Some quick thoughts on blog direction

So, today was a super busy day, and I neglected to get something written ahead of time. Suddenly it’s past bedtime and I suddenly realize “oh crap, I never updated the blog today!” I can’t let myself get away with that. I’ve been down that off-and-on blogging road before, and I know where it leads. No, I must write something, so rather than share the story of last night’s cupping practice or attempt to talk about one of the coffee’s I picked up at Oceana Coffee Roasters earlier this week, I’m going to share a little news and direction for the blog.

In less than 20 minutes… Ok, go!

The first few weeks

Has it really been three weeks already since I got this place cranked up? It’s hard to believe, but exciting as well. I’ve only just begun to share my love of coffee, and with my goals of roasting and cupping every week, on top of the endless world of specialty coffee that I’m dying to taste, I won’t run out of content any time soon.

These first few weeks have been fun. I enjoy sharing stories of what I’m drinking at the moment, and I hope to offer better reviews once I become more adept at cupping and describing the quality of each coffee I taste. Sharing photos is always fun, and if you’re not following my on Instagram yet, I invite you to check it out. I hope that my weekly reports from amateur cupping practice don’t bore you, because I know that writing about the experience will only help me become better.

Roasting is huge, and recording the details of my roasting practice in this space is key. In fact, tracking my roasts was one of the main reasons I started my previous blog, and if I hadn’t jumbled it up with too many other hobbies, well… I’m happy where I am now, so that’s good. Tuesday night’s roast turned out horrible when cupped, and you’ll hear more about that tomorrow when I have more time to write.

The next few weeks

September is almost over, and the family and I are off in early October for a short vacation, the first since my son was born. It’s a break we’ve all been looking forward to, though sadly I won’t be traveling anywhere with specialty coffee shops along the way. I plan to get some writing done ahead of time so that I don’t spend vacation on the internet, so I’ve been thinking about what to share, keeping in mind that I’ll have to take a week off from roasting and cupping.

I’d like to share my coffee history. It’s a topic I attempted to wrap up on the old blog, but I crammed too much into a single post and left a lot of good stuff out. This time I’m going to break it into three phases, as I think my story follows three distinct aspects of an interest in coffee. First is “consumer”, where I was just drinking coffee, primarily lattes, primarily sweet, flavored lattes, and yelping my way around Seattle, among other places. Then came “enthusiast”, where I started to appreciate single origin, pour-over coffee, and discovered the world of specialty coffee beyond the espresso machine. Finally, the phase I’m in now, I like to call “advocate”, since I’m not in a place where I enjoy teaching others about coffee, and strive to make better coffee at home every day.

With luck, and a bit of planning, you should be able to enjoy this three part story next Wednesday through Friday. Beyond that, I have to drill down on my roasting skills, after the disappointing (yet educational) dark roast from two nights ago, so expect a weekly roast report every Wednesday, followed by a cupping report on Thursday. I have countless favorite coffee shops to share, and I intend to do so one by one, and eventually I’ll offer more honest observations on the coffee I drink each week.

Now for your input

My 20 minutes is almost up, so I’d just like to throw out a few questions to you, dear reader. What have you liked or not liked about the blog so far? Is there any particular subject you’d like to see more of? Do you have suggestions for something I haven’t touched on at all, or coffee-related questions you want answered in a public space? I’m no expert, but I’d enjoy the chance to research and answer any crazy coffee questions that come my way!

You can reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter anytime, even just to say “hi”.

Now my 20 minutes is definitely over, time to wrap up, and I promise I’ll do better tomorrow, with a report of my third cupping practice.

Roasting Practice: Brazil Santos #1

When I started this blog, I set a goal for myself to practice roasting every week and record the results here. Since Wednesday is my dedicated cupping day, Tuesday is the best time for me to roast, and after a couple busy weeks I’m finally getting started. Since this is my first practice, I have more to share about the home-roaster I use, as well as my approach to learning how to roast, but future posts will focus solely on the beans.My home-roasting setup

My current home-roasting setup

I have a Behmor 1600 drum roaster, which I picked up back in December. It was lightly used, still in great shape, and I spent the first part of this year using up the supply of green coffee that the previous owner included in the sale. After chatting with nearly every green importer at Coffee Fest NYC in March, I’ve started buying from the nice folks at Theta Ridge, one of the few who sells less than full bag quantities for home roasters. (A bag of coffee is 65-70kg, around 150 lbs, far too much for a novice to use at home.)

Along with the roaster, I keep a journal, scale, plastic bin for storing green coffee, and a vacuum to easily clean up the chaff. Everything is stored on a rolling kitchen cart so that I can move it from the coffee room out onto the deck, to roast in the open air. The Behmor does a great job of smoke reduction, limiting the fumes generated during the roasting process, but I prefer to work outside where any fumes can dissipate much faster.

About the Behmor 1600

There are a variety of options for roasting coffee at home, everything from an electric popcorn popper, to a professional-grade sample roaster. The Behmor fits somewhere in the middle, retailing for $300 and taking up no more space than a small microwave or toaster oven. Inside the unit, it has a large heating element, protected by a grill, and a wire drum that holds the coffee and rotates. The drum is designed with several guides that cycle the beans as it turns, and it does a pretty good job of achieving even application of heat throughout the batch.

The Behmor is programmed with several presets, and while it’s not possible to adjust the profiles or create your own, there is a decent variety give the price point. It has 5 programs (P1-P5), roasting profiles that control the cycle of heat applied to the beans, and 4 default time settings for each (A-D). Three default weight settings, for 1/4, 1/2 and a full pound, control the maximum total time on each program, primarily as a safety feature. These 3 settings, program, time and weight, are the extent of control the user has over the roast, with actual weight of coffee in the drum being the 4th key variable.

In my experience so far, the Behmor is capable of a decently even roast, but will trend toward the lighter side if you try to roast too much at one time. Roasting a full pound of green coffee is hard due to limited air flow. Processing a half pound is easier, though leaving the programs on the default settings for a half pound still tend toward lighter results. Many users opt to put in slightly less coffee than the program is designed for, allowing greater roasting time in relation to weight, since it’s always possible to stop the roast, but not always possible to extend it.

When the roast is finished, either by the counter running down to zero or when the users presses the “cool” button, the Behmor switches off the heat and shifts into cooling mode. The drum continues to rotate, while the unit cools down and air flows around the beans. This is the hardest part of the roast to control, without a dedicated cooling tray, and aside from opening the door to allow cooler outside air to flow into the machine, there is nothing the user can do to speed up the cooling process. Roasted coffee should be brought down to room temperature within 4 minutes for maximum sweetness, but the cooling program on this roaster lasts 12-13 minutes on the full 1 pound setting, and the beans are still not cool enough when they come out. Choosing the right spot to stop the roast is the key to finding this roaster’s sweet spot.

Green coffee - Brazil Santos Direct Trade

About the coffee: Brazil Santos Direct Trade

Previous attempts at roasting have involved small, 1 pound bags of green coffee, and most often I would roast half a pound per batch. That allowed only 2 roasts per bean, so I was not able to learn much by changing beans every 2 roasts. When I decided to get serious about roasting every week, I went with a 10 pound bag of Brazilian coffee. My new approach is to roast the same coffee every week, adjusting the time and quantity in the drum, testing the different preset profiles, and learning how the coffee responds to each variable.

I chose this Brazil because it represented a good, predictable coffee, nothing fruity or overly unique, making it perfect to learn with. In order to learn, I’m starting out as dark as I can go, and moving lighter each week. If possible I will keep a few beans from each batch for color comparison later on.

Brazil Santos Direct Trade

Roast Profile & Results

For my first practice roast, I used 14oz of green coffee on the 1 lb setting, P1-B for maximum time on the hottest profile. With P1, the roaster fires up to maximum heat and maintains that level for the entire roast cycle. The starting time was 20:00, and I watched the beans as it counted down. Listening for first crack can be hard, but I try to keep good notes. I recorded first crack around the 3 minute mark, or 17 minutes of roast time, but I think I had missed some early cracks by a full minute or more. Second crack hit right around the end of the roast time, and I should have stopped the roast immediately but decided to let it finish the last 20-30 seconds to see how dark it turned out.

Getting into second crack on the Behmore is not recommended. The beans start to produce a lot more smoke at this point, and without a fast cooling process, it’s very easy to roast too dark. This is what happened on my first try. It may not look that dark in the photo above, but I put this roast in the category of Full City, perhaps even Full City+, definitely darker than I like to drink.

After roasting, the net weight of this batch came out around 11.9oz, a loss of 15% during the roast cycle. I aimed to roast a traditional 12oz bag in the Behmor, as well as an extra half an ounce for cupping each batch, but with these results, I may be sacrificing too much to get to that weight. I think I will adjust my goal to a 10oz bag, or 10.5oz post roast weight per batch.

Bloom on a freshly roasted coffee

In the Cup

Although I know this coffee is too dark for my taste, I have to see how it performs in various brew methods. The morning after roasting, I measured out 60g for a Chemex pour-over, and as with previous home-roasts, I enjoyed a huge bloom. It almost looks like a chocolate muffin! The fragrance of the whole beans is strong, and while it has a decent, nutty dark-roast smell, the brew is just too far gone. Dark roasts lose the character of the individual bean, and I would definitely say that this batch smells like any other dark-roasted coffee.

Not great to drink, but a perfect place to start. From here I will adjust, lowering the weight of coffee roasted to speed up the cooling process, and lowering the roast time to prevent getting into second crack, and we’ll see how the next one turns out.

 

Coffee Fest NYC, Part 2: What I Learned

Blogger’s Note: Today is the second in a series of reposts from my old blog, wrapping up my experience at Coffee Fest NYC in March. Yesterday focused on the overall convention experience, as well as the awesome competitions I was able to watch, so today you can read about the classes Jamie and I decided to tackle during our first Coffee Fest. Just looking back on it now, I am so glad I took the barista training and cupping classes, and I cannot wait to hit Coffee Fest in Atlanta next year. I am going to try the latte art class this time for sure!

It’s been over a week now since returning from New York and our first visit to Coffee Fest, and I still can’t stop talking about it! Today I am wrapping up my convention review with a look at what I learned in the specific classes we took. I’ll divide the classes into three categories:

  1. Hands-On Barista Training
  2. Cupping
  3. Things-that-sounded-fun-and-fit-into-our-schedule

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Hands-On Barista Training

Jamie and I signed up for the 4 hour barista training on Saturday morning. It was probably the class we looked forward to the most, and I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint. Led by Tommy from Coda Coffee in Denver, we went over some espresso machine and grinder basics, reviewed the process of dialing in your grind, and then spent a few hours pulling shots and steaming milk.

The class was divided into two groups, and sitting in the front row we wound up learning from Tommy. He was a great trainer, as well as an all-around fun guy. Before the class even started, he took drink orders and cranked out lattes faster and more efficient than any barista I can remember! I wish I’d known about his shop when I was in Denver last August, but it definitely gives me another roaster to visit next time I get out there.

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I learned a ton in four hours, and the time just flew by! Learning to dial in the espresso grinder was huge. I found out that I’ve been over-dosing our shots at home by packing the grinds down prior to tamping. It’s a bad habit I had developed to compensate for our original grinder, which wasn’t capable of getting fine enough to produce proper pressure on our machine. Tommy saw me do it once and stopped me immediately, and I can’t thank him enough. What a difference learning from a pro!

Steaming milk on the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II was a dream come true. Our home machine can’t even come close to the ease with which I produced quality milk in class, but I still brought home the crucial knowledge of milk temperature and the stages of steaming. And of course, I built the most important habit: cleaning and purging the steam wand immediately after every use.

The other hands-on training class that tempted us was the Latte Art Training, but since this was our first time on professional equipment I didn’t think we would benefit from a class at that level. I do wish there was something in between the two, an intermediate class that focused on drink flow. Tommy went over drink flow, but by the time we had consistent espresso and steamed milk, there was little time to practice making drinks. I would have signed up for a second drink class without hesitation, just to get more practice time on the machine.

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Introduction to Cupping &
Inviting Customer to Your Table

We went to two different cupping workshops, both hosted by Joe form Cafe Imports. There was a little overlap in content, but that’s what I wanted. Cupping is something I had read about, heard about, but never seen or practiced. As a home-roaster, I need to be able to cup my own coffees in order to better understand and describe them, as well as to recognize the effects of different roast profiles, etc.

The first class was Friday morning, Introduction to Cupping, and it began with a detailed definition of cupping, why we do it, and the established protocol and “best practices” in the industry. We learned that cupping is much more than simply tasting coffee, and the scientific approach led me to see why so many in the industry refer to their “lab” when talking about a cupping room.

After an informative introduction, we had a chance to practice cupping as a group. I had a difficult time describing what I was tasting, and realized how much practice and calibration I need to taste something and immediately say “bright and floral” or “oh yeah, that’s sugar browning”. I found it challenging, but a valuable experience for sure.

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The next afternoon, we sat through our second cupping class, Inviting Customers to Your Table: Cupping in a Retail Setting, which explored the possibilities and hurdles of hosting a cupping event in a retail coffee shop or cafe. This was a really fun class, with lots of laughter, and I think Joe surprised everyone by taking us through a cupping, pushing us as if we were professional cuppers, then showing us how necessary it is to differentiate between cupping in the lab, and cupping as a social event.

While the retail class may not be something I can apply right now, the chance to practice a second time was well worth it. In the first workshop we cupped four different coffees, but this time we were only cupping three. They tasted quite unique, but it was in fact the same coffee, just with three different roast profiles. That was a valuable lesson, something I can apply immediately in my home roasting practice.

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Other classes that fit in our schedule

We didn’t get to attend quite as many classes as I would have liked, but there were a couple highlights that we snuck in between the longer hands-on training and the afternoons walking the show floor. One was titled Opening a New Cafe, and it was led by Tom from Design & Layout Services. He put on a great presentation, had us laughing for nearly an hour, and we came away with a new respect for the amount of detail that goes into a seemingly simple cafe opening.

My favorite part was the mock argument between the soon-to-be cafe owner and the health inspector about the need for a grease trap. “Do you plan to serve butter with that blueberry muffin? Grease.” Tom led us through a hypothetical cafe opening from the start all the way to expansion, and the amount of information he packed into an hour was astounding. I could easily attend his class many times as I’m sure I’d soak up something new on each sitting.

The other workshop we signed up for was Making Great Frappes & Smoothies. As a near daily user of a Vitamix Professional Series 750 for smoothies at home, I had more clear expectations of this class than any other that weekend. But instead of making the types of smoothies I already drink at home, I got to see the commercial side of blended drinks, and wound up having an awesome time!

The folks at Cappuccine who hosted the workshop did a great job of keeping it fun and making sure everyone got plenty of time practicing drinks. I learned about L-P-I, Liquid-Product-Ice, and while I had been following that recipe in some form at home, I’ve rearranged the order in my own drinks to be more exact and the results are already great.

The Big Picture

That about wraps up our experience at Coffee Fest NYC. There is plenty more to share about the trip, from the coffee crawl Monday after the show, to the 24 hour train ride home, but those are stories for another day.

Readers: if you were at Coffee Fest, feel free to drop me a line, via twitter or facebook! I’d love to hear from other attendees and share photos and memories.

Coffee Fest NYC, Part 1: Convention Experience

Blogger’s Note: With Coffee Fest Portland only a month away (sadly, I won’t be attending, have to wait until the next one on the east coast) I’m thinking back to memories of my weekend in New York several months ago. It was my first experience at a coffee industry event, and I wrote two blog posts about it, on my old blog of course, so today and tomorrow I am reposting them here. Fresh-roasted content will be back on Wednesday.

Last weekend was Coffee Fest in New York City, and as I mentioned in my previous post, Jamie and I were there to attend our first coffee convention. It was an amazing experience, too much for a single post, so I’m breaking it into two parts: the convention experience, and “what I learned”.

Though we were often busy attending classes, I tried to catch all the main events of Coffee Fest so that I could share my thoughts on the overall experience.  From the Latte Art and America’s Best Coffeehouse competitions, to the hands-on training classes and show floor packed with tempting gadgets and goodies, there was something for everyone!

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The Show Floor

What I knew during my years of anime conventions as the “vendor room”, the show floor was 4 long aisles of booths, covering a wide variety of coffee- and tea-related industries. There were espresso machine manufacturers and suppliers, all types of food and snack vendors, paper cups and sleeves, chai tea and chocolates, several green coffee importers, and much, much more! I was amazed at the variety of vendors on display, and no matter how many times I walked the aisles I always found something I hadn’t yet seen.

I came away with magazines to read, catalogs to peruse, and samples to try at home. We also bought a few items that we just couldn’t resist: 2 beautiful JOCO Glass Reusable Coffee Cups and a really nice storage container for freshly roasted coffee by BeanSafe. Most of all, we came away full of excitement because everyone was friendly and eager to talk coffee.

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Latte Art World Championship Open

Possibly the biggest event for most attendees, the Latte Art competition took place in the morning hours of all three days. Since we were scheduled in many early classes, I didn’t get a chance to watch the action until the final hour on Sunday, but at least I got to see the “best of the best” as they battled down to the top 4.

I saw a few big names I recognized, was amazed by the level of detail in the pours, even ran into an awesome barista who works at Blacksmith in Houston, the same guy who prepared my drink during our coffee crawl in January! Pretty cool to know that I’ve enjoyed a drink by a competition-level latte artist.

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America’s Best Coffeehouse Competition

Another highlight of the show, America’s Best Coffeehouse is a unique competition that puts the focus on a team, rather than a single barista. I loved the concept, as competitors were judged on setup and preparation, drink service to judges as well as convention attendees, even clean up.

We had the chance to watch part of Cafe Grumpy‘s final round, but weren’t in time to line up for drinks, so I made a point of being early for the next group. Commonplace Coffee was fun to watch. They loaded up the tables with awesome swag and offered up small bags of beans to take home. My favorite thing about this competition is that it allows regular attendees to take part as customers!

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America’s Best Espresso Competition

I’m sorry to say I missed the action hidden away in the back corner of the convention space. Unlike the previous events which focused on the baristas and front-of-the-house service, America’s Best Espresso focused on roasters, judging flavor, mouthfeel & aftertaste of an individual roaster’s beans. This is one competition I definitely will not miss next time!

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Classes and Workshops

So many classes, so little time! When we were signing up for Coffee Fest, I saw more than a dozen classes I wanted to take, but we could only fit a select handful into a workable schedule. I’ll go into more detail in my next post, but here’s a quick list of the classes we attended:

  • freshman orientation (opening class for first time attendees)
  • hands-on barista training
  • 2 different workshops on cupping
  • hands-on frappe and smoothie class
  • opening a new cafe (all the details you never thought about)

I learned a lot, and look forward to sharing more about the classes in part 2 of my Coffee Fest review. For now I’ll just say that the hands-on barista training was definitely the high point for us. Pulling shots and steaming milk on that level of professional equipment was thrilling. It took me back to my days just out of high school, when I would pick up a high-end guitar in a music store and marvel at the tone and responsiveness in an instrument several years beyond my reach. “One day…” I used to say. “One day…”

Check back tomorrow for part 2: “What I Learned”.

Pour Over Style #1 – Hario V60

When I’m making coffee at home, I have quite a variety of options. Today I’d like to share my go-to method I use most often when brewing coffee just for myself: the Hario V60 Ceramic Coffee Dripper.

Hario V60 Pour Over

Hario V60 – What is it?

If you’re new to specialty coffee, there’s a chance you’ve never seen a pour-over setup before. My first experience was at Axum Coffee in Winter Garden, Florida, where they display a long row of pour-over cones prominently in the middle of their main counter. It invites new customers to ask “what’s that?” and sure enough, that’s how I came to learn about manual pour-over brewing methods.

The Hario V60 Ceramic Coffee Dripper is unique among pour-over cones due to it’s spiraling ribs and 60º angle. Some pour-over cones have a flat, narrow bottom, others have a flat and round bottom, but the V60 slopes down toward a point, opening up with a wide aperture to allow even extraction. The design of this cone is capable of producing a bright and nuanced cup, but it’s all up to the skill of the person pouring. For this reason, I find it a wonderful way to practice and build technique.

My V60 Method

The minimum setup for a pour-over coffee includes the cone, filter, gooseneck kettle, and of course the coffee. But to really understand what’s going on, and to make sure you get the correct extraction from the ground coffee, a scale and timer is necessary. A burr grinder is also a must for uniform particle size. You can use pre-ground coffee, but you won’t get the bloom possible with fresh roasted and ground coffee. For example, check out the bloom on this Columbian Supremo that I roasted at home a couple weeks ago (this photo was taken the day after the roast):

V60 bloom

I use a ratio of 20g coffee to 300g water, or as close to 300g as I can pour (often winding up at 301-303). The water should be at standard brewing temperature (within a few degrees of 200ºF) and most often I set my kettle at 205º so that any drop in temp during the process is still within the acceptable range. My V60 process follows the following steps:

  1. Pour heated water to wet filter and heat brewing vessel
  2. Grind coffee, a bit finer than drip
  3. Discard water from brewing vessel, add ground coffee to filter
  4. Pour just enough water to wet all the grounds
  5. Wait 20-30 seconds to allow coffee to “bloom”
  6. Continue pouring in a slow, steady, spiraling motion, working out from the center and back in again. Be careful not to pour outside the bed of coffee as this allows water to shoot down the side of the cone and bypass most of the grounds, and be mindful to maintain a consistent bed depth to avoid under-extraction.
  7. Pour until desired volume/weight of water is reached, then allow coffee to finish running through the filter
  8. Pour brewed coffee in mug and enjoy!

Step 6 is the key to this method; it’s all in the pour. A gooseneck kettle is a must for proper flow control (not to mention better aim) but even that takes practice. I watch the color of the coffee bed as I pour, spiraling out to darker areas as the middle turns light, then back in as the color shifts again. As a general rule, the color at the top of the coffee bed will help tell you where to pour. Darker areas indicate ground coffee that has not received as much water as a lighter area.

It’s a skill, and I am far from consistent. I generally aim for a total brew time under 2 minutes when using 20g of coffee. Sometimes I will increase the coffee to 30g when I want a larger cup, and adjust the water accordingly to 450g, but the ratio is always the same.

Altogether, taking into account weighing the coffee, heating the water, all the way to dumping the spent coffee grounds in our compost bucket, I spend maybe 5 minutes to make one cup of coffee. It might sound crazy to the push-button convenience crowd, but for me, those 5 minutes are a time of complete focus. I am dialed in, watching every detail, smelling every aroma, and patiently looking forward to the complex and delicate cup that awaits me at the end of the pour.

Hario V60 Pour Over

Here is a full list of everything I use in my V60 pour-over station:

As mentioned above, only the V60 itself, filters and a gooseneck kettle are necessary for this method, but everything else adds something to the experience. The range server allows me to watch the speed of extraction better than simply setting the V60 on my coffee mug, and the stand provides a nice pouring height and drip tray to catch any errant drops that miss the mark. Most of all, though, Hario’s combination scale & timer is invaluable. I use it to weigh the coffee before grinding, then to weigh water as it is added, and it has a timer for easily monitoring the bloom and total brew time.

Cupping Practice, week 2

Last week I shared the story of my first experience cupping coffee at home. Determined to make cupping a weekly habit, I spent another Wednesday evening skimming through the SCAA cupping protocol and slurping small spoonfuls of coffee as loudly as possible.

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This week’s selection featured the two fresh coffees that just arrived on Monday. In case you missed yesterday’s post, I’m currently enjoying two wonderful coffees from Golden Hills Coffee Roasters, via eKoffee.com, the online marketplace for fresh roasted beans. I decided to cup only two samples this week, and while I did not cup them blind, I went into it with a strategy borrowed from my friend who runs our local specialty coffee truck (which I need to write about soon).

That strategy? Attempt the cupping BEFORE reading any of the tasting notes given by the roaster.

In an effort to test my palate, I was careful not to look at the tasting notes on each bag, with a goal of writing down at least one flavor that I picked up. Then, and only then, I would look at the bag and see if I picked up on the correct nuances in each cup! Short of cupping with other people, namely those more experienced and with a better vocabulary, this is one way I can start to calibrate my taste buds.

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So how did I do? The cup on the left was “coffee A”, the one on the right “coffee B”. I started by evaluating the fragrance (the smell of the ground coffee before water is added), and they were vastly different in character. All I could come up with, however, was that coffee B was sweeter than coffee A. This is why I need practice, to build a vocabulary to better define these differences.

Next I poured water in each bowl up to the rim, and waited around 4 minutes before breaking the crust to evaluate the aroma (the scent of the coffee after absorbing water). Here I started to pick up more specific notes, and wrong or not, I wrote down chocolate and resinous for coffee A, while coffee B reminded me of floral, fragrant and citrus.

Then came the tasting, and while the flavor of each sample grew more clear as it cooled, I grew more uncertain in my interpretations. Coffee A gave me a feeling of being spicy and warming, with a bitter aftertaste. I know this is due to my current preference for lighter roasts and fruity varieties. This current trend has me finding darker, more rich bodied coffees bitter by comparison, even if they are really good. Coffee B, while lighter and more to my taste, I found even hard to define: herby, sour, a little sweet? Keep in mind, I scribbled a “maybe” next to pretty much all of those notes.

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The moment of truth

Once I had noted just about everything I could think of, it was time to find out if I was even close to the mark. I turned around to check the bags, and was pleased that I got at least one of the three tasting notes on each coffee! For coffee A, I had chocolate, which is at least close to the more specific milk chocolate. I missed out on the honey and green tea flavors, but one out of three isn’t a bad start! In coffee B I tasted citrus, and learned that this was accompanied by caramel and chocolate as well.

Now that I knew what to look for, I returned to tasting, and thanks to the extra prodding from the coffee bag notes, I found the caramel and chocolate in coffee B, along with the honey in coffee A. I couldn’t quite get the green tea from coffee A, though. That one must be more subtle, or it could simply be overpowered (in my case) by the richer flavors that I’m more familiar with.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you what each sample was! Coffee A was an Organic Honduran Marcala, rich, bold, and perfect for someone like my wife who isn’t into fruity coffees (yet). That means Coffee B was the Golden Hills House Blend, a solid medium flavor, not too far in any one direction, which should do nicely as our cold brew for the next week.

What did I learn?

This week was a great exercise in challenging myself. Trying to write down flavor notes, with no reference other than my senses, was a huge step. I fully expected to look foolish, to struggle as I stared at the flavor wheel, the entire time hearing Joe Marrocco in my head saying “don’t think about it, just say the first thing that comes to mind. If you stand there thinking you’ll confuse your senses” or something like that. I try, I really do, and it’s a humbling experience every time. The one piece of good news is that I know this can be learned.

I just have to keep reminding myself that I’ve only just begun to taste coffee.

Fresh Roasted Coffee! Delivered to your door!

We’re not all lucky enough to live in Seattle or Portland, or any other major city with a booming specialty coffee roasting culture. In my city, smack in the middle of Florida, one must drive at least 30 minutes to Tampa, or further to Orlando, to buy coffee from a local roaster. So when I learned (while listening to an interview on Levi Andersen’s awesome podcast) about the online coffee marketplace known as eKoffee.com, I was excited to check it out!

What is eKoffee.com?

Simply put, eKoffee connects small, craft coffee roasters with consumers who value fresh roasted beans. The nice folks at eKoffee work with their roasting partners to provide a roast-to-order model, where you can order coffee via their website, and it is then roasted and shipped to your house within a few days.

At the time of this writing, they have seven different roasters in varying parts of the country, each with their own style and niche. Whether you’re looking for Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a balanced espresso blend, or even flavored coffee, there is plenty to choose from, and after a few clicks you’ll find one of these on your doorstep:

Delivery from ekoffee.com

This was my delivery on Monday, just 2 bags this time, both from Golden Hills Coffee Roasters here in Florida. One bag is an organic Honduran Marcala, which I’ve been enjoying in our Bonavita brewer in the early morning (more on that later), the other is their house blend, destined for a batch of cold brew tonight or tomorrow.

Delivery from ekoffee.com

When I first started ordering from eKoffee, I was primarily focused on espresso beans. It wasn’t long after my visit to Coffee Fest, and I was burning through the beans trying to practice at home and adapt what I learned to my old home machine. Since then I’ve expanded the home coffee bar to focus just as much on pour-over, cold brew, even adding the Bonavita automatic drip to fill a thermos bound for the office every morning. Thus, I’ve had reason to explore the vast offering, though so far I’ve stuck to primarily single-origin coffees with a few blends chosen for cold brew.

Aside from Golden Hills, I’ve had coffee from Red Rooster, Copper Canyon, Rostov’s, and Booskerdoo. It’s hard to choose a favorite; everything I’ve tried has been excellent! Most of all, the ease of home delivery helps me keep up with fresh coffee when everyday life would prevent a trip to our nearest shop. If you lack a local roaster in your area, or are just looking to try something new, head over to eKoffee.com and find a new favorite!

Delivery from ekoffee.com

Perq Coffee Bar – Sarasota, Florida

Blogger’s note: It’s been a rough day, didn’t get a chance to write anything until late and I’m pretty worn out. But at least I have a few coffee posts from my old blog to share! Fresh roasted content will return tomorrow…

Perq Coffee Bar, Sarasota, Florida

Perq Coffee Bar in Sarasota, Florida is simply beautiful. From the wood-lined walls and bar, to the butcher block tables and soothing grey tones throughout, the atmosphere is warm and pleasing to the senses. Splashes of bright green color appear in shelves and even the bar towels, all chosen to match the beautiful 2-group Slayer espresso machine.

As is my custom, I ordered two drinks: a single-origin Kalita pour-over, and a Flat White, both prepared with Kilenso coffee from Ethiopia, roasted by Coava Coffee Roasters in Portland. The pour-over was smooth and light, and I absolutely loved the flat white.  I value an espresso beverage that doesn’t cover up the quality of the beans.

Perq Coffee Bar

Just check out that interior design! The cold brew stations hanging in the air over the back bar, the long service counter for any variety of manual-brewed coffee, multiple grinders, multiple hot water dispensers, it seems they really have everything a coffee professional could want. It must be a fun place to work, and I had the pleasure of chatting with the owners, both cool people.

Perq rotates their coffee offerings, always 4 single origins, including 1 decaf. I wish I could get down there more often. My first visit was primarily dominated by me drooling over their espresso machine, but now I’m more apt to taste every coffee they have on the menu, in a variety of brewing styles. If you’re in the Sarasota area, be sure to check this place out!

Perq-110135Perq Coffee Bar
1821 Hillview Street
Sarasota, Florida 34239
Open Monday-Friday 7:00am-5:00pm & Saturday-Sunday 8:00am-4:00pm

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!