Mugshots: My original coffee photography show

I may have mentioned already that photography was my primary hobby before I discovered a love for specialty coffee. While I currently have a small gallery on display at The Library Coffeehouse in Tampa, a couple years ago I exhibited a large coffee-centric photo show at Mitchell’s Coffeehouse in Lakeland. I called it Mugshots.

This collection of photos includes shots from the following coffee shops:

  • The Library Coffeehouse – Tampa, Florida
  • Axum Coffee – Winter Garden, Florida
  • Mitchell’s Coffeehouse – Lakeland, Florida
  • Brew Urban Cafe – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Foxy Loxy – Savannah, Georgia
  • Espresso Vivace – Seattle, Washington

I included a variety of latte presentations, and a few more minimalist pieces focused on the cup itself. I enjoyed preparing for the show, as it involved tasting a lot of different espresso drinks, though looking back now, only one photo really captured the beauty of coffee itself. Amazing how much my awareness of specialty coffee has changed in the past two years, from a love of primarily milk-based beverages, to an appreciation of single-origin and the whole process from farm to cup.

If I have the chance to do another large photo show, I would like to build it around the journey from farm to cup, and no lattes this time. Maybe one day…

The Magic of Cold Brew Coffee

Growing up in central Florida, it should surprise no one that I’m well versed in the art of iced tea. There wasn’t a family gathering, holiday, or even a summer afternoon without a pitched of iced tea at the ready. It’s only natural that I should gravitate toward iced coffee, but I didn’t find my true love until I discovered cold brew.

What is cold brew?

Cold brew and iced coffee are not the same, although some shops may refer to their cold brew as “iced” because it is more well known. Simply put, iced coffee is merely brewed coffee poured over ice, while cold brew is a slow process, usually 12-24 hours, in which coffee is brewed with cold water. This slower process, combined with the lack of heat, brings out a completely different level of flavor from the bean, with less acidity and bitterness, but with more depth of flavor.

There’s a great post over on the ekoffee blog if you want to learn all the details, but here’s a short review of the method we use at home: the Toddy Cold Brew System.

Toddy cold brew coffee

Step 1: Grind coffee, add cold water

Cold brew coffee requires coarse ground coffee, so don’t attempt this with any pre-ground coffee you can buy in the grocery store. We set our grinder to its maximum coarseness, and it helps prevent coffee from clogging the filter. The recommended ratio for the Toddy is 12oz coffee to 7 cups cold water. I follow their instructions, which include adding water and grounds in stages to slowly introduce the two and ensure that all the coffee is sufficiently wet.

Step 2: Wait 12-24 hours, then filter

Toddy cold brewThe Toddy includes a plug on the bottom of the brewing unit, and the top is open, so I cover the top with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge overnight. I’ve brewed several batches close to 12 hours, but our current batch sat for 14.5 hours and it turned out extra rich and smooth. Just how long you let the coffee sit depends a lot on the coffee itself. Our latest was a Guatemala from Downtown Credo, and the extra hours really helped to highlight its darker flavors.

When it’s time to filter the coffee, pull the plug and set it on top of the included glass jug. Do this carefully, of course. While coffee doesn’t just rain out the bottom of the Toddy, you still want to be over the jug before pulling the plug, just to avoid losing even the tiniest drop of cold brew goodness.

Now we wait again. Don’t get impatient if the coffee appears to be filtering too slowly. I had a couple batches where the coffee was a bit too fine, started to clog the filter, and I attempted to clear it, only to make things worse and destroy the reusable filter in the process. Let it sit undisturbed for 30 minutes or more and you’ll be amazed at how quickly that small stream of coffee turns into a gallon!

Step 3: Dilute with cold water and enjoy!

Unless you like your cold brew extremely strong, I highly recommend diluting it with water. Toddy recommends a ratio of 3:1 as a starting point, and I find that it usually suits my taste. Most often I enjoy my cold brew in a mason jar, filling it to the 1/4 cup line with the cold brew concentrate, then adding cold, filtered water up to a full cup, and finally adding ice to keep it extra cold. Yum!

Cold brew coffee

If you’re looking for a simple cold brew system to enjoy at home, the Toddy Cold Brew System is a simple way to go, and one batch of cold brew can last for 10 days or more in the fridge. Of course, in our house, it never makes it the full 10 days!

Cupping Practice, week 1

When I signed up to attend Coffee Fest in New York City early this year, one of my first goals was to learn how to cup. I had learned about cupping while reading God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee, and I knew that it was crucial to understanding and evaluating the quality, flavor and aroma of coffee. What I did not realize, however, was just how difficult it can be, trying to put thoughts into words while tasting coffee.

Cupping is a skill that must be learned and practiced, and I’ve let far too many months pass since my time in New York. In order to build my palate, to learn to recognize flavors and describe them, instead of just… guessing. I set a goal to cup at least once a week. With the variety of coffees passing through our house each week, I should easily be able to cup 3 different coffees every week, including coffee I’ve roasted, so that I might learn to taste my own coffee against that of the professionals.

This week I started with 4, and my method was far from ideal. I have enough tools on hand to cup 3 samples each of up to 4 coffees, but I lacked enough raw material to try more than a single cup, so my first practice session included a single sample of 4 separate selections. Well, I have to start somewhere at least!

Cupping practice

I labeled the coffees A, B, C & D, recording the origin in my book, ground each into a cupping bowl, and experienced the fragrance while waiting for the water to come to 200º F. Even before adding water, the difference between some of the samples was astounding! I was already excited about coffee D and couldn’t wait to get my cupping spoon in there for a sip.

Once the water reached proper temperature, I filled each bowl almost to the rim, careful to wet the grounds evenly. This process alone showed the age of the beans, as one sample was roasted a week before the others. After waiting a few minutes, I broke the crust, inhaling the aroma of each coffee. At this point I should be able to describe what I’m smelling, but that’s not likely until I get more practice and have other cuppers to help calibrate my senses.

Cupping practice

After skimming the foam and grounds from the top of each bowl, I waited another few minutes for the samples to cool before beginning to slurp. Cupping involves aspirating the coffee, getting the aromatics airborne in the mouth to reach maximum contact with the olfactory system, and this requires a strong slurping, almost inhalation of the coffee. It’s quite loud, at least when done by professionals.

I tasted each cup a few times before moving on to the next, and I quickly knew which coffees were my favorites. I could describe them in generic terms, such as “bright” or “rich”, but it will take consistent cupping practice before I can point to a spot on the flavor wheel and say with confidence, “this coffee is sugar browning” or “I’m getting a hint of blueberry”.

Cupping practice

After tasting the coffees for several minutes, I came up with a few observations, guesses rather, and I did make notes. I won’t claim to be 100% right, but hopefully I’m in the correct area of the flavor wheel.

Coffee A was sweet, acidy, and floral.

Coffee B felt “safe”, what I described as a regular coffee flavor.

Coffee C was smokey, something I picked up on after multiple passes.

Coffee D was sweet and fruity, and definitely my favorite.

So what was each coffee? A was the last remaining beans from my sample bag of Honduras Las Flores micro lot, which I wrote about yesterday. B was a Costa Rican La Pastora Tarrazuu from Booskerdoo, a roaster I regularly enjoy via ekoffee.com. It was a week older than the rest, and I threw it in the mix because I was curious how it would hold up, but it definitely showed its age compared to the fresher samples. C was a Guatemala from Downtown Credo, which has been our cold brew all this week. The darker, smokey flavor must work really well as cold brew, because my family has been raving about it for days! Finally, my favorite coffee of the night, D was Los Naranjos from Columbia, roasted at Bold Bean in Jacksonville just 2 days before I brought it home.

What did I learn?

One thing I wish I had done differently was to have someone else grind and label the coffees so that I could approach them blind. I was already biased toward Los Naranjos after having tasted it in the cupping demo at the Florida Coffee Symposium on Saturday, then as a sample at the Bold Bean booth, so even before I smelled the grounds I expected to love it. I need to avoid bias when cupping, but that requires an extra person who is not involved in the actual tasting to keep track of the samples.

I found that multiple passes, tasting again and again as the coffee continued to cool, led certain flavors to stand out, and most of my notes were taken from my last few sips. Perhaps coffee C was smokey, but it may have had other characteristics that I could not put into words, before it cooled to the point where the smokey flavor really stood out. I’d like to make notes throughout the tasting, not just at the end.

Overall, this was a really fun evening! I’ve put off cupping for months, and no matter how many times I wanted to do it, I’d think “oh, I don’t have anyone to join me yet” or “I’ve waited too long since roasting, it’s not up to SCAA protocol” or “I don’t have enough to cup 3 samples of each coffee.” Finally I decided to follow some of the best advice I’ve ever read on the internet: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I’m glad I gave it a shot, and look forward to getting better each week!

Coffee Journal: Honduras Las Flores Micro Lot

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to meet a few awesome Florida coffee roasters at the Florida Coffee Symposium in Orlando, and I brought home several goodies from the event, including 3 bags of coffee. One of the bags was a sample from Oceana Coffee Roasters in Tequesta, not just a single origin, but a micro lot: coffee picked from a specific part of a single farm, usually to highlight the most unique beans of top quality. I was looking forward to trying this coffee at home to see if I could detect just what made it so special.

Honduras Las Flores Microlot

Honduras, Las Flores – Micro Lot
Oceana Coffee, roasted September 2, 2014

This coffee is absolutely lovely. I’m far from being an experienced cupper, and I have not yet developed the ability to discern aroma and flavor notes in coffee, but I know a quality coffee when I drink it. This micro lot from Honduras has been my morning cup for the past three days, first as a Chemex and this morning in the Hario V60. The V60 produced my favorite cup so far, having found the right grind to get the desired extraction time. Check out that bloom:

Honduras Las Flores Microlot

Recently I had become lazy about tracking my coffee habits, but in the past week I’ve gotten more serious and returned to keeping a daily coffee journal. In it I write the coffee of the day, brewing method, weight of coffee, weight/quantity of water, grind setting, and brew time. It helps me dial in the right grind for a particular bean or brewing style, and I’m often referring back to it, thinking “what grind setting did I use yesterday?”

Eventually I hope to record more detailed thoughts on each coffee, as I build my taste buds and learn to verbalize what I’m experiencing in the cup. But for now, I’m just focused on recording the details. As Joe Marrocco says, “if you don’t record it, it never happened.” At least once a week I will share a page from my journal in this space, regardless of how poor my handwriting may be. Perhaps it might inspire others to start keeping a coffee journal.

Honduras Las Flores Microlot

The best coffee I’ve ever had

Toby's Estate NY

“What’s your favorite coffee?” – It’s a common question that usually comes up when chatting with other specialty coffee folks, and my answer often takes me back to my favorite brewed coffee experience.

Earlier this year, after enjoying my first experience at Coffee Fest in New York City, I spent a day walking the city and visiting several coffee shops and cafes on one of those “Top 25” lists that make the rounds every so often. My first stop turned out to be my favorite of the day, and ultimately included the most amazing single origin pour-over I’ve been lucky enough to sip.

Toby's Estate NY

Toby’s Estate on 5th Avenue is a delightfully bright espresso and coffee bar, with a beautiful white and wood grain Strada sitting proudly on the white marble counter. I started my day with a shot of their Flatiron espresso blend and a cortado, and both were delicious. As it was still relatively early in the morning, I decided to sample something other than espresso before leaving for our next destination. I was glad I did.

Finca Santa Teresa Gesha from Panama, a coffee so wonderful I forgot to take a photo!

Panama & Gesha are the words that really caught my eye on their pour-over menu, and if they had beans for sale I would have definitely brought home a bag or two. I ordered it as a V60 pour-over, and it came out fruity and delicate, unlike any coffee I had previously tasted. Long a devotee of espresso-based beverages, this opened my eyes, and I learned that coffee can be more than good or even great. Coffee can be outstanding and unbelievable!

Even now I wish I could return to New York, just to see if they still have the Gesha on the menu. If I can ever roast a coffee even one tenth as good as that cup, I will count myself lucky indeed. For now, the Panama Gesha remains my all-time favorite coffee, the bar against all other coffees are judged. Toby’s Estate set the bar pretty high.

Toby's Estate NY
Cortado & Flatiron espresso at Toby’s Estate on 5th Avenue, New York City

Coffee Travels Photo Show

DSC00890

Not only is The Library Coffeehouse one of my favorite spots in Tampa to enjoy coffee and homemade food, Marie & Dawn are nice enough to showcase my photography from time to time. They hosted my initial coffee-focused photo show a couple years ago, and when given the opportunity to have another show, I jumped at the chance.

While the first show was entirely coffee, mostly espresso drinks, latte art and such, this show is all about Coffee Travels. Half of the images show coffee from various locations (New York, Denver, Tokyo, Seoul) and the other half focused on my favorite shots from four different cities in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone).

A big thanks to my friends at The Library for showing my work again, and if you’re in the Tampa area, be sure to stop by for a coconut mocha and let me know what you think of the artwork.

The Library Coffeehouse
3201 S Dale Mabry Hwy #106
Tampa, FL 33629
Open Wednesday-Saturday, 7:00am-3:00pm & Sunday 8:00am-4:00pm

Getting back to the basics

Welcome to The Coffee Minimalist, my new coffee-focused home on the web. More than just a blog, this is a space to share every detail of my coffee journey, from bean to cup. Here are some things you can expect to find as time rolls on:

  • Coffee photography – Oh yeah, I’m on Instagram, but with photography as my primary hobby prior to diving deep into the world of specialty coffee, there is more to my photos than square-cropped shots of my daily pour.
  • Weekly brew notes – Coffee is a daily ritual in our house, and I try to record each brew to better understand what’s happening in the cup.
  • Roasting notes – I’m currently a home-roaster, bringing in green coffee beans and roasting them on a small drum roaster, so all future roasts will be well documented in this space.
  • Cupping notes – While I’ve been to a few cupping classes, I haven’t had nearly the practice I need, so I aim to make cupping a weekly focus.
  • Coffee gear reviews – My thoughts and experiences with the variety of brew methods available.
  • Travel notes – From Tampa to Seattle, New York to Tokyo, I’ve spent countless hours in some amazing coffee shops, and I can’t leave the house without looking for amazing coffee.

So why The Coffee Minimalist?

Minimalism is all about focusing on the essential, practicing deliberate focus, and coffee invites this with open arms. Whether I’m brewing a pour over, watching the gram scale and trying to control the turbulence in the coffee bed, or staring intently at my roaster waiting for first or second crack, focus makes coffee better, and that’s all I hope to accomplish.

Make coffee better.

20140704_131216I think that’s a good place to start.