Saturday, December 30, 2006

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year

It's been a busy season for me. Fun, but busy.

I know that the tiny blurb in the current issue of Barista Magazine has already been read by now, but...

I think it's high time for an update on my take of the first annual TX Barista Jam.

I was surprised by how many people showed up. Where are all these TX coffee people hiding? Most of them aren't active online, it seems. It's difficult to know your community when you don't have any contact with the people within it.

It was pretty nifty to see a Clover in person. LOTS of different coffees were run through the Clover. Not one of them were dialed in. I think the merits of the Clover would have been better displayed had the time been taken (or notes been followed) to properly adjust the brew parameters for each individual coffee. This may have happened later on in the Jam, as I left during the Lunch break to spend time with my girlfriend, and to see San Antonio. (we walked the entire riverwalk, including the entire riverwalk mall.. just for kicks. We saw the Alamo, and took a boat ride.. it was a lot of fun).

It was good to finally meet Mike McKim in person. I didn't have much time to talk with him, but things happen, I suppose.

The crew from Medici seemed to kind of stick together. None seemed to talk too much. I hope they had fun. I had a hard time telling. Maybe none of them talked to ME, but they talked to others. Who knows.

Edwin Martinez gave a fascinating presentation on the growing and processing of coffee. I learned a heck of a lot, but it was hard to hear. Luckily for me, he's going to give the same presentation in Tucson at the AZ Barista Jam. It'll be good to see him again. He's definitley "coffee people". (in the words of Aaron Blanco)

I have to give a lot of credit to Aaron for putting all of this together in such a short amount of time. Aaron is most definitely "coffee people". If you want to just talk coffee, these are the kind of people you want to get with.

I say that, because for a meeting of coffee people, I had a really hard time finding opportunities to talk about coffee with people. It seemed like there was a lot of focus on the demo equipment itself, and not so much on the coffee being run through it. Fair enough, I suppose, considering it was the first time a Clover had ever been seen in the Lone Star State. It was also the first time I had a La Marzocco GB/5 at my disposal, courtesy of Mike. I didn't spend a lot of time on it, but I think maybe I should have messed with it a bit more. I didn't think I would get much from it while using a blend I was unfamiliar with. It makes it hard to reference differences compared to machines I HAVE had experience with.

An interesting fact about this jam is that it was hosted by Ruta Maya Riverwalk Coffee House. Yeah.. not interesting yet. The interesting part is that they were open for business throughout the entire jam, and continuing on long after it was over.

This is where it got interesting. My workshop was to take place behind the bar of the shop, on their equipment, while they were open. That's right... I was teaching milk frothing to a group of people while on a live bar. It was a bit awkward, I have to say. I felt like I really didn't know my audience, which made it really difficult to put something together. Not everyone was at the same level, and I think the most enthusiastic people at the jam were the on-duty baristi at Ruta Maya. I havent' seen that kind of enthusiasm in someone else at any other shop, ever. It was quite refreshing to see, coming from a place where no-one seems to care at all.

To the mentioned baristi: if you guys are reading this, you guys rock. the heart outweighs the skill any day of the week. Skills can be developed, but the passion is inherent. Keep it up.

In any case, I can't say I was effective at instructing for latte art. The cups available to me for use were 6.5oz. Nuova Point cappuccino cups. This doesn't sound so bad, right? Except, that I had never used the type of cup before. The shape is drastically different than anything else I had ever used. Strange as it may seem. My first 5 or so practice attempts were beautiful. During the workshop, however, I had the hardest time focusing while trying to leave room for people to watch, and explain what is going on while doing it. It was a little ridiculous, and definitely a new experience for me. Something I'll have to work on for the SCRBC.

Some of the Medici folks came in with the ability to already create microfoam, and some were able to pour art. I really felt bad, and unprepared, because I didn't have a lot to offer them while including those who did not already have the training to do either. I really didn't feel too good about my performance. I felt like I disappointed some people who had paid to come to the event. I can, however, say that I am pretty certain that every single person left the workshop with the ability to create beautiful microfoam. The shop's Futurmat's steam wands made microfoam nearly effortless. Seriously, it was the easiest time I have ever had in creating velvety microfoam with minimal effort.

Mike gave his workshop on espresso while I was doing the milk workshop, so I never really got to see what he has to say on general espresso theory. I would have liked to see that one. I didn't hear a whole lot about it either, so I don't have anything to report there, really. He IS our regional BGA chapter rep, so I'd imagine him to have presented a pretty solid workshop.

Aaron hosted a comparitive cupping session focused on flavor differences between varying (3) degrees of roast. It was pretty interesting to taste them side by side. I already knew that there was a huge difference, but that was the first time I had ever cupped the same coffee at different levels in the same session like that. The difference is more extreme than I gave credit for.

At the end of the day, I had fears of losing some items I had left available for use while I was gone. (synesso filterbaskets, microfibers, my tamper), but I got it all back, safe and sound. I can't say enough about this industry. I have yet to meet a single dishonest serious coffee person. I have not met a single one who I would not trust almost immediately to do the right thing at any given moment in time. Every time I attend a coffee get-together, I always feel right at home, even if everyone is a complete stranger. It's a beautiful thing.

I found it a bit interesting when David (of Clover equipment) asked what sort of rag I lent him. Apparently, the world of car detailing has something to give to the world of the Clover. The miracle known as Microfiber.


Up next is the AZ Barista Jam. Almost immediately afterwards, it looks like I'll be traveling to Tyler, TX to help train a new shop opened in a hospital.

Coming soon: an upgrade to an HX machine... 'bout time.
Soon afterwards: an upgrade to a better grinder.. hopefully a MACAP M4 Stepless. (fingers crossed)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

El Salvadore CoE #4 Santa Sofia

From Rocket Coffee Roasters.

Drip - this is one well-balanced coffee with lots of flavor. Black Currant, a hint of milk chocolate, just a little cashew, and what I would describe as "green cavendish banana".. as in, under-ripe.

There is a bit of juiciness just before it goes down.

I have not yet cupped this coffee, but so far, it is very good.

more to come.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Texas Barista Jam, Nov. 11

San Antonio, TX.

Be there, or be square.

Texas Barista Jam 2006
Schedule of Events

Time Event
7–8a Registration, networking, coffee and pastries

8a Introductions and Announcements

8:30a Group Cupping: “How Roast Affects Flavor”

9a Ideas Exchange: “Sustainability in Coffee”
Angel Mena, Ruta Maya Riverwalk Coffeehouse, San
Antonio, TX

9:45a Equipment Demo: Clover 1S
David Latourell, Coffee Equipment Co., Seattle, Wa

Skills Workshop: “Espresso 101 and 201"
Mike McKim, Cuvee Coffee Roasting Co., Spring, TX

Skills Workshop: “Milk Stuff 101 and 201”
Jason Haeger, Mangia Bevanda Coffeehouse, Lubbock, TX

11a Coffee Break

11:15a Ideas Exchange: “Seed to Cup: The Story of Finca
Vista Hermosa”
Edwin Martinez, Finca Vista Hermosa, Huehuetenango,

12p Lunch On Your Own

1p Free Time On Machines

1:30p Group Cupping: “Geography As Flavor”

Skills Workshop: “How To Brew Anything”
Aaron Blanco, The Brown Coffee Co., San Antonio, TX

Skills Workshop: “Fixing What Goes Wrong”
Mike McKim, Cuvee Coffee Roasting Co., Spring, TX

3:05p Espresso Break

3:05p Free Time ON Machines

4:45p Wrap Up; Door Prizes; Clean Up

5p Good-Byes

Registration/check-in: $25 at door–cash, check, visa, mastercard. (Coffee provided by the brown coffee company. Pastries
provided by cappuccino paradise.)
Introductions/announcements: Aaron Blanco. Sponsor thank you’s; layout agenda; each participant introduce themselves
Cupping #1: ‘How Roast Affects Flavor’ Aaron Blanco facilitates. Two coffees (six total) cupped side by side at city, full city,
viennese roast to see how roasting changes a coffee’s cup characteristics. (Coffees on Clover provided by The Brown Coffee Co.)
Ideas Exchange #1: ‘Sustainability in Coffee’ Angel Mena. Key points on social and environmental agendas that help coffee
growers such as organics, fair trade, shade grown, etc. 35 min’s with 10 min’s Q & A.
Equipment Demo: Clover 1S David Latourell. 15 (or so) minutes on the Clover, its attributes and parameters for brewing coffee.
(Coffees on Clover provided by The Brown Coffee Co., Counter Culture Coffee Co., Cuvee Coffee Roasting Co., Ruta Maya)
Note: All Workshops will be run twice at approximately 30 min’s each with 5+ min’s for Q & A. Participants will be split into two groups with each group participating in one or the other session first, then switching to the other workshop.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

So, I've been a bit delinquent in keeping this thing updated

A few things to report.

I have been informed today that I have acquired yet ANOTHER nickname.

"The coffee Don".. apparently I should take on a Brooklyn accent and wear a large tacky ring. Maybe I should keep a collection of these. "Waterboy of coffee" "The coffee Don"

I wonder what's next.

In other news, I've had the great pleasure of tasting a few different coffees lately. A HUGE thank-you goes out to Jaime Van Schyndel for setting me up with all of this, and another HUGE thank-you to Andrew at Ecco, and to the folks at Terroir for setting me up with an extra bag of coffee that was not in the initial order.

I want to comment on a couple of these coffees.

First, I had the pleasure of sampling (a full pound and a half!) of Ecco Reserve.

My first impressions were that I had to be missing something. It's a very light coffee, in that it doesn't hit you hard like most espressos I've tried do. The body isn't the kicker in this one. What really stood out to me is how delicate and sophisticated this espresso really is. The flavors are subtle, and the mouthfeel is extremely soft, and very delicate. Even with these characteristics, the espresso comes through in milk (6oz. capp) The chocolate is very subtle, but definitely present. There is a slight nuttiness (almond, I'd say), with a caramel sweetness hidden beneath.

The mouthfeel is extremely smooth.. and extremely "light". I know this is the wrong descriptor category, but it "goes down easy". The aftertaste as just as balanced and delicate as the initial flavor. This was a bit unexpected, but it really attests to the quality of this coffee. Most definitely worth trying at least once.

The second coffee I want to talk about is Terroir's Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Addis Ketema. I know Jaime has posted about this over at, and I know Chris Owens has given a brief opinion at ShotZombies.blogspot and I guess now it's my turn.

Cupped, this coffee tasted remarkably similar to Darjeeling tea, with just a touch of unsweetened lemon, and a subtley sweet aftertaste.

This coffee is intended to be enjoyed as a Single Origin Espresso, and considering as such, I did exactly that.

After talking to Jaime for a couple of minutes on the phone, he suggested I try it at a very small (volumetrically) dose.. but a very normal weight. This is some DENSE coffee. 16 grams left some extremely generous head-space. I could not use my index finger to distribute the grounds, as they only came up maybe 2/3-3/4 in the filterbasket BEFORE tamping. Jaime suggested I start with a 16 gram dose to pull ~1.25 oz. in about 28 seconds. I tried this, and I found that I liked it.. quite a bit. The flavors were intense, the sweetness was heightened, and the tea was.. diminished? Something wasn't right. The dominant flavor characteristic in the cupping was that of black Darjeeling tea. Why were my espresso experiences so drastically different? I tried again.. temperature surfing higher, lower, but still.. while the unique individual flavors were heightened, the basic element was drastically diminished.

Change of plan. I tried dosing by volume, as I normally do, just to full, and leveled, with no volumetric updosing. I temp-surfed for temperature stability, but not an increase or decrease in the standard temperature for my Gaggia(yes, I know.. I REALLY need an upgrade on my home setup). This shot.. my God. This was heaven in a demitasse. The tea was back.. in full force, but smoother, stronger, sweeter, and the lemon flavor was exactly as balanced as during the cupping, with the body and mouthfeel being much MUCH smoother than I would have anticipated for such a bright coffee and an aftertaste that highlights the sweetness of the tea flavor.. LONG after it's gone. A sip of water about a minute after consuming, and the sweetness in the back of the throat is quite obvious. Beautiful.

Try it again, but this time temp surf a little higher. The flavors are heightened, especially the sweetness.. but again, the tea is diminished. The individual flavors absolutley POP, but the identity (as I knew it from cupping) seemed to be hidden, or rather, too quiet to be tasted through all of the shouting.

With so many different ways to enjoy this as an espresso, and with so many different flavors of great intensity, and pleasure, this is one I'll have to try again.. and possibly again after that.

This is absolutely the best single origin espresso I have ever tried. Period. The flavor is so clean, I can actually taste the "quality" Jaime talks so much about. There is a HUGE difference between this, and a lesser quality coffee. By lesser, I don't mean commercial grade.. I mean specialty grade, high-end coffees. If you've never understood the idea of an absolute definition of quality, try this coffee. It will all become clear.

Moving on, the shop has begun using my coffee. Pretty cool, I guess. I can't help but feel like it's not that huge of a deal, but still... I guess I should be proud.

I plug it to customers whenever I can. I know that it's the freshest offering we have, and usually, it's the better of the two coffees available. I prefer to highlight origin characteristics, while our coffee supplier seems to usually highlight the roast a bit more than I would prefer. Everything tastes like chocolate, it seems. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but to my mind, that's not the pinnacle of what coffee can be. That's also not to say that the origin characteristics are hidden by the roast.. this is not the case. It's just a factor I personally don't care to draw attention to at all. It's about the coffee, not the roast.

Move further along, I'm really REALLY excited about the Barista Jam coming up in January.

To be held at The Coffee Vein in Tucson, AZ. I'll be attending with Larry Jones under the Rocket Coffee Roasters name. Larry's giving me a ride down, and a place to stay while I'm in AZ. What's so exciting about this jam is that I'll be able to meet a lot of people in person who I've had lots of contact with online. Mike "call me Trevino" Trevino, Chris Tingom of, Steve Kessler (a new face in the online coffee world, and more specifically, the AZ coffee world), and last but not least, Larry Jones. (sorry if I left you out.. Psyd)

There is to be a Latte art contest, and a signature drink contest. I'm going to be in the Latte art contest for sure.. the signature drink contest I'm not so sure about. Unless I can figure something out soon, I doubt I'll enter. In any case, GB/5's, Mazzers, a 2group Synesso, and a Lorenzato(sp) (Rancilio, from what I hear) to play on, as well as multiple other various brew methods. Let's not forget the coffee.. Rocket Coffee all around. Very exciting.

I'll try to update this thing more often.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ascaso (Innova) i1

I had a chance to play around with this grinder (in this same color, actually) today. It was purchased for possible use on the espresso cart for the shop, but apparently they were having problems with it. I was asked if I would take it home, check it out, dial it in, etc..

Of course, I agreed. I love any opportunity I have to try something new pertaining to coffee.

My first impressions were that it was a glorified home coffee grinder. At first, it was not grinding.. at all. The burr was spinning, coffee was in the hopper, but nothing was coming out. It turns out that the space required for coffee to fit through to get to the burrs was quite small, and it was just jammed up. A quick poke around with a skewer, and it was grinding just fine.

The worm-gear adjustment is nice.. but I was not overly impressed with the construction of the interior. The burr carrier was machined from a block of aluminum.. which is fine.. for a home grinder. This grinder is advertised as a "professional grinder".. implying commercial. Don't be fooled.

The burrs are tiny.. really tiny. As in, smaller than my Gaggia MDF's.

Dialed it in, and the grind consistency left something to be desired from a visual perspective, but from a practical perspective, it wasn't half bad.

The doserless design means clumping.. which means that the distribution will be altered to never ben perfect unless the WDT is used.

After dialing the grinder in for a 30 second, 2oz. double, I timed the grinder as taking roughly 45-50 seconds to grind enough coffee for a double.. on my Gaggia's factory filterbasket (something like 15-16 grams, I believe).

In short, this grinder is going back to the vendor. Quite nice as a home grinder at just over a hundred dollars from certain vendors, but nothing that can hold up in a commercial environment (no big surprises there), and it was interesting to find that the grind quality, and overall utilitarian aspects of the Gaggia MDF are far superior to this doserless piece of espresso machinery eye-candy.

I would put it in the "good enough" category for home use, but the "to be avoided" category for commercial use. Again.. I'm not really surprised. I think the vendor marketed it as a commercial machine, but everything about the statitics, and everything else I've read indicated otherwise.

If you can swing for something better, please do. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Senseo Stats

Yeah.. I've been bored.

I took apart the Senseo to see what was going on under all the plastic.

I was quite surprised with what I found.

I found a 1450W boiler (tiny, though it may be.. It looks to be around 4 oz. or so)

I found an Ulka ER EP8R pump. Interesting.

The P in the EP8R stands for Plastic. Meaning, the water outlet is plastic, and thus, not all too durable for the long run.

This pump is also only capable of a maximum of 2.2 bar of pressure. Sad, isn't it? It's still a pressure brewer, and from what I can tell, that's a bit more pressure than a Moka pot.

Max flow is 650CC/Min.

Noise is 58db. (not that it much matters)

Here's the problem.

The solution of pre-heating the water is a BAD idea if the intention is to keep the machine alive for any length of time. The max temperature for the pump is 25C, or 77F. That's roughly room temerature. So much for that plan.

Another idea is to set up a pre-heating system. Maybe a copper tubing wrapped around the boiler taking water from behind the pump, and feeding it to the inlet on the boiler. This MIGHT help solve the problem, but it won't fix it entirely, and this would take more heat-up time than simply pre-heating the water.

What I'm not sure of is if the boiler's heating element remains active during the brewing cycle.

Still lots more tinkering to do with this thing before I'm satisfied.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quote of the Day

So, I just arrived at work about an hour ago.

A regular who comes in daily was at the counter. He really enjoys verbal harrassment with those who he feels comfortable enough to be able to do so without insult or injury.

Anywho, on to the quote.

This guy says to me:

"You are the Waterboy of coffee."

Funny, I guess.. except that his tone was not of humor. My boss then asks, "Do you have a donkey that wonders around your bedroom?"

*sigh*.. so much for no longer feeling like an island. The moon has shifted, and the ocean is once again surrounding me.

Senseo.. drinkable coffee?

Okay, so I've been playing with this Senseo coffee machine a bit, trying to get a decent cup.

I decided to go back to trying various tactics using ONLY the provided pods, since that's what most consumers will be using.

After discovering that the brew is nothing more than a hyped up cafe crema, I got to thinking.

What if the reason the brew temperature is so low is because the boiler is being filled with water from the resevoir as the water already heated in the boiler is being pumped out.. Wouldn't the new water mix with the old?

What's the solution? Start with hot water.

NOTE: There is a good chance that you will burn yourself trying this, so if you do, be careful. I am not responsible for your own self-inflicted injury.
NOTE pt.2: I have no idea how this affects the warranty. Mine was free, so I'm not too worried about it. I can make a cafe crema with my espresso machine if I REALLY wanted to. Damaging the equipment isn't much a concern in my case.

So, you heat some water on the stove. I used a tea kettle, and removed it before it began to boil. I only filled the resevoir about half way so I could hold onto the top part of it without burning my hands.

Pour the hot water into the resevoir, put the resevoir in place, and turn on the machine. Do a quick flush through the pod holder by pressing the single cup brew button, and as soon as you see water trickling, turn the machine off, and then immediately turn it back on. (note: I use this water to pre-heat my cup)

For 1 4oz. cup, use 2 standard pods. Thus, you should have pre-heated the 2cup pod holder in the step above.

Place the two pods in the holder and close the unit. Allow the machine to recover, and immediately press the single cup brew button.

Ignore the faux crema. Note that the color of the flowing liquid remains a dark to medium brown color. It does not go pale, or as we say in espresso, it does not go blond.

Good news so far.

The brew has an improved body, less sourness, a little less bitterness, and you can actually taste a little sweetness in the coffee itself.. slight chocolate notes.

I never would have guessed it.

I think I'll give this a try with home-roast and home-made pods, and then on to the ground coffee adapter to go in place of the pod holder.

Stay tuned.

Look! An Update!

That's right, an update. I have been fairly quiet lately, and I hate to say that the reason for that is that things have been pretty consistent lately. Nothing new or excited.. until yesterday.

Yesterday I received my free Philips Senseo pod machine.

My first impression based on the machine in stock form, using the provided "Medium Roast" pods, one per cup, in factory recommended directions:

This coffee is terrible. Flat out awful. There's no way around it.

It's a LITTLE better if using two pods for one 4oz. cup, but seriously.. this is a lousy brewing system.

The low water temperature and small dose of coffee results in a cup that tastes both underextracted while at the same time tasting over-extracted. It's ridiculously bad.

I tried making my own pods with fresh-roasted fresh-ground coffee. Better, but the pressure broke the seal, and it leaked everywhere. The coffee was stronger, flowed slower, but only tasted over AND under-extracted with more intensity.

The only way I can perceive to make this thing work is to increase the boiler temperature. I'm not even sure if this is possible to change.. all warranty issues aside.

That doesn't mean I won't try, but just as an fyi. Buying this machine for anyone is a BAD idea. It's a waste of money if ever I saw one. You'd be better off with a Presto Scandinavian that may potentially break 3 months after buying it.

You'd be better off with a coffee cup, a bunch of filters, and a pot to heat water in.

Let's just say it's not worth the time.

But if you happen to be among the few for whom this advice is received too late, I hereby vow to do everything I can to try to wrench a drinkable cup from this blasphemous machine.

For those who are not too familiar with how it works, it essentially makes a cafe crema.. and nothing else, but with gobs of faux crema that's faker than the handiwork of a Hollywood plastic sergion.

In other news:

As of today, it looks like I'll have a steady account for single origin roasted coffee with the shop I work for. Hurray? If nothing else, it'll keep me with a steady supply of new green to try out and offer to customers. It will also give me peace of mind that at least ONE coffee we're offering is less than two weeks past the roast date. No matter how hard we try, sometimes, it just lasts longer than we hope for.

Maybe it's time to start building a bigger roaster.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"Clamouring for espresso... "

On my trip to Dallas, I picked up 10 6oz. cappuccino cups for use at the shop.

After serving one to ever member of the staff, and explaining the difference, as well as donating my 12oz. pitcher (temporarily) to the shop for use, it's finally begun.

Read here.

It appears as though we are beginning to experience the same phenomenon. Someone ordered a cappuccino, and the barista at the time asked if they wanted a traditional cappuccino, or a foamy latte (not in those exact words, but the same effective products respectively). The regular customer decided to try out the traditional. They loved it.

They loved it so much, they came back and ordered a second. They have found their new favorite.

During my shift this evening, a customer decided that he wanted to try something different. Most of the time, when this is the case, the patron orders the "Gen-X".. which is a spur-of-the-moment specialty drink custom-made and created on the fly by whoever happens to be the active barista at the time. (I love this drink.. It gives me a chance to experiment, and get the customer's feedback all at the same time.. brilliant) This guy, however, told me that he usually asks for a suggestion, rather than the Gen-X. Naturally, I suggested my personal preference in a milk-drink: a Traditional Cappuccino.

This guy came back about 5 minutes later. From the look on his face, I was worried that he didn't much like it. Boy was I wrong. He couldn't say enough about it. He, also, had found his new favorite. I then offered him a double espresso, compliments of the house, just to try it. Sure enough, he loved that too.

Now, here's the interesting thing. This customer is FROM Lubbock, the hub of West Texas. Now, most people FROM this region aren't big fans of specialty coffee. Heck, most of them refuse to recognize it as anything different from what you can get at a diner. I have realized something. This customer was rather young-ish. Probably still in High-school. I have realized that specialty coffee is cut out for the young and forward-thinking, almost exclusively. Not necessarily both, but one or the other, for sure.

The older folks who really enjoy all the great things about specialty coffee, are generally very motivated, forward-thinking individuals. This is not to say that this is always the case, of course. This just happens to be the majority of what I've noticed locally in my region.

All of our customers recognize us as the premier shop in town. Every single one of them have said that the best coffee they have ever had, ever, has come from our shop.

That's nice to hear. It doesnt' surprise me in the least, in fact it's something I was already aware of, but the fact that it is recognized by the customers gives me much hope for the development of specialty coffee in these parts, where life is stagnant, where growth is looked upon with untrusting eyes, and where there is no "brazilian, or ethiopian?".. only "regular".

The winds of change are blowing, and I am damn proud to be a significant player in the movement.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Philips Senseo?

First of all, I know this isn't a "real" coffee brewer. I know that pods aren't worth the paper their packaged in.

But when I saw an opportunity to get a free Senseo to try, I figured I'd try to make it work.. somehow.

So it appears as though I am eligible to receive a free Senseo. Apparently Phillips thinks that my word-of-mouth will provide them a bit of business.

I don't hope for much, but I try to keep an open mind in all things coffee. I figure that if I can find a way to use fresh-ground coffee in this thing, inexpensively, it'll be worthwhile. I'm not out to make home-made pods. I'm hoping to find a way around the pod system entirely, and make the most out of this machine that is generally overlooked by the quality coffee industry.

Have I gone off the deep end?

Perhaps, but I've been bored to tears, praying for something new to experience in coffee.

It looks like my answer came packaged as a marketing gimmick for the un-informed public.

I say, bring it on.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nuova Simonelli's Cylindrical 4-hole tip

So, I know I've been stating that it's more about learning to work effectively with what you have than about the equipment itself. Almost in-line with Mark Prince's creed of "any machine, any grinder, any time", or something along those lines.

Of course, there are limitations, and I would freely admit that, but in a commercial atmosphere with commercial equipment, I was a firm believer that one should easily be able to adapt to what they have to create good, even great, results fairly consistently. I would say it's based on an understanding of one's equipment.

Well, I'm embarrassed to say that I've proven myself wrong. Great microfoam on the NS Mac series is difficult at best. I can consistently create froth capable of pouring art, but consistently creating froth that is truly great in flavor, texture, et al is something else.

The design of the factory steam tip is none-too encouraging in the realm of great frothing techniques. To top it off, the steam wand is terribly short, and does not bend outside of the drip-tray in terms of effective useable space.

My frothing has been a bit off, lately. It's either not enough froth, or overly large froth. Where's the balance? It's not an easy thing to achieve the sweet creamy texture we all love so well with this setup.

Considering that I am generally able to achieve perfect microfoam every time on my home Gaggia machine, I got back to frothing on my home setup to see if I could pinpoint the problem.

To sum it up, at home, I have 1 effective air-jet that doubles as the heating jet. This allows for mucho time to concentrate on the frothing before the milk reaches temperature. On the Nuova Simonelli, there is 1 effective air jet, and 3 effective heating steam jets during the frothing process. This makes things rather difficult. To top it off, it's nearly impossible to find an angled tip fit for the NS threads.

One of our steam wands recently broke. With the new nice-n-shiny chrome wand in place, we had a broken steam wand just lying around, and I got this bright idea of trying to modify the factory tip to be only two holes.

Cylindrical steam tip, meet J.B. Weld. I filled two of the four holes with JB-Weld, praying that it will be enough. We'll find it in.. (where'd that JB Weld package go..) 4 minutes? Okay, so I used JB-Kwik. I'll let it set over-night before testing it out.

We'll see how this goes.


Well, the little trick worked like a charm. Looks almost like it still has 4 holes, until closer inspection, or until the steam is activated. It does what I hoped it would. It allows for more time, and more control for better results in microfrothing... especially for traditional cappuccinos when using a tiny 12oz. pitcher.

I highly recommend this to anyone using a Nuova Simonelli with the cylindrical 4-hole tip. Well worth the (total of) 10 minutes of work.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back from Dallas

I haven't updated in awhile, and it's mostly because I've been in Dallas for the past week. I didn't really do much that was coffee related, but I did come across a shop that served up tasty microfoam with mediocre espresso in a 14 oz. cup sold as a Cappuccino.

The barista seemed interested in learning more. She got kind of excited when I mentioned the idea of latte art contests and barista contests while talking coffee (as I often do). In my opinion, if these folks just do a little research, they could be a shop worthy of visiting.

btw, it's called Java & Cha Co. in Plano, TX.

While there, I bought some cups. Pictures to come (possibly).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Espresso Puck Physics.. What Really happens?

Before I begin, I would like to say that this is in no way to be taken as anything conclusive, or as an "article" of sorts, but rather as more of a mode of thinking in text format.

I could be right, I could be close, or I could be in the wrong ballpark entirely.

I recently read that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 540 pounds of pressure constantly pressing down on the bed of coffee in the portafilter during the 9bar extraction. What is this concept of extraction, really? Does the water absorb more solubles under the high pressure and high heat? Does the puck really SWELL under the weight of 540 pounds of water?

Honestly, I really think not. What does this say about pre-infusion? Does pre-infusion really "set" the puck to swell so it provides a more evenly distributed bed of coffee? Or does the pre-infusion force the puck to become wet more thoroughly and evenly throughout? Afer-all, "water is lazy". Water will go where water already is.

Additionally, does proportionally more water mean stronger extraction capabilities in the same pull? Why is it that more complexity is usually achieved from a lighter dose than that of a heavier dose with MORE coffee in the basket? Doesn't more coffee mean more coffee flavor?

Here's what I think. I think pre-infusion helps, not in that it swells the puck for an even extraction, but that it allows the water to find the niches and dense spots in the puck before the pressure hits at full force.

I think that the puck does not "swell" as a result of water contact. I think that the puck swells as a recoil from the pressure be forced upon it for 25-30 seconds. Under that kind of pressure, the cellular structure of the coffee particles have to be under some sort of tension, which would be released at once upon the release of pressure (a'la 3-way valve.. non-valve systems will react differently, I think).

So, we may have now established the physical shape behavior of the puck under pressure. What of the pressurized water's extraction properties?

It is my belief that rather than absorbing solubles, the highly pressurized water actually displaces many of the aromatic and flavor components within the bean structure. The high pressure forces them out.. the water does not extract, but rather pushes these components out of the cellular structure of the grind particles. A finer grind means more surface area which means more exposed components to be displaced. At the same time, this also means more resistance to the pressure, which results in a longer contact time.. resulting in components being absorbed, as well as displaced by the water. Too much contact time will result in flavor components most of us would really rather not have in our cup.

The combination of displaced solubles and absorbed solubles creates a balanced flavor. Too much of one or the other, and you end up with either a sour or bitter pull. Thankfully, much of this shift in "extracted" properties is easily seen with the naked eye.

It's not only about even pressure on (and within) the puck. It's also about even contact time with the coffee particles and the pressurized water. Dense spots will flow much more slowly than air pockets. Which brings me to my next, and final, idea.

At what point does the water become saturated with dissolved solids or solubles? Just like osmosis, less saturated water will absorb more quickly and readily than that of saturated water.

Enter: The science of the ristretto. Ristretto shots take more time. Sometimes a LOT more time. The result is a richer, more concentrated, lower volume shot of espresso. That is, the ratio of water to coffee is considerably reduced. There is no doubt that the longer contact time is absolutely essential to achieve such a result.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Wine tasters will swirl the wine in the glass to allow air to incorporate into the liquid, and "release aromatics" and allow the flavors to expand.

Beer afficionados will let a beer warm up to near, or at room temperature, and then pour it into a tapered glass that is wider on top to allow the flavors to expand.

What is the taste capacity of a single tastebud? Is it possible to cram too many flavor components into such a concentrated form that, while all flavor components are present, only a few are actually perceived by the taster?

Are the flavor components for a ristretto actually any different than those in an "under the line" normale, or are we just unable to perceive the dense culimnation of flavors in the ristretto when compared to the normale? Does the expansion of flavor components in the normale actually cause an increase in our ability to perceive more of the flavor components that are present in both, or is the coctail entirely different?

This thought process began last night. I couldn't wait to begin writing about it.

I'm sure there are many factors that a non-chemist and non-engineer and non-physicist like myself are not even aware of, but this still causes me to realize something on a very real and tangible level.

In the science and practice of espresso, we have such a very long way to go. We are nowhere near the pinnacle. On top of that, consider the science of coffee quality, and the concept of subjective opinion being brought into question by minds such as that of Jaime Van Schyndel.

Concepts and ideas such as these make me understand more and more how little we actually know. It makes me realize that we are still (after ~50 years) in the infancy of espresso theory.

I have not even begun to touch on the topic of tamping, polishing, how hard to tamp, temperature, etc.. etc.. So many factors.. so little comprehension in a single instance of time.

And now, to remind us of why we stress about these little details more than sanity would normally allow, a picture of some latte art at work earlier this evening.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Blogger Facelift

I am in the midst of a long overdue blogger facelift.

You may have noticed the new header. Yes, I hate the text too. I'd like to get rid of it, but I haven't figured out the coding so the entire image fits without the text forcing it to just yet.

All you blogger pro's out there, feel free to lend a hand. (ahem.. James)

In coffee news:

So far, everyone I've talked to since giving them either a sample, or selling them a pound of coffee has absolutely loved it. Great news for me, but even better news for the coffee scene here in the hub of West Texas. Increasing consumer awareness of quality coffee being the primary objective, with a little cash on the side... maybe.. I have to break even first.

I'll be working the bar tonight from 6:30pm to close. Jr. Vasquez (a local acoustic guitarist) is playing, and I expect a pretty good turnout. I haven't worked a busy bar in a long time. I hope my workflow is efficient enough. I'll find out soon enough, I suppose.

I'll be cutting out a spare portafilter for the shop later today, before my shift. Should be fun. We'll have a new hire next week, I believe, and it'll be good to have during training. Lubbock has never seen training like this before.

I know I've said it recently already, but it's steadily on the rise. Very exciting, since I've been struggling to get some glimmer of a sign for quite some time now. I'm just glad to see it developing into fruition.

In other news:
So, I bought a new camera. It's my first digital camera, and my first "photographer's" camera, if you will.

I've always wanted to get into photography, but never had the time, money, or patience. My current stance is that two out of three ain't bad. I had the money, and I have the patience. Time is another problem, but all in good time, I will learn a few things and hopefully improve.

It's a Fuji FinePix S5200. 10X optical zoom, 5.2X digital zoom. 52X total zoom. Craziness. So that's what they mean by the "SuperZoom" class of cameras.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Coffee and Blend Reviews (the database)

This is a list of coffees and blends I have tried, and my reviews of them. If the roaster is of any importance, they will be mentioned in the title. Updated as often as coffees are reviewed.

Espresso Blends
Classic Espresso blend - Rocket Coffee Roasters

Rocket Reserve Espresso blend - Rocket Coffee Roasters

Darkstar Espresso blend - Rocket Coffee Roasters

Espresso Torro - West Coast Roasting

Decaf Espresso Torro - West Coast Roasting

Cottonwood espresso blend - The Brown Coffee Company

Super Tuscan Espresso - The Roasterie

Single Origins
Papua New Guinea - Sigri (self-roasted)

Panama - Kotowa Duncan SHB Organic (Rocket Coffee Roasters)

El Salvador - Mont De Leon (Rocket Coffee Roasters)

El Salvador - CoE #4 - Santa Sofia (Rocket Coffee Roasters)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Coffee Quality, and consumer awareness

Is it just me, or are more people in the southern states beginning to become more aware of good coffee vs. bad coffee?

More and more I have seen people come to a shop I am/was working at in search of something new, something different, something.. better.

Every single time I've made someone an espresso-based beverage for someone new to the shop, they have commented on how good it is. It's so sad, that people for so long have been forced to live with bad coffee, because the local business just don't respect their clientel enough to serve them the absolute best product they can. How is this allowed to happen? Where is the BBB of the Specialty Coffee industry?

Many like myself have become fed up and frustrated with the apathy around us. Some of us have taken on new responsibilities, sort of as ambassadors for our trade, to show oblivious coffee-drinkers "the light". It's amazing to me how people can think my home-roasted coffee is SOOO good. It's not that I'm bad, but I'm no professional roaster.

Coffee this good should be the STANDARD, not the exception. There is no mention of our niche of the culinary field on the Food Network. There is no sight of our niche in the culinary field on rows of magazine on the shelves of bookstores. Our we so ignored by the general public, or is the general public just unaware of what they are missing?

There are various publications that concern coffee, and the closest thing we have on bookstore shelves is Imbibe. How are people supposed to be able to LEARN about great coffee if no-one is serving it, and the publications are not within their scope?

There is word of Rocket Coffee opening a cafe. GOOD! At least there will be ONE good place to get coffee in the Phoenix area.

I've started my consulting and training business to help improve coffee on a more global scale. The problem being that people have to have a desire for improvement before betterment can begin. This desire can be the direct result of a loss of business as customers look eslsewhere in search of better coffee. This desire can also come from a business's RESPECT for their customers, and RESPECT for their (should-be)craft.

I do believe Aaron of AAH! Coffee is putting together a national review database for coffee houses. I've had this idea, but have done nothing about it. Several others have had the same idea. This needs to be done, and soon. People are beginning to have an increased awareness of what good and bad coffee REALLY is, and they should have a reliable way of locating it.

Other quality-minded coffee professionals, continue to carry the torch. Douse it in gasoline so that it burns brighter than ever before. "resistance is futile"

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Papua New Guinea - Sigri

Roasted to Full City in around 15 minutes (I'm not into the Agtron scale yet).

This coffee is pretty smooth, but a bit brighter than I would expect at its roast level.

Starting out, the flavor is very well balanced, with a little chocolate, hint of raisin, and a little spice, melded together so none of them really stand out unless looking for them.

The mouthfeel is about a medium body that thins out a little as the cup cools.

Also, the spiciness sets a backdrop for what I perceive as lemon which begins to take center stage as the temperature begins to drop. The chocolate is still present, though less obvious. The citrus notes are more aggressive than others, though the initial flavor is still present, softly filling the darker notes.

As the cup approaches room temperature, there is a fairly dominant caramel flavor that helps to smooth the mouthfeel out into nearly a creamy texture. Wonderful.

Overall, a great cup. Beautiful in a French Press.

A bit too bright, imo, as a Single Origin espresso. The citrus notes are too much when used as a Single Origin cappuccino, and the result almost tastes a bit sour.

Works well in drip, though much subtlety is lost in the paper filter.

I would definitely buy this again to be used in a French Press. More of a good every-day coffee in the morning than as a special coffee from an auction lot, but that's not a bad thing. It's just a different type of enjoyment.. it's a bit more "comfortable".

Friday, July 21, 2006

Back On The Bar

I am pleased to announce that I am back to working as a barista at Mangia Bevanda. -Jason Coffee is still in progress. I have not pulled the plug on it, but it is slow going. I still need some supplies, as well as a strategie for approaching existing operations about improving their quality through taking my training course(s). There is a brand new drive-through operation near-by, and I am considering approaching them first. It's a start-up, so there may be an interest.

Most places here have been mis-trained by the local roasting company known as Daybreak Coffee Roasters. The roasting does a pitiful job at hightlighting origin flavors, or being tasty at all, for that matter. As the local "big coffee company", most people here tend to see them as "high quality" and regard the company as knowing about barista skills (which, by the way, they do not).

I am trying to get my name out there so that it becomes associated with establishments with highly skilled employees who know a thing or two about what they are doing.

In time, other shops will realize the need to either catch up, or suffer the loss of business to other more quality-driven shops.

At least, that's the theory.

In the mean time, I'm starting a local coffee club to help increase consumer awareness. My side-car roasting endeavor has the same purpose. People who know me know how obsessed I am with coffee and have asked my opinion on what I think is good. It's difficult to live in a place and have nowhere to point to as a shining example of coffee nirvana yet hold the high standards that most of us in the Third Wave side of the industry do.

I have been asked if I would sell roasted coffee, and I decided that if there is a demand, I may as well do it as a side-project. It's nothing special, and it's completely under the table. Also pretty much non-profit. It's all going back into buying more green coffee to sell again. Really small scale stuff, but there isn't a single good roaster here, and I'm confident that what I can do at home is far better than anything offered here.

Unfortunately, Mangia has asked if I would supply them coffee. I am not a roaster. I am a barista who is dabbling in roasting to help increase consumer awareness of specialty coffee. I wish people would realize this and stop thinking of me as a coffee supplier, but at the same time, this means there is a demand for truly great coffee in Lubbock... and that's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


No, I'm not a Michael Jordan fan.

The number is a count of years that I'll have been alive come Wednesday, the 19th.

Yes, my birthday is coming just around the corner, and oddly enough, I have nothing planned in regards to coffee for that day. Maybe I'll drop in to Mangia for a cup in the morning.

Happy Birthday to me.

p.s.-send gifts to 1002 Frankford Ave Apt. 431, Lubbock, TX, 79416 ;o)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Barista Guild of America, and a how-to for MDF owners

It finally arrived. I am now officially a card-carrying member of the Barista Guild of America. This means I get SCAA member pricing on SCAA sanctioned events, the support of my other 387 colleagues in our persuit of providing better coffee to the public as well as discounts at some vendors and retailers.

The reason I joined, in all honesty, was the legitimacy that being a member implies. Since I'm launching a consulting and training business, I thought it appropriate that I be a member of a Guild for the trade which I am a part of. Very excited about this. Had a peak in the "members area" of the BGA forums as was a bit disappointed. There's more activity in the "open forum" than in the actual meat and potatos of the site. At any rate, I'm absolutely thrilled to be a member.

Barista Guild member: 0388

I also thought I'd paste my write-up on how to make a Gaggia MDF stepless. I've been meaning to add this to the blog for a long while and had completely forgotten about it. I mentioned it very early on in the existence of this blog, but have yet to come through.

Well, here it is:

The Official:

"How to Modify A Gaggia MDF To Be Stepless (for next to nothing!)" guide V.1.0

by: Jason Haeger

What you'll need:

1. Safety pin, pocket knife, tiny flat-head screwdriver, or some other tool (for removing the rubber guards in the hopper)
2. A small-ish Philips head screwdriver.
3. Plenty of patience and quite a bit of coffee to "dial it in", so to speak (and I don't mean finding the sweet spot).
4. A stiff nylon brush (hey.. while it's apart, you may as well do a clean-up job on it, right?).
5. A roll of Teflon™ tape or a substitute. (I used Oatey Thread Seal Tape from Wal-mart.. $.97)

1. Remove the doser and hopper lids.

2. Using tool #1, remove the rubber grommets inside the bean hopper. Just work around the outside edge a bit and it'll work its way out. Don't be too forceful or you'll damage the grommets.

3. Remove bean hopper by extracting the two screws. (the ones that were covered by the grommets you just removed)

4. Remove the plastic cover. (two screws at the two front corners.. they're both black. Small philips head)

5. Unscrew the two nut-screws(brass) that the hopper screws were bolted into. (they should be close to hand-tight.. if not, you may need some needlenose pliers or something.. be gentle).

6. Remove the Step counter (the black plastic ring with all the numbers on it).

7. Remove the upper burr set by unscrewing it. (the brass circular thing with the gaping hole in the middle.. you just took two brass nut-screws out of it). It may take a bit of time, but it'll come out eventually. I stuck the hopper back in its grooves for leverage on this part.

8. Remove the step guides and springs. There are two. One in front, and one in back. Black metal round-tipped cylinders with springs inside. Keep them in case you ever need the steps again.

9. Using your brush, clean everything. Turn the machine upside down and shake fairly vigorously. You'll be amazed at all of the old grounds that comes out.. enough for two double shots, practically.

10. Make sure the threads are absolutely clean of any grounds or coffee oils.

11. With the upper burr set upside down (upper bur is top-side), wrap the Teflon™ tape starting at the base (where the notches for the steps are) in a CLOCKWISE motion. You'll want a good 5 layers or so on there. Make sure it's on tight. and even.

12. Reinstall upper burr set WITHOUT the step guides. This should be kind of difficult to do. You might lay the machine on its left side (the side without the dosing lever) and put the hopper in place for leverage.

13. Put the plastic cap on (the one with the step number window), and then the bean hopper. Do a test-grind to make sure the resistance of the tape is strong enough to hold the upper burr in place during actual grinding. If it moves.. even slightly (remember, it can only get worse), remove the upper burr set, wipe it clean, and add more tape.

14. Repeat step #13 until there is no movement of the upper burr during grinding. (yes.. it'll get pretty difficult to get that upper burr back into place each time, but it's worth it.)

15. Once completed with step #14, reassemble everything (sans the step guides.. as mentioned).

16. Enjoy your newly stepless grinder. (keep an eye out for the wandering number during grinding. If that starts to happen..more tape!)

I know, it's too easy. This can't possibly work well. I'm here to tell you that I have not touched it since this modification several months ago (I want to say 6 or so.. possibly more), and the resistance for adjusting the grind is not much, and the grind setting does not change during grinding (it used to, but like a new engine, this setup needs breaking in before it works just as intended).

Grinding "between settings"? How about "using numbers as more of a reference than a setting".

Just make sure you DO use the number plate, as it will give you a reference when switching between FP, drip, and espresso. I reset my number plate to reflect true zero. I would suggest everyone to do the same.

In other news

I received 10lbs. of green Papua New Guinea - Sigri coffee. This stuff isn't bad. I have not had a chance to cup it yet. I just roasted the first batch today, and most of this lot is going to be sold to local friends and acquaintances in hopes of elevating consumer awareness on a grass-roots level. The income will help me afford MORE coffee to do the same with. Hopefully it spreads decently and the local consumer base will begin to understand that there is a real difference in quality coffee compared to what is generally available in these parts.

More News

Mangia Bevanda (local shop.. I trained the owners) is now using AAH! Coffee. While not quite on par with the big names in the roasting industry, this company puts out some great coffee for an outstanding price (commercial pricing, that is).

I can now say that I have a shop here locally that I can point people to when they ask for a recommendation (it happens alot, and it's really difficult to say "uh.. my apartment?" when asked where I go for coffee.. it makes me sound like a snob).

Good things are on the horizon.

I apologize for the delay in updates. There's more to tell, but I don't want to write a book in one post.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

SCAP's Best of Panama Auction, Kotowa Duncan

This coffee is gorgeous. There's just no other way to describe it in one word.

Chocolate, spice, berries, honey. It's all here, and all in moderation, but just enough to let you know it's there. Medium body with enough weight to meld it all together for a great mouthfeel.

Be jealous.


For some odd reason, I had a cup of this coffee sitting here cooling a bit, and I ate a pepperoncini pepper, then took a sip. Don't ask me why.

Here's the interesting part. The result was that the coffee tasted like a chocolate and raisin flavor explosion. Totally unexpected. You never know what you're going to find in coffee (flavorwise).

(thanks, Larry!)

Monday, June 19, 2006

-Jason Coffee: consulting and barista training

[EDIT: I've dropped the "Jason Coffee" name, and am now running under "" click

I suppose this is my official anouncement that my independent consulting and barista training business is launching fairly shortly.

I am giving a free training session later this week so I can
A: have a local reference
B: work out my curriculum for training.

I want to be as thorough as possible, while keeping in mind the fact that there are no absolutes in this industry, as well as keeping the session rather timely.

I have no clue what to charge for this sort of thing. The benefit is that I have no business affiliation with any roaster, so there is no worry about my advice being sales oriented. On the other hand, it also makes it more difficult to gain the trust of local cafe owners who may or may not care as much about quality as I do.

My greatest fear is failure. Not in the competence sense of the word, but in the business sense.

I am so worried about acceptance by local cafe owners, it's crazy. It's not that I want to personally be accepted, so much as I would love to see Lubbock as a whole accept the idea and potential of great coffees. Unfortunately, anytime money is involved, it's an uphill battle. Good coffee is more expensive. Straight up, it is. Even if it's not much per cup (which it really isn't.. $.10 more per cup.. seriously.. not that big of a deal), but people don't usually see it this way. Instead, they see the bigger picture of $30/week EXTRA. And honestly, isn't it worth that, even if it's out of pocket, to ensure the BEST possible quality in your establishment?

Maybe I'm just crazy, but I can think of at least 100 other people who are as crazy as I am if that's the case.

I have a logo, and I'm working on a brochure. I have Rocket Coffee Roasters as a reference, and I'll have Mangia Bevanda as a local reference. I have been quoated in Barista Magazine in the Alternative Brew Methods article (the melitta stand section.. check it out if you haven't already :o). I'm going to join the Barista Guild very shortly. (Nick, if you're reading this, is there any way to expedite the paperwork?)

I'm trying to get in a position to make this as professional an operation as possible. I believe my success in my goal of improving local coffee depends on it. People won't listen to someone who does not appear to know what they are doing, whether that person actually knows or not is irrelevent.

In other news:

I've got my labels made up for selling roasted coffee to friends and family, or anyone else who asks (on the consumer side of things only.. I am in no place to supply a shop, though I have been asked. I simply don't have the capital to make that happen, as much as I would love to. I guess that's not a bad problem to have.).

I've had a bunch of online friends from other communities (mostly car-related) ask if I sold roasted coffee. They started calling anything that was coffee-related and made by my hands "-jason coffee". Hence, the origin of the name. It comes from years ago when I used to sign every post with " -Jason ". The title sort of stuck, and so I've decided to make it my business name.

Any thoughts or suggestions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment. I'm all ears. (err.. eyes, I guess)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rocket Classic Espresso Blend

I've been enjoying this blend for the past week or so. I still have more to think about before writing my opinions here.

Stay tuned.

So, I'm a little (okay, alot) late writing this thing. I've been pretty busy lately, but I'm writing it now.

Classic Espresso comes in a black one-way valve bag with heat-sealed ends, and a nifty looking label with a mirror images of a grouphead and drip tray in black and white with some text that says, "The art and science of espresso".

Very attractive indeed.. but how does it taste?

As a normale shot, there is a nice strong explosion of very complex flavors right off the bat. The balance is such that individual parts are difficult to pick out, but the complexity is quite obvious, and quite pleasant. Going down, the massive hit becomes a gentle caress, and a smooth sweetness is dominant.

As a dose "under the line", the subtle flavors pop a bit more at the cost of a minute amount of depth. The description on the website says something about dried fruit, but nothing about floral notes. My palate experienced very little dried fruit, and dubious amounts of floral notes. As the liquid moves over the palate, these floral notes gently subside, and a carmely sweetness is present, with a very pleasant aftertaste that lingers long after the demitasse is cleared.

An over-dose, with the coffee just touching the shower screen upon locking in, produced a very sweet ristretto-style shot with chocolate tones and some caramel(at ~40seconds. There was another that took a full minute with similar results). While both flavors are present, they are not simultaneously present. That is, the flavor is not "chocolate caramel" or "caramel chocolate", but rather, more to the effect of, "chocolate!" "oh, now there's caramel!". The subtleties diminished, I believe this dose would go over quite well with someone new-ish to espresso. Ristretto-style shots often do, as they are more sweet, and not at all bitter, without having to think too much about the complexity that would otherwise be obvious.

Flavors that I tasted were floral, SLIGHTLY nutty, with some spice that I can't quite put my finger on. I think that the floral notes and sweetness may meld together for some to develop into the dried fruit flavor in Rocket Coffee Roaster's descriptor for this specific blend.

Overall, a very good blend. Hits you hard at first for the explosion of flavor we are all looking for in a normale(or maybe even slight underdose), but eases out as it goes down into the smoothness we are all looking for in a ristretto.

Cuts through milk quite well. Even the complexity is still obvious and present in milk, while the caramel and chocolate flavors come alive thanks to the flavor of the milk itself complimenting these particular flavors exceptionally well (as with most blends with these characteristics).

Don't pass this one up!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

West Coast Roasting

After 5 days of rest, (roasted on the 19th, today is the 25th) I believe that this blend needs more time to rest before it is at its peak as a straight espresso.

The first shot I pulled with this blend was used in an Americano yesterday, and was rather bland. I attributed this at first to the balance of flavors cancelling each other out. Espresso is never bland, regardless of the blend. Uninteresting, perhaps, but never bland. So, upon farther inspection, I decided to give my grouphead a good cleaning.

Today, the first shot I pulled was fairly astringent, with a medium to heavy body, and is very very easy on the palate. This shot told me that this blend needs to rest longer before used as a straight espresso.

The second shot was used in a cappuccino. The dominant flavor in a 6oz. wet cappuccino is milk chocolate. Not the typical dark chocolate often heard of, but milk chocolate. Smooth, delicately sweet, every so slight nuttiness, and maybe a hint of fruit when slurped (as in cupping). The texture in milk is so smooth. This blend would go over extremely well in a commercial setting where one wishes to introduce the customer base to quality espresso. It's not at all harsh, not bitter, not overly bright. The balance is quite user-friendly for those unfamiliar with espresso, while still being enjoyable for those who are already experienced, as there are many flavors to be found, but they are all muted and take a good amount of skill with a trained palate to detect.

The complexity is present, but far from overwhelming, making it great for a first-time espresso drinker while still enjoyable for the experienced palate.

I've found the preferred dose to be on the higher end of the spectrum. My findings may change as I work my way through this pound, but that is my initial impression.

More to come as the blend rests, and more taste tests are implemented. I will test this blend on an inexperienced palate this weekend. My mother is visiting, and has never had good espresso. I anticipate a good reception.

Update v.Espresso
After mulling it over a bit, I was thinking that there just HAD to be a way to squeeze more flavor out of this off-the-wall blend that appears to promise much more than it delivers.

Upon farther thought, it dawned on me that perhaps a finer grind and a lighter dose would highlight the more delicate notes in the bean, as more flavor is generally obtained from a finer grind, and the lighter dose allows the little subtleties to become a bit more clear. At least, that's what my own thought and theory tells me.

A dose "under the line" a'la Wendelboe, at a finer grind yields a straight espresso with everything that the blend promises to deliver. The Ethiopia Harrar takes center stage at last. Blueberries, spiciness, chocolate tones, yes.. all of it. Extremely well-balanced, smooth, and delicious. The aftertaste every bit as sweet as the beverage itself. It appears that a heavy dosed ristretto pulls into a very nice, not very complex-tasting, yet very sweet espresso, while a lighter dose yielding a 1.5oz double in around 22-23 seconds delivers so much more than one would expect upon first inspection. Suddenly, this blend requires a new perspective for the review. I have yet to discover how this dosing technique behaves in milk, or as an Americano.

Update v.Cappuccino
Using the new-found optimal dosing method for this blend, it behaves much as it did as a straight espresso when used in a cappuccino. The only real difference is that the milk chocolate flavor is in the background rather than the center stage of the flavor profile. The milk adds a little depth and body to the mouthfeel, serving as a sweet backdrop to the brighter fruit flavor accompanied by a slight spiciness that is more prevalent in the aftertaste than in the beverage flavor itself. The milk appears to tone-down the subtleties a little, but the blueberry notes are noticeably present, and add an interesting aspect that was lacking in the heavier dosing method.

Sweet, balanced, with the highlights of the Ethiopia Harrar coming through in a sophisticated manner, with no single attribute overpowering another. Quite pleasant with more noticeable flavors, however, an experienced palate will help to fully appreciate the slightly diminished subtleties in a cappuccino. So far, I find that I favor the straight double to a cappuccino.

While this blend is sweet, and extremely well-balanced, it does lack complexity. While this complex flavor is present, it is difficult to taste for a novice's palate, and not quite satisfying enough for the experienced.

Even so, the balance and chocolate notes of the blend pulled with a heavier dose are still pleasant, especially in milk. As an Americano, the blend has very little complexity, but has a very pleasant "strong coffee" flavor with great balance and mouthfeel.

All things considered, this is a good blend. The shop-sized portions are post-blended, meaning, this review is to be taken as a glimmer of the expected flavor profile for a commercial environment.

In short, this blend, though it has its weaknesses, is definitely enjoyable and worth trying.

A Few Updates

I bought the Stir Crazy portion of my Turbo Crazy coffee roaster the other day. Just a few more things to buy before I'm in business for larger roasting batches.

I've had a few friends ask to buy coffee from me. I might start doing that once I have this set up and quite a few pounds of green.

In other news, Nate White of

sent me a pound of his Espresso Torro blend to write a review on. He's trying to get his new roasting company on a roll, and I offered to review his coffee as sort of a reference for potential buyers.

I asked him for a snippet of the blend, if he was willing, and he graciously told me every coffee in the blend. I must say, it's quite unorthodox, but very interesting to say the least.

The bag aroma is quite balanced.. almost to the point of being uninteresting, but very inviting.

Full review to come.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Not much to tell

First off, I would like to apologize for the lack of updates here. I usually try to keep it pretty new. I know how boring a stagnant blog can be, and I decided I didn't want to be one of those types, no matter how busy I got.

I'm still waiting for my tax return. When it arrives, I intend to purchase the missing Stir Crazy portion of my Turbo Crazy setup, as well as a good 10 pounds or so of green coffee with which to work for awhile. I've got a few people asking to buy my coffee that I don't even have yet. Most of the return is accounted for, so there won't be much of it spent on coffee related goods.

There was a picture taken of me drinking some french pressed coffee, and a friend of mine took it and made it into this:

Good promotional picture, I'd say. If only I had a good reason to have it.

Which brings me to my next topic of discussion.

I have considered going into the espresso consulting field on my own, independent of any pre-existing company. No, I'm not a super-barista.. I've never won a competition, or even entered. But what I do have is a basic understanding of how espresso works, and the knowledge of how to pour latte art. So many shops here have just plain awful espresso. I have found two exceptions.. one of which is my current place of work, and the other is my previous place of work.

The previous place had a very VERY forgiving espresso blend. The current place has great technique, if I do say so myself (I trained them) and is, at this point, limited by the blend.. which isn't very good, but I'm trying to change that.

There is a severe lack of options for shops here. Most people not only don't know where to look, but they're not even aware that they should be looking for advice on improving their overall product. Training is what I really want to get into, and my region is in dire need of someone capable of teaching good barista technique. The hard part will be convincing cafe owners that my services will actually help improve their business. That having been said, I'm going to wait until the Alternative Brew Methods article is published in Barista Magazine. I will probably be in it, which means more good stuff to put on my resume, and more reason for cafe owners to trust me with their employees.

I just can't help but think people would be appreciative, though. I've tried a few new shops, and have found new locations for "the worst espresso in Lubbock". This is not encouraging.

I have not had access to a digital camera lately, so I don't have any latte art or naked shot pictures for you this time.

Until next time, may your cup always be full.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Barista Magazine?

So.. I might be in an upcoming issue of Barista Magazine.

Kenneth Olson is writing an article about alternative brew methods in coffee houses.

I contributed my take on the Melitta Pour-over station. After having worked with one before, I'm a pretty big fan.

Hopefully it goes through. If it does, I'll be sure to post it up here.

Exciting stuff! (crazy.. less than a year in specialty coffee)

Anyone else notice Rocket Coffee Roasters' new tagline pic?

Very nice. I'm not much a fan of the site's background, but the coffee is great.

Aaand.. I'll leave you with some recent pictures.

A cappuccino.

A Hot chocolate.

An espresso pull.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Rocket Time

I received a pound of coffee today from Rocket Coffee Roasters courtesy of the owner.(Thanks, Larry!)

The coffee is El Salvador-Mont de Leon roasted on April 24.. four days ago.

It was sent via USPS Priority Mail. I'm surprised it arrived so quickly. He just sent it out on Wednesday.

I have not opened the bag to taste the coffee yet, so the review will come later, at which point, I will update this entry.

The included pamphlet describes this particular coffee as such:
From the Ahuapachan region, this is truly a special coffee. An "Old world" Bourbon variety, it has big thick body and good acidity. A bright and lively cup with well-rounded honey tones.

The beans are roasted to City +.

How well my palate agrees with this description, remains to be seen.

Many thanks to Larry for giving me the hookup.

The Review:

As typical of a Central American, this coffee is quite bright with ample acidity. As not-so-typical of a Central American, there was much going on in addition to the acidity to bring it all together in a harmonious experience with enough body and depth to balance the acidity without muting it in the least.

As a single origin espresso, I taste dried apricots.. very clearly. 28 second 2oz pull was enough contact to give it ample, yet not excessive, body to carry the complex flavors and marry them into a single taste experience. There are hints of dark chocolate that are lost in the whole compilation. The crema carries the aromas well, and with the flavors, creates a very soft-palate feel. Very pleasing.

This single origin espresso does not work well in milk, however. I believe the flavors react with the sweetness and lactose in the milk rather badly. Great apart, not good at all together. I have not yet tried it as an Americano.

I have not cupped this coffee yet, but my experience with it in a French Press are quite pleasant.. similar to most central americans, but with a better balance than most I have tried. The flavors come alive when pulled as an espresso. It's like night and day, yet very enjoyable when pressed.

I'll add to this as I cup the coffee and try it as an Americano.

Stay tuned.

Update v.Americano.1:

I tell you, this coffee just keeps amazing me. As a reistretto 5oz. Americano, the body, while not heavy, is quite full and dense. Amazing. The softness on the palate is still clearly present. The dried apricot flavor, while still present, is not as intense and is paired with hints of warm honey. The balance is incredible.

Do not pass this one up! It's definitely worth trying.

Great job with the roast, Larry. As far as I can tell, it's fairly transparent. The origin shines through quite well. El Salvador - Mont de Leon makes one great cup of coffee.

Update v.cupping

Yes, I cupped this coffee WAY past the roast date, but still within the "still fresh" period.

2 slightly rounded tbsp of coffee ground between FP and drip used in a 6oz. cup.

Dry Fragrance:
Very bright
High Acidity
Dried apricot; turkey+cranberry; slight tobacco

Dried fruit
Slight smoke

Bright, smooth, and sweet.

delicate milk chocolate

Medium to full body
Very pleasant soft, comforting mouthfeel (not velvety)

Acidity becomes stronger as the cup cools. Flavors mellow out and become slightly more flat. The body thins slightly, and the cup levels out with the flavors becoming less dynamic.

Overall, a great coffee.

Keep up the good work, Larry.

Up next, PNG - Red Mountain.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Quote of the day

"We've secretly replaced the decaf with Robusta....Lets see if anyone notices....."

-Steve Watkins(Owner of Panther City Coffee)

It wasn't bad

The gig isn't bad at all.. in fact, I was kind of dissappointed at the lack of traffic. I did make a few Gen X's, though. When a customer orders the Gen X, the barista makes whatever they feel like at the spur of the moment. It's based on the barista's background, skill, and mood at the time of the order. Trust is crucial. Everyone loved what I made them, which is good.. of course, mixing syrups is almost a no-brainer, and latte art is seen as more of a novelty than the sign of quality that it is.

Just give it time.

I brought my naked portafilter for them to play with. I watched one of the owners pull a shot with it today. She thought it was pretty cool to watch. I cringed a bit when I saw her use the polishing surface to tap on the portafilter to settle the grounds. The shot pulled in the center, but that group has channeling issues with the shower screen. I'm not sure what the deal with it is yet.

I think I may head over there tomorrow to try to figure it out.

Rocket Coffee Roasters sent me some coffee that should arrive tomorrow (as I've been informed). I'm pretty excited about it, and I'll give a review when I've had a chance to cup it, press it, and pull a shot with it.

I have high expectations. ;o)

In other news:
I've been experimenting with hot chocolate/ mocha recipes for the past few days. I'm pretty sure I've got it figured out. Here's a video of some art poured in a hot chocolate taken yesterday. My art today was far better, but I didn't take pictures.

Oh well. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

First Day: in a few hours

I begin my first day behind the bar at this newer shop, with no formal (or otherwise) training from the owners.

I had dropped by with my g/f and my visiting friend to introduce everyone and just have a good time.

On EVERY single table is a flyer that says (per my messing around suggestion.. word for word): "What is latte art? Come find out Sunday 5-9pm" with an internet picture of a beautiful rosetta in the background. I later find out that they have had it written on the outdoor sign since the day they told me I was on.(Thursday)

Holy crap.. I haven't had much time on their machine yet, and I hadn't expected too big of a deal, but now I'm kind of nervous. Not that I'm nervous of whether or not people will like it.. I've been assured by the persons mentioned that even if it's not my best, it's more than anyone here has ever seen (probably). While this is true, I'm trying to set a standard, here. I have very high expectations for myself, and for the industry as a whole.

I feel like I'm representing not only myself, not only the shop, but the entire Third Wave to the people who will walk through the door of that shop come Sunday evening. This is where my nerves come in. I don't have an established flow on this setup yet. Not even close. The steam wands are short.. really short.. and they pivot forward until the wand is at about a 30* angle.. which makes it very difficult to properly froth the milk. I still get larger foam on this machine, but it's getting better. I'm having to get used to 32oz frothing pitchers and how the milk behaves in them after about a month of nothing but my 12oz pitcher at home.. there is a HUGE difference.

I worry about the pre-programmed shot volume. I don't want to pull lungos, but it appears that's what I get with the "double" button. I'll figure it out, I think.

I'm going to bring my timer, my 20z pitcher, and my own tamper so I'm at least comfortable with the tools I'm using. It's so strange, though. I've been praying for an opportunity like this for a long time, and now that it's here, I'm just a bundle of nerves lacking in self-confidence.

This is the first active step in the long journey of improving coffee in West Texas. I just hope this will catch on within the single shop. If that happens, then there's hope. If it doesn't, then it's all just an unfulfilled dream.

Wish me luck, people.


Possibly pictures to come.

Friday, April 21, 2006

New Gig

The Sunday gig came through, and I begin this upcoming Sunday night from 5-9pm. It's not much yet, but as business picks up, so should my hours. For those who have been following this blog, you'll know who/where I'm talking about.

Pay's not great, but it's comparable to other options locally, and it's doing something I love, so I don't mind too much. At least here I will be allowed the freedoms necessary to really improve and help to bring the Third Wave to Lubbock. I see this as the first step in a long journey in changing the entire espresso market in the region. Hefty adjenda, I realize, but I feel I am up to the task.. for now.. as long as I don't remain alone for too long.

Apparently my other coffee home has changed hands, or will change hands soon.. at least that's what my new coffee home has informed me. We'll see what happens here in the next couple of months. I have too many big ideas for a business that's not my own. I should keep that in mind, I think.

I am no longer at the Custard stand (both good and bad) for reasons I won't get into, but I'm glad to be rid of it. I wasn't enjoying the job much, when what I really wanted to do the whole time was coffee.

In other news:

I'm thinking about starting a blog for SouthWest Coffee. In this region, I feel that every shop worth mentioning is trying to get it done on their own. To my knowledge, this is the only region like that, and probably the one in most need of changing that. This blog/website would give the SW coffee community a place to collaborate and share ideas while we all work towards a common goal.

It would be similar to Arizona Coffee, but more specialized, I think, and more broad regionally.

It's just in the brainstorming stages right now, so it may never take off. BUT! If you are reading this and interested in being a part of something like that, please do let me know. If there is ample interest, I'll definitely get on it.

I'll try to take pictures of this new location this weekend.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Public Apology

If you are among the very few people who read this blog, you may have noticed that some past posts have been edited.

It was brought to my attention recently(mere hours ago) that I have allowed my negative feelings to get the best of me.

I have made fun of, cut down, and criticized people who never should have received such treatment.

This was never my intent. This is supposed to be a positive blog about improving coffee. I've turned it into a mud-slinging fest in which I wrote bad (and often unfair) things about other people.

To these people (if you are reading this, you know who you are), I sincerely apologize.

I have incredible respect for anyone who can open and run a business successfully for any amount of time.

My current employer(coffee) has done everything he can to ensure consistency in the products served to our customers. He has also given me the chance to work in a field I love so much, and for this, I am very thankful. My friends know how excited I was when I first got the job, and I still love the fact that I can say I work in the field. It's my passion.

My other current employer(treats) runs a VERY tight ship. I never said it here.. I regretfully made this my dumping ground for negative emotions instead.. but at this shop, EVERYONE works. When things are busy, it runs like a well-oiled machine, and I feel this is due primarily to the owners and their choice in employees. Consistently great in what they do, they've taken a humble single-location franchise and made it into something great with a culture all its own and consistently (more than)satisfied customers with friendly service and a consistently great product. Something I hope I can one-day match up to in my own endeavor (in the distant future).

A final apology to another (you know who you are). You're the last one who should've fallen victim to this sort of treatment. I'm sorry.

I vow from now on to keep this strictly about coffee, and not about business, and especially not about my personal negative feelings amplified by external frustrations.

I hope you all can forgive me.