Archive for the ‘ Espresso ’ Category

A Visit to Chestnut Hill

I am sitting in the dining room of Chestnut Hill Coffee Co., and I am basking in the soft sun lit window looking out on a cobble stone street lined with trolley tracks and lackadaisical pedestrians in the upscale Germantown, Chestnut Hill district along Philadelphia’s Main Line. A parking spot opened up about a block up, and I could smell the familiar aroma of coffee roasting somewhere. I knew I was in the right place.

I ordered a double espresso, which barely filled a LaMarzocco brand demitasse half way. It was wonderful.

Sorry for the blurry picture with bad color. Ever since my camera was stolen I am reduced to the phone camera. Not visible in this photo is a great deal of dark “chestnut” brown flecking. I have not had a truly satisfying ristretto style shot since I left North Carolina, and it was damn refreshing.

I complemented the short drink with mug of “aged” Sumatra. Even through a paper filter it was full of the musty shroominess of distant lands, and hinting at the street market transactions of the Betel Nut chewing ladies of the bazaar. It comes with one free refill.

My experience was made complete with very good and friendly service. From start to finish, this is a great place to drink coffee and enjoy cafe life.

Don’t be a ‘Spro, Bro

     I don’t know…..    Maybe I am too old to be hip anymore, if I ever was.   Maybe I am just not on the cutting edge of cool.  The kids like their lingo, and the lingo morphs from one generation to the next.  Hell, it changes from one graduating class to the next for that matter.  Everything has been shortened or abstracted.  If you are in the know you will get it, otherwise you just some old geezer, or at least over 35 years old. 

     Peeps, scrilla, the shizzzz, tat, the ‘Tane;  almost anything can be shortened, abrieviated, or altered for added hip value.  With the exception of the timeless “cool”, the relavence of any given piece of slang is restricted to a period in history that lasts about as long as adolesence.   You will easily be spoted as an older poser if you try to whip out an expression you think is cool, but has already gone out of style.

“Yo G, slap me some skin, ’cause you look crazy stoopid in all the Bling!”   You get the gist.

spro.jpg

 Maybe I am just to old to appreciate creative language.  Am I a stick in the mud, or is the term “‘Spro” just the most juvinille sounding thing?  Do you walk into a sophisticated establishment and turn to the Somallier and say “Dude, pour me some Vino!”  So why would you walk into cutting edge modern day specialty coffee bar and say, “Gimme a ‘Spro, Bro!”  Maybe the torn and un-laundered jeans and ratty T-shirt with a Kitchy silk screen allows you to let down the guard you normally reserve for interaction with civilized and cultured individuals.

     The long and short of it is, wheather I am too old to be cool or not, I just think it sounds bad.  It is not that I think it gives the coffee industry a bad image, or that the Barista community needs to clean up it’s act.  I am not advocating any sort of social correction.  The expresion istelf is just crude and awkward.   And besides, it is very reminiscent of the term “Spooge”.

Update Nibblets

A long and grueling weekend of Coffee Fest in Atlanta has left me depleted of the energy to write up something long-winded and socially insightful at the moment. You can use these nibblets to snack down and be satisfied, (I say that as though I have a reading public clambering for more material, but you know what they say, built it and they will come).

Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge is pulling off the balancing act of being coffee bar, liquor bar, Internet bar, art hub, haven of house music, social gathering point, shining star of coffee excellence, and high crime location all at the same time. Nice Job.

-Laptop and camera stolen, life is meaningless when disconnected from the outside world. We are accused of creating a “Crime of Opportunity” by parking a locked vehicle on the street, under the street light, next to a busy location, while “security guards” patrol the area.

-Creating a big atrium inside of a hotel with a restaurant, reception hall, and liquor bar is a bad and noisy idea.

Intelligentsia‘s Sarah and Alex are lovely and dynamic, Jay Cunningham’s hair is very curly, and the rest of the crew are great folks (sorry for forgetting the other names) and made me some great coffee. Ellie was also nice and hospitable.

-Phillip Search is a cornucopia of technical knowledge, and works a fine looking copper clad lever machine. Dan Griffin was also working the 49th Parallel booth; I thought he was from NYC.??

– The coffee consuming public wants to participate in cuppings, but they just need a little tug in the right direction.

Chemically Imbalanced‘s Ben Szobody is surprisingly calm in person.

-Dan Griffin wins $157 dollars on the spot in the spontaneous Latte Art smack down at the Dirty Dirty South CCC party.

-Most of  Peter Giuliano’s stories about sourcing coffee in remote locations of the world go something like this:

-I was cupping many coffees in ______________, and it turned out that all the coffees I liked came from the same place, the village of _____________.

-I asked them to take me there, and we began our long and arduous journey crossing the __________ in a makeshift ___________,  and were in real danger of being _________ by the __________.

-All the villagers knew we were coming, so when we got there all the people were in the street to greet us with their hands in the air, cheering and signing while someone wearing a _____________ began the ______________, which is the local custom.

-That night they served roasted ______________ which I ate anyway, and it was delicious.  Then they poured me some _____________, which is a fermented ale made from ______________.

-They threw the big party because it was the first time since the ___________ that they now have the ability to sell their crop for good price, and now they can afford to feed their children.

Another Job Change

house

OK, OK, I swear this will be the last change of jobs for me, hopefully for ever. After four jobs in the last four years, my wife and I have decided to get her back up to her large, touchy-feely, Italian family in Philadelphia. For years it has been a source of stress for me to even consider trying to relocate and find a house, a job for both of us, a good school for Anna, a swim club (for those nostalgic moments created), and the stuff that needs to happen at the right time and in the right way to make a big move like that happen. Well they all happened.

After spending the summer training for my new job here in the Triangle, I will be off to Philly to open the not-yet-existing Counter Culture Coffee training center. I was offered a roasting apprenticeship by CCC in 1994, before they ever opened their doors, but the planets just would not line up at the time. Had I taken it, Daryn Berlin would probably be selling insurance right now. Good thing I didn’t, because he is going back and forth right now building the nest for me in Pennsylvania.

The good folks at Stockton Graham & Co. gave me their blessing to make the shift form one roaster to the other, and I thank them for that. Hopefully everyone will be happy with way it all turns out. I will always be grateful to them for giving me my first full time professional coffee position that did not involve working behind the counter all day.

I will be staying at my parents house through out the summer while my wife and daughter proceed without me for the time being. That is sure to be fun time. Really. No I mean it.

See you at the Rocky Ballboa statue.

Guispresso

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.

Linea and Swift

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.

Atlanta II

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.

Atlanta trip

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.

Atlanta

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.

peach

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a cafe in town as well as a secret host in an undisclosed location.  Pictures to follow.

Review: Hamilton Beach

hamilton

This is the Hamilton Beach home espresso machine. I bought it for $69.00 American. You always hear in the coffee geeking community that you can not get away with making anything close to “real” espresso for under the $500.00 you will have to pay for the Rancillio Silvia. This machine boasts a “15 bar Italian pump”, so I figured I would give it whirl.

As I am writing this review, which I had planed to be favorable, I discover the thing has been recalled for blowing up on unsuspecting consumers. Don’t try to steam milk and pull a shot at the same time, or the steam tube might blow up, causing minor burns in 10% of the complainants. I hope they were all wearing glasses at the time. Let me tell you, this machine can not even steam 3-4 oz of milk up to temperature before it gives out, and that is without the extra resources required to pull a shot at the same time. You would really have to be in the dark about what you were doing to set up the recall conditions. Let’s not even get into the fact that in the steam cycle, the water that comes out at the group head comes in puffs of vapor mixed with spitting droplets of boiling hot water. You have to do some Olympic style surfing to get this bad boy to hit right on a temperature that is satisfactory. This is complicated by the fact that the tank on it is so small that a quick flush of the group head will cause a serious drop in temperature. But juxtaposed with the blistering temp at steam cycle, you have a good opportunity to hop on the elevator at the right floor.

The 15 bar pump is one of those vibe things that reminds me of the “magic fingers” mattresses at humpback motels. If you can rein in all the variable factors (no small feat) and hit it at optimal temp, grind, and tamp, you can actually get a “Bouya!” out of this black box (I swear I have never used that expression before). hamilton shot

This is a shot of Counter Culture’s Aficionado, the underdog of their line-up, which is constantly discounted by many in the shadow of it’s brother, Tuscano. This is what we use day in and day out at the shop, and it stands out well in a commercial environment with it’s ability to be bold and extroverted even in milky lattes. On this little home machine I have been drawing shots at a lower temperature than the shop machine, and this has made it extremely buttery with great body, clear acidity without sourness, with a warm molasses sweetness. There is not PID on the machine at the shop, and I am now wishing that I could lower the temperature on it to get this same slippery mouthfeel I have achieved at home on a $70 fear factor insurance risk.

If you have one of these, do like I do when my wife asks for a latte and warm up 6-8 oz of milk on the stove, and froth up 2 oz on the pathetic steam wand (after removing the plastic froth aid slip-cover). Just don’t try to pull and steam at the same time, you may be taking your live in your hands. Oh, you also have to leave the portafilter in the group head for a couple minutes before removing it to let the pressure drop because there is no 3-way valve. If you act with haste, you will have twice as much clean up to do as the contents 0f the basket will blow out on the machine, the counter, your shirt, and whatever cats and toddlers happen to be walking past at the time. So when I say that my review was meant to be “favorable”, what I mean is that it works very well for the money you will put out. With a little ingenuity and mad skills, you can get a great shot from the Hamilton Beach, just don’t try to get cute with it.

The 2nd Place Soy Latte

Justin Teisle, winner of both 1st and 2nd place in the Soy Challenge, is a former Barista of Alterra Coffee Roasters. Here is a photo of the his 2nd place double rosetta. Nice shape, nice flow, nice background.

second place