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.