Archive for December, 2006

Level Tamp

I have noticed an incoming link to the Onion-Bean this last week from a European coffee forum for home baristas (Blogger be damned for your inability to keep track of these things). The link directed unfortunate coffee drinkers to my Naked Vs Spout acidity blog entry. On that whole matter I will say that for whatever reason (I will not try to link it necessarily to the acidity issue for lack of accurate scientific data) spout shots I have taste tested adjacent to naked shots have been noticeably and repeatably mellower and less bright. Shots split into two different demitasses by a spout are yet slightly less tangy than shots split by the spout but dripped into the one demitasse. Crema from the naked PF is enormous in the first few seconds, but dissipates quickly as the bubbles congregate rapidly into larger bubbles that pop, and spouted shots have produced tighter crema with more stability. But all that nonsense put aside, that is not the topic of this entry.

The forum topic which liked to this blog was more or less dedicated to techniques for tamping level in cases where spouts were wobbly, or for whatever reason unstable (it’s always the pool que, never the pool shooter). They seem to think the idea is to keep all the equipment level with the sea. For crying out loud, trust your instincts and use the Force, Luke. To be more specific, use your damn senses. You have finger tips calibrated to an extremely high level of sensitivity. Have you ever seen a Barista in a cafe, or during a competition for that mater, whip out a carpenter’s level, place it across the top of the basket, and make the needed adjustments to the tamp? I thought this would be an opportune moment to illustrate the technique I use. The simplicity, ease of use, and instant feedback make it perfectly desirable for any environment, professional, home, or competition. Allow me to illustrate.

tampin level

There is no need for tools or devices. I receive instant feedback from my fingertips and that allows me to make the necessary adjustments to the levelness on the fly. To the casual observer it may not even look as though anything is happening other than compression. I am also detecting the amount of grounds in the basket. As I make drink after drink, I can keep the total amount of coffee brewed at a very constant quantity for each shot because I always know if there is a tiny bit too much or too little in the portafilter.

This picture was taken in my kitchen, not at the cafe, so the portafilter is not a commercial brand ($70 Hamilton Beach-“15 Bar Italian pump”, still havn’t gotten a great shot out of it). I am placing the bottom edge of the pf at the edge of the table so that the spouts are dangling over the side. This keeps them from picking up grounds, which are all over the place at the shop.

Everyone has their own thing that they do. I try to make every step in the preparation of the shot purposeful, every action producing a particularly desired result. Many Baristas have habits they repeat every time, but when questioned, they have no reason other than they like how it feels, or that is what someone showed them. But everything has to point in the direction of great espresso. Even when you understand all the variables that should be under control, it is still hard to get great shots one after another. If you are not paying attention to every little detail, you can kiss your flavor good bye. But most importantly on the subject of level tamping, you do not need a bunch of prosthetic devices to hold everything in place and aligned with the magnetic poles in order to get good results. Just “feel it” into place, and make it feel exactly the same every time.

La Golondrina, Cafe de Colombia

I am eagerly awaiting the release of Counter Culture’s batch of this Colombian coffee.  It seems to have earned a special promotional T-shirt to announce it’s presence.  They must have a deal with the farm because it is t-shirt

Fortune in the fines

Does anybody know how to read your fortune in coffee sediment?  I was hoping that I could get my PowerBall numbers out of this, but I can’t quite figure it out.  So far I have 17, 32, 8, and 44, but I can’t make out the rest.Fortune telling

The Awsomist Free Pour

Think you are hot shit with Latte Art?

But can you pour like this?

A little more to the left, Ahhh, that’s it.

On the Portafilter Podcast #57 Mr. Nick Cho had a little rant about the state of “Coffee Blogging”, and how he saw it as a mass message masturbation on the part of the blogging barista/professional/enthusiast community.
Did I say community? That’s right,

Community: a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.

I think that in addition to the fount of unsubstantiated opinions, the bloggin’ of coffee and espresso related things has been a tremendous international dialogue that has spread valuable information in real time to every corner of the coffee brewing planet. But that is just my opinion, and I have not had my research department and team of fact checking interns get a report back to me on that yet.

Just to be fair and above board, I do love to have my ego driven passions stroked by such a wide reaching web of tangled and wireless networks, and so far nothing has been quite as inflating as the blog job. Blow baby, blow.

I remember Mr. Cho’s hint of dissapointment (I forget the podcast #) when he was pondering the slow sales of his championship winning espresso blend, and Peter Guiliano reminded him that it was because no one was talking about it On-Line yet. So the blogs can serve very well as a conduit of information, trend, fad, or whatever happens to catch the fancy of the public at any given moment. Or does it help to shape the fashion of thought that goes on out there?

If blogging is a form of masturbation, and Nick has the biggest bloggin’ podcast in the coffee world, does this reflect an aberration in his need for self stimulation? And what is with his fixation with brown skinned Simoan men?

I do get his point though. I am sure I am guilty of the type of self satisfaction of which he speaks. No one reads my blog as much as I do. But there is also a feeling of camaraderie, a common thread, a close knit feeling to the coffee community in part as a result of the type of mass communication afforded us by the net. I enjoy the Portafilter Podcast, and I think there is much room on the web for many such aural forums on the subject of espresso, brewing, roasting, and Clovering.

As with any form of media, one does have to sift through the silt to find the chicken nuggets. I hope Nick’s feelings won’t prevent him from his ritual of blog reading from the family throne. These are just a couple of thought that came to me while listening to the latest poscast, it was not meant to be anything too profound. If you will excuse me now, Daddy’s gotta go poop.

Vote for the (2) Two Best Soy Designs

Please take a moment to honor the work and talent that went into creating these works of Latte Art. This in no ordinary free pour, but the product of soy based liquids that present a unique set of variables over which the Barista must gain supreme control in order to pour a free flowing design with definition and contrast.

Please send and e-mail with the subject title “Soy Vote”, and indicate (2) two numbers corresponding to your choice for 1st and 2nd place to:

I will be collecting votes through the Holiday Season and announce the winner and runner-up during the first week of January.

Click on the photo to get a closer look.

soy vote

The Training Question Answered

Before I publish photos of all the the soy latte art, on which I encourage everyone to please vote, I will make public this tid-bit of information. There has been a development in the position which was offered to me at the coffee shop where I work part time (the “Director of Coffee” position), and which was publicly announced on the 15th of November in a press release. The company made that announcement out of a great surge of enthusiasm while riding the wave of excitement for such promising changes and improvements. We had not, at the time, arrived at a final agreement concerning the scope of work, amount of time involved, and naturally, how much compensation. When it was made clear what was expected of my personal time (I already work a full time job and was simply offering to get all the Baristas well trained), and what responsibilities would be place on my shoulders concerning quality management, equipment maintenance, and overseeing of standards, it became obvious that what they wanted was a full time manger who would be devoted to the company in a way that would not be possible for me. The sacrifice I would have to make would be my family. Time with my family comes in short spurts each day just before we all go to our jobs and school, and just before we put my daughter to bed at night. These times, although they may be filled with discipline, frustration, and tantrums (and the toddler is also hard to manage too), are still the most precious moments of the day. There is no compensation rate, hourly wage, or annual salary that equals a fair trade if I must give up this time spent with my family. I had to turn down the position.

I am still behind the bar every Friday night, slinging milk and espresso, and turning on customers one by one to the concept of micro lots, CoE’s, and the taste of good espresso. Sara

Soy latte art

Today, 12/08/06, is the last day get in your submition for the Soy Challenge. Get all the details at the old Onion-Bean Blog.

Here are the prizes for the two best free pours:

1st place
1 Espresso 101 VHS tape
1 Espresso thermometer
1 Measured shot glass
1 Frothing spoon
1# Midnight Lotus Espresso
1 Stockton Graham & Co. Coffee mug
3 Stockton Graham & Co. Luggage tags
1 Cupping spoon
1 Coffee scoop

2nd Place
1# Midnight Lotus Espresso
1 Stockton Graham & Co. Coffee mug
3 Stockton Graham & Co. Luggage tags
1 Cupping spoon
1 Coffee scoop

Good luck!

Perceived Acidity: Naked vs. Spout

The other morning I was preparing a shot of espresso, Counter Culture’s Aficionado, in a Naked Portafilter. Recently, I received the bottomless as part of an assembly of training tools I have been putting together. I have not really espoused these gadgets before, but I am not opposed to them. The value as a training tool seems obvious, since the feed back relating todistribution and tamping is immediate. The grinder was very well dialed in that morning, and I prepared theNPF and drew a thick, viscous shot into a demitasse. It was like watching something in slow motion the way the droplets clung onto strands ofcrema, almost refusing to fall off. The surface of the crema in the cup was beautifully mottled with speckled flecks of burnt sienna colored textures. This is the espresso I drink practically every day, and I have become so familiar with the flavor from this machine, with these beans, through these portafilters, that I have lately been craving something new to shake things up on my toungue. I was almost floored by the bright, sharp, brilliant, tangy acidity in this shot. Turning to my co-worker at the shop, I commented on how tangy the espresso was. He concurred that his shot earlier in the Naked PF seemed hyped up with tang. It had notoccurred to me that the NPF was the cause, I thought it was this weeks batch of beans, or the massive humid low pressure that has caused us to use air conditioning in December. But as I thought about it, there seemed to be something to this.

I was just reading a couple days ago about the different acids in coffee. The spectrum of many acids in coffee run from delightful Citric acid to astringentQuinic acid. There can be anywhere from 1%-2% of these acids present in brewed coffee. That not really chump change in terms of overall quantity, it is novinegerette , but it is still a respectable quantity nonetheless. Even with someone who does not consider themselves to have good perception, a good instructor could show them how to determine a high acid coffee from a low acid coffee with relative ease. Looking at the worn down, scrubbed out interior of the spouted portafilter with much exposed brass surface area, I began to imagine acids bubbling away and etching into the molecules that make up the channel through which every drop of the espresso will have to pass over the course of a protracted 25-30 seconds. Are my shot becoming partially neutralized on their way to the cup? Are the precious acids dropping electrons like Britany Spears drops husbands, and babies for that matter?brass

It may be that Naked portafilter shots have more acid, since there is nothing to react with the acids as the espresso falls directly form the basket to the glazed porcelain. It may be that the old portafilter with spouts, the nickle plating a faded shadow of the past, are robbing shots of delicate brightness and eye opening Zip. I do not think ph paper strips would be nearly sensitive enough to measure the relative acid levels in these two types of shots, but I can’t help but wonder about glassy carbon electron probes connected to digital data processing devices with colorful GUIdisplays . Is anyone familiar with studies done on this? If someone has written a thesis for their Masters degree or PhD., I would love to hear about it. I will have to stick to direct comparative taste testing and anecdotal evidence, but my math will be a little fuzzy. Any one in Europe know anything about this?