothered me about the Clover was just how touchy the brewer was. "Good cups" and "bad cups." Practiced stirring motions would determine success or failure of that particular cup. It's certainly nothing that good training and practice wouldn't be able to overcome, but it seemed like an almost arbitrarily elevated degree-of-difficulty, with its main value being saving 2-3 minutes of water-grind contact time. That said, a great Clover cup was a great cup any way you slice it!

Finally, one of the most interesting debates that I've come across in the industry involves the question of, "How would specialty coffee in the U.S. and around the world be different if NOT for Starbucks?" Personally, I think that Starbucks' impact is undeniable, and more significant than most admit, much less realize.

Similarly, I think that the Clover brewer's impact in the industry won't be felt for years, when we'll be peering around our manual-pour-brew-bars and syphon-bars and quick-service french press menus and asking ourselves, "How would high-end by-the-cup coffee service be different if NOT for Clover?"

There are more coffeebars out there who don't have Clovers, than who do. That said, Clover's biggest impact won't be the brewer itself, but the way that it inspired and challenged everyone without (and sometimes with) a Clover to capture what Clover does well... but in creative and alternative ways.

Cheers to Zander, Randy, and the whole CoEqCo crew. In the story of specialty coffee, your place in history is secure... and I can't wait to see what you guys come up with next!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

   from AndyS

Hey kidz, here's the latest on World Peace

The photo at the left is apropos of nothing, except that I liked it. Those hands belong to James Hoffmann, pulling a shot in NYC at Ninth Street Espresso.

In a previous post, I talked about achieving World Peace by reducing Mazzer grinder waste. Well, here's some more info on that topic.

If you go to Home-Barista.com, you'll find instructions to make a little shnozzola(tm) for your Mazzer. I think it works pretty well and has the potential to save coffee and alleviate the Mazzer Mess.

As always, your feedback is welcome.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

   from AndyS

How do they do that?

I recently mail-ordered a few pounds of Ecco Reserve Espresso (whole bean, not pre-ground :-)

As you probably know, the beans are roasted to a light brown color, with nary a trace of oil showing. It's a little precarious to keep 'em so light, skirting the edge of acidic green disaster.

But no, at 200F these shots are well balanced, with heavy body, apricot-tangerine overtones and perhaps a hint of roasted hazelnuts. This is very enjoyable espresso.

How do they do that?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

   from AndyS

New Grinder Paradigm?

Along with his timer mod to the Anfim grinder, the innovative Philip Search has offered up a different way for baristas to "manage" their espresso grinders. It's too early to say how popular this will become, but it sure deserves a close look.

First, here's a summary of the conventional way of espresso grinder management:

1. Based on taste testing, the barista decides on a coffee dose: 7g, 14g, 20g, whatever. Once decided upon, this dose is kept as constant as possible: ideally within a few tenths of a gram.
2. The constant dose may be provided by keeping the doser full and using the vane mechanism to dole out the right amount. Or, since modern baristas prefer to grind fresh for each shot, dose consistency is maintained by eye, by feel, and by using techniques such as "overfill the basket and strike off the excess." An electronic grinder timer can also help to provide approximately the same dose for each grind cycle.
3. The barista adjusts grind fineness to obtain the desired shot volume within a 25-30 second pull (the exact timing depends on individual preference). In tweaking the grind, it is generally assumed that a grinder with infinitely adjustable burrs is required to get the optimum result.
4. As the coffee and environmental conditions change, the barista makes minor grind adjustments to maintain shot timing.

OK, that's the old way of doing things. Here's Philip's new way, as I understand it:

1. The barista decides on an approximate dose, and finds a setting on the Anfim's stepped adjusting collar that gives about the desired shot timing.
2. Using the Anfim's built-in timer, the barista adjusts the amount of time the grinder runs with each button push. This controls the amount of coffee delivered to the doser. Shot time is fine-tuned by changing the dose, not by making grind adjustments!
3. As the coffee and environmental conditions change, the barista makes minor dose adjustments (by twisting the timer knob) to maintain shot timing.

So what's the advantage of this new method? People say various things. In my opinion, for the working barista, it's just a matter of simplicity. Shot running too fast? Twist the knob to dose a little heavier. Shot running too slow? Twist the knob the other way. It is simpler because dose and grind become one integrated process. The old way, there are two separate parameters (dose and grind fineness) that must be managed. Once the barista gets in tune with this method, he or she most likely produces less waste because grinding too much coffee is avoided. Fewer coffee grounds end up dumped into the knock box.

This is pretty simple, but it's also pretty radical. Have you tried it long enough to acclimate to the new method? What do you think?


Notes:
1. Yes, I've always wanted to use the word "paradigm" in the title for a post. So my lifelong dream has now come true.
2. I first heard of this technique from Philip, apologies to anyone who may have proposed it earlier.
3. Apologies also to Philip, et al, if I have the details of this process wrong.
4. Of course, this method can be used on any grinder equipped with a timer adjustable to 1/10th second or less -- not just on an Anfim.
5. Although I have a penchant for bad puns, I go on record noting that I've resisted the temptation to title the post "Searching For a New Grinder Paradigm."
6. Hey Nick, with this, I think I've just about blown my wad.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

   from AndyS

The most unpretentious Clover shop

Last week I headed down to NYC by car. A casual search on the Coffee Equipment Company website showed that the Electric City Roasting Company in Scranton, PA had a Clover machine. Since Scranton was roughly at the halfway point in my ride, a visit there seemed like the perfect way to take a break from driving.

Most of the shops where you've had Clover coffee are probably big names in specialty coffee: Intelly, Stumptown, etc. This was different. Zummo's Cafe (Electric City's retail shop) turned out to be a completely unpretentious neighborhood cafe in a working-class area. The place was un-Bauhaus, un-Deco, and "un-designer," yet very comfortable. And on a Saturday afternoon there was just one barista -- Erin -- on duty. She made coffee, worked the register, did housekeeping, and talked to customers as a one-woman show.


First I ordered a double espresso; Erin prepared it on the big Faema NoStop. Served in a nice ceramic cup, I was initially put off by the huge volume, probably 3.5 oz. It was sort of half way between an espresso and an americano, I guess. But the shot was pleasantly unbitter and I enjoyed slowly sipping on it.

Poking around the shop and reading newspaper clippings on the wall, I slowly learned how this place had come about. Mary Tellie, a former banker, had decided she loved coffee more than banking. So she opened her own roastery. There were numerous pics of Mary, big smile on her face, posing with groups of farmers at origin. Apparently Mary's personal implementation of the direct trade model was at the core of her business plan.

I eventually finished the espresso and asked for a small mug of Panama Esmeralda. It was gratifying that they offered a small size rather than the ridiculous oversize buckets that many Clover shops force you to order. But I didn't really know what to expect. Would it inspire, or disappoint?

Well, the cup was terrific -- undoubtedly the best one I've ever had at a "neighborhood" shop. I enjoyed nice mellow acidity, a big hit of black tea flavor, and huge orangy fruit.

It's a big coffee world, with plenty of room for both the fancy and the not-so-fancy. I left very happy to have experienced Mary Tellie's simple and heartfelt corner of it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

   from AndyS

Profilin'

A few months ago I was exchanging emails with James Hoffmann and I offered to build him a profiling pump for his espresso machine. A profiling pump is one that can be programmed to accurately deliver pressures that follow a predetermined curve. Conventional pumps don't allow this, they merely can be set for one fixed pressure.

Well, I still haven't delivered on my offer, but I will. The other day in New York we met up in person and talked a bit about the project. James said something like, "pressure profiling is the last frontier in espresso, everything else has been taken care of." But I had to differ.

As I've said (too many) times before, temperature profiling has remained mostly unexplored territory by the current crop of new wave baristas. As soon as I get James's pump built and shipped, I need to design and fabricate my homemade espresso machine that will allow experimentation with flat temperature profiles, declining temperature profiles, etc. Why should Sean L and John E have all the fun?

And Nick, when you asked me many months ago why I didn't ditch the Silvia and get some kind of commercial espresso machine, this is mainly the reason. All the commercial machines are compromised and designed to a price point. That's not to say that they aren't great pieces of equipment. But they are limited in what they can do.

For me, the fun is in the amateur engineering and in discovery. When the machine can accurately profile both temperature and pressure, maybe then we'll be a the last frontier. Maybe....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

   from AndyS

James rocks NYC



It's not that I really needed it. But this past weekend I received another scintillating reminder why I enjoy this coffee thing so much.

On March 2 James Hoffmann and Anette Moldvaer swept into New York and delivered a blow by blow recap of James's triumphant performance at the 2007 World Barista Championship. With a whole lot of help from the folks at Counter Culture Coffee and Ninth Street Espresso, James showed a crowd of hardcore baristas and fascinated newbies just how world-class coffee is done.

Even better for me, though, was meeting James and Anette, and getting the chance to hang out and talk about all manner of stuff. I honestly don't think specialty coffee could find two better ambassadors. Thanks James and Anette, thanks CCC and Ninth Street. It was a great time!

Some pictures of the event are up here.