Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turkish Attempts

My attempts at Turkish coffee were partially successful, I suppose. It was more a test of my new burr grinder's abilities, but I still wanted some good coffee out of the labor. I set the grind as fine as it would go, then measured out my desired amount of freshly roasted (yesterday!) Guatemalan beans, about 2 Tbs. After grinding, I was left with a fine, almost powdered sugar textured
coffee grind. I was pleased thus far. I had my Turkish coffee pot, or ibrik, on the stove boiling the purified water this whole time, that way the coffee wouldn't be ground for more than a minute or so before it was poured into the pot. For every thirty seconds coffee is left standing ground, it loses an exponentially increasing amount of aromatic qualities; again, it was imperative that this coffee be ground just before the pot began to boil.

After dumping the grounds into the small, nearly boiling, pot or water, I stirred the grounds fairly vigorously to mix them in the water. After stirring (done with my 16 month old daughter's apple sauce spoon) I placed the pot back on the stove to continue the brewing and blending process. As the temperature of the brew increased, the foam on top of the brew began to rise toward spilling over the edge. To prevent this, I had to continually lift the pot off the stove (with oven mitts because that metal handle was burning!). As soon as the brew began to consistently bubble, I knew it was done- the body went from sludge, to a more milky texture.

Overall, the Turkish was pretty good. The grind could have been a little finer, but it will do for me at home. I would recommend Turkish coffee to any coffee drinker who likes theirs black- it may not supplant your usual routine, but it's an interesting new possibility. For espresso lovers, Turkish coffee will be familiar, except in that the texture is much more coarse than espresso. A friendly reminder- STIR YOUR TURKISH COFFEE REGULARLY or you'll end up with a punishing last cup!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cubano: The Shot

Last night, I was studying and in need of some serious pick-me-up. My usual lately has been the Traditional 6oz Americano which is comprised of espresso and a small amount of hot water (the recommended drink this past week), but I wanted to shake it up a bit. Now, it's not going to be what you want to hear- I didn't finally cave in and buy one of those sugar filled, dairy based, coffee blasphemies. I did use sugar though.

No, I didn't simply dump in some refined sugar and stir it up a bit. I asked for the Cubano shot. What in the world is that? This is a shot of espresso that is pulled through natural raw sugar granules. There are many ways of going about this process, but I have developed a method that I think works the best, so that is what I will describe to you now.

First off, you'll need to take your portafilter, like one of mine pictured here, and fill it with espresso grounds. Your grounds will not need to be ground any finer for this shot- this is contrary to what many would say, but my reasoning will be apparent soon. After using your tamper to pack in the espresso contents into the portafilter, you are ready to add the natural or "raw" sugar granules.

After spreading these (not more than a tablespoon for a double shot) raw sugar granules fairly evenly over the surface of your packed coffee, insert the portafilter into the espresso machine and pull your shots (about 20-30 seconds). Because I added the sugar granules after I packed my ground espresso, the shot extraction will not change at all. If I were to add the sugar first, this would disrupt the usual flow of water through the packed grounds; I would need to compensate with a finer grind. Adding the sugar last allows the barista to avoid the process of refining the grind back and forth for this single shot, making the process much more efficient. From a shop manager's standpoint, this increase in efficiency is gold. Plus, this method does not decrease the overall quality outcome of the Cubano shot.

The finished product of the Cubano shot is an extra sweet espresso shot. You may say, "EXTRA sweet? Espresso is not sweet at all in the first place!" If you are one of the unfortunates saying this very thing, you have not had good espresso yet. A good espresso is barely bitter in the first place. A good espresso tastes just like fresh coffee smells, but this is a discussion for another day.

For me, the Cubano shot was a good way to shake things up a bit. Personally, I prefer the regular shots, but the occasional sweet tooth soother isn't too bad of a thing. The Traditional Americano Cubano is satisfying because it encapsulates all the essential natures of espresso, while softening the blow of espresso shock. The Cubano aspect livens the taste buds to the already existing sweeter side of the shot. I recommend this type of shot to the coffee enthusiast who could notice and appreciate the sweet emphasis- albeit once in a while.

Lord, thank you for the gift of great coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fair Trade Certified?

On this fine Monday morning I read an article about today's Fair Trade Certified coffee program and its effectiveness. For those of you who do not know what Fair Trade coffee is, well, it's basically what the name entails. Coffee brokers, large companies, and even some small roasters pay the coffee farmers a higher-than-market-value price for their crop. This higher price supposedly ensures that the farmers and their families will be able to farm profitably; farm profitably enough to provide for themselves and stay out of debt. So, is this the case? Ever increasingly, no.

Let me explain. It is not as if the Fair Trade certification organization, led by TransFair USA, is deliberately under-serving its member farmers, it is not as if the idea of paying farmers more than market value is somehow evil, it is simply supply and demand. There are so many coffee growers out there, somewhere around 25 million small individual coffee growers, not to mention the huge Latifundia (to coin a Roman word) company plantations that the demand cannot boost the supply's price high enough for growers' sustenance. Fair Trade artificially boosts their incomes- for small benefits. These small benefits in income have been shown to fail to accomplish their goals: keeping farmers out of perpetually increasing debt. So what to do now?

Disclaimer: This is going to sound harsh. If our artificial attempts at boosting the existing farmers' income, with what is essentially Tariffs on the coffee roasters, are failing, we need to look at our economic model. The supply of coffee is too high. We need FEWER coffee growers producing less coffee. It is accepted that $2.00 per pound of coffee harvested is what it takes to minimally scrape by as an average coffee grower. Fair Trade pays $1.55 per pound, about $.15 better than market value. After Fair Trade coop fees and other expenses, the farmer takes home about $.50. What needs to happen is deregulation of the coffee growing industry, no more artificial crutches. Those who cannot support themselves in growing coffee should stop doing it. Less coffee = higher demand = higher prices, legitimately. If we are going to live in a world with supposed market economy processes, we need to let these processes go to work. It sounds harsh up front, but the farmers, all of them, will be better off for it.

With farmers getting paid better prices for their coffees, they will be able to afford better growing and harvesting techniques, with will increase the level of gourmet coffees taste. Better taste for gourmet coffees will result in higher sales for retailers. It is a winning situation for everyone. The only way the growers and retailers lose is if more of the same happens. Disagree? Let's hear your plan; comment below.

Today's brew was the last of the Papua New Guinea in the Bodum 8 cup French press. I used a bit too many beans for my usual 6 cup production, so it is feeling significantly more robust today. As usual though, the French press produced a pleasantly heavy brewed coffee with all the fine natural fats and oils in my cup. Long swallows warm me up inside. I love this bold beverage; a great way to start the week at work.

Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Rush

I really thought we had gotten up with plenty of time for getting ready, you know what I'm talking about. Woke up about 7:30am and took my time showering, shaving, and the like. My wife, Micalah made the family a nice breakfast, too. BUT, there was a lurking problem hiding in my morning routine. I forgot the coffee. I know, blasphemer, right? Yeah, well, I did forget it and I admit my mistake.

I realized we only had 20 minutes left before church and still no coffee! Rushing into action, I ground my whole bean coffee in my new burr grinder (discussed yesterday) and boiled water for the Chemex 8 cup coffee brewer. When the Chemex and the coffee met, it was magical. The hot water, the fresh grounds, and the chemex unified to make a beautiful sight, a sight that slowed down time in my Sunday morning, a sight which I will now describe.

The Chemex I used was an 8 cup size, the exact same as any other chemex, just larger. The most common size offered is the 6 cup, but I was needing mine for entertaining purposes just as much as personal use, so the larger size fit my need. It is easily adjustable for your need for the situation though- an 8 cup can brew as little as 4 cups given less ground and less water. The Chemex coffee maker operates using gravity to draw the hot water through the steeping coffee grounds in a cone-shaped filter funnel; this effectively produces a solution of well brewed coffee, each all grounds being extracted evenly. Other flat-bottomed filters cannot guarantee even extraction due to their shape. They also often produce uneven distribution of hot water from inside the brewers.

The process: grind desired amount of coffee, fold circle shaped filter in half twice and open into cone shape, put side of cone filter with double side toward the pour spout to maintain air vent, pour coffee grounds into cone, pour small amount of not quite boiling water over grounds getting them all wet, allow all water to drain through (now your grounds have "flowered"), finish pouring hot water over grounds around the sides of the funnel, pour desired amount of water over grounds for optimum level of coffee concentration. FYI- from my experience, the "full" amount in a Chemex is about an inch above the glass knob on the front of the item.

The end result was a fantastic coffee, nearly semi-sweet when brewed properly. I chatted with my mom about this a bit this morning, describing this in terms of foods: people who have only eaten bad peaches their entire lives cannot possibly be as excited about eating peaches as those who have tasted a truly delicious fruit. Once you've tasted a delicious fruit, you know it because it is nothing like anything you have ever had before. Good coffees are like that- nothing like anything you've had previously. My coffee was so good I even took some to church with me and it was still good cold! This reminds me of another coffee phrase that rings true, "good hot coffee will make good iced coffee". Simple, but true.

A quick note for cleaning: rinsing with hot soapy water only does part of the job of cleaning. Oil and other residues often stay behind. To eliminate these residues, drop in a effervescent tablet into standing water for an hour or so. This will micro-scrub any left over unwanted oils. The tablet may leave behind a white powder on the sides of the Chemex; simply rinse them out- no problem.

Lord, Your Word is as true today as it was before time. I thank you for giving the Minister the words to speak, convicting me of sin, and helping me continue to repent. Thank you for the great coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Amen.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ode to Conical Burr Grinders

I made it to the weekend. My usual routine involves a gourmet coffee freshly ground and steeped in a french press at work, but what to do on weekends? I used to do much of the same, but as of yesterday this changed.

I received my brand new conical burr grinder in the mail yesterday and was so psyched to use it this morning! When my daughter woke me up with her babbling in the next room at 7am, I didn't even mind it; changing her first diaper of the day seemed to be a joy because of what I knew was to come: my love, my new conical burr grinder.

The JuraCapresso infinity was the model of choice for me after much deliberation. I swung back and forth between Baratza, Bodum, Bunn, and the Capresso, but finally decided that an over 96% approval rating on was too good to ignore. Every model looked at had negative comments: things like "it can't grind fine enough espresso" or "the grind collection chamber falls out" or even "it is god-awful" (whatever that means) were fairly common, though a vast minority. So, I chose the cheapest grinder that offered conical burrs (I will discuss in more detail later) of commercial grade steel with easily removable burrs for cleaning, multiple grind settings, and a removable bean hopper. The Capresso Infinity was the clear front runner at $89.00 new on I bought mine on ebay for $79.00.

My coffee of choice this rainy Saturday morning was the Papua New Guinea full-city roast from Northwest Coffee Roasters. The New Guinea is probably the best representation of a medium roasted Indonesian region coffee. Indonesian coffees are almost universally better as darker roasts, but Rick from Northwest really handles these roasts well. This lighter roast in comparison with most Indonesians adds a bit of a flowery tone to the New Guinea; added to the naturally volcanic earthy taste makes for a very interesting coffee.

Anyway, back to the focus of my adoration at the moment, my grinder. The burrs are unique in conical grinders in comparison to other grinders; here's a quick overview: First there are Hand-Cranked: these grinders are like the one in my post from yesterday; they usually offer grinds appropriate for French presses or the most basic percolators.

Next, there is the Blade: These are self contained grinders with spinning blades that slice whole beans into smaller pieces as more time is allowed. These grinders are sufficient for most people, but for the true coffee enthusiasts, there are some reasons to upgrade. Blade grinders cannot grind the coffee evenly. They can have some uniformity, but there will always be unusually large chunks (getting over-extracted) and extremely small particles (passing through filters) causing obvious problems in brewing. Also, due to the high-speed spinning of the blade, the coffee is heated and therefore roasted even more- changing the optimum taste of the coffee itself.

Finally, there is the Burr. Burr: These are the creme of the crop. There are two types of burr grinders, plate and conical. Plate burrs are flat and must spin at higher speeds to achieve the same grinding precision of conical, thus forcing them to add extra heat to the beans, though much less than blade grinders. The second is the conical burr, as seen in my hands in the picture. These are by far the most desirable coffee grinders available to date. Their burrs fit together like puzzle pieces, grinding the coffee very precisely and uniformly, at very low rates of speed- adding little to no extra heat to the beans effectively preserving the intended taste. If you're willing to put up the initial higher cost, these grinders can perform for you like no other on the market. Conical burr is where it's at!

So, today's brew was as mentioned before, the Papua New Guinea. I ground 6 cups worth in my Capresso Infinity and brewed it in my 8 cup Chemex Coffee brewer. The Chemex does a great job with drip coffee, so look for an article on it tomorrow! The coffee was pleasantly light this time. The burr grinder's slower rotation and lower heat levels allowed the New Guinea to taste better than it ever has before. The aroma was spicy, but threw me once I tasted it. Its acidity was mild, and body was heavy. Overall, a very rich coffee and satisfying coffee- even at the end of its life. I receive my coffees at the beginning of every month, so the best brewing methods are even more important at the end of the month!

Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Please help me keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Our Taste Buds Have Memories

I have recently read an article addressing the state of the coffee industry with some surprising, yet logical conclusions. After the steep economic downturn of 2008, and now the marginal at best recovery of 2009, it seemed the gourmet coffee industry would be one of the first to collapse. Wrong. Yes, there were some considerable losses, just like every other business arena (excluding social services), but the mass collapse of coffee is fiction.

In fact, there is quite a bit of evidence that the downturn has strengthened the gourmet coffee industry. In 2009, Starbucks has only seen a 5% total drop in same-store sales, while their overall profits have risen 87%! This is incredible until you see Caribou Coffee's improvements: 311% increase in share values! It seems there is a bit more to this gourmet coffee fling after all?
Many assumed gourmet coffee was in fact a fling, a fad, a short-term anomaly. I can see those points, though I wholeheartedly disagree; coffee is not essential to life (debatable), it is very expensive (opinion), and cheap coffee really is not that much different (lie).

Seeing the populace's reaction to the economic downturn is marvelous. What have people kept valuing with less money to spend? Gourmet coffee; it is a luxury people can still afford! This shows me that the gourmet coffee industry is truly onto something: People's taste buds have memories. Bruce Milletto, the president of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, says, "'Our taste buds have memories,' 'Once you drink a really excellent cappuccino, it's very hard to go back even to a chain store that may be using automatic machines.'" I totally agree with you Bruce, it is impossible to go back. Here's the statement from the new American coffee drinkers: "Good coffee is just too good to let go of, period".

Today's Brew was a medium-dark (full city) roasted Peruvian coffee. I ground it in my hand cranked, West German (yes, I said West German) grinder. I let it steep in the Bodum 8 cup french press for 5 1/2 minutes, broke the crust and inhaled the beautiful aroma of the flowery, yet surprisingly nutty, Peruvian brew. This coffee was a little soft for a Peruvian, unsettling, but not unpleasant. This was probably due to the coffee being close to the end of its life. The body was very heavy, but I did use a french press- which usually increases the heaviness due to higher muddiness levels and natural oil content- not to mention increased time steeping. Overall, a great way to settle my mind before a busy day.

Lord, thank you for the great coffee. Please help me keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Post

I suppose I'll start off with thank you's, since that's what all the famous people do when in the spotlight. Since I'm famous, I'll start off by thanking God. Now then, I'll thank coffee.

Okay, I feel like s
uch a burden has been lifted off my shoulders now that my time in the spotlight saying thank you's is over. Relief. Today's love was a Traditional Americano from Kaldi's Coffee in Columbia MO. Perfect sweetness in the front peripherals of the tongue, pushed through with a spunky and ravishing strength of acidity in the finish. Beautiful.

I'll think of more to say for tomorrow I'm sure, but a decent start nonetheless.

Here's my Monte Cristo