Friday, September 15, 2006


The word on the new roasting methodology is this: SWEEEEEEEET

I'm extremely pleased with the results. I'm very excited about it. Not only that, my roaster is in a brand new housing. All the control features, including the variac, are in one single unit. I swap-out multiple split-wired poppers because of the modular design. Not only that, I can easily switch between bean mass temperature PID input profiling or inlet air temperature PID input profiling. In the near future, once I get the second PID relay powered, I can switch the control PID to the monitor PID and datalog inlet air temp if I want. Or I can easily switch things around so that the fan is at constant speed and I profile manually by controlling voltage to the heater. Basically, it's all together very flexible.

There's still a lot to play with, but basically the roasts I'm getting are better than before. I have never been able to coax this kind of sweetness from the bean. Not only that, but the cup is much (I really hate to use such a cupping cop-out qualifier) smoother than before. Very round and juicy, not a trace of astringency or dryness.

Photos to come once I am settled back into school...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Roasting again

I'm back home now with quite a bit of free time. I'm getting back to using my fluid air bed roaster and I am working on fine tuning its operation.

I'm more closely monitoring air inlet temperature to see how I can influence that roast variable. Tomorrow I am doing some cupping of some of my first trials. So far the roasts look great. This new roast process is quite different than what I have done in the past. I am not going to say too much about it yet in case it yields awful results, but I'll know soon if it's worthwhile.

I've been roasting on the messy garage workbench. The roaster with insulation on the chamber:

A little hotter roast for chocolatey roast tastes for espresso. I need a Fluke meter. The gap between process value and setpoint value is kind of intentional. I need a Fluke meter:


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New post from Philly

Look, an update! I haven't written anything in a while because there hasn't been much to write about. I've been occupied with work and travel, but now summer is coming to a close. Soon I will be back at school where I have plenty of time for coffee.

I've been brewing some great coffees in my Chemex, which is the brewer I am sticking with. Peru, Panama, Ethiopia Lekempti, and others have made their way into my cup. I am sitting on a lot of different coffees right now so there is a lot to look forward to.

I am in Philadelphia right now visiting a friend. I've been here for a week and I am leaving tomorrow afternoon. While I was here I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Chestnut Hill Coffee Co., now home to the legendary John Hornall.

I did a writeup on coffeegeek. It's too lengthy to paste here, so CLICK HERE

John Hornall is the real deal and Sultan Malikyar really has his shop together. It was really an inspiration to hang out with John; on day one he told me I should open up my own shop someday. He's a straight shooter so it sounded like a good idea coming from him. Today he let me play behind the bar a little and get some use out of the Linea.

According to John, my production distribution (i.e. how I dose and distribute behind the counter) is Dismas Smith style. It's a two finger back and forth sweep I picked up from the folks at Barefoot. It worked alright except I needed to compact more on the sweeps because I was underdosing a little.

Between two days I spent about 4 hours at Chestnut Hill Coffee Co. I loved every minute of it; The staff was great, all the products are top notch, and the location is awesome. The most important thing to come out of this is a reappraisal of what I really want out of coffee. This really put things into perspective for me and now I really need to think about how I am going to get my own shop sometime down the line.

In other news, I have a new camera. It's a point and shoot digital, but it really gets the job done for me and I love to use it. I have a FLICKR ACCOUNT that I will be updating regularly.

I have plenty of photos of Chestnut Hill Coffee Co. on flickr.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Long time no post

It's been a while since I've posted. Between my impacted (but compact) work schedule and travels, I haven't had much time to post. There have been some great things to post about, but updates will come in the near future...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Supreme Beanery

Yesterday there was an open house at Supreme Bean in North Hollywood. To be honest, I didn't really know much of anything about Supreme Bean prior to the event, mainly because they are a commercial roaster without a storefront. They recently finished their main cupping/show room so they opened it up to local coffee enthusiasts.

It was quite an impressive event. The new La Marzocco GB5 was on display. Not only on display, but out... for us to use. That was a real kick in the pants. There was a Swift grinder and a handful of other grinders for our use, most of them filled with some of Supreme Bean's great blends, and a few of them open for our own blends. There was a "make your own blend" station open to us. If I can remember correctly, there was a Brazil, a dark roasted Sumatra, a Java, some Malabar, some Mokha Harrar, Sulawesi, India Pearl Mountain, Tanzanian Peaberry... there were a few more. There were some Chemex pourovers available for us so we could cup our blend before we made it as espresso. I liked the Chemex system to much I ordered one today.

Aside from the great coffee, facility, and equipment, there were some really great people in attendance. There were some really big names there that I didn't talk to: Tim Castle and Ken Nye. To my great shock and surprise, Jim Schulman showed up. He was in town for the SCAA open house that I missed the day before. I only talked to Jim Schulman briefly and told him that I've really learned so much from him. It's true... Jim Schulman has really contributed a great deal to the coffee community and it just shows you what a home coffee enthusiast can do. I had some great chitchat with Marshall Fuss, whom I was really hoping to meet. He was very pleased to hear that I decided not to mangle my Zaffiro.

I also met some very amiable people from the coffee forums. I was able to touch base with a few people from the Santa Cruz area and I look forward to coordinating with them when I'm back at school. Ian, the "nice gentleman" that bought the Synesso baskets... what a piece of work. There's someone to avoid... I'm entirely kidding and I only say that because he told me that he has read my blog, so... there you go, Ian. It was a real treat meeting some local coffee guys, and the Supreme Bean crew was exemplary.

I'm still glowing from the event, and the Synesso baskets are near perfect. I've been pulling some great shots of Brazil Daterra Santa Colomba... not much time for espresso before work and definitely no room for coffee after, but that's only 3 days a week. That reminds me... it's bedtime.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Gayo... and Synesso baskets on the way

Today I pulled some great shots of the Sumatra Gayo Mountain. I ended up pulling some slightly restricted 31 second shots at a temperature quite a bit lower than I usually go. The reults were syrupy with a sweet rustic chocolate flavor. Definitely rustic.

I posted on about Synesso baskets. LM's baskets are terrible, just terrible. They sizes are all over the map and most of the time the hole array is off center. Apparently, the Synesso baskets are the best thing on the market right now, according to Mark Prince.

Tonight a nice gentleman from the San Fernando Valley e-mailed me about ordering baskets from Synesso together since they charge a $15 handling fee for orders under $50. It turns out he's going to the Supreme Bean roastery open house on Sunday too, so I'll be able to get my baskets then. What a great stroke of luck

He also sent me photos of the Synesso baskets. They are just what I'm looking for. There is a 14g double ridgeless double, an 18g ridgeless triple, and a 21g straight walled ridged triple. The hole distribution is much tighter than a LM basket and the hole aperture is supposed to be smaller too. The bottom surface of the basket is also much thicker than the LM basket. I'm really looking forward to experimenting with these things. The ranges in sizes are extra promising.

Ay ay ay...

I didn't realize that I hadn't posted for a whole week. That's bad news for me - I need to get posting so I don't forget about this blog all together...

Not too much to say, I guess. I've been roasting and pulling single origin espresso: Brazil Daterra Santa Colomba, Sumatra Gayo Mountain, and Java Private Estate type Prince. The first two came from the wonderful folks at the Green Coffee Buying Club. The third comes from Sweet Maria's, but the GCBC recently distributed some Prince as well.

The good news about the BDSC: it has similar flavors to last year's Sweet Yellow: graham crackers and rhubarb. Great single origin shot. The flavor isn't as clear and distinct as the Sweet Yellow... the Santa Colomba is a natural process after all. I didn't really spend enough time with it to get the most out of it, but I have a very large batch resting for the coming week.

I only quickly dialed in the Gayo tonight. The process is like this: pull the first shot with the Mazzer set just to the finer side of the factory "start here" sticker. The dose and tamp is always the same for all coffees at this stage, unless it's something with a certain moisture content and density that necessitates updosing to get the right puck dimensions (squish factor). Pull the shot at group channel idle temp at 191 (not exactly sure what this translates to in the basket, but it's a consistent benchmark for me). Adjust the grind accordingly. Pull another shot, and adjust the grind again if necessary. At this point I adjust the temperature. Once the temp sweet spot
is found, then I can play with the dose, tamp, and extraction space. That's the fun part. This is a pretty standard procedure for dialing in a bean.

Today with the Gayo I only got as far as the pre-temperature adjustment point when the base volume is established. That means I get to play tomorrow with the rest of the Gayo, and then maybe move on to the Prince. So far, the Gayo is chocolatey and slightly tobaccoey. It's fairly sweet, but not as sweet as I think it should be so it's going to take some toying with to squeeze the chocolate and sweetness out of it.

So far, my blog has displayed a shameful lack of photos. I don't have a camera right now. After a remarkable beach walkabout, my camera decided to stop working. It just didn't want to function at all. I took it apart and put it back together. I have the touch (shake those hands, shake those hands), so taking things apart normally fixes things. I don't plan to get another camera until Autumn.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

More bad coffee in Santa Cruz

In my last time in downtown Santa Cruz before I left for the summer I noticed that a new coffee shop is coming to downtown. I had never heard of "Bad Ass Coffee" before, but they advertised an all Hawaiian coffee lineup. Just what that second-wave town needs, another gimmicky second-wave coffeeshop. I didn't really look into Bad Ass Coffee until today when I noticed a job posting from Badass on the Viva Barista website.

Apparently the only qualification you need to work at Bad Ass Santa Cruz is the ability to create latte art. Granted, that's not such an easy thing to do, but why focus on latte art as the prime qualifier above other vital barista skills? How many people do you expect to apply to your coffee place that can pour latte art? Why would a third-wave barista apply to your schticky, gimmicky coffee franchise?

I took a look at Bad Ass Coffee's company website. It's a franchise. Read: corporate supply chain as a barrier to freshness. Take a look at this:

"We serve American-grown, Hawaiian coffee from Moloka'i, Kauai, Maui and of course our 100% Kona. Our distinctive Hawaiian Signiture blend (10% Hawaiian coffee and beans from around the world), our unique signature espresso drinks, and other related food and beverage items. Along with our liquid coffee business, we also offer our fine line of branded gourmet beans in retail bags. Our stores also carry an extremely unique line of retail merchandise including custom branded mugs, hats, T-shirts, chocolates, macadamia nuts and much more. All are graciously offered in an extraordinary tropical atmosphere that whispers Hawaii. Our distinctive vivid look, combined with our absolute commitment by every franchise to maintain the highest degree of customer service, cleanliness and excellence in products and service, make our stores extremely desirable in any location."

Hawaiian atmosphere? Branded merchandise? Folks, this is the Islands Burgers of coffee.

In the "Our Brand" section of the webpage:

"Ever since the launch of our first Bad Ass Coffee Company™ store, we’ve dedicated ourselves to establishing our company as a strong and distinctive brand within the gourmet coffee marketplace. We continue our efforts to increase our brand and visibility in a number of unique ways. First and foremost is our company’s dedication and commitment to offering a high-quality product and unmatched customer service . This really makes us stand out from the rest. Second, it’s our specific “nitch” market in the coffee service industry and the fact that we specialize in American-grown, 100% Kona and other Hawaiian coffee products. Third, is our eye-catching name, which is unmistakable and unforgettable. Add to that our distinctive mascots, Jack & Slack. We are continually developing and incorporating a consistent style guide for all of our stores, individual branded products and merchandise. Fourth, is our impeccable marketing, which incorporates our branded image in a variety of new and unusual ways. This is embodied in all of our advertising and promotions at the local, regional and national levels. Fifth and finally, it’s our outstanding and consistently remarkable store interior designs that create a fun, stimulating and relaxing atmosphere in which to enjoy our delicious Kona coffee. All this combines to make our brand clearly identifiable and highly desirable."

Why am I so irritated by this? Schtick 'n' gimmick - not only in atmosphere, marketing, and merchandising, but in the coffee itself. It's a joke and Santa Cruz is still dying for a third-wave shop.

Oh man, ohhhhh maaaannn

I just wrapped up a stellar espresso session. Recently I have been pooh-poohing Brazil as an espresso base in favor of a Java and Sumatra base. The reason for shunning Brazil is the characteristic Brazilian nuttiness that doesn't mesh well with the fruit flavors I try to highlight in my blends. The particular Java and Sumatra combination I have been using is sweet, fudgy, and surprisingly clean, with a thick, velvety body.

Brazil: I'm sorry, baby - I did you wrong. Please take me back.

Last week I roasted up some old-crop Daterra Sweet Yellow that I have had vacuum packed since I got it sometime last year. It's a pulped natural yellow Icatu from the fine folks at Daterra. I had previously used the DSY in blends as a base component alongside a dry-process Brazil, but this was back in my lever-machine days as an espresso neophyte when I'd blend by the seat of my pants based on conjecture because the combination of my barista skills and lever machine inconsistencies yielded paltry results regardless of the blend. I used most of the DSY that I had left as a blend base for iced coffee, so I never really experienced the DSY on its own. I finally tried it as a single origin espresso, and now that it's gone, I regret how I've neglected it.

When I pulled shots with it the day before yesterday, it was still a little too fresh. However, I was amazed how fluffy yet viscous the pour was. It was like my espresso machine was dispensing soft-serve ice cream. The shots were great, but still too fresh. I got it reasonably dialed in then set it aside until today.

Oh man, ohhhh maaannn. The creamy, fluffy viscosity was still there. During the pour I could move the demitasse up and down in the stream and the crema would pillow onto itself and leave beautiful marbling because the tiger stripes were so well differentiated even in the cup. As a short (not sure of exact volume) 26 second pour it was like a buttered graham cracker. Juicy, creamy, certifiably dreamy. I eased up on the grind just a little and pulled a 27 second normale that was still like pudding. God shot. I can't believe the flavors from this. It's like the graham cracker crust of a rhubarb pie. Buttery, graham crackery, clean and sweet with wonderfully balanced acidity and an intriguing rhubarb finish... but now it's all gone. That was the last of the Daterra Sweet Yellow and the last of any pulped natural Brazil in my green stash.

Another great part of today's session is the performance of my machine. I have been contemplating adding a rope heater to the E61 group to level out the Zaffiro's temperature instability. Even with the boiler PIDed, the grouphead is instable because the E61 thermosyphon was meant to be fed with heat exchanger water at a significantly higher temperature than brew boiler temperature. Nevertheless, today's solid routine at this temperature was predictable and easily controlled. Not bad at all! I'll need a few more sessions like this to convince me to not ugly up the E61.