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Monthly Archives: June 2012

This afternoon I sat in my backyard in the sun and relaxed. At the same time my neighbour was playing guitar. He played it well, and I enjoyed it. I didn’t know what he was playing, didn’t know how, but it didn’t matter because I enjoyed it.

I’ve written previously about how it’s easier to say a coffee’s great than to actually pull through on that promise and make a great one. But last week at the WBC I heard Tim Wendelboe and Colin Harmon speak of the importance of taste in growing our industry. What I came away with was a renewed focus on the coffees we use and the flavours that make them unique. Briefly, focus on taste and build trust through sharing this uniqueness.

In coffee we talk a lot about farms, processing, roast styles, brew recipes and extraction yields (amongst others). All this is very important. But I’m thinking that sometimes this becomes the focus. As Tim Wendelboe pointed out, we talk to our customers about “specialty”, “direct trade” and “micro-lots”, possibly (and probably) at the expense of taste.

This brings me back to the guitar. I enjoyed it simply for what it was, what I could hear: it was nice music. I didn’t need to know anything more to appreciate it. Maybe, just maybe, when we introduce our customers to the concepts of processing and brewing methods, it’s a bit like going to see a guy play guitar and he talks endlessly about what chords he’s playing and how he’s tuned his guitar and how he’s layered various instruments to create a certain sound. All we really want to do is enjoy the music, nothing more needed. Sure there’s those who want to know the chords so they can play at home, but for most of us it’s simply enjoying great music by a great artist.

And of course, theres a lot more to coffee than just taste. But the simple message of quality coffee is pretty simple: it tastes better!

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I’ve just finished reading Oliver Strand’s and James Hoffman’s (separate) writings on “Ice Brew”. The cold brewed coffee made by brewing manual filter over ice. Both are very interesting, and well and truly got me excited to try this method. Especially Oliver Strand’s description of Handsome’s Rwandan Dukunde Kawa that tasted like lemonade!!

But in my mind the methodology brought a couple of things to mind. First, a post by Sang Ho Park titled “Just Add Water. Not” and a training night run by Matt Perger. Matt spent a bit of time dissecting an espresso, speaking of things like rate of extraction and balance. At one point he pulled a ristretto and we tasted it side-by-side with an espresso. But first he added water to the ristretto to create a drink with about the same strength as the espresso. After tasting, the point was clear, the ristretto+water lacked balance and fell away in the finish. The espresso was balanced, good flavour and good aftertaste. What I learnt was that although the last part of an espresso extraction is (and looks) weak it is still essential to a good, complex, balanced espresso.

“Just Add Water. Not.” describes his experience of brewed coffee in Korea. Essentially: high dosing, strong brew, watered down (I hope that doesn’t do too great an injustice to the write-up). The point of both Matt’s illustration and Sang Ho Park’s blog was that although TDS% ends up the same, the extraction percentage is not.

My thoughts, and they are only theoretical, is that this is exactly what’s happening with Ice Brew. Take the 50/50 method as an example (and a 70g/L recipe), brewing 70g of coffee with 500g of water over 500g of ice. Isn’t this just like Sang Ho Park’s description of his Korean brewed coffee experience? High dose (140g/L) and watering down.

I may have missed something in the whole process, this is purely theory, and I am yet to try this method.

When brewing espresso, measuring quality by the “length of the shot” is failing to understand the purpose of controlling variables.

“Length of shot” equals “strength”. A short shot will be very strong, and a long shot will be weaker. But neither is a measure of quality. It is, theoretically, possible to pull a quality 100g shot (although current technology makes this hard eg fines).

Quality comes from “extraction percentage” or “yield”. This refers to the amount of coffee extracted from the ground coffee during brewing. The arguably agreed upon range is 18-22%. At this point there is good, complex flavour and balance.

Looking back then, a short shot and a long shot can both be deemed to be good extraction if the right yield is achieved. This is why I say it’s theoretically possible to pull a shot the size of a cup and it still be delicious. Strength is simply the concentration in which the 18-22% yield is held.

Having said that, it is true that there are also general agreed upon strengths/concentrations, but they’ll all be sub-par if we fail to achieve a quality extraction.