Thursday, September 23, 2010

What makes the perfect cup of coffee?

What is the perfect cup of coffee. We as humans are driven by our sensors, and often what makes the perfect cup of coffee is our memory of the perfect cup. It is normally not the coffee that is the major contributor to us remembering a cup of joe. I asked myself this question while reading Kenneth Davids' Coffee book

Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying, Fifth Edition
For me I remember as a young man going to the drive-in on a cold winter night and craving what I now call drive-in coffee. This is normally not very good coffee, with condense milk, it is sweet to the point that your teeth rattle. But feeling freezing cold and having this syrupy cup of coffee was perfect that day and time.

When I was studying and I needed a break grinding the coffee fresh, placing the coffee in a two cup mocha pot and relaxing while it made its magic brew was the perfect cup for me then. And I remember those coffees well.

What makes the perfect cup of coffee today for me is a combination of things:

  • The coffee must be fresh roasted, highland grown and specialty grade, which means that by the time you get it at least 4 different people have rated it as enjoyable.
  • If you have the time then a group head machine normally produces the best coffee, but normally the perfect coffee means you have friends around, and you enjoy their company and that is normally not conducive to the attention you need to give a group head machine that is where high quality super automatic, comes to the party. Once you get to know a good quality super automatic I find that you can get a great cup from them.
  • Then obviously you need the environment to be perfect, the place, the people and the ambience, that is where the deal is sealed.
When do you last have your perfect cup, add a comment to list it. Was it on a picnic, on the beach in the mountains, or overlooking the field.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stuff Every "Barista" Ought to Understand

As a coffee lover, particularly a specialty grade coffee, and mostly self taught in the art of espresso extraction, or what some people call barista skills, I find the base knowledge of each of these so called baristas can vary no matter where I come in to contact with these 'skilled' individuals. Add to that, that there is considerable amount of differing information spread by other so called experts and training courses out there about coffee and the art of the espresso brew. Here is a basic list of what every aspiring espresso extraction artist, or for the sake of brevity lets call them baristas, should know.

This is not an espresso!

  • a particular kind of coffee bean
  • a particular roast profile (often believed to be dark roast)
  • a blend of coffees, not matter what grade
  • Spelt or said with and "X" i.e. E"x"presso

What than is an espresso?

Definition: An espresso can be defined as a brew that is the result of a controlled quantity of hot water being forced under pressure through fine coffee grinds. The water extracts proteins, sugars and oils into a delicious couple of millilitres of thick caramel coloured liquid, which covers the brew and is called crema, without over extracting the flavour.
Espresso hence refers to a technique of preparation resulting in a concentrated coffee beverage, whose consistency is syrupy and dense and, if properly aged and prepared, should have a thick head of rusty golden coloured crema.
To get the rusty golden crema, all factors need to be correct in the perfect brew, the temperature of the brewing water as it hits the coffee cannot be higher than 95 degrees C, the coffee should be fresh ground and fresh roasted.

Grind size is everything

Incorrect grind size is comparable to a music produced from a piano. If you have the finest pianist playing a piano that is not correctly tuned, or is to old to be tuned, then no matter how well they try the music is never satisfying to listen to.
This is the case for a grinding coffee for a great espresso, you need to factor in age, pressure, climate, blend and roast profile to name a few. To get a great espresso each day typically you have to make more than a dozen little modifications to your grind level to continue producing espresso in its ideal flavour scope.

Even when if you are certain you are have the same dosing, distributing the grind properly, and tamping to the same pressure level, if the grind incorrect so to is the flavour.
Just like you have to know how to enjoy fine food and wine, practice makes perfect :), so start savouring more espressos and get to know the tell tale signs of over and under extracted brew.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Specialty vs Commercial Coffees

To break the coffee world into to distinct categories of specialty coffee and commercial coffee, is a broad grouping. But it is a good starting point for those not sure what is meant by the two types of categories, so here is a rough guideline based on this broad grouping, in table form:

Specialty Coffee

Commercial Coffee

  • Normally available in bean form only, in 250g or 1kg bags
  • Well branded jars, tins and vacuum packed bricks
  • Fresh roasted using a high quality roaster, roasting normally done manually
  • Bulk roasted as per of a large plant, roasting automated
  • Traditional pick and processing methods
  • Large scale processing methods, quantity is king
  • Considerably more choice, especially around origin and taste profile
  • Bulk blending to mask quality of the bean and roast
  • Purchase by roast date and origin practical and applicable
  • You get what the brand produces
  • More opportunity to participate in the coffee
  • Coffees are faits accomplis
  • Driven by climate and terrior and crop
  • Since the quality is not the primary driver buyers can move to cheaper and cheaper markets


Today there are some commercial brands that try and replicate the Specialty Coffee product in mainly name, and there are Specialty coffee producers that have become more driven by brand, so the distinction is not as clear as it once was.

Best way to check is look at how important roast date is and what drives their product list.