Wednesday, January 13, 2010

   from Nick

The Decade in Specialty Coffee part 2

As promised, part two of a three-part retrospective on the past decade in specialty coffee.

Coffee of the Decade:

Panama Boquete Hacienda La Esmeralda 'Special'

Perhaps the most obvious pick in this lineup, the coffee known by many as just "Esmeralda" needs to be recognized not only for its own notoriety, but its impact on the wider specialty coffee industry.

In an area in Panama known as Jaramillo, a hunch inspired a 2002 exploration of the coffees on the Peterson's farm, leading to the discovery of a particular area with coffees of extraordinary quality. It was introduced to the specialty coffee world a couple years later, and it has been celebrated to the point of being called as the "sex goddess of coffee" by writer Michaele Weissman in her book, "God in a Cup."

Esmeralda Special has broken the highest specialty coffee auction price for green coffee at least three times, and had the coffee world scratching their heads and debating the correlation between price and quality, wondering aloud whether the bidding had gotten out of hand. Raising the price ceiling so high, however, had a definite trickle-down effect to other extraordinary coffees, with these exceptional coffees hitting retail shelves for $20 to $50 a roasted pound or more.

The other major impact of Esmeralda Especial has been awareness of coffee varietals. The renown coffee is of the "geisha" variety. It's apparently from Ethiopia, but still yet to be definitively and directly linked to coffees currently growing in that east African country, recognized as the birthplace of coffee. While many producers rushed to plant geisha seed-stock throughout their farms, farmers in other countries focused their attention on some of the other proven heirloom varietals: bourbon, SL-28, pacamara, among others. Until the latter part of the past decade, you would never have heard roasters or baristas uttering these variety names.

As the legend of Esmeralda Special grows, so does the idea of consumers paying over $100 a pound, or $10 for a brewed cup of extraordinary coffees. As the demand for specialty coffee grows worldwide, and prices inevitably climb, it's no great stretch to predict that we'll be thanking lady Esmeralda for clearing the way for an economically-sustainable market in the coming years.


Brazil Ipanema

Due to the sheer massiveness of this Brazilian company, but helped by great attention paid to coffee quality, Ipanema could be called the farm that linked the specialty coffee world together. From Starbucks to Counter Culture, in single-origin drip offerings to espresso blends, Ipanema coffees were everywhere this past decade. While not the most romantic of coffee-origin stories, the agrobusiness-level Brazilian producer represents the cutting-edge of large-scale coffee production, and is an undeniable force in the industry.


Coffee Roasting Device of the Decade:

Loring SmartRoast Kestrel S35

On the most part, there are two types of small-capacity (under 100 kg) roasting machines: drum roasters and air roasters. Perhaps better described as conduction and convection roasters respectively, little has changed to the fundamental design of coffee roasters in the past decade until the quiet introduction of the Kestrel from Loring SmartRoast.

Often called a "hybrid roaster" because the coffee is roasted in a drum but the heat transfer is convective, the Kestrel (and its cousin the Scirocco) is designed around a recirculation feature that essentially serves as its own afterburner, incinerating exhaust particulates and preserving heat that typical roasters radiate or blow out their stacks. This results in a significant reduction in emissions and perhaps unmatched fuel efficiency.

Global distribution has just begun, with Kestrels now installed at renown specialty roasters like Maruyama in Japan and Terroir in Massachusetts. While the specialty coffee industry generally waves the environmental sustainability banner, burning of fossil fuels and the resulting air pollution are problems that don't have many solutions yet. Further development in "green roasting" in the coming decade is both the industry's destiny and its burden.


Probat L12

The notorious Probat L12. Do a Google image search on coffee roasters, and you'll see photos of newly installed L12 after L12. Designed as a large laboratory roaster (hence the "L") by Probat, whose main business is large commercial roasting machines, perhaps hundreds of L12's are in use as small-batch and/or in-shop roasters. Infamous for being hard to clean and crippled by its inability to roast and cool at the same time (the newest "ProbatOne" L12's are shipping with two fans to change this), L12's have an important place in the hearts of thousands of roasters around the world.


Coffee Preparation Device of the Decade:

Fuji PXR3 Controller

A what?!?

Before the Slayer, before the GB/5, before the Synesso, before David Schomer's tricked-out Lineas, were the first PID temperature-controlled espresso machines known to be: the lowly Rancilio Silvia with a Fuji Electric PXR3 PID temperature controller.

Two then amateur coffee enthusiasts, Greg Scace in Maryland and Andy Schecter in New York realized that a PID (proportional, integral, derivative) controller might provide better temperature control than the typical bimetallic thermostats found in espresso machines like their Silvias. They announced their experiments on the USENET newsgroup, and the rest is history. The most widely installed aftermarket controller on both home and commercial machines has been the Fuji PXR3.

PID temperature controllers, most simply described as computers that use calculus algorithms to read and respond to temperature changes, are now in widespread use, both on devices that heat water (espresso machines, hot water dispensers), and on coffee roasters. Most recently, manufacturers are using PID controllers to control the pressure in an espresso machine rather than the temperature.

The era of hyper-focusing on temperature stability in espresso machines is arguably coming to a close, but only because flat brew temperature controls were made possible by PID controllers during the past decade. Currently the concerns have shifted to pressure profiling, with temperature profiling (actively controlling the brew water temperature during extraction) on the next horizon.

Until PID controllers, the only computers found in espresso machines were for brewing automation. A typical espresso machine in 2000 demonstrated a temperature fluctuation of up to plus-or-minus 6 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, the newest machines are stable down to 0.2 degrees or less, and baristas can trust that their machine is of a consistent brew temperature, freeing them up to focus on managing the other variables at hand.


Reg Barber Tamper

It's a little-known fact that any espresso tamper that you see that has the handle of one material or color and a piston/base of a different material or color is a Reg Barber copy!

Newer tamper designs have emerged over the past few years, but there's no question that the go-to barista tool has been the Reg Barber. The device itself is beloved, with its now-classic shape, balance, and quality, but Reg Barber the man himself, widely known as the nicest and kindest man in the entire specialty coffee world, takes the brand of Reg Barber from atop the espresso machine, straight into our hearts.

As always, comments welcome!

In the final installment, a last look at the decade past, and my pick for Specialty Coffee Person of the Decade.