Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roasting @ The Roaster

Where I left off on my trip to Kaldi's Coffee Roasting facility was after the different varietals arrived. Picking up from here, we moved directly into the good part, the roasting. Joe Marrocco, partially pictured to my left, gave me great treatment and shared answers to just about everything I could think to ask, and many things I didn't think of. I'll walk you through some of the more memorable insights.

When I arrived I immediately saw the mammoth Probat roaster- much larger than other operations I have seen- which gives Kaldi's the ability to roast greater volume and sell to a larger market. This is minuscule compared to the volumes of larger companies like Ronnoco or Starbucks, but these companies drop SUBSTANTIALLY in the quality department. The Probat was manufactured in the early 1920s and made out of cast iron at least 1/2" thick, probably much thicker. This substantial construction allows the machine to use less fuel in heating because of shear residual heat buildup. On the opposite side of the Probat, the cycling of the barrel is driven by old-style belts (the belts need no restrictions or guides to keep them aligned simply due to superior construction). The beans are cycled around in the barrel-style bin for very precise amounts of time and in varying levels of heat. As pictured first, I had the opportunity to help track the heat variance on a very small batch of Ethiopia Yigacheffe. This experience really illuminated the process of addition of heat and the process of watching the batch roast develop.

Heat is applied heavily at the beginning to around 410 degrees, the coffee is then dropped into the barrel, and the temperature drops to its lowest point of 200 degrees because at this point the beans have absorbed initial heat. After this absorption period, the temperature begins to rise rapidly back toward the 350s. The "flame" is dropped in proportion to the heat increase within the roaster itself. This may sound paradoxical, but it really does make sense: the coffee begins to roast itself from within- like a miniature candy factory in every bean. The beans increase in temperature on their own during the caramelization process, from the "first crack" (the beans expand and a cracking sound is produced) to the "second crack" where caramelization ceases and carbonization begins (where the sugars produced through roasting begin to burn). After the beans have reached their optimum roast level, they are dropped into a cooling tray. This cooling tray has a reverse fan sucking air from above the beans in the tray, through the beans. At the same time, there are swirling arms that stir the beans, further cooling them and stopping the roasting process within the beans. During this time, the roaster will observe the beans and try to pick out any outstandingly over-roasted beans that may have gotten stuck against one of the iron sides within the barrel.

Kaldi's has another roaster, a smaller San Franciscan, used for small batches like the one I got to work on. It is around 30-50 thousand dollars to buy. This sounds like a lot until I asked what the Probat costs. If you can even find one for sale, the Probat is around 250 grand to start. Wow. Here's a picture of the smaller (more realistically priced) roaster:

Lord, thank you for the great experience and new knowledge. I pray I can do something like this myself. Even if I don't get to have my own roaster some day, I still want to serve You. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Review of Burundi Kinyovu

Originally submitted at Coffee Review

Co-cupper Jim Reynolds (95): "This coffee scored well in every category. I especially liked the floral acidity - a nice vanilla and chocolate aspect to the flavor complemented the smooth - very smooth - mouthfeel." Ken's praise (94) was nearly identical, though he added "spicy fr...

Burundi Loving

By Espresso Vein from Columbia, MO on 12/12/2009


5out of 5

Pros: Balanced Acidity, Attractive Mouthfeel/Body, Smooth Taste, Exceptional/Interesting Flavor, Not Bitter, Pleasing Aroma

Cons: Roast didn't add anything

Best Uses: Manual Pour-Over/Drip, Gifts

Describe Yourself: Coffee Professional, Coffee Connoisseur

I used this in a Chemex (pour-over) and it was fantastic. I used to work for Kaldi's, but am now running a competitor shop. I still must admit, this coffee was fantastic.


Roasting Expedition

I was invited to spend the day at Kaldi's Roastery in St.Louis, so I took advantage of the opportunity. On the trip, I was shown the inner-workings of the roasting facility, trained in Kaldi's roasting practices by the award winning roaster and barista Joe Marrocco, and experienced a quality-control cupping- the likes of which are held there almost daily. Experiencing so much in one day will require more than one post to share adequately.

Where to start? There was just so much information imparted to me! Until yesterday, my experience was largely limited to barista experience, managing and marketing, brewing techniques, and training. Yesterday, I was shown so much more of the coffee world! The roasting process was amazing and describing it seems empty, but here I go anyway. I think simply starting with the beans' arrival at the roaster and following their progress through the roasting process will be the easiest way for explanation.

Kaldi's receives hundreds, even thousands of pounds of green coffee beans weekly. The day that I was there, it was a "light" roasting day- not roasting much for their standards, only staying busy roasting for 5-6 hours of the day (that's still amazingly large quantities). These beans arrive in huge 60 pound burlap sacks transported directly from their processing facilities in the origins grown. Only very select coffees are chosen by specialty roasters like Kaldi's for production. Something like 1-3% of coffee grown meets the very strict standards of specialty coffee. In fact, Kaldi's was roasting a Costa Rican coffee that was the best lot of its class- a Cup of Excellence coffee, which are very pricey. Kaldi's is fairly unique in that they rarely pass on the extra expense to their customers, even when buying the most premium of the specialty coffees. One example I'm familiar with is the Burundi Kayanza single origin coffee that scored a 95 on the Coffee Review- instead of selling this very high scoring coffee for high prices (some as high as $60/10oz), which would be expected, they sold it for the standard $11-13/lb that their other coffees go for; this is an effort to make even the best of the best available to everyone.

Moving the coffees to the scale comes next, weighing them raw to then be transported in correct quantities to the roasters in batches. These two roasters in use were very different- one was a San Franciscan, the other a Probat. The San Franciscan was around the 25lb barrel size, the Probat a 75-100lb mammoth. This is where I will pick up next. Pictures and more detailed descriptions to follow!

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to obtain more knowledge about this fine product and thank you for those at Kaldi's willing to take the time to share their insight. Also, thank you so much for a wife interested enough to spend the whole day along with me, experiencing the roasting. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Flat Out Doubtful

There is no way the Flat White is produced properly by Starbucks. No Way. I'm rarely so confident in my judgments that I make wide over-arching blanket statements without even stopping to see for certain that I'm right, but this is one exception. Starbucks, as you probably have heard already, is officially introducing the Flat White to their menu. This extra-specialty drink originated down-under in New Zealand and popularized in Australia, then quickly spread to Great Britain and now to the Pacific Northwest empire of Starbucks.

Why am I so certain that Starbucks has bitten off more than they can chew? Because they have already proven that high quality drinks such as the latte, cappuccino, and even as basic as the traditional espresso shot are out of their reach. The machines used at Starbucks retail outlets are those that are very similar to McDonald's and even some gas stations. The "Barista" pushes a button, then a watery slurry of coffee flavored nastiness jettisons out into the cup (their so-called espresso). Then the "Barista" supposedly steams the milk for the drink, but most often scalds, burns, or outright ruins it. Then the two mutilated ingredients are mixed and served to you in exchange for your $4.00. Pathetic.

So, with the addition of the Flat White to their menu, their lack of skill will be exasperated further. The Flat White requires even more attention to the milk steaming process. This drink requires little to no air injection during the steaming process, a lot of milk circulation in the pitcher, and steaming for the proper time duration. If Starbucks cannot meet minimum quality standards with their regularly produced menu items (and they most certainly cannot), what makes anyone think their Flat White will even resemble what it is supposed to? My prediction is that the drink will be very difficult to distinguish between the regular latte or even cappuccino. If anything, Starbucks will mandate an "extra" shot into their drink sizes to bolster the Flat White's coffee flavor strength. Ridiculous. Most small independent coffee shops already offer more espresso per drink anyway- this would simply put the giant chain store a bit closer to par.

Obviously, I'm against Starbucks introduction of the Flat White into their menu. I hold to this view not out of some kind of necessary hatred for the coffee chain, but out of respect for the specialty drink and industry itself. The Flat White is not that special, but specialty coffee is. Starbucks, in my opinion, slanders specialty coffee by continuing to claim that it is what it once was- special. Here's a Link to the blog post that started this rave of mine. Do you agree with me, disagree, and why?

Here's another great Article on the Flat White's new found popularity.

Lord, thank you for a little bit of snow today. It was enough to make me enjoy winter, and not enough to make me late for work. Perfect. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tanzanian Trial

I tried Lakota again today. Every once in a while I work up the courage to cross the street and order a cup of coffee from Lakota Coffee. The courage is necessary because I have never had a good beverage experience there before. Environment, service, and price are not the issues to overcome here, those aspects are just fine- in fact, they are outstanding (not the decor, that is a bit weird). The actual product is what is holding me back.

So, like I said, I tried it again. I was actually just there to meet Vida's roaster, another Brian, of Northwest Coffee from St. Louis. He was bringing me the pound of Guatemalan I had ordered for dispersion into gift baskets for family Christmas gifts. Again, I digress.

While waiting for Brian, I ordered a cup of black coffee. Their setup is a self-serve bar of air pots, all of which are pump style and kind of cheap. The coffee can stand brewed in those pots for well into three hours (grossly over-kept). So, the coffee is already fighting an uphill battle by the time it reaches my palate. I tried a Tanzanian varietal since it is a rare find in Columbia- also I hoped that since I had limited experience with this varietal I would be less disappointed by Lakota's product. Good logic, but still an unfortunate result: badly over-roasted coffee.

This is the same trend I have noticed and heard repeated by other coffee drinkers, "Lakota burns their beans." I know some coffees need longer roasting times, I'm not ignorant to this; I am more the opposite in fact. For Lakota though, they at best critically injure all their coffees before they are even brewed with their over-roasting policy. They roast in-house, a plus. They also roast in-house badly, a HUGE negative. In essence, every coffee offered is a different form of French Roast, Italian Roast, and Viennese Roast, with little effort for differentiation. The Tanzanian had a small spark of life left in it when I tasted it, but the true intensity of the brew was sapped by the charring effects of its roast. Poor beans.

I'm not trying to go on an all-out rant against Lakota, really and truly. What I am trying to do is shock them into realization that they suck at roasting toward the heightening of the individual varietals' best features. Instead of putting the roaster on French Roast cruise control, pay attention to the best roast methods for each individual bean type. Pay attention to the roasting practices of the best roasters in the world like Intelligentsia, Square Mile, Kaldi's, or Vida Coffee Co's provider, Northwest Coffee Roasters. And for goodness sake, pay attention to your customers.

Lord, thank you for great coffee and the ability to change. You are unchanging perfection, please help us change; help us change to be more like You- perfection. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Traditional Cappuccino

I went to Kaldi's again. I couldn't help it! On my second, second anniversary date with my wife we stopped by and picked up two lattes. They were offering a single origin Costa Rican espresso, so I asked for it- it's kind of my new obsession. Anyway, after tasting this Costa Rican espresso, I was hooked! It was too beautiful. So soft and caressing, yet aggressive in the finish. Obviously it is a different process of evaluation due to the addition of milk, but still- delicious!

So, as I was saying, last night I went back for more. This time I lowered the milk content to a traditional 6oz cappuccino, but kept the single origin espresso. Again, I was blown away with its sweet gentleness. As i was drinking this divine creation, I took note of a few elements of the drink I appreciated. This rating system is not official in any way other than for my own purposes of organizing espresso experiences: I give 10 points to four areas of the drink, then take the average of them all and calculate the final score:

1. Milk Foam Preparation
2. Steamed Milk Preparation
3. Espresso Preparation and Taste
4. Presentation

The first category of milk foam is important because milk based drinks really have two separate sections, the steamed and foamed sections. The cappuccino shows these two categories off most explicitly. So, for milk foam, the barista received a score of 7 because the foam "cap" was about 1/3" thick- a bit much, but still decent.

The category of steamed milk was much better. The steamed milk section was near perfection, deliciously warm, not scalded- not easily done on a 6oz drink! Therefore, a score of 9.5.

Section 3 received a score of 10 for reasons previously discussed. The espresso was amazing. So soft and balanced for a single origin!

The last section of presentation earned a score of 7.5 for decent latte art, but not great and for the demitasse cup, spoon, and chocolate covered coffee beans. Latte art is not an easy feat ever, let alone on such a small drink like the cappuccino.

The total rating ended up as a 8.625- not bad at all. Any score lower than a 5.0 overall is something not even deserving of the title specialty coffee, so nicely done Kaldi's! Thanks for the great experience. I'll be back again I'm sure. Keep that Don Mayo going!

Lord, thank you for the ability to go and pick up such great products. My health, the freedom to do so, and the shops that provide it. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.