Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New York City Coffee

Here's a quick rundown of my trip to NYC, limited to my coffee shop experiences. I hope the pictures are helpful. A quick Google search of these shops should give you the specific locations. All of the places visited came t me highly recommended, and I can forward the opinion. Some places were definitely superior to others. I'll note these performance differences in the captions of the pictures.
Our third shop visited: Cafe Regular, Park Slope, Brooklyn. This shop came after we visited Gorilla Coffee further down on 5th Avenue, on Park Place, and Postmark Cafe which is on 5th Ave and 6th St.

The inside of Cafe Regular. Their espresso came from Pennsylvania, exactly where escapes me. Their staff was trained in the mechanics of pulling shots  fairly well, but even the owner was a bit lacking in thorough knowledge of his product. He was either uninterested in talking about his espresso's taste profile or he was ignorant of it. Either issue is a huge problem when you make your living selling the stuff.
A really bad shot of the shot. It tasted better than it looks here. Light and vibrant. I suspect it had a higher-than-normal African coffee content. There were clear woody tones that make me think it had some central American coffee included, but I'm not for sure (again, the owner had little ability to explain his product).
Cafe Martin is a relative of Cafe Regular. Regular had two owners originally, but now Martin has moved further down 5th Avenue to a new location. I thought Martin was good, worth the money, but had a lot of technical flaws that detracted from the coffee. My double shot Americano (seen below) was pulled in reverse, water after espresso. The biggest problem was that what should normally take 25-30 seconds to fully pull took closer to 45. By the end of the time, the shot was so blonde it was screaming in agony. The Americano tasted overly bitter and abnormally intense (since 3/4 of the drink was "espresso").  
Americano, Cafe Martin. Please note the bullet hole near the center of the crema where the hot water was added last. Ouch.
Very large by NYC standards. Ozzie's is a local favorite, but not really specialty coffee. Yes, they roast their own, but that does not necessarily mean it is good. It's not. This place reminds me of Columbia, Missouri's own Lakota Coffee.
Roots Cafe is relatively new to the scene, but more of a veteran than Cafe Martin. It's been around for over a year now. The owner, Jamey, is a great guy and knows his stuff when it comes to coffee. I met him at Church! a few years ago. I think he got a bit of inspiration from Church! for his shop- Postmark Cafe is a church-run coffee shop to reach out the the community in Brooklyn. I'd say Church! now has two brranches. Roots has definitely eclipsed Postmark in quality and menu variety. Roots uses Stumptown Coffee, which dramatically improves the coffee quality there over its competitors. He uses a two group La Marzocco Linea, which easily covers the demand. This hole-in-the-wall place will be expanding soon due to demand.
A picture of my stylish self ordering two (small is the only size available besides traditional drinks "for here") iced lattes with twin triple ristrettos. Very nice. My first Stumptown experience. Jamey threw out the first three attempts of the morning because the shots did not meet his expectations- the first shots of the day often do not make requirements. This is called "seasoning" the machine.
No outside photo of Gimmie! Coffee, but this is me purchasing a single shot and two triple ristretto iced lattes for the subway ride to Manhattan. Gimmie! is located in Williamsburg a couple blocks from the G train stop at Metropolitan Ave. Very stylish and tasty. Recommended, but it's a bit out of the way unless you're traveling on the G crosstown Brooklyn to Queens or visa versa.
More a restaurant than a coffee shop, Aroma surprised me with a great experience. There are three locations in NYC. We visited, quite by accident, the Midtown location while searching for fabric shops in Manhattan.
A picture of my lovely lady taking a small bite of the Affogato- one shot espresso with one scoop vanilla ice cream on top. Delicious. I'm pretty sure this is a large international chain, but after eating that ice cream on top, neither my wife or I cared much.
Surprisingly affordable merchandise: $4.95 for the macchiato cup.
We had a great trip filled with much more than just coffee, but for the purposes of this blog, that's all she wrote. I'll end with one more picture that has almost no significance:
The wife and I on the public pier. You cannot see them in the picture, but there are about 30 drink vendors shouting at us from all sides. It's illegal to sell anything on the pier without a permit. Nobody had a permit, trust me.
Lord, thank You for the great time. I appreciate the ability to travel and experience new things. Thank You for that freedom. Bless the Church! of Park Slope that was so welcoming to us. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

More relevant websites:


Friday, July 23, 2010

Let's go to Gorilla

I'm in the city for a few days. My wife asked me what I wanted to do. My answer: get coffee. I know, very surprising... not. She wants to go down to Canal Street and fabric shop, I'll be down at Gorilla, Stumptown, Roots, and Postmark. So far, I've made it to Gorilla and Postmark once, but don't think I'm underachieving; I've only been in NYC for a day. I'd like to shoot over to Gorilla again this evening to run into the owners. Perhaps if I'm flattering enough I'll get to tour the roaster? Anyway, here's a pic of me schmoozing with a barista (her name escapes me). The iced 8oz double latte I drank was fantastic.

Lord, thank You for the opportunity to visit such an interesting place. You must truly be an amazing Creator to engineer men and women with such potential and diversity. And also, Father, coffee was a particularly great idea.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home Roasting: Part 2, Brazil

Home roasting is cheap and can be very rewarding, both in quality and experience gained. I roasted a pound of Brazilian coffee this morning for a family friend.  She was the owner of the first coffee shop I ever worked for- where the specialty coffee bug bit me: The Coffee Ground. Anyway, I took a few pictures of the roasting process with my wife's camera, so my explanation of the process could be better understood. I have explained the ins and outs of the roasting process in depth before, so I won't go into it in excessive depth here. Enjoy the pictures!

The supplies I used: obviously the green coffee beans, a couple of colanders, 1/2 cup scoop, scales, a container for completed beans, and my cell phone as a timer.

Here's a close-up of the beans I used, with all the information on the label. I highly recommend Sweet Maria's for your home-roasting needs.

The typical amount used at a time reflects the prescribed amount of  popcorn kernels for the particular popper: 1/2 cup at a time. For Latin coffees and some Africans as well, I add a bit extra to help slow down the roasting process, allowing for the very dense beans to be roasted thoroughly (not an issue with the less dense Indonesian beans).

And dumping the beans in all at once, to the pre-heated popper:

I am roasting in my garage with the door up due to the excessive amounts of chaff that is expelled when roasting more than 1 cup of beans at a time. It's much easier to simply sweep out the garage when finished than it is to clean out the entire kitchen, plus reinstall the over-sensitive smoke detector that would inevitably be set off.

Here's a shot of the beans as they are from 0 to about 45 seconds of roast time. This period of "yellowing" runs fairly quickly for some bean varietals, but this is much slower than normal:

After about 1"30sec., the beans begin to tan. After about double this time, the beans will be roasted enough to be drinkable, but that roast is not always desirable (if ever).

Here are the beans at 3". This is very close to the "first crack" period, the beginning of carmelization of the sugars in the beans. They are drinkable here, but definitely not optimum for this varietal. You can see some chaff still attached to the bean, this is the "silverskin" that encases the seed of the coffee plant. As roasting goes on, most of the chaff is blown out of the roaster leaving the exposed bean. A little chaff always remains inside the bean itself.

At 4" almost all beans have reached at even browning. This is where most of my African varietals will be stopped, about halfway between first and second crack. This Brazilian, however, needs a bit more time to fully develop its natural sugars in carmelization.

It's important to note that  the way these pictures look is not how it is seen by the naked eye. This picture shows what the beans, whirling around in the popper actually look like. This more blurred look makes the roasting process much more difficult to judge. Professional roasters have "dip sticks" that they insert into their larger drum roasters that extract a sample of the coffee- this allows them to get a great view of the beans' development, unlike me.

At 6"45sec., the beans have been thoroughly roasted and many people would enjoy this coffee at this stage of development. Second crack is about 10-15 seconds away, so almost all the carmelization has occurred. Any more time added to these beans will begin carbonization, the burning of the sugars within the bean. At that point parts of the bean would begin to burst off, creating "pock marks" on the outsides of the beans. If you like Starbucks (God forbid), their beans- ALL of them- have substantial pock marks or are completely roasted to pieces, literally. Their coffee is so burnt that it is merely coffee shrapnel.

Since I knew whom  I was roasting for in this case, I knew the exact level of roast I wanted. My old boss likes darker roasts with a lot of roast quality taste to them. Low acidity (citric acid taste), heavy mouth-feel, and richer chocolate notes are all perfect for her. therefore, I let the coffee roast about a minute longer to 8" total before I began cooling with the colanders.

What was obtained was a nice dark-roasted Latin coffee. After all costs were tabulated, the coffee used cost me about $5 and 45 minutes worth of roasting time. Overall, not too shabby. A larger popper or even a roaster designed for larger batches could do this much faster, and with bulk, even cheaper.

Again from Sweet Maria's, a video discussing the different roast levels may be of further benefit to those of you looking to get into the home-roasting scene:

Lord, thank You for a great hobby. I pray it can turn into more. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

related posts:
Basic Training Part 1
Basic Training Part 2
Roasting @ the Roaster

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Coffee Market Update

I find it interesting to keep an eye on the market cycles where coffee is concerned. If for some other reason than mere interest, tracking the coffee market also helps me time coffee purchases to make my few dollars go further. So, figuring what is helpful to one is helpful to more, here's a quick summary of a few varietals new market situations.

Brazil is the world's leading coffee producer, somewhere between 60-80% by volume depending on which website you use for statistics. Brazil's market effects everyone's business, including the roasters you buy from every month (week or even day, preferably). Most espresso blends (including my own: Espresso Vein Blend) contain around 10-20% Brazilian as their foundation (or in lower quality cases, as filler- Mississippi Mud). So, if you're an espresso fanatic, especially if you pull your own shots, you should keep an eye on the price of Brazilian beans. Right now, Brazil is facing it's inclement weather season. Even though this period is expected to have little impact on the coffee-growing regions of the country, it will cause some price increase due to speculation of the possibility of lost crops. Brazil's production is up 19% from last year, mostly due to increased demand from the specialty coffee industry- this will mean that if crops are hurt, demand will shove prices higher than any time previous. If you're worried, grab a pound of espresso or a Brazilian varietal before August to avoid an extra couple dollars expense if crops are hit harder by than expected.

African coffees are a consistent favorite by the coffee elites. Its more aggressive taste and exciting profiles make it desired by those caffeine fanatics who just cannot get enough. Kenya and Ethiopia are consistent contenders for the African coffee crown in specialty markets, but an reemerging producer in the center of the continent is Uganda ( Burundi and Rwanda are almost brand-new to the specialty coffee game). Developing surprisingly quickly as a specialty coffee haven, Uganda's market is a great barometer for coffee producing countries who are just getting into the game. Infrastructure and demand for the product are huge- and both are being developed quickly. After Uganda's bout with coffee wilt disease in '96-'97, the country has rebuilt its industry around improved farming techniques and increased focus on Arabica plants (rather than its traditionally dominant Robusta). Recently though, a drought caused the market in Ugandan beans to contract, fairly significantly, by a negative 7.5%, down around 30,000 bags from this time last year. What does this mean for the emerging specialty coffee market? Those brand new Ugandan varietals offered by so many of our favorite roasters will be pulled in favor of more cost efficient alternatives like Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi (which are similar in make-up, too). My suggestion is to buy quickly if you can find any Ugandan around, or look for Rwanda or Burundi as replacements.

My last market summary covers an often overlooked and newly emerging specialty coffee origin: India. The website I obtained this information from did an excellent job of condensing the need-to-know stuff, so I won't try to improve it too much. Here is the most relevant stuff with the link to the entire article:
Mumbai, July 7 - India coffee exports jumped about 43 percent to 200,830 tonnes between Oct. 1, 2009 and July 5, 2010, the state-run Coffee Board said on its website on Wednesday.
Okay, wow. 43% is huge. India is gaining ground in the coffee producing market, and quickly. Along its coasts, especially the east coast of the subcontinent, coffee is turning into a new crop of choice. Only 4.5% of the world's coffee is produced in India, but at this growth rate, Indian coffee may become more commonplace in the US and Great Britain. Start doing some research on Indian coffees. Find out what varieties you'd be most interested in, that way when Indian coffee inevitably shows up at your roaster, you won't have to take a leap of faith.

Soon, I'll be roasting a batch of the following coffees to map their unique development through the process: Brazil, Rwanda, and Sumatra. Perhaps one at a time, maybe all at once, I'm not sure. Check back soon to watch the magic!

Lord, thank you for such a diverse world with such varied opportunity. You are a God with an imagination, for sure. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Far too long...

It's been nearly a month and a half since my last opportunity to post anything here. To those of you who check periodically for new posts, I apologize. You know that little thing that sometimes gets in the way of what we enjoy doing... life? It popped up again.

I've just completed 9 credit hours in 4 weeks, pushing me toward my goal of graduating from Mizzou in May; I now need 24 credit hours to graduate with two degrees: History and Religious Studies. I know those are probably the first areas of interest you would have pinned on me since I've started a coffee shop on campus here and continue to be a coffee fanatic... but this is the real me, a history loving, religiously studying, coffee freak.

I don't want you to expect some major post today, but I do have a story to share. Yesterday after church, my family and I went over to a friend from church's house for lunch. They (a married couple) entertained us for a few hours very comfortably. Inevitably it seemed, the conversation turned to coffee. 

This seems to be a pattern. Whenever I'm around, with people who know anything of me, the talk turns to coffee. Why? There are a million topics we could have shared yesterday, none having anything to do with MY beloved mistress, coffee. In fact, I actively tried to steer the conversation away from coffee towards the beginning, but to no avail. This may seem a bit odd, that a man in love with the stuff would avoid talking about it. My reasoning here is that whenever the conversation begins to turn the direction of my love, I get very enthusiastic and begin to sound like a lunatic.

This may be the reason why people enjoy talking coffee with me though, because I get so into it- I turn into a coffee information geyser, gushing coffee knowledge to the laymen and women who rapid fire questions to what they perceive as the coffee guru in their midst. I was even conned into bringing by small roaster over (their house is a mere 80 yards from my own) and demonstrating (in vague terms) how the coffee roasting process is carried out. I left a bit for them to try in the next few days, giving them ownership in the product- all things I had done while working in the industry full-time. It was like I had been selling coffee to them the entire time without a real motivation- beyond my own passion, that is.

Here is the key, I think. Those of us in the industry who are selling coffee for the money and exclusively so, are in danger of losing the "spark" that people like my neighbors see and exploit for their own growth in the subject. Without the "spark", the love of coffee, the burning passion for this silly subject- those who are nominally interested in coffee can never be persuaded to anything more. So, to those of you who are in the business, cultivate your passion for your product. Your passion will show and it will sell.

Lord, thank you for a great day yesterday. Thank You for great friends in the church. I pray I could have a passion for Your Word and Your love like I do for this menial substance, coffee. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.