Monday, December 07, 2009

Caffeine induced thoughts

While I love roasting my own coffee, the home coffee roaster with just a jury-rigged setup is always at a disadvantage when roasting compared to a skilled craftsperson using professional roasting equipment.

This isn’t to suggest I am about to stop roasting, far from it, but the variables involved in creating a fine end product are many, and it is a natural consequence of the process at home that it is more difficult to control these in a more casual process.

This weekend I roasted six batches of Santa Cruz de León Cortés, a Costa Rican coffee. Each batch has a slightly different profile and no matter how well I watched the time or the temperature I was never going to have each looking or tasting exactly like the other.

I have no doubt they will all taste good, but some may well be better than others. There is not much I can do other than control what variables I can and maintain a zen-like acceptance of the transient nature of each roast, enjoying its unique and oh-so-brief existence.

I friend of mine has recently purchased a lovely drum roaster and I wish him the joy of it as I think he will quickly master it and produce some wonderful coffee. My own ambitions are somewhat smaller and I hope over the next year to build a larger roaster capable of more consistent product.

Most weeks I do wonder why I roast at all – there is so much good coffee out there on the market that I don’t need to roast it myself. I know one of the reasons that I persist is that roasting help me learn more about coffee. Yes, I many not be able to roast as well as any of the Master Roasters we have in Perth, but I can’t learn as well from only drinking their coffee as I can from roasting myself. I am finding it a good idea to try their roast of the same bean that I am roasting if at all possible. This helps me calibrate my expectations of how the coffee should be and from time to time I manage to surprise myself with my own roasts.

I roast single origins and drink single origins almost to the exclusion of blends, not because I don’t like blends, but more because I need to understand each coffee better than I do now before I can really consider how best to blend it.

Also at the moment I am using a pour-over, a plunger or the Clever Coffee Dripper to make my coffee as my espresso machine is down hard with a bung pump. Single Origins seem to be nicely responsive to the hands on treatment of the espresso-less side of coffee making and I’m happy enough drinking other-than-espresso for a while.

I do have some interesting experiments coming up over summer that I will share with people, including some that might be quite interesting as part of a signature drink for competitions.

It does rely on some equipment I don’t have yet, but should have shortly. I will tell more when there is more to tell!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Coffee Bias

The history of coffee is a complex web of human interractions around a mild drug that is popular the world over and affordable to most people.

Like most commodities, the coffee market has been used to influence and oppress, to change governments and shape trade relationships.

Usually this has gone against the grower and favoured the trading behemoths in Europe and the United States.

This is changing and while the large companies such as Nestle and Sara Lee hold tight rein over some aspects of the industry still there is a growing understanding among consumers that quality coffee comes from the specialty end of the coffee market.

The internet has played an important role in providing a source of information to consumers about coffee and in helping promote specialty coffee. This has included the rise of groups such as CoffeeSnobs and CoffeeGeek where there is a concentration of all things coffee. CoffeeSnobs is a distinctly Australian expression of the coffee passion and caters for home roasters by being a source of green beans - unroasted coffee.

For many people stumbling across the website of CoffeeSnobs is a revelation, and the number of 'Snobs' is growing rapidly and now approaching 10,000. When I joined in 2006 there were just about 1500 members. It is now a mature organisation with ongoing corporate sponsors and its very own foreign aid program "Faircrack" that has been delivering on its promise of assisting coffee growers in the developing world and so far has purchased milling and other equipment to help growers improve the price they get for their coffee.

It struck me this morning that most of the people that I know are people who are passionate about coffee - not everyone, but most of them, and that includes the people I work with (not in the coffee industry). I have observed what appears to be an increasing trend towards better coffee and in the last three years in my office there has been a proliferation of plungers, pour overs and even grinders and consumption from the the big bad brown tin of doom has decreased considerably.

I've also noticed a fantastic range of coffee being selected, mostly from local roasters of specialty coffee rather than the big supermarket brands. Is this shift towards selecting specialty coffee a general trend? or are my observations a form of confirmation bias? Am I just noticing it more because I am looking for it, in the same way as you start seeing a certain model of car everywhere once you buy one or think about buying one?

Monday, November 02, 2009


Like many Columbian towns, Pasto in the Narino Department (province) has a number of coffee growing areas that produce some great Central American beans. Farming coffee in Columbia is no picnic, and from time to time those who farm in the area are rudely interrupted. In Pasto the name of the interruption is Galeras. Of course it is more of an eruption than an interruption because Galeras is a stratovolcano - and currently active again. In 1993 six scientists died during an eruption as they attempted to collect gas samples for analysis.

If you are enjoying a nice cup of Central American coffee today - and Columbian coffee in particular, spare a thought for the farmers who grow it in the shadow of a mountain that is very much alive and kicking.

Photo Credit: Josecamilom

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pour Over II

Still loving it - and have actual decent photos now!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pour Over

I’ve never been a huge fan of pour-over coffee, but then my sole experience to date has been the standard fare of ‘dripolater’ machines that slowly torture already stale ground coffee with a slow trickle of over or under-heated water to deliver a brackish, muddy, acidic brew.

I do have a small manual gold foil filter that came free with a pack of Harris coffee – but results from this have been mediocre at best.

I am today however a big, big fan of pour-over coffee.

At work we have a grinder and several plungers that are used throughout the day – our team is only five people, and yet we are nudging 750 grams a week of coffee consumption.

Last weekend, Crema roastery up in the hills was clearing stock and had on sale some Bodum pour-overs – the ‘Bodum Dripper’ . Kamran (who was up there for the day) rang me and asked if I would like one, and I’ve never been a hard sale on gadgets for coffee.

We’ve been using it all week and I have to say that these are a real gem. I was wary about the single origin Bunum Wo that I bought – in the plunger it is great but has a powerful kick, and I thought the pour-over might just boost the kick.

I should not have been concerned – Magic, pure bloody magic, a nice clean cup, with good body for the style and really allows the qualities of the bean to shine through.

I’ll post up some pictures of the whole kit - (the only ones available online have that aweful 'fake' opaque coffee they seem to love for photographing), but pour-overs these can be bought for a good price – and with a nice even medium coarse grind they provide a wonderful alternative for making office coffee – or for making coffee when you have guests who like something other than espresso.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I see the mark of Monkey!

No, not an indent in Sandy's skull left by an overzealous swing of Monkey's staff but rather the small imprints left on coffee beans by the incisors, canines and molars of the Rhesus Macaque as it chews its way through a kilo or two of premium Arabica.

Click on an image to enlarge:

Kamran mentioned in a comment that these beans will be available in retail packs later this week - I love this coffee and consider it to be far superior to Kopi Luwak which seems more valued for its rarity than its qualities.

I've now seen the very small pile of sacks of this coffee and having gotten my share (cue evil snicker) I can NOW recommend that others should attempt to do the same!

Fiori Coffee can be contacted via their website - oh and if you are intending to attend a tasting you better book fast - I've missed out on the first four already!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Roasting the Monkey

I roasted my first batch of Monkey Coffee today. It was 12 degrees and windy and it roasted fairly cleanly leaving me with a nice even looking roast. Here is an animated series of images I took using the Burst setting on our camera:

The ultimate 'Irish' coffee

It felt almost sinful adding a full measure of golden, smoky Lagavulin into the perfect ristretto, but I had vowed and declared that I was going to attempt an Irish coffee the likes of which I would rarely see again.

Lagavulin is a single malt whisky produced on Islay (pronounce aye-la) and is one of the finest of the whiskys I have tried.

I was introduced to single malts by Kamran of Fiori Coffee - clearly a bloke who appreciates the finer things in life, and a colleague of mine introduced me to Lagavulin in particular.

It is a rare pleasure that I allow myself and it is an amazing thing to sip - smoky peat, almost medicinal and totally absorbing.

My preferred way to drink it is just with a little water to soften the alcohol - not adding water can actually detract from the experience as the alcohol burns away the subtleties.

I had not a few 'ethical' concerns about adulterating fine coffee with whisky on one side and adulterating fine whisky with coffee on the other.

My concerns were totally unnecessary - the sheer might of this particular single malt means that nothing was lost in combination with the coffee and cream and many aspects were enhanced.

It was a sublime experience and I would highly recommend it - DO NOT TRY THIS WITH SOMETHING CHEAP.

There, I've said it - you just can't do this with cheap spirits. Buy something that you are happy to sip on its own and you will be in the right ballpark.

The coffee I used was a blend I roasted last week comprised of Columbian Supremo (organic), Ethiopian Yirgacheff and El Salvadorian Bella Vista estate beans - it was a well rounded espresso blend and did not dominate the drink I made but did support the smokiness of the whisky beautifully.

Image Source: Wikipedia - Lagavulin