(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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!)
Good question. The general rule of thumb on retained water for drip coffee is 2x the coffee weight. That is, for every gram of coffee, it’ll hold on to 2 grams of water when all is said and done. This depends, though, on other factors… and how it relates to your specific brews, depends on even more.
How is it relevant to your recipe? Well, not too much, aside from needing to account for the water absorption when you want to produce a certain amount of beverage. If you want to make 12 oz of beverage, you’ll need to factor in that ~2 oz of loss.
Most brew recipes that people are throwing around these days are (weight of coffee) to (weight of water in), so there isn’t much to worry about there. Water retention is an important metric when trying to do extraction calculations and such, but otherwise, it’s enough just to know it’s a factor. Hope this helps!
Of the many things about coffee that Trish has opened my eyes to, the most valuable is embracing the full spectrum of coffee quality as the true human condition of the coffee world. During my college years, I spent a year abroad in Dhaka, Bangladesh, teaching music at a Christian missionary school. Despite the life-changing lessons I learned back then about what the world is really like, I was lulled into a very sheltered perspective on specialty coffee. Great coffee = good. Poor-quality coffee = bad.
The problem is that when you delve deeper, past the over-simplified memes, you’re forced to make a choice: Do you care more about coffee quality, or about people? Let’s set aside the barista/retail/consumer end of the chain for a moment, and focus on the producer-side. We claim to be supporting coffee producers, but it appears that what we really mean is that we support producers of the coffees that we really like the taste of. We go to events in the US to meet coffee producers and feel good about the experience, but what really happened is that we just met some of the most rich and prosperous coffee producers in the world.
The most celebrated coffee “farmers” and farms in specialty coffee are also among the most successful, with many if not most of those people being the sons (and in a very few cases daughters) of prosperous families. Upward-mobility is but a flying unicorn in these countries. A wonderful idea, but not reality.
I don’t mean to disparage or insult any of those successful coffee producers. Their coffees are indeed worthy of acclaim, and the heredity of those people shouldn’t take away from that. But if our affinity for those producers and those coffees defines our scope to only the tip-top best-of-the-best of what coffee has to offer, we are building a temple for worshipping the rich in a self-perpetuating cycle of aggrandizement and affluence.
What’s more deserving of celebration: Producers of 88-point coffees improving to 92’s, or those with 81’s improving to 85 scores? In real-world terms, that’s like comparing those making $500,000 per year bumping up to $750,000, versus someone making $20,000 now getting $30,000. Improvements are improvements, but in the US, the $500-750K bump helps 0.5% of the population, whereas the latter group represents about 20-40% of the population (depending on the data source and the way you look at it). There are no good figures in the case of coffee quality as a percentage of total production, but suffice it to say, it’s a much more severe disparity.
And what of the below-80 scoring coffees, those deemed below-specialty grade? As we glorify the top-tier quality producers and commemorate them by putting their photos on our company websites and Instagram feeds, do we believe that those who produce lesser coffees are somehow lesser human beings? When we cup these coffees and laugh and mockingly push them away and shut them out of our minds because to us, they’re not worth even thinking about, can we really claim to be working to help coffee producers?
The specialty coffee industry has, at least within our boutique segment, done a shitty job of actually helping coffee producers. If we used specialty-coffee logic to help women in Nepal better their lives, many of us would choose to gather together the most beautiful of them and hold a bikini contest for cash prizes. Then we’d walk away, patting each other on the back, feeling warm and fuzzy inside for “helping” those poor, impoverished people. Harsh? Maybe, but you get the point.
But it’s too easy to criticize. What of solutions? What should we be doing then? I don’t have all of the answers, but here’s what I have to offer right now:
As with most things like this, it starts with awareness. Consider the majority of coffee farmers and their families that we dismiss as below our standards, and remember that they are real people deserving of our consideration… perhaps even more deserving than their more well-to-do countrymen. This would hopefully inform the way we talk about our industry and our coffees, and maybe we’ll be a little less dismissive when describing how we differentiate ourselves out there.
“Awareness” also includes the current and future efforts of those within our industry family who are working with a focus on the poor farmers, like Fair Trade USA. Throwing Fair Trade under the bus as “not doing enough” ignores the great work that the program does accomplish, albeit more often with coffees that you might not choose to serve at your shop or sell from your roastery. They are doing great, great work. Just because their work isn’t perfect enough for you doesn’t mean dissing them makes you look cool.
The Coffee Quality Institute, in the midst of some significant changes due to new leadership, has always been focused on improving coffee quality and the people who produce it. The recent development of CQI’s R-Grader program has had a lot of coffee people scratching their heads, unsure of how robusta coffees fit in to our understanding of what’s good in and about coffee. But why must all of our industry’s efforts be about making great coffee even better? What about expanding markets and exploring desirable coffees from lower altitudes and geographies that simply can’t produce high-quality arabicas? Supporting CQI’s work is not only helping those who we don’t directly affect through our own purchasing and work, it’s working to develop a sustainable specialty coffee industry by helping to improve the quality of below-specialty grade coffees up to a level that we’d actually be proud to roast, brew, and serve.
We talk a lot about the unfortunate fact that baristas are generally the lowest paid people in the consuming-world side of the coffee chain. This is true, and something that the entire industry should work to change. But how is it that the lowest-paid individuals on this side of that chain are spending so much time celebrating only the highest-paid folks on the other end? Is that irony, or tragedy?
Just some thoughts on this overcast Sunday afternoon.
Disclaimer: I currently have had no official relationship with the US Barista Championship or the World Barista Championship. In the past, I have served as USBC Chairman and on both the WBC and SCAA Board of Directors, I’ve competed few times over the years, emceed here and there, and helped with some of the online broadcast production. What follows is my personal commentary alone. Take none of this as any official, approved, or sanctioned anything from anyone.
This past week, the barista competition fans and participants in the US were on Twitter, discussing the just-released 2013
US World Barista Championship rules and scoresheets. I was glad to see it.
EDIT: See the bottom of this blog post, but these are apparently the 2013 WBC Rules and scoresheets we’re looking at. Most of this post is still valid, except the conclusion. Carry on.
Let’s be completely clear here. The 2013 Rules are nothing short of an official divergence from the World Barista Championship Rules & Regulations and scoresheets. This is many years in the making, but I think it’s worth acknowledging what’s going on here, and celebrating the USBC Head Judge committee for their courage in the matter.
Over the past 12 years, the WBC has been the crown-jewel of the specialty coffee world. Aside from a few hard-working and devoted staff people, it’s completely volunteer driven. While this sounds great ‘on paper,’ it comes with some significant challenges, not the least of which is that the rules and judging tend to be plagued by a certain amount of group-think effects. It’s something I’ve observed since my first involvement with the organization back in 2005.
Today, the WBC is better organized than ever, with a talented and hard-working staff, an engaged Board of Directors, and the best crop of committee volunteers the WBC has ever had. However, it’s very difficult to wrangle something like the WBC for anyone. There’s more to say about this, but let’s leave it at that.
For anyone who is intimately familiar with the WBC competition format, you know that the most significant scoring elements are the times-four multiplied elements: espresso taste balance and tactile balance, cappuccino taste balance, signature drink taste balance, and overall impression. The format and scoring clearly indicates that the most important thing is the taste of the drinks (overall impression score also includes an assessment of the taste scores).
What it doesn’t do a very good job of is articulate what “taste balance” means.
This has been a foggy area of the judging since its inception. I don’t know who came up with the idea of “taste balance” as the name for the qualitative organoleptic evaluation of the beverages served, but I would suspect that it was the product of some discussion and ultimately a compromise of sorts. How about “taste quality?” Flavor? Deliciousness? Any one of those is brow-furling for sure. If one espresso is more delicious than another, who is the arbiter of that scale? How does this adequately account for diversity of roast degree, coffee processing styles, etc.?
So we’ve been stuck with “taste balance” and “tactile balance.” These are both terms that require interpretation, which in turn means that the interpretation is potentially different depending on who’s doing the interpreting. Even with further elucidation like “harmonious balance of sweet, acidic, bitter,” or “a harmonious balance of rich sweet milk and espresso,” it still leaves a whopping 55% (if you include the overall impression score) of the total score to how the judge interprets the concept of “taste balance.” Don’t get me started on “tactile balance.”
This fogginess has been brought up within the WBC rules and judging management in the past. I’m not privy to more recent discussions, but when something has been so nebulous for so long within an institution as large and diverse as the WBC global community (which includes all of the national organizations, regionals, etc.), raising the issue reveals just how nebulous it is. So foggy and disparate that it’s perhaps too big a topic to handle.
The trend over the years within the WBC has been to move more and more in the direction of supporting the barista competitor. This has meant clarifying rules, eliminating or changing scoring elements that were arbitrary or redundant (like the shape of the cups), and a general culture of transparency and good faith within the judging and within the organization. At the risk of offending anyone in particular, I’ll share that this cultural shift has really been led by the efforts of the American, Australian, and New Zealander representatives.
But the “taste balance” thing still persists.
In 2009, when I was USBC Chair, we took it upon ourselves to take things one step further and we developed a Rules & Regulations Supplemental document, which sought to further clarify or amend certain rules. One of those was a clarification about “taste balance.” The score would be determined by an average between the “taste balance” of the drink, and how accurately the barista’s taste description matched the taste of the beverage. With the rules as written and the way they were being implemented in competitions, it seemed the best way to go. Publishing this supplement to competitors and enthusiasts alike helped everyone be more on the same page, with everyone being subject to the rules as written.
This approach was shared with the WBC judging leadership of that time. Suffice it to say, it was not well-received. It was clear that while there wasn’t direct opposition, the topic was simply too big to be able to address in such a clear-cut way. Too many judges from too many countries were unwilling to budge from their own interpretations of the rules.
Now in 2009, when the USBC rules supplement was developed, it was implemented as a “supplement” rather than actual edits to the WBC rules, in order to try to soften the impact of what amounts to a vote of no-confidence in the rules as they stand. This year, for the 2013 USBC, the powers-that-be within the USBC leadership have taken that extra step. No supplement this year, kids. No mere the-way-we-interpret-it-in-the-US. We have a distinct USBC Rules & Regulations and Sensory Scoresheets.
Take that WBC Rules & Regs! I haven’t spoken to any of the folks within the USBC leadership about this, but I already know why they did it: for the barista competitors. In order to have a fair and open competition, you need as much transparency as possible. The more rules interpretation-ing that happens behind the scenes, the more disconnected the barista competitors are from what actually scores points. Again, there’s much more to say on the topic, but let me close with this: Congratulations and bravo, USBC leadership. The barista competitors here in the US owe you our gratitude, as you’ve stepped up to the challenge and chosen the difficult option of a bold move. Sure, it’s a small thing… it’s no life or death situation. But it’s in those small things that you see character and courage. Thanks.
EDIT: So, I’ve been informed that I’m a dummy. Apparently, these are the new 2013 WBC Rules & Regulations… just an advanced preview via the USBC. That said, it’s still a great achievement, and arguably the most significant change to the competition since its inception. It’s a continuation of an ongoing evolution of the WBC, and a welcome one to be sure. It is a little odd that these rules are being rolled out like this… it’s unprecedented, hence my erroneous assumptions… but regardless, it’s great that the WBC leadership is able to accomplish this (again) small but meaningful accomplishment.
Background: When grinding coffee, there’s a term that comes up every so often called “popcorning.” It’s the bouncing-around of beans and bits-o-beans that happens when you grind a pre-weighed portion of coffee, with the last portion having no beans on top of it to keep things feeding through as it does during the earlier grind time. The alternative would be to have a larger amount of coffee beans in the bean hopper, stopping the grinder at some point during grinding. The Esatto attachment and the “-W” variant of the Vario grinder, both from Baratza, as well as timed grinders of various brands, allow for this, which would theoretically result in a more consistent grind profile compared to the results from grinds that ended in “popcorning.”
There are many ways to analyze particles like coffee grinds to discover a grind profile (analysis of the various particle sizes and the quantity of each size): optical analysis, sieve separation, etc. One informal way to compare the amount of fines (the smallest coffee particles, appearing close to the size of dust or powder particles) between grind samples is to observe the flow of water through the coffee bed and out of the filter. The idea is that if one grind is different from another, the water will flow more slowly through the coffee bed that contains more fines.
Hypothesis: A coffee bed brewed with coffee that showed “popcorning” will have a slower flow of water, compared to an identical brew with grinds that did not “popcorn.”
Materials: Clever Coffee L Drippers (2), Kalita #103 white coffeeshop paper filters, scales (2), 44.2g Wrecking Ball Sidama Shakiso (4 days from roast, two portions), water (65 ppm TDS, 205°F starting temperature), Baratza Virtuoso Preciso grinder with Esatto attachment, VST coffee refractometer, scales, timers, etc.
1) Ground 22.1g of the coffee, utilizing the Esatto function to weigh the coffee as it grinds. There was at least 100g of coffee in the hopper as this was grinding, and a small (~3g) portion was purged and discarded before the sample was ground. The sample was re-weighed in ground form to confirm the 22.1g figure.
2) Emptied the grinder of grinds and beans from the grinder, weighed 22.2g of coffee and ground the sample, allowing it to “popcorn” at the end. Re-weighed the sample to confirm 22.1g.
3) Brewed each samples in Clever Coffee Dripper, simultaneously and using identical technique, over approximately 4 minutes. Began “drain” at 3.0 minutes.
4) Observed the flow during “draining,” as well as with a stopwatch.
5) Measured strength of each brew using coffee refractometer.
Results: I observed no discernible difference between the two brews, and both measured at 1.31% TDS brew strength. Each drained in exactly 50 seconds.
Conclusions: I was a little surprised. I expected at least a small difference between the two brews. Someday I’ll attempt this one more time with more coffee, but this informal and admittedly non-scientific experiment yielded no measurable difference. It was a fun idea, and I’m glad to have done it. I’ll be doing some more experiments like this once we have better tools.
(reposted from my G+ post from January. some stuff I’ve seen out there recently inspired me to reiterate this point.)
The prior literature on coffee brewing tends to use mass units for coffee (grams or ounces), and volume for water (liters or fluid ounces, sometimes gallons or cups). Granted, you’ll see teaspoons or tablespoons used sometimes, but none of those are really trying to be scientific.
Lavoisier’s Law of the Conservation of Mass teaches us that mass is a constant. Volume depends on density. If density is a constant, then you can effectively treat volume as a constant in that particular case. In the case of coffee brewing, the density of water is not a constant. Water density decreases at higher temperatures. I have this particular web page bookmarked for when I need to calculate water density at a particular temperature.
So when you say “I’m brewing coffee with one liter of water,” if you want to be precise and/or want to use this data to do some coffee brewing math, you need to know what temperature that water is. At room temperature, let’s say 20°C (68°F), one liter is 998.2 grams per milliliter. At 93.3°C (200°F), it’s 963.1 grams. The density decreased, and a given mass of water will expand in volume as it’s heated. This is true, and undisputed.
This is a fact that Vince Fedele has pointed out to the world by integrating it into the ExtractMojo (and MojoToGo) software. Both pieces of software, therefore, uses mass for water instead of volume. If you plug in a volume measurement, it will use its own temperature-density calculator to convert it to mass, before it does its calculations. This a great thing!
So what’s the problem? The problem is, with new units, you have to adjust the chart.
Everyone is still using charts that all read 18-22% as the Gold Cup extraction yield zone. But the 18-22% zone was developed with calculations using volume, not mass, of water. Therefore if you change the units to mass of water, since there’s a density-based delta (empirical change), you have to adjust the results of any calculations accordingly.
If using volume as your water number, the extraction yield zone of desirable taste characteristics “by the book” was 18.0-22.0%. Using mass and 93.3°C (200°F), the new corresponding zone is 17.2 to 21.1%. The “sweet spot,” if you’re trying to nail the middle point of that zone, is 19.1% extraction.
Therefore, 19.1 is the new 20.0!
[edit August 17, 2012] So to summarize my point above is, the old method (and chart) used liters of hot water. The new method uses kilograms (or grams) of water, which is better. The problem is that you can’t just plug in a kilogram of water in the place where a liter once occupied, because one liter is only 0.963kg. Either adjust the chart, or adjust your math, but either way, people are using it WRONG!
To answer your last question first, absolutely true! Of all the materials that we have to choose from for coffee brewing devices (ceramic, metal, glass, plastic), only plastic actually performs as an insulator, with plastic being such a poor conductor of heat and possessing such a high heat capacity. The rest are heat-sinks, drawing heat out of the brew-space. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on your desired brew temperature profile, but that’s a different topic. Problem is, plastic isn’t sexy. Oh well.
Ceramic drippers tend to have more mass, and therefore more capacity to draw heat out of the brewing space. The good news with the Kalita Wave filters is that the apexes of each “wave” touch the dripper, but there’s also a good amount of air-insulation. Put it all together, and I’m finding no measurable difference between dripper materials with all other factors being constant. Hope this helps answer your question.
I visited Durham, North Carolina for the first time in late 2004, and it was quickly apparent that I had met somewhat of a kindred spirit. It was clear that Peter and I shared a genuine interest in both coffee science and people in a way that eight years later, I can confidently say is all too rare out there. But only “somewhat of a kindred spirit” because in no way did I see Peter as my equal. This was someone who I would strive to learn from, to be mentored by, to be inspired by. My deference to him hasn’t changed one bit in 8 years.
At that same trip began another relationship, that with Counter Culture Coffee. We were working hard at murky coffee to do our best with espresso drinks, but after failing to achieve even the humblest version of my goals at the 2004 US Barista Championship and encountering some great coffees there in Atlanta, it was painfully clear that we had much to learn and much to improve. After a fun visit from Daryn Berlin and Cindy Chang, I decided to visit them in Durham, and it changed my life.
It filled my heart and widened my eyes to see Counter Culture in action. This was a passionate company that truly cared about doing their best in all things. I remember Cindy teaching me about the importance of brew-bed geometry. I remember Peter leading me through my very first coffee cupping. Hours of exchanging ideas, of comparing techniques… it’s an experience that I know many reading this have also shared: you think you’re on your own out there, trying to connect with passionate coffee people over the internet, and one day you’re in the same room with them and it’s a certain kind of falling head over heels in a certain kind of love.
Counter Culture is one of the good guys, maybe the best of the good guys. In specialty coffee, it’s really three pillars that you build your brand on: coffee quality, business management, and ethics (beyond that, it’s icing on the cake). No one in the industry achieves on all three to the level of Counter Culture. Nobody. Apologies to those I’ve unintentionally offended.
Brett Smith and Fred Houk (who I never had the pleasure of meeting) had a vision for a coffee roasting company. Peter Giuliano took that vision and developed a culture of industry leadership, with a fearlessness that sometimes resembles foolishness to some.
I’m honored to be able to call Peter a friend. I’m honored to be considered in the Counter Culture extended coffee family, despite some of my personal failings.
Because we live in such a small community that to avoid offense we tend to err on the side of omission, nobody’s ever just come out and said it: the SCAA Symposium exists because it was Peter’s vision. SCAA’s Conference had existed in its current form for over 20 years, with small, incremental changes over those two decades, and back then, the culture of SCAA would generally squash the sort of radical idea that became the vision and implementation of the now four year old Symposium. Much easier routes would have been to just maintain the status quo, or to try to build something outside of the constraints of a now 30 year old trade association. It’s Peter’s passion for the industry and his commitment to the SCAA that has led to the dynamic Symposium event, and the fact that he’s now devoting himself full-time now means so much to the specialty coffee industry that is yet to come.
Nothing written in this way will do anyone any justice, but I wanted to take this moment to celebrate Counter Culture Coffee and Peter Giuliano. It’s like Counter Culture’s the space shuttle, and Peter’s booster rocket has now been detached. Counter Culture is now off to continue its mission, and Peter is off to add energy and thrust to the next thing that he’s called to.
Peter owed me $10 before I met him. He had put a challenge out there on an old online discussion forum, and I stepped up to it. When he PayPal’ed me the ten bucks, it made me wonder about this guy who so quickly paid up like that, without the slightest argument or protest, which is what those discussion forums were all about. In fact, I hadn’t connected Peter with the guy who made that bet until the group dinner we shared that day we met. It all made sense.
Thanks all y’all.
I’ve tried my best over the years to be supportive of Starbucks and their practices. I did in my 2005 CoffeeGeek “Barista Code of Conduct” piece, I did in my Washington Post op-ed. I’ve been an apologist for Starbucks against baristas who often seem eager to take cheap-shots at them.
I’ve defended them because in general, nothing they’ve done is offensive to me. Nothing I’ve observed from them, in my personal opinion, is really a violation of any written or unwritten principle of business, coffee ethics, etc. Obviously my threshold is different from others, but nonetheless, I’ve been supportive.
While we in the specialty coffee industry usually see our competition to be inferior coffee or our peers in whatever segment we’re in, there’s the larger consumer competition of beverages in general. Coca-Cola, Snapple, even bottled water are all vying for consumers’ quenching dollars. In that larger playing field, there has emerged one legitimate threat to coffee’s position as number-two(1) behind water: energy drinks.
The 18-to-24 year old demographic is using Red Bull and other sugary energy drinks to help them get through the day instead of coffee, compared to the older demographic groups. Granted, as described in this article on TIME.com, it’s mostly the lower-end commercial coffees that will suffer as a result. It’s an interesting thought: as high-end specialty grows and the low-end commercial coffee market shrinks, what will our industry outlook be like in 10-20 years?
That said, Starbucks is giving in, offering a fruity, sweet energy drink in three forms: beverage service in their shops (served like iced herbal teas or juices), RTD (cans), and instant packets via their VIA brand.
But what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing really. Part of my general defense of Starbucks is in the realities of a publicly traded company: like it or not, the company has fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to grow their business, which for a company like Starbucks means more stores, more sales, and more products offered. The idea of using the beat’em-vs-join’em principle and entering the energy drink market is, while a little curious, typical for Starbucks and companies like it.
What’s bothering me is the fact that they’re claiming that it includes “Green Coffee Extract.”(2)
Here’s a screen shot clip from their website:
So “Starbucks is using an innovative process to pull the naturally occurring caffeine and other good stuff from 100% green arabica coffee beans before they are roasted.” They go on to say, “The result is Green Coffee Extract - the natural energy from coffee, but with none of the coffee flavor.”
Yes. “Green Coffee Extract.” Do you know what that was called before Starbucks put it in capital letters? It was called: Decaffeination byproduct.
Every decaffeination process works in the same general way (with the differences being the medium used): green coffee is soaked in some sort of solution that the caffeine and other stuff dissolves into, and then that solution is removed. Sometimes, they’ll remove the caffeine from that solution and try to re-integrate the flavors lost into solution back into the beans. Either way, voila: decaf coffee. It’s this process that prevents anyone from claiming 100% caffeine-free for their decaf coffees: The beans still have some of the solution in them when you remove the liquid.
The caffeine is then purified and sold to other companies like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, 6-Hour Energy, 7-Hour Energy, etc.
So Starbucks is calling it “Green Coffee Extract.” I get it. It sounds better like that. Euphemisms are often appropriate. It’s not “organ meat,” it’s “offal.” It’s a “sanitary engineer,” not a garbage man. But the disingenuousness of “Green Coffee Extract” is egregious. It’s effing caffeine.
Now to delve one thin layer deeper, I’ll admit that I don’t know for sure that “Green Coffee Extract” is just caffeine from decaffeination. Maybe it’s actually truly a proprietary process that’s designed specifically to pull this “Extract” out of the coffee beans. Well, if that were true, that’s actually worse. At least as a decaf-byproduct, that bulk of the coffee beans is still being used to be roasted and brewed. Without that, you’re talking about a shit-ton of additional waste, both as physical waste and as an untapped profit center. Highly, highly unlikely.
C’mon Starbucks. It’s a caffeinated energy drink. It’s bad enough that you’re selling-out (again) by getting into the energy-drink game, but don’t use our own coffee to slap us across the face by calling it ‘Green Coffee Extract!’
(1) No pun intended
(2) Capitalization is theirs: Green Coffee Extract. It’s funny that they capitalize it, but yet there’s no ™ or ® behind it… because, well, they can’t.
Edit 2012.07.17: The post above was based on the available information. I’ve had a number of colleagues who work for decaffeination companies contact me with different ideas, but I still haven’t seen or heard anything that’s leading me to different conclusions than what I posted above. However, I’m happy to have my analysis proven wrong if anyone with conflicting information will contact me.
I’ll begin by stating that this is a delicate issue, and one that I do not wish to use to become some sort of litmus test or indictment of anyone or any company. I’ve taken my own time to ‘evolve’ on this, and I’m definitely not trying to claim ethical superiority. It’s really about raising an issue that challenges us all in the coffee community, so here it goes:
Is it okay to use certain images from coffee ‘origin’ in our marketing… specifically (as perhaps the most severe category) photos of children?
If you went down to the closest playground to your coffee roasting facility, and took photos of the children there, would it be ethical to use those images in your marketing? Without parental consent? Would it even be legal?
There is undeniable beauty in those photos from origin. But as coffee companies say that they are interested in concepts like ‘direct trade’ and in paying higher prices for higher quality, what about the other stuff? What about the other basic signs of respect (or lack thereof)?
Does the act of commerce (exchange of goods and services) absolve us from looking at our suppliers as our peers? Why do we not afford the same considerations to those at origin that we would our peers at home?
What does this say about our claims regarding ‘direct trade’ and that we enjoy meaningful relationships with our coffee producers? Did we just forget deeper manifestations of “meaningful relationships,” or does the way we exploit coffee producers reveal our real objectives: that all that sourcing and direct-this and relationship-that is ultimately about making ourselves look good to our audience, and really nothing meaningful about dignity and support for our suppliers beyond a payoff?
Just sharing my reflections for this sunny California Sunday morning.
As lots of folks have been talking, writing, tweeting and reading about iced coffee lately, Trish and I have been reflecting on how wonderful it is that the debate is “cold-brew vs. hot-brew-iced.” As if the OTHER ways coffee shops are making iced coffee don’t exist. Maybe it’s useful to reflect on that.
There are, by our count, FIVE distinct ways that people are making iced coffee out there. Feel free to chime in if you can come up with another, but here are the five ways, in descending order of my personal preference.
1) Hot-brew-iced (a.k.a. Japanese method, or ice brewed) - Brew coffee “normally,” but extra-strong, either brewing directly onto/into ice or poured into ice immediately after brewing. The point is to chill it quickly and completely, capturing volatile flavor compounds as well as avoiding certain chemical changes that happen when hot coffee is left to itself. This results in a certain sort of amplification of the coffee, due to its chemistry and the way temperature affects how we taste. If you’re an audio-geek, you may understand what I mean by this: hot-brew-iced is tweeters and woofers.
2) Iced Americano - Maybe not really a canonical “iced coffee,” but to add fuel to the debate-fire, I’d rather have a good iced americano than a “good” cold-brew coffee. Audio-geek analogy: small cheap speakers
3) Cold-brew - Room temperature or colder, extracting for a period of multiple hours. This method more completely extracts solubles from the coffee grounds, but in a different way than a typical 2-4 minute 195-205°F brew. It’s a different slice of the flavors in the coffee, generally being lower acidity and with a certain new flavor element that I’m still working on identifying (sort of a liquor-like taste). I’m not really a fan, but at its best, it’s inoffensive. Audio-geek analogy: blown tweeters.
4) Refrigerated Hot Brew - Brew some coffee, put it in the fridge. We’ve also seen the variant (utilized by a popular local chain of coffeeshops here in the SF Bay Area) where the last drips of pourovers are collected and refrigerated. Both this method and #5 below exhibit high levels of caffeic and quinic acid, which the mouth registers as bitter and astringent. This happens because when coffee is still hot-to-warm for that extended period of time, chlorogenic acid will break down into those two constituents. It’s yucky and misguided, but at least they’re making some attempt. Audio-geek analogy: a big tear in your cheap paper speaker cones (throw that shit out!)
5) Refrigerated Expired - Hours-old hot coffee is collected and refrigerated. This is WORSE than #4, because the deesterification (degradation) of chlorogenic acid is that much worse, and on principle, those employing this method reveal their utter, unprofessional and unacceptable ignorance regarding quality coffee. Audio-geek analogy: Same as #4 but add the smell of farts.
Unfortunately, numbers 4 and 5 are probably still the majority of “iced coffee” for independent coffee shops around America. In our ivory tower of quality specialty coffee, debates are fun and often informative, but very often lack perspective. Let’s all agree that #4 & #5 are the real enemy!
There’s been a strong trend in specialty coffee over the past few years: recipe obsession.
It does make sense. Before around 2008 when the manual brewing revolution gained significant speed, espresso and filter coffee-making was mostly only about recipe. Grams of coffee grounds, a certain grind setting on a certain grinder, seconds of extraction, throw weights, full-batch or half-batch, etc. You prepped the coffee and equipment for brewing, inserted the portafilter or brew basket, pressed a button, and stood back while observing the output (sometimes).
But “manual” means manual, and what used to be lock-and-load is now managed from beginning to end. Going from automated to manual really means one thing: now you have to worry about technique.
However, the vast majority of the information being exchanged is not about technique, but about recipe.
It makes even more sense. Recipe information is easy to articulate, almost by definition. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to convey anything meaningful about technique in a 140-character tweet. We shouldn’t fall prey to the fallacy that what’s discussed out there online among coffee professionals and enthusiasts is what’s actually important in and to coffee. Or to anything that matters in life, I suppose.
I’ve mentioned this a few times before here and there, but maybe it’s worth repeating: manual coffee brewing techniques require the brewer to essentially have to think in five distinct dimensions. The 3-dimensions of physical space, the fourth dimension of time, and the fifth dimension of kinetic energy. Yeah, really. Those are the five dimensions you have to work in, applied to best extract the best flavor from the coffee while mitigating negative flavors.
Oh yeah, plus the recipe.
So this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Living in the South, one comes to appreciate things that keep us comfortable in the unbearable summer time from March to October. Recently, a small Twitter debate erupted sparked by Counter Culture Coffee’s Peter Giuliano. Peter brought up some great points that you can read here, some of which I’ll go into further down the page, but the best part about it was simply that it got me thinking. And as one can deduce from the Tweet-plosion that followed, it got a few others thinking as well.
With a bit of trepidation, I have to respectfully respond to Lorenzo’s blog post today about cold brew coffee.
Let me start out by stating this: I do not like the cold brewed coffees that I have tasted. Not one. Most of the time, the beverages have had harsh, negative taste characteristics. At best, they’ve been inoffensive but definitely not an exemplification of what we know great specialty coffee can taste like.
That said, I’m 100% open-minded. I would love to taste a great cold-brewed coffee. I am not interested in being “right” about stuff like this. I am interested in seeking truth and facts. I’m a big believer in the dialectic approach to this sort of stuff, despite what many might assume. To that effort, I have to point out that Lorenzo’s post has a few items I must take issue with. I’m glad that Lorenzo is open-minded though, as he stated in his footnote:
“I do not pretend to have a firm grasp of organic chemistry, and I readily admit that some of my conclusions from SCAA material and science journals may be very, very wrong. If so, please don’t hesitate to take me to school, specifically science class.”
1) “According to research done by Lingle, et. al, in the Coffee Brewing Handbook (footnote 2), there was a significant decrease in the amount non favorable compounds, specifically Chlorogenic Acids (CGA’s), by about 100mg/L (the taste threshold being around 25mg/ml).”
This decrease, as stated in the “Coffee Brewing Handbook,” refers to coffee brewed at 70°C (158°F) vs 94°C (201.2°F). You can’t extrapolate “cold brew” extraction rates based on 158°F numbers.
2) “Mean taste thresholds for sodium chloride, sucrose, citric acid, and caffeine in the presence and absence of 1% linoleic acid are presented in Fig. 1. Thresholds were significantly higher (i.e., lower sensitivity) for the sodium chloride, citric acid, and caffeine solutions with added fatty acid… So, that tells me that with less fat content you will perceive more sweetness as there is less sensitivity to saltiness and bitterness from the caffeine.”
The study you linked to involved a 1% linoleic acid solution. Coffee is roughly 0.01% linoleic acid.
3) “This was explained to me as the lightest solubles, also the first to extract, were placed at the top of the chart and the heaviest solubles, the last to extract (see the pattern here), were placed at the bottom. Let’s keep this in the back of our minds.”
This is not true. The aroma-side of the flavor wheel is divided into three sections: enzymatic, sugar-browning, and dry distillation. Enzymatic flavors are those that come more from the green coffee, the sugar-browning from the Maillard and caramelization reactions, and dry-distillation from the carbonization phase of roasting. This has little to do with solubility, especially as they relate to taste. It IS true, however, that short-chain polar acids generally have higher solubility in water than sugars, and that many of the negative flavor compounds do take longer than acids and sugars to dissolve.
4) “By utilizing a short 45-120 second “bloom” with hot water, we are able to extract those easily dissolved volatile compounds (fruits and florals), and then by adding very cold water immediately afterwards we in effect trap the volatiles into the cold water brew itself, while finishing out the coffee over a 12 hour steep time to pull out more of the heavy compounds like sucrose and polyphenols and avoiding the potential extraction of negative compounds like CGA and trigonelline.”
This is an interesting idea, and one that I’m interested in exploring as well (link to G+). However, don’t demonize chlorogenic acid or trigonelline, and don’t over-value your short polar acids! All of these, when present in balance, contribute to what we love about coffee flavors. It’s when they’re out of balance, or very commonly, when they’re not sufficiently supported by sweetness, that our palates register them as not pleasing.
5) One thing that cold-brewing does not accomplish, which there’s unfortunately little to no published research about, is the hydrolysis of hemicellulose. While 65-70% of roasted coffee is considered insoluble, as much as 15% is hemi-cellulose, which is hydrolyzable with heat and time. Hemi-cellulose breaks down into reducing sugars, which are typically associated with caramel-ly and savory sweetness. There is, again, pitifully little research I’ve been able to find on the subject, aside from acknowledgement that hemi-cellulose exists in those proportions in roasted coffee and that hydrolysis to reducing sugars occurs over time. In fact, the Lingle book refers to hydrolysis as the third-phase of brewing, following wetting and extraction.
That said, I’d love to try your hot-to-cold brew! There’s a lot to be learned about brewing, and it’s great to study the existing literature and experiment a bit, both in testing assumptions and exploring new variables. Thanks a lot, Lorenzo, for continuing the discussion!
A barista is the last hand on the coffee.
It goes through many hands.
Then it goes to my hands.
Then to my guest: my customer.
If it’s not perfect,
It’s not that if it’s not perfect,
it was ruined in my hands.
It’s that my hands,
and all the hands that came before,
are my duty.
The farmer may ruin the cultivation.
The roaster may ruin the roast.
The grinder may ruin the grind.
The water may ruin the brew.
But only I can taste the cultivation,
the roast, the grind, and the brew,
and I have hands and feet
and my mouth.
I must learn to taste.
I must learn what to do.
Then make it
I have a pretty different take on this subject.
Early in the Twitter conversation, Peter G asked “So, since variety is better than country for purposes of predicting flavor, why do we say “The El Salvador” or “The Colombian” all the time?” Peter also challenged the notion of “taste of place.”
All of this could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Asking these questions will very likely lead to some internet-savvy coffee roaster (likely also small and scrappy) to plunge in and respond to this entire conversation and do what Peter proposes, namely putting variety first, before country or farm. Whether or not this spreads as a trend in the industry will depend on how quickly the proverbial tipping-point is reached, which in this case is the point at which variety-first coffee labeling and recognition catches on with the consumer base. With third-wave coffee being the fast-growing trend as it is, it’s entirely plausible if not likely that the consumer base would play along.
Peter argues that there’s no such thing as “taste of place,” and that coffee flavor is not tied to the geography or growing conditions, but more the variety. But there are regional trends in variety, harvesting, processing, etc. Those regional trends create what “taste of place” is. But if we develop the specialty coffee industry into one where variety comes first, you’ll guarantee that any vestiges of “taste of place” are wiped from the earth. I believe that “taste of place” exists. It is indeed a social construct of sorts, but it comes from some level of tradition. There ARE classic flavor profiles from certain places, which third-wave coffee folks have wholly ignored. It’d be a shame to see them disappear. However, I will concede that some of what I’m stating above are debatable points.
This leads me to another thought entirely.
Leading with the country-name is not merely a device to help differentiate coffees from each other. They’re also an acknowledgement that these coffees come from peoples of certain nations. I’m going to resist the temptation to write-out a super-long manifesto on this subject, but suffice it to say, the idea of diminishing the value of the names of the nations that produce the coffees we buy and sell, inadvertently or not, shows how little we actually value those nations. Further flexing our first-world consumer muscles by knocking country-name down the coffee nomenclature heirarchy in an economy where we already exert near-complete dominance is beyond insult to injury. It would send the message that we come for the Bourbon, the Pacamara, and the Geisha, and we don’t care who produces it or in which third-world country, so long as it’s fucking delicious.
Obviously this is not what anyone here means to promote. But be careful what you wish for… that’s all I’m saying.