Today we made some really great Vines. Enjoy!
(click the speaker-icon for sound for each)
Today we made some really great Vines. Enjoy!
(click the speaker-icon for sound for each)
(Response to Stephen Wade, by request)
Great blog post from Stephen, with a lot of good thoughts and points.
I don’t have a ton to say about this… well, I guess that’s bullshit. I do have a ton to say about this, but I don’t have a lot of time to write too much right now. I’ll write this much though:
Capitalism is a great thing, except when it’s not so great. Obviously this is a meaningless statement, and you could say that about anything really. Point is, capitalism is a great economic model that can resolve a great many issues. But there are limits, and we struggle with those limits when we try to reconcile capitalistic forces with things that it’s not very well suited for.
Quality is relatively easy. Higher quality can attract higher demand which will attract higher prices. But for many of us living in more developed economies, we might have the apparent luxury of additional considerations in our markets, like supply chain or manufacturing issues regarding ethics or sustainability. The problem is that these are less suited for letting capitalistic market forces rule. In fact, one might say that you’re trying to apply capitalistic market forces to something fundamentally socialist in nature.
When it comes to the marketing of ethics or sustainability, we’re staring this awkward amalgamation in the face. When we as businesses try to explain our ethics or sustainability, we’re taking values that (perhaps by definition) we should be guided by regardless of whether anyone’s paying attention or not, and we’re asking for attention. By asking for attention, we’ve taken some of the value of actually adhering to our ethics, and mortgaged it in for the value that comes from declaring that we do so.
Then comes our competition, who see us marketing our values and ethics, so they feel the need to market their values and ethics. Now the market has increased the incentive for people to be deceptive or misleading about what their practices actually are, relative to their stated values and ethics.
This all points to a final thought. What’s more important in our specialty coffee industry marketplace, the quality of coffee, or the messaging around coffee quality? What’s more important: our ethics, or the marketing of our ethics? The fact is that former is more important… but the latter is more valuable to businesses. That’s the conundrum we all face.
When we talk about a certain coffee shop, can we please stop referring to them as some company’s wholesale account?
“Have you been to that shop, ‘XYZ Coffee?’ They’re a Wrecking Ball account.”
People don’t appreciate always being referred to as someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s wife or husband… because if it happens often enough, it starts to seem that being someone’s something is their most defining characteristic. It’s a lot like referring to people by their race (“You know Nick Cho, that Asian guy”), some feature (“You know Nick Cho? That guy with the grotesquely large head.”) or any other such thing. People deserve the freedom from that, and the freedom to have their own identities. I think coffee shops deserve the same.
A shop is much, much more than just an outlet for a certain coffee roasting company (or companies). They deserve their own identity, character, culture, and tastes. Obviously, we mean no harm when mentioning whose coffee a particular shop is serving, but maybe if we stopped automatically adding the name of the roasting company as if it was their last name, it would help us all both appreciate the shops for who they are, and show a little respect in the process.
DISCLAIMER: WHAT FOLLOWS IS MY PERSONAL ASSESSMENT AND ANALYSIS. THIS IS NOT SUPPORTED OR AUTHORIZED BY LA MARZOCCO OR LA MARZOCCO USA. MODIFICATIONS SUCH AS THIS MAY VOID YOUR WARRANTY. ADDITIONALLY, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ATTEMPT THIS MODIFICATION, DAMAGE MAY OCCUR TO YOUR MACHINE AND ANY SUCH DAMAGE OR THE RESULTS OF SUCH MODIFICATIONS TO YOUR MACHINE ARE AT YOUR PERIL ALONE. IN OTHER WORDS, DON’T SUE ME, I HAVE ENOUGH SHIT TO DEAL WITH IN MY LIFE. ALSO, CALL YOUR MOTHER AND TELL HER YOU LOVE HER.
There’s no doubt: the La Marzocco Strada EP is a fantastic espresso machine. Aside from the beautiful design (particularly the exposed groups) and standard Strada features, the EP version includes a few extra bells and whistles that justifies the premium price.
The steam wands are regulated by a special solenoid valve, rather than a mechanical valve, which for reasons I’m not 100% clear about, seems to result in a “drier” steam that adds less water weight to the milk. Rather than the paddle-controlled mechanical valve of the standard MP version, the EP features an analog electronic paddle. Each of the groups is driven by an internal gear pump, and you can program in four different pressure profiles. This allows for unprecedented control over the brew water pressure as each shot progresses.
That said, there’s one little thing about the Strada EP that I don’t really love, and I’m thankful that I’ve come across a modification that resolves the issue. Before explaining it, some background is in order.
When talking about coffee-making equipment factors like “brew water temperature” or “brew pressure,” need to know exactly what we’re talking about, and exactly what information the machines and accessories are providing us.
When we have a thermostat in our homes, it’s important to know that the thermostat is measuring the temperature of wherever the thermostat is mounted. Sometimes it’s mounted in a good spot that is a good representation of the temperature that is most relevant to you. Sometimes, it isn’t, and your heating or cooling is a constant source of discomfort and annoyance.
Similarly, “brew water temperature” could be measured in a number of different spots in the machine, with each spot being a different specific temperature at any given moment, with a wide range of temperatures that would surprise many people. The best and most relevant spot to mount a thermocouple (a certain type of digital thermometer) would be right at or above the portafilter basket somewhere. However, that’s a physically difficult place to mount such a thing. So instead, they’ll mount the thermocouple in a more convenient spot, and program in an offset to make up for the typical discrepancy between the point of use (shower screen) and the thermocouple point. That offset can be as much as 10°F (5.5°F) or more.
Pressure is a little easier. If the water pressure is at 123 psi (8.5 bar) in one part of the open system, it’s going to be 123 psi in a different spot in the same system. Bends and tubes and narrowing and such can change that a bit, but in general, pressure is distributed evenly. For an espresso machine, this is pretty much true everywhere in a brew group between the pump and the coffee in the portafilter. But what about that coffee in the portafilter?
In that coffee “puck,” there’s a pressure gradient. Below the portafilter basket, (at sea level) the pressure is 1 bar (14.5 psi), since it’s in “normal” atmospheric pressure at that point. Above the coffee puck, let’s say it’s 8.5 bar. Within the puck, there’s a gradient that transitions from the 8.5 bar to 1 bar. It’s not evenly distributed downward through the puck, instead the majority of the transition happens mostly at the very bottom of the puck. But that’s all with coffee in a portafilter.
If you had, instead, a blind filter (basket with no holes) in the portafilter, and you turned on the group, the resulting pressure would be a little higher than 8.5 bar. Because there’s no pressure drop out of the portafilter, your net pressure would be higher. Not a LOT higher, because of the way the pumps work.
On the Strada EP, rather than a vane pump like every other La Marzocco on the market, each group has a gear pump, and a pressure transducer (pressure measurement sensor). When you program in a pressure profile, the software takes the data from the pressure sensor, and saves it into memory. When you playback a pressure profile, the software works to replicate that same pressure sensor data by controlling the pump, which in turn it controls by adjusting the voltage sent to that pump. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
There’s a different way that the machine could work. Instead of having the software replicate the same pressure data, it could just replicate the pump voltage.
Let’s go back to the normal EP setting, where it works to replicate the pressure data. You dial in the pressure with a particular coffee, roasted a particular way, ground on a particular grind setting, a particular dose (amount of coffee grounds), and a specific lateral distribution. As you replicate that pressure profile throughout the work day, you’ve very often changed one or more of those coffee variables.
If you change only one variable: use less coffee, the pump will have to work harder to create a little more pressure to make up for the slightly lower resistance from the coffee. If you grind finer, then the pump will generate slightly less pressure, since the coffee has a higher amount of resistance to the water flow.
So what happens if your distribution develops the fearsome “channeling?” If, with all other things being equal, there’s an area of the puck that results in a “channel,” or a path of less resistance through which more water flows through than the other parts of the coffee puck, what would happen? Well, on an average espresso machine, the pump being “dumb” and not directly responsive to changing conditions, there will be a bit of overextraction of that part of the coffee mass, and a corresponding underextraction throughout the other areas. But the Strada EP is not an average espresso machine.
So what does the EP do when it encounters a channel? The pump will generate more pressure to make up for the pressure loss, effectively making the channel worse.
All of this background is to set this up: there’s a modification that changes this. MORE DETAIL HERE
If you change these control board jumper settings (you need one extra jumper), it effectively defeats the transducer-pump feedback loop and the pressure profile that you program in controls the voltage of the gear pump only.
To be clear: because the gear pump does not work to reproduce a specific pressure anymore, differences in your coffee puck will result in different numbers on the pressure LCD display. However, you might choose to relax a bit, since that’s the way pretty much every other espresso machine actually works. The group pressure transducer gives us a bit of information that we’d otherwise never have access to, so we really have to manage our expectations about how that information is going to look.
At our Wrecking Ball Coffee bar in San Francisco, we’ve been running our 2-group Strada EP this way for almost two months now, and the machine is much more user-friendly. We still have unprecedented pressure profiling, but without the additional element of the feedback dynamic. When there’s channeling, it’s a typical channeling. When we make coffee-related adjustments, the “peak” pressure on the display is often different than before. But, most importantly, the coffee is more consistently delicious.
If you’ve read this far, you’re a freaking nerd and you need to get a life, dude.
Despite the disclaimer that this post started with, thanks to Scott Guglielmino from La Marzocco USA for providing me with the jumper settings. If you choose to do this mod, and you like what the results are, and you’d like to show any appreciation, please do so with a small donation to Food for Farmers. Also, I’d love to hear your results.
Jon competed at the North Central Regional Brewers Cup competition a week or two ago, and due to his hard work and some great coffee, he found himself in the finals round. His brew method of choice was Beehouse pourover drippers, and his brew recipe was 10.5 grams of coffee to 174 grams of water.
His judges’ scores placed him in 2nd place overall in the finals, but there was a problem: one of this three cups was measured to have a brew strength* TDS of 2.2%! The other two were 1.32% and 1.37% respectively. The 2.2% cup was, by the competition rules, disqualified for being over 2.0% and it put Jon at 6th place.
2.2% makes no sense. Unless Jon had severely misjudged the amount of coffee he was using in that third brew, something was amiss. 2.2% strength with 10.5 grams of coffee and 174 grams of water results in an off-the-charts extraction yield of about 35%, which is, at least by the proverbial ‘book,’ impossible. Only about 30% of coffee is soluble, and if he were to brew it completely (which is also almost impossible under those conditions), there’s no way that the judge would have scored it as well as he did.
Talking with the competition organizers, they checked and re-checked the TDS measurements multiple times, particularly because the DQ-inducing brew strength reading. It’s not something they take lightly, and after some investigation, the TDS measurement was absolutely taken properly, and the measurement is accurate.
Lucky for us, we have video of the Jon’s finals presentation. Skip to the 03:01:17 point in the video and watch Jon’s set up and presentation. (direct link)
The CHALLENGE: What happened? Why did Jon’s one cup measure 2.2%? Using the Brewers Cup Rules & Regulations, your knowledge about coffee brewing, and the video evidence provided, see if you can solve the mystery. To be clear: I believe I’ve solved the mystery, and am 98% sure about my conclusions. Can you solve it too? Email your answer to: email@example.com. A winner will be selected at random from correct entries. Employees and friends-with-benefits of Wormhole, Halfwit, or Gaslight Coffee companies are not eligible to enter.
THE PRIZE: A Kalita Wave brew kit, a selection of Wrecking Ball coffee, and international bragging rights. (Only countries that we can ship parcel post to are eligible)
Good luck, detectives!!!
* for the less nerdy, “brew strength TDS” pertains to the percentage of the finished beverage that is made up of coffee solubles. The remaining 90-something percent will be water. “Extraction yield” pertains to the proportion of the mass of the coffee grounds used that has dissolved into the water, yielding the delicious beverage.
There’s been a problem slowly developing over the past few years, that in my estimation, is about to reach crisis-level: there aren’t enough coffee jobs.
Most fast-food employees see their jobs as a temporary gig. Until a few years ago, a Venn diagram of employment opportunities would have placed coffee-shop barista closer to a McDonalds cashier than not. As specialty coffee has been working to pull itself up out of the fast-food zone, we’ve attracted more ambitious, more engaged, more in-it-for-the-long-term people who are genuinely interested becoming career coffee professionals. While we often hear about how green coffee supply and climate change threaten our industry, the impending over-abundance on the supply-side of the specialty coffee professional workforce is becoming a significant force that will require resolution, one way or another.
The more interesting specialty coffee becomes, the more attractive it is, and the more people are and will be engaged in this industry as a career. But what will they do? Assuming that the widest entry-point to a career in specialty coffee is as a barista, what are the advancement options for Jane or John Q. Barista?
Often, you’ll see people transition to a retail management role. But let’s be honest: while this is an advancement in responsibilities, this is not really advancement in a coffee career. Same could be said for production (bagging, packing, and shipping), sales and marketing, or for any number of office-type jobs. If we’re being brutally honest, you’d have to put the idea of starting your own coffee company in the “not really a coffee-job” category as well.
So maybe they could become a barista trainer. That’s definitely a great option, and there’s perhaps no better way to learn than to teach. But where does that lead? What next?
If you’re in a shop that doesn’t roast, that is the end of the road for you with that particular company. If you’re in, or can transition to, a shop that also roasts coffee, then becoming a roaster is a possibility. But when you do the math, the ratio of baristas to roasters within a particular supply chain, depending on the capacity of roasting operation, will be something between 5:1 to 1000:1. As you move up the career ladder, the available positions shrink in number dramatically. To make matters worse, the lack of mobility means that there’s low probability that someone would vacate those coveted positions in order for someone else to move into it at all.
Getting back to getting a lay of the land, some companies will have some sort of quality control jobs, involving frequent cupping and evaluation. But you’re probably talking about fewer than 100 coffee companies in the U.S. that would have a full-time quality-control position. There’s the coveted title of “green coffee buyer,” but you’re again talking about a rarefied air.
Okay. So what are the potential solutions?
There are really only three possibilities, only two of which are actually solutions: accept the status quo, increase the number of advancement opportunities industry-wide, or recalibrate the existing job opportunities to be themselves more long-term.
The status quo is, in a word, unacceptable. We cannot allow the idea of a coffee career to be, effectively, a bill of goods—a promise of something that doesn’t really exist. We as an industry need to either fix this situation, or stop collectively lying to our workforce that there is a viable career to be found in specialty coffee.
We could change the existing jobs in specialty coffee to be more long-term propositions. But reading reports from full-time baristas eliminates that most numerous position, only exacerbating the problem as paying-your-dues in coffee also reduces your efficacy and ongoing prospects in that position. Even then, you’ve got the challenge of paying meaningful wages for those entry-level positions.
The best way to alleviate the demand-supply imbalance is to increase the number of job opportunities. But that begs its own question of how to accomplish that.
Increase the number of specialty coffee companies. Invest in higher-level employment to bolster the quality of products and services, which in turn can increase revenues. Invest in coffee education, both in partaking in the education and in providing it. Charge more for coffee to increase the resources available for such positions. Commit to achieve higher quality in all products and practices.
Perhaps most importantly, deliver on the promise that specialty coffee makes to the people who purchase and consume the beverages and beans we produce. While the legion of aspiring coffee professionals at the entry point is indeed a large and growing issue, greater still is the sustainability of the third-wave specialty coffee paradigm to our consumer base. While we’ve made some significant improvements over the second-wave stalwarts, an elevated message requires a product and service experience to match, and we’re daily failing as much as we’re succeeding.
As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
In the great tradition of top-something lists, and since I missed the opportunity to do a 2012 retrospective, behold my definitive list of the top-5 coffee industry trend predictions for the year 2013! I think you’ll agree, these are pretty much 100% guaranteed to come true, so have a read, won’t you?
1) Fruit-to-root coffee
Still only drinking a brew of the roasted seeds of coffee fruit? That is SO 2006, brah! Still only drinking the previously-discarded fruit layer of the coffee fruit? No HA-WAY, DOOD! Obviously in the obviously inevitable next step of the obvious Fruit-to-Root coffee trend comes steeping the twigs of the coffee tree branches.
Sweetness, acidity, deliciousness, all completely overrated. You think you actually taste tannins in coffee? Nothing will dry out your mouth and leave it feeling like you french-kissed a bottle of rubbing alcohol like brewed coffee twigs. It tastes disgusting, but since it’s part of the coffee plant that nobody had previously thought of making into a beverage, it’s automatically more coffee-passiony.
Expect to see this first at a barista competition, followed quickly by small, under-performing coffee shops in 3rd-tier markets looking for a way to differentiate themselves on Instagram.
Small is beautiful, which makes smaller beautifuler. In the race to the small, you can get no smaller as a coffee roaster than roasting one f*&king bean at a f*&king time. There is, quite simply, no way to be smaller as a coffee roaster than this, aside from grinding the green coffee down to smaller bits before you roast them which would be silly and absurd. As giiiiiant companies like Stumptown and Intelligentsia are busy roasting biiiiillions of pounds a day (which obviously means they’re not as good as back when they were only roasting biiillions of pounds a day), being a pico-roaster is as smallishly beautiful as you can get.
Micro-roasters are still huge. Nano-roasters, roasting as little as one pound per batch, are still behemoths compared to artisan single-bean-at-a-time pico-roasters. Not to mention, there’s no better way to turn the outside of the bean brown while leaving the inside of the bean completely raw than to roast over a wooden match. Hella-good.
3) Burr-free grinding
Grinders suck. Everyone knows it. Small is beautiful, but manual is awesome. Grinders create uneven particle size distribution, can heat up your coffee, and create the most hated force in the universe: fines. Except when fines are awesome. Sometimes they’re evil, sometimes they’re really useful, never anything in between. Fines are the thong-underwear of coffee.
So what’s the solution? Grinder-free grinders, OBVIOUSLY. Just chop it with an outrageously expensive chefs knife, but make sure you’re holding it right. It will take about 30 minutes to grind 25 grams of coffee, but it will be worth it. Because it’s hard.
Japanese steel is best, because Japanese stuff is universally awesomer regardless of how well it actually works. Single-edge is best, because “single-edge” reminds us of “single-speed,” which reminds us of bicycles, which are the best. Damascus steel knives that you use with your non-dominant hand will be known as “fixies.”
4) New WCE Event:
In 2013, World Coffee Events, producer of the World Barista Championship, World Brewers Cup, World Roasting Championship, World Latte Art Championship, World Cup Tasters Championship, World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, and World Cezvre/Ibrik Championship, will introduce the next new big world championship, in which participants from around the world will compete to see who can write the best tweet expressing annoyance at Todd Carmichael’s Travel Channel show, “Dangerous Grounds.” Extra points if the competitor has never actually watched the show.
5) Human-free coffee tasting
Continuing the trend from the past few years to its only logical ultimate destination, in 2013 it will be come no longer necessary to have a human being present to taste and enjoy coffee. Human perception is relative and fundamentally flawed because someone might disagree with us, so the only way to taste coffee in the way it was meant to be tasted is to taste it with a machine. Machines are perfect, and by using proprietary algorithms we can finally unlock the mystery that has plagued humanity since that Ethiopian goat-herder kid first slacked-off on the job: is my coffee good?
Just make sure to calibrate it regularly with distilled water or with Tim Wendelboe’s tears.
So that’s my 2013 coffee prediction list. I’ll let you know one year from now just how accurate or how wrong I was.
Happy New Year, everyone! (sorry so snarky!)