Archive for March, 2007
Or at least give you something to think about, another option to contemplate.
Note: the music is Shopping, by LipKandy, used under creative commons license.
A while back, when I had expressed my affinity for brewing coffee one cup at a time in a gold mesh filter cone, someone asked me if it was true that they do not produce as many fines as brewing in a French Press. My immediate response, without any thought, was to say that all metal mesh filter will let fines through. But after close observation I have been noticing that the basis for his question comes from a kernel of truth that lies in the simple design of the cone.
Pour over brewing relies on gravity to pull water through the ground coffee at a constant rate and with a consistently low force. Brewing coffee in a gold mesh filter creates a bed at the bottom of the cone where much of the fine dust particles get trapped. The gentle force of gravity can not pull them through.
At the beginning of the pour, when all the grounds are still floaters, there is a healthy quantity of fine dust that gets through the screen. Towards the end of the dwell time, about the last third is my guess, the liquid comes out as clear as it does through a paper filter. There is already a good deal of oil and silt that have passed at that point, so the flavor profile remains bright with great aftertaste (depending on the coffee), very similar to the French Press method. But with the Press, you add a great deal more force by plunging, even if you plunge slow and gentle. By applying a little extra force by tapping twice on the plate the fine particles can be seen coming through the screen.
All this dust would have come through in a Press, but was held off by the coffee itself. The coffee bed becomes very static towards the end of the brewing, thereby holding smaller particles in place in the spaces between large particles. This also serves the purpose of extending the dwell time, by slowing the flow, to bring out more body in the cup. This means that you can use a much, much finer grind than you would for a Press. This also slows down the dwell time. At a grind size that is just about right for most paper filter settings on most grinders (think Mr. Coffee), you can strike a great balance between particle size and dwell time for an extremely clear, full bodied, brightly flavored brew with oils swirling on the surface.
One more characteristic of the gold mesh filter is the speed and ease with which you can clean up. Tap it upside down in the rubbish bin, give a rinse, and you are ready for the next cup. A regular cleansing with some surfactant will keep it from imparting any flavor to the coffee. I don’t mean this as a replacement for the French Press. It is much faster to prepare and clean up, so I do this at work, where time is money. But I do also enjoy the heavy mouth feel that Press can deliver, or whenever the mood hits me. There is definitely the potential for retail application. If you have the time serve Press pots in a coffee shop environment, you could be brewing these just as easily. It does require a little more personal attention from the Barista, however, because you do have to pour the water in slowly and deliberately, whereas you can set a timer and walk away from a Press pot. But I for one would like to start the gold mesh pour over revolution. Who among you can I count on as my allies?
A couple of strapping young men come into the shop Friday night and ask me if they get a Guinness, will I put a shot of espresso in it. It is nice that they were concerned with my idea of aesthetics concerning the manor in which I serve the coffee, the average customer may not give a rat’s tukis. I told them, hell, not only can you have a shot in your beer, I’ll take pictures for cryin’ out loud.
I have never personally done this before, or seen this before. I was not sure what the most dramatic way, visually speaking, of serving this would be. So I just had them pour the shot into the Guinness head (after I told them to observe the Guinness effect in the shot glass first). It looked like this:
These guys were calling it the “Big Ben”, because their friend Ben was the one to turn them onto it. I called it the Guispresso. Any suggestions for serving it up, or for a more creative name, made up or pre-existing, would be appreciated.
Last year, in ’06, I had a cup of Kenya coffee, Counter Culture’s Thangathie, that was just as juicy as grapefruit and tangerines and fruity brightness and acidity such as those citricy things. The coffee had been Cloverized, the only Clover I have ever tried, and I don’t know if that gave it a little more acidic push, but man it was big and wet like that. After that Kenya was gone I made a point to sample every new Kenya that came out of their roasters just as soon as I could get my paws on them, only to find myself reminiscing dreamily back that day like a Heroin junkie chasing that feeling they got with their first fix. It was just never the same after that, although there have been some great ones (Kenyas) in their own right. Then there came Auction Lot 1135. In a completely new and different way, the glory is back.
These short and round berries are as brilliantly bright as a crispy October cloudless Autumn day when brewed in the Press or the Melita filter. The mildly thin body gives way like the curtains of the theater, drawing back to feature the main performance which I had longed to witness. For days I sipped on it, trying to peg down that distinctive taste that eluded me so temptingly. Deliberately avoiding web pages where I knew it had been discussed and cupped, I tried to decipher the hints of this flavor that called to me so clearly, but remained only in my peripheral vision. There was something of Daniel Humphrie’s blood meal, something very full of iron rich mineral (volcanic soil?), and at the same time it played with sumptuous fruit. The image that kept coming to mind was, and please remember I live in the South, salted watermelon.
I also couldn’t stop getting an image of some kind of red meat. This is where I diverge from many drinkers of coffee. I like a coffee that tastes wild and crazy, different than the orthodox, flavored outside the box. I like the Indido Valley. I like a fist full of blueberry. I like the red meat and sweet salty melon of this Kenya. When I finally looked at the cupping notes of others, there it was; beef stock, steak, stew, and grapefruit.
This may not be for some. Tasting off the beaten path will simply indicate defects of some kind for many celebrated palates. But I applaud CCC for the willingness they show to keep roast levels low, flirting with line of underdone. Indeed, the first few cups I brewed of this coffee came out tasting like what I call the Green Olive of under extraction, even when brewed to the parameters that works so well with others. Not till I bumped up the grind to a finer level than I would normally use did this coffee open up like a cheap date who has just been offered a six pack of PBR (OK, not a pretty metaphor, but I think you get the picture). CCC walks that line, but like golf, it takes risk for reward.
Pick up a pound of this stuff, and if you find that it just doesn’t do the trick for you, return the unused portion to me.
My last day in Atlanta was spent on the Linea and the Swift. New developments for LaMarzoccos will be, or already are, the flow meter on semiautomatic machines will be saturated inside the group head. Access will be granted through a panel on top of the group head for repairs. No more lost heat in the counting of the electric pulse.
The porcelain burrs in the swift are terribly expensive, but should last considerably longer than even stainless steel, just don’t adjust them to the point of touching or they shatter.
I don’t want to name names or bash any companies out there, so will be as discreet as possible. One service tech who was taking the class with me claimed that he had taken the grind adjustment knobs off of a swift at a shop because, he said, the humidity fluctuated so much that the Baristas kept changing the grind size. This was the same repair person who trained shop managers to never rinse grinds out of dirty protafilters. His reason was that grinds will clog the drain hose, and did not want to get calls for such small problems. Now, I know that everyone has their own reasons for doing things, and sometimes practicality will take precedence over quality. But to sacrifice quality at every possible opportunity for the sake of saving himself the aggravation of talking someone through an easy fix over the phone is just plain ignorance. The deliberate dissemination of bad, improper, or corner cutting information for these selfish reasons is the kind of lazy attitude that keeps the specialty coffee industry under the thumb of a poorly informed consuming public.
Part of me feels like dope slapping the guy, who talked right through me whenever I tried to make a point of debate, and part of me is happy to leave the lowest quality crap slingers keep on slinging just to keep the quality stuff well separated from the throng.
And while I’m at it, I would also like to put a stop to the application of this cop out attitude: “It is all a matter of personal taste.” While it is true that there are any number of ways to make coffee and espresso, and every one has their own likes and dislikes, don’t be mistaken about certain basic facts of physical science and human physiology. There are well established parameters of what is considered good and bad, savory and putrid, delicate and acrid, according to the general perceptions afforded us by the nature of our senses. There is a window of opportunity that we strive for in the preparation of coffee drinks, and everything involved in the preparation is either pointing us into that window or out of it. I am sick of hearing people invoke the “personal taste” rationale to justify poor quality, inattention, or laziness in the preparation of specialty coffees. It is an argument from personal incredulity, and is borne out of an inability to step out of the comfort zone and let oneself be teachable. There are occasions when deviating from the established conventions of flavor are bold moves for progressive thinking, but many times I hear this used to cover up an inability to justify behaviors created by blindly stumbling through the unknown. Just fess up to stuff that is unknown. Sorry, too much caffeine at 3:00 am.
For some mysterious technological reason I am unable to upload photos today. So imagin a thick and densly packed tangle of wires and tubes and stainless steel sheet metal. Imagine a close up of a circular micro screen and a neoprene covered boiler tank. That is the inside of the Franke superautomatic expresso machine, and it is brilliantly more simple than the Astoria superautos. The engineering was simple and elegant, the footprint was sleek and slender. The shots were, well, lets just say that I was polite enough not to spit in the sink. But that was not entirelly the fault of the machine, but mainly the blend.
After a grulling day of espresso extractor deconstruction, I was picked up by my mystery host, who took me to visit Octane, and to meet Tony, the owner. Tony was tall and slender with a cropped salt and pepper beard, and he prepared us each a shot of a mystery blend with supple agillity that apeared natural and unforced. For whatever reason, he was not even sure himself which blend it was. We all agreed upon CCC Tuscoano, which I am not sure about, but I know it was not Afficionado. Octane has a very nice atmosphere with exposed brick walls, Georgia Tech students, and “Indy alt” staff. They had no brew extractor, but offered French press which they stored in Lexus thurmoses. It was delicious.
My host and I began disscussing our coffee passions, cafe business models, and roaster business models before heading out ot his office for a quick tour. More disscussion of business ensued, ending with a quick milk texturing tip he offered me. His office just happend to be equiped with a LaMarzocco FB80. Now imagine his beautifully formed rosetta and tulip, and my electrostatic wonky rosetta. At least the milk texture came out the way I wanted it, even if the pattern did not.
I got a good look at Atlanta, as he did not seem to know his way around very well, and after a quick pass of the federal penitentiary and some housing projects, we finally found an open restaurant. A huge “Earl Burger” kicked the wiener’s ass that I had last night, though I don’t remember the name of this place.
It will be back to the grind stone tomorrow as we tackle traditional machines. Hopefully my pictures will make it up next time.
I will be in Atlanta for the next two days to train on LaMarzoccos and Frankes. I have come down in a rental car from North Carolina with my co-worker, John, and we had a filling dinner at a restaurant called The Vortex. My chili dog was the biggest wiener I have ever seen.
Tomorrow we take our first class with the knowledgeable folks from ESI, who have been kind enough to travel here to the East coast, despite the ongoing East vs. West rivalry.
On our drive down, while passing through South Carolina, it became clear that the further South you go, the more stuff people are willing to store in the front yard and out of doors. These miscellaneous items include but are not limited too: old cars, old tractors, various and sundry bits of farm equipment, sheet metal, scrap metal, metal shavings, rusty metal, furniture, clothing, piles of shoes, bare peach trees (alive or dead, I cannot say). They also seem to take great pride in their agricultural produce.
Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a cafe in town as well as a secret host in an undisclosed location. Pictures to follow.