Sunday, February 25, 2007

Progressing The Third Wave... ?

I'm sure there will be people who will read this and think, "Oh God, this has been beaten to death... give it a rest!".

In this case, it's about the title description of this particular blog, and my own questioning of whether it's appropriate.

Let's recap.

1st wave: People are drinking coffee. It's the norm, and life in these United States has never been the same since.

2nd wave: People are introduced to the phenomenon known as "Specialty Coffee". Essentially, the notion that coffee has a gourmet side. Starbucks flourishes, and the Italian word for milk becomes common terminology in regards to coffee in the average household.

3rd wave: Quality is king. People are taking this "gourmet coffee" thing seriously. Microlot artisan roasters begin popping up, the SCAA, the BGA, the Roasters Guild and everyone involved become key figures for the "new" niche industry in which the art and science of quality coffee begins. Among these trends is the triple basket, the naked portafilter, microfoam, latte art, and the infamous ristretto.

Here's the dilemma. The 3rd wave was described by the industry as the time in which we "let the coffee speak for itself.". What I see is something else. I see taking a coffee, and forming it to fit the concept of what quality coffee, at the time, is accepted to be.

I notice a new wave of progress within this "3rd wave" niche community. Updosing is the new old-school. Light roasting is making its way back to just in front of the curve. Last but not least, the growers are in the game, playing ball with the rest of us. Many would argue that this is all part of the 3rd wave.. sure. For a few, but it wasn't in the volume or growth of what I would personally call a "wave".

Tiny farms are being rewarded for their hard work through the efforts of coffee auctions such as the Cup of Excellence, and others are taking notice. The concept of "Quality as the primary means of success" has trickled down to the earliest stages of the chain.

And beyond that, single origin espresso is no longer exotic. It's almost the norm for great baristas everywhere. Light roasts enhance the work of the grower, and allow the coffee to really showcase what it is, before the flavors of the flame over-ride the dizzying array of non-coffee flavors present in the green. Green coffee flaws, while still present, are MUCH easier to avoid for people like me. You just have to know where to look, and there is an increasing number of options popping up.

There is the formation of a group within this niche of people advocating quality, and more importantly, absolute honesty in the cup. While those really pushing this practice forward have been called "young guns", its practice is most accurately defined by one of the oldest guns in the North American Specialty Coffee Industry.

There is also the formation of a group of home espresso enthusiasts with a strong tendency to make everything technical and scientifically complex, to the point of, in my opinion, diluting the artistry and basic skill involved and associated with the craft.

The only problem I see, is that the 3rd wave has not finished its initial progression, and yet, here is a 4th wave forming in its crest.

Here in Lubbock-land, the 3rd wave is almost non-present.. and you can just forget about the idea of a 4th wave.

While I think that my part of the country could use a healthy helping of 3rd wave mentality, I'm not sure I should imply that I am helping to progress the third wave, especially since I have a tendency to side with the "young guns" in the search for green quality and absolute honesty in the cup, and constantly progressing towards what appears to be a wine-model approach to coffee in the green state... even the notion of "vintage" coffees.. the same idea, but far from the same practice.

There has not been a stopping of motion between the 2nd and 3rd waves. It seems to me that it was one big motion, just a change of direction, or a vector shift.

At what point does the 3rd wave end, and the 4th wave "begin"? Here's a thought.. when did the second wave end... Now, when did the 3rd wave begin?

It's just not that simple.

Case in point, is it time for a change of the title description? According to a "State of the Industry" report (thanks to Henry Patterson for sending me the link) , we(you know.. the "young guns") are a pretty good ways in front of the curve.

Not that the report is indicative of where the quality niche actually lies, but it's a reference to where the nation as a whole places itself at this moment in time. Apparently, Lubbock is a good 10+years behind.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

WCR's Decaf Torro espresso blend

You may remember my review of the Torro espresso blend from West Coast Roasting a good while back.

Nate White decided it was time to put the decaf up on the site, and asked if I'd like to give it a review. How could I refuse?

The bag aroma is interesting. Chocolate, yes, but also something else.. something much akin to licorice (black, naturally). It was good, but very different.

The first try was a normale double used in a 10oz. latte. It tasted of chocolate, but it was also bitter with a drying effect on the surface of the tongue just behind the tip. Interesting.

Now, I know this is a Decaf blend, so it will be lacking in flavor and complexity when compared to a non-altered bean, but I didn't want to have a shot that was just good "for a decaf". I was determined to get a good shot by any standard, if at all possible.

The obvious solution? Updose, of course.

All this on an Expobar Pulser with a stepless Gaggia MDF. So I dosed a bit more coffee into the ridgless "Synesso" double basket, and pulled. Slightly better, but not enough to say so.

A little logic tells me that the coffee is lacking much of its natural chemistry from the decaffeination process. In order to eke out the maximum flavor, we must have more flavor to begin with from which to extract. The solution?

Jon Rosenthal's infamous Triple Ristretto. Now, usually, I despise this drink. It's as dishonest as one can possibly get to the bean's natural flavor... at least, to me. But I was desperate, and in this case, it seemed to make sense.

Load up the triple basket with no overdosing. Pull the shot to about 1.5oz in about 22 seconds. The coffee sang. It was sweet, it was viscous, and it tasted VERY much of cherries. The result was a chocolate covered cherry with a very weak chocolate. It was definitely not what I was expecting when compared to the normal Torro I had tried.

There is still more experimenting to come, so stay tuned.


Alright, so I've had some time to live with this coffee. Despite my first impression, this coffee has proven to be a great end-of-the-day treat. I must confess, however, that this is reliant on the triple basket. I was never able to get a shot to satisfy myself with a double basket.

Seeing that I own a tripls basket and a naked PF, this isn't an issue at all, but it could be for some, but I digress. It would be worth trying even if you don't have a triple. For a decaf, it's really pretty dang tasty.

In milk, it mellows out quite a bit and settles into a nice coffee and chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate and milk, that is, not milk chocolate.

I have enjoyed it most as a 2oz. triple Americano with a normal dose pulled in ~22-24 seconds time. I have found it to be quite sweet this way, with teh berry flavors shining through, but not overpowering the mellow balance of the medium bodied medley of flavors.

If you are in need of a go-to decaf blend for espresso, don't pass this one up on your search.

West Coast Roasting website

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Expobar is "Go! Go! Go!" (Roger That)

Finding Teflon tubing isn't as easy as one might think.

I found a company called Zeus ( who actually specializes in different types of tubing for different industries, including medical, so I figured I'd have no trouble with the food-safe factor.

I sent out an email with the information of what I needed, and if it were possible to only buy 2' (way more than I needed, but extra is good... just in case).

The response I received asked for the measurements of the tubing. I replied, and received a response telling me that they were sending some samples.

"Cool", I thought. Their site describes that Teflon isn't always comprised of PTFE, and that there are actually OTHER non-stick formulas that were developed for the same use in different applications. Little did I know.

Moving on.

I received a box about a week later. Inside the box was a plastic bag containing a length of tubing arranged in a coil. The label said 5'. No charge. Amazing.

That evening, I got it all together. It has been operable ever since. Eureka!

Jason now has a heat exchanger equipped with the thermal stability of the E61 grouphead. It is now possible to crank out the espressos at will, and froth while I brew. This makes preparation a whole lot faster, which means that when I suggest to my beautiful girlfriend that we head over to my place for coffee, she is more likely to agree. Fussing with two drinks on the Gaggia isn't much fun, though it is quite capable of producing some great espresso.

I had actually gotten ahold of Bill at ( in Tucson to see if they could get ahold of some Teflon tubing for me. It came back positive... just after I was informed of being sent "samples". I didn't think the sample would be enough to work with, so I said, "great! let me know how much."

So here's the dilemma. Do I pay for the tubing and shipping, or do I just pay for the tubing to make up for their cost? I have more than enough tubing to last me for at least 5 years on this thing.

Some of you might be wondering, "What's the E61 group head all about? Why is it special?" Well, it was introduced by Faema in 1961 for optimal thermal stability while producing espresso, which was apparently a big problem at the time. So, yeah.. it's used in espresso preparation.. introduced in 61, and called E61. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Anyway, this is what you see.

(the back side)

And here is a thread on with illustrations of how it works.
E61 Diagrams thread

It should be noted that the Pulser is only equipped with the head.. not the entire brew group. (no lever.. there is a solenoid and a switch.. that is all)

BTW.. the espresso rocks, but I'm sick of flushing 10 ounces of water beforehand.