Christmas coffee selection 2014 at the plan cafe

December 16, 2014

Season’s Greetings!

Just a simple post during this busiest of times, as we approach the festive period, and the roasteries roast and deliver their last batches of 2014 to us at the plan cafe, to let you know about the wonderful coffees we have on offer this Christmas.

Of course, these are also available as beans to take away, so you can have delicious, freshly roasted, speciality coffee and brews at home over Christmas and New Year …or for gifts! I know I couldn’t dream of being without it at home!

If you don’t already know, we do only sell our beans whole, not ground, in order to preserve the qualities of the freshly roasted coffee, as it stales quickly once ground. So if you don’t already have one, and you want to make great coffee at home, put a decent burr grinder on your Christmas list, so you can grind fresh, just before you brew! This way you’ll have more chance of experiencing the best that these great coffees have to offer.

The freshest roasts are arriving throughout this week – feel free to keep an eye on my Twitter which is regularly updated, if you want to know the latest. 

Negosho Farm, Lekempte, Ethiopia. Operation Cherry Red. Washed process. James’ Gourmet Coffee.
Ethiopian coffees from the Dutch OCR project always make me very excited, as over the years, these have regularly been really exceptional. 
This one has a quite distinctive passion fruit note, along with peach and citrus, creamy body, and bright, juicy acidity. 
I’ve brewed this at home in Chemex, Flat bottomed (wedge shaped) ceramic filter cone, Sowden Softbrew, and cafetiere, and I have enjoyed them all, although I have to agree with our roaster’s observation, as the cafetiere was possibly the most complex, complete, balanced and sincere expression of this coffee.

Finca Las Flores, Antigua, Guatemala. Washed process. James’ Gourmet Coffee.
Delicate and refined, sweet, clean, fresh and juicy fruit, tea-like, floral, balanced. 
If you don’t already know, James’ Gourmet Coffee roast as light as can be for filter profiles, wherever they feel it’s suitable, allowing delicate origin flavours to shine, without any hint of ‘roast’ flavour, and this is a great example of this.

Fazenda Samambaia. Brazil. Yellow Bourbon. Pulp Natural process. James’ Gourmet Coffee.
This is approachable, moreish, chocolaty and very nutty. 
Low acidity, and a slightly deeper roast, to accentuate body and chocolate, but still nice and clean and relatively subtle, and not ‘dark’ by any means. 
Samambaia is a farm I look forward to seeing the new crop from every year, as it’s always well produced, and so tasty!  
For me, simple, chocolaty coffees are never as interesting, magical or exciting as lighter, brighter, fruitier coffees, but for most people, who aren’t particularly into speciality coffee, the mere mention of chocolate has an instant allure, and any mention of fruit or acidity is a scary, alien concept, which is easy to understand. This coffee is comforting, easy to love, and not challenging, and it’s easy to be seduced, as it is delicious.

Finca Santuario. Colombia. 
Washed process.
Union Hand Roasted. 
Chocolaty, but still with fruity, juicy, clean, peach and plum notes.
This is a ‘light’ roast from Union, and it is relatively light in the grand scheme of things, although Union do generally go a little bit deeper even for light roasts, when compared to some other artisan roasters who roast very light. This accentuates denser chocolaty tones and body, and intensifies aromas and flavours, and this roast style will appeal to those who enjoy more full bodied coffee. 

For espresso, we have the Naturelle seasonal espresso blend from James’ (kilo bags). 
This is currently composed of washed process coffees from Finca Bourbon, Guatemala, and Suke Quto, Guji, Ethiopia. 
There is so much I could say about this blend, which is very special to me, and which can regularly be seen as my espresso of the day at the plan cafe, even moreso this year than ever.
But for now, I’ll simply provide a brief description!
Naturelle (always) showcases a great Ethiopian coffee which (together with a relatively light espresso profile roast) brings juicy, fruity brightness and floral complexity to the blend. This is supported by a foundation currently provided by the Finca Bourbon, that adds richer, chocolaty base notes, that give enough depth for this to work in a whole range of ways.

We currently also still have a small amount of James’ washed Rwaikamba Kenya Peaberry too; beautiful little round peaberries, with distinctive, intoxicating blackcurrant characteristics, and creamy body, but these are almost all gone!

That’s it! Have a great time!

Assorted recent news, 5th August 2014

August 5, 2014

Coffee is what I spend a huge majority of my time doing, and if I’m not actually doing something with coffee directly, it’s never too far from my thoughts, for long. Continuously. What I publish here on the blog is only a tiny fraction of what I write about coffee (mostly daily brewing notes, across all methods). To say it consumes me, more than I it (but in a way that’s still healthy …just!), might not be too far from the truth. So, as it’s been a while, there’s lots I could mention. But, just a few of the highlights that have occupied or entertained by coffee brain enough recently to come into focus here, are unpacked as follows.

Gifts:

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Not long ago, I received a lovely gift of samples from UK-based coffee subscription company Press Coffeehouse. They sent a couple of samples from their list of world roasters: USA’s Madcap’s Ardi Ethiopia natural, and Germany’s Five Elephant’s Los Guacharos washed Colombia. I’d heard good things about Madcap already, whilst Five Elephant was new to me, but both coffees came with a wealth of information, and it was clear this could be tasty.

Initial inspection of the beans/roast in both cases was full of promise, and I was not disappointed. Both coffees were great! The Madcap was especially brilliant (but then I’m a sucker for great Ethiopian coffees!), ripe, sweet, and intoxicatingly floral. Five Elephant was lovely too though, a transparently light roast, and very clean and juicy.

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There’s much that can be said against ordering coffee from overseas roasters, although there are of course many awesome ones, for various practical reasons (freshness, unsuitable transportation environments, costs, to name some key ones), when we have such brilliant roasters here in the UK. That said, it’s very tempting to do so, and it’s fun that a company like this takes the headache out of getting hold of them, for those that want to try.

As far as freshness goes, the Madcap arrived at my doors 16 days post roast, and the Five Elephant at 11 days. There are those who might consign coffees to the bin at two weeks (or sooner!)… But I’m not one of them (coffee freshness is very important to me, and is something I take seriously, but for me, the quality of the bean, the roast, and the brewing/preparation, are all more critical than the freshness, within reasonable limits). I found both coffees had travelled well, and brewed wonderfully at home, as various types of pourover filter.

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Particle sizing:

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A while back, results came in for my latest round of laser particle sizing tests, after submitting grind samples from several top ranking coarse filter grinders (see previous post).

A very brief summing up is as follows:

My modded Tanzania was predictably awesome again, at all settings tested (medium filter to coarse French Press), and was the benchmark from which to compare the other grinders, giving (narrowly) the very best result.

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I had suspected the Hausgrind hand grinder might well equal or possibly even surpass the Tanzania (from having read about it, and seen and tasted grounds from it). It might seem hard to believe that a humble hand grinder could rival a legendary electric commercial filter grinder, but some of the new generation of specially crafted hand grinders are purpose-built to be excellent for coarse grinding, and I see no reason why some cannot do so, potentially. And, at coarse FP settings, at almost identical peak micron sizes, the Hausgrind was indeed very impressive. Without going into specifics, one could place these graphs from the Tanzania and the Hausgrind over each other… and essentially see only one, single, identical line (!). I believe the Hausgrind had benefited from a few tweaks and optimisations, so this is not necessarily representative of every single one, but I would imagine they would be pretty close. The Tanzania’s still a bit more convenient though (but at a price)! The Hausgrind was only tested at coarse FP settings, so I also cannot be sure how it would fair at more medium filter settings.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the plan cafe’s Bunn G3 performed very well too. I had hoped it might indeed be better than is generally assumed (due to various factors I’m aware of). But I was still surprised by just how impressive it’s results were. Pretty much identical to the other two grinders, when compared at matching peak micron sizes. Again, the G3 was tested at a FP setting, and so I’m not sure what would happen to the distribution curve at other grind sizes.

The Hario Skerton was then also added to the list of grinders tested (just to compare, by the lovely Matt Smith who makes the analysis available, as this is his own grinder). This is a nice enough hand burr grinder, but not meant to be in the same league as the others tested. Predictably, here we saw the biggest difference. In comparison to all the other 3 grinders, this had a very shallow and wide peak (although still essentially a single peak), and with a lot more fine particles in the 0-100um/microns range. Completely different to the other three.

Cold Brew Coffee:

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This summer, I’ve introduced a new drink for the plan cafe: Cold Brew coffee.

Cold Brew has already been popular for a long time in (warmer!) countries like the USA and Australia, but has rarely been seen here in the UK until more recently, but this summer it’s been flourishing at a few artisan coffee shops, particularly in London (Thanks to @CaffeineMag for some inspiration on this initially!).

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This method involves steeping (or drip brewing) grounds with cold or room temperature water for many hours to extract the flavour, rather than relying on hot water to do the job in minutes, or seconds. Brewing slowly with cold water gives a completely different kind of flavour, and allows for a concentrate to be brewed that can be served over ice without becoming diluted.

I spent a few weeks researching and experimenting with recipes (with some unpleasant results initially), before reaching something I was satisfied with (thus adding to the already long list of brew methods for which I have brewing notes written up in extensive detail, and continuously updated, in separate, method-specific files!).

It’s slow going, changing one factor at a time, when you have to wait 7-24 hours (and this range can be even wider) to sample the results! And, as with any brew method, there are so many variables at play (the coffee, the grind, the time, the temps at different stages, agitation, technique, filtration, water, roast profile, flash hot bloom, or cold only, room temp, fridge, iced water, etc), that the variation in the results can of course infinite.

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I’ve experimented with the alternative Japanese iced coffee method at home before, and that certainly appeals to me, like many others in specialty coffee, because it can better preserve the brightness, acidity, florals, aromatics, nuance, complexity and character that we love in light roast, high quality coffees (although it does have its own issues; really good pourover is very technique dependent under normal circumstances as it is, but when you remove half the brew water, extracting successfully and correctly becomes a real knife-edge).

As such, I was a little sceptical, but intrigued, about the slow Cold Brew method, as it is often described as the opposite: all mellow mid tones, and no acidity or individual character.

But, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. Whilst all the above is true to an extent, Cold Brew can be delicious in its own particular way, and, with some tweaks to the method, I’ve found it’s possible to balance the best of both worlds, retaining a good degree of acidity, aroma, and the character of the individual coffee, together with a creamy mouthfeel, and an overall flavour that is delicate, smooth, and very refreshing and approachable.

In fact, I was shocked how identical the aromas of the finished product can be to the aromas of the specific beans. Perhaps even more so, albeit in a very different way to hot brewed coffee.

And the colour, well filtered, is WOW! Beautiful, deep reds, orange, and amber, with wonderful clarity. I’ve been enchanted by the beauty of the clarity and colours of hot pourover coffee for a long time, but pure Cold Brew, over ice, is something else – super stunning visually!

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And what’s more, I’ve found it can be a great way to successfully encourage people to try, and enjoy, coffee black, without milk (which is always a positive thing!), precisely because the drink’s intrinsic flavour profile is so soft and delicate.

People often describe using darker roasts for Cold Brew, and it then being a good vehicle for adding cream and sugar. But if you think about it, that’s just like hot brewed coffee, and it doesn’t have to be like that.

From the outset, just like any hot brewed method I would use, my aim was to use lighter roasts, and create something that would be nice on its own, black, and representative of the coffee.

And if you make this your desired endpoint when experimenting, you can work towards achieving this aim, even though Cold Brew might always lack much of the range, complexity, and intensity of hot brew.

I did try some (relatively light) espresso profiles, but was not at all keen on these, finding them just way too much, although I could have experimented more to make them work. One or two people who prefer a real punch, or who definitely only like coffee with milk, preferred these though.

So, I’ve settled on using light filter profile single origins exclusively, and have found these can make clean, juicy-yet-smooth-and-creamy, delicate, refreshing, and interesting Cold Brew.

And the filter profiles are actually best black, as the brew is nice and delicate, whereas adding milk to these drowns it a bit.

Some might use something middle of the road for Cold Brew, believing anything else to be a waste of good coffee, or because they’re just going to add milk or cream to it… But I’ve gone in the other direction, as I wanted to give the brew method the best possible chance, and have mostly experimented, and launched, with a really premium coffee: Colombian washed Finca El Faldon filter profile from James’ Gourmet, grown by Arnulfo Leguizamo (the same farm and farmer that produced the 2011 WBC winning coffee). This has notes of jellied plum, toffee, and candyfloss as Cold Brew.

We’re serving our double filtered, bottled concentrate at the side of a chilled glass of ice, with a little cold water to dilute to taste, if you want. If you want milk, or some homemade simple sugar syrup, no problem, just ask, but maybe give it a try without, as it’s surprisingly delicate and mellow!

The availability of the Cold Brew will be limited each day when it’s being served, and it won’t be on every day. Check the Twitter, or feel free to @mention if you want to know.

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It’s essentially a very easy brew method, which is all about experimenting a lot, carefully, with the detail of the recipe and variables, until it works well for a certain coffee, rather than needing any skilled technique as such. It’s therefore great fun to try at home – you don’t even need any expensive equipment whatsoever, just some good beans!

Despite a lot of work getting to a recipe for the El Faldon that I’m pretty happy with, I’ve really only scratched the surface with Cold Brew and there are so many further variations I could try. Sieving would be just one interesting option to try (I even read about someone talking about brewing whole beans as Cold Brew, which is something I’ve toyed with the idea of before, as a way of getting past the issues caused by grinding!). If I continued to dedicate just a fraction of the time and research I do for hot brewing for this, I think the method could potentially be improved further. Certainly worth playing with.

There’s lots of info around online about slow Cold Brew if you want to have a play at home, whilst the sun’s still shining and hot!

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Espresso brew ratios:

For several years now, I’ve been using low brew ratios, and doses, for espresso, for pretty much all the (relatively light roast) espresso profile coffees I use (both single origins and seasonal blends), and I’ve been watching with interest over the last few years as indications have emerged that a few others in the speciality industry, in the UK at least, have been gradually beginning to move in the same direction, here and there.

I’ve followed this closely, as part of my general, continuous research, and these movements have been very gradual, but consistent, in the same direction.

Using low brew ratios did not come easily, and was something that confused me, and even seemed ‘wrong’. Why? Almost all the brew ratios and recipes you saw within modern, speciality, ‘Third Wave’ coffee, until more recently, recommended high dose, high brew ratios.

So for a long time, I fought against it, and tried (jumped through hoops) to do what was apparently ‘correct’ for this type of coffee.

In the end though, I stopped resisting, and navigated by taste, instinct, and experimentation, towards consistently lower brew ratios, for pretty much any coffee, even coffees designed and recommended for higher doses and ratios (although with slight variations depending on the specific coffee and scenario, etc, as presented when dialling).

It then felt as if I had previously just been trying to ‘force’ the coffee into a little box, where it, and I, were often not happy, and where the results rarely seemed to be the best expression of what the coffee should, or could, be.

Whereas at lower brew ratios, I consistently found a more balanced, rounded, articulate flavour, a more true sweetness, a lighter, more delicate, but more appealing crema (visually and texturally), and I generally felt it simply gave me a better representation of the coffee’s flavour. If I just ignored the weights until after dialling to where the espresso simply looked and tasted best, this is where I’d end up. It just seemed more ‘right’ (and not simply personal preference either).

So, I stopped trying to follow the fashionable recipes, and just did what worked for me. I didn’t understand quite why I found this to work better, when everything I saw elsewhere recommend otherwise (although I had theories).

I thought maybe it was just some quirk of our particular equipment set up. And to some extent, this is still true; our equipment does certainly seem to prefer, even require, lower doses, and lend itself towards lower brew ratios too. But this alone didn’t completely explain the situation, and didn’t help to alleviate the nagging feeling that the recipes I was using were somehow ‘wrong’ (at best, ‘traditional’ or low end ‘normale’), and not ‘proper’, modern, speciality – because everything you read would recommend different (higher) doses and ratios.

But it worked best, for me, and I gradually just stopped worrying about it (as much).

Several years ago (but not that long ago), at that time, most of the speciality or Third Wave recipes you would read about were in the 65-100%+ region. Triple baskets were the thing, and ristretto was king (and this is often all still true).

Often the few recommendations you might find for lower doses still came hand in hand with a relatively high overall brew ratio, at or towards ristretto.

Then, a few years ago, a slight shift downwards got a lot of airspace on the top blogs and forums, with people talking about recipes more down at the 65% end, quite specifically.

I still felt like something of an anomaly…

Then, just a year or two ago, I noticed a few (leading) figures in UK speciality coffee talking about recipes in the region of 55%, as something of a norm, for the light roast espresso they worked with as standard.

This gave me a little hope that maybe what I was doing wasn’t so very odd after all, although even this still did not quite reflect what I was generally using.

But now, even more recently still, a few prominent sources have broken the 50% seal though, and have been talking about 55-40% brew ratios, and even beyond (and non of this is even with regard to something altogether different like lungo EK coffee shots – just ‘normal’ espresso making).

And some of these sources are the very same ones that were at about 65% just a few years ago.

It feels strange to contemplate that finally, almost comically, the recipes I’ve been using for a long time might actually be becoming somewhat fashionable and on trend (or at the very least, used by a few others), after for so long feeling at odds with this one aspect of the very movement I’m part of, and wholeheartedly promote.

Why’s this happening? Has speciality UK roasting undergone a such a significant shift over the last few years that it suddenly requires these lower espresso brew ratios? I don’t think so – the top handful of microroasters have been pretty (even very) light for some time already. Who knows, there’s a lot at play, and any possible reasons for it are really another story.

I just wanted to point out these observations, and put them out there.

I’m not saying this is how all espresso should be brewed, by any means. And I’m not saying I’m always happy with the espresso I achieve now. I’m not even saying that I only like espresso brewed like this (I’ve had hugely enjoyable shots made in other places, brewed in the high dose, high ratio way). Different brew ratios and practices can all make delicious shots when successfully executed. And some will simply not like espresso made with a low brew ratio, out of personal preference.

And I’m not suggesting that those using 65% or more a few years ago, and who are now using 55% or below didn’t already know (far more than I) what they were talking about back then. I don’t think they’ve suddenly ‘figured out’ that lower is better.

And, what works best in a certain situation for one person can be highly specific to the individual site and equipment (coffee, machine, baskets, pumps, grinders, water, technique, etc, etc), and not necessarily transferable, as any kind of wider ‘truth’ that will work for others. And, it’s certain that particular equipment set ups will lend themselves more towards making high brew ratio shots very nicely, and people using such set ups might rightly navigate towards higher ratios, perhaps even as an ideal for that set up.

I’m not really trying to say anything specific at all! It’s just been interesting, and refreshing, to observe these murmurs of a possible gradual shift in perspective for some highly regarded figures at the very forefront of speciality coffee in the UK in recent times, and a loosening of the previously accepted ‘rules’, towards something that I’ve long found to work, for me.

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Silly Article:

A month or two ago there was a depressing and surprisingly negative article in the Observer Magazine about modern speciality coffee in the UK by someone I would really have expected to have a more positive and enlightened attitude towards something exactly like this movement. The bile that followed in the comments attached to it online lowered the tone even further. There were a few possibly pertinent points made that might have been interesting and productive to explore, but the overall tone of blinkered reactionary negativity eclipsed these. A real shame. But with each juicy, sweet, clean, and characterful cup, I smile, and the memory fades!

Current Coffees:

In right now for French Press service at the cafe, or filter beans to take home, are delicious new Kenyan Kiri (summer fruits, blackcurrant, brown sugar, floral), and Guatemala Finca El Pelicano (biscuity and ripe white grape), and the smallest amount of El Salvador Guachoca natural, if you’re very quick. Naturelle (yes!) is on for espresso, currently composed of Brasil Santa Maria natural and Suke Quto washed Guji. And, El Faldon Colombia is on as Cold Brew of course, when available, whilst this particular coffee lasts..!

Laser particle analysis: comparing some top filter grinders.

April 17, 2014

I’ve had grind samples from some of my coarse/filter grinders at home and at work analysed a couple of times over the last year, via laser particle sizing, and have just submitted a new batch of samples which focus on some areas currently of interest to me. This is made possible by @mathewsmith1 who is absolutely awesome for taking the time to make this sort of analysis available to me.

I’ve posted in the past more detail about the specific nature of the particle sizing conducted, and some of the related topics, and this is available in previous posts on the blog. I find the process and the information both fascinating (fun!), and illuminating. It helps to inform and reinforce all the other information I gather and write up about my brewing.

This time around, I wanted to hone-in on a couple of grind settings on my filter grinder at home, a Mahlkonig Tanzania (which I’ve modified with a weighted hopper to minimise and counteract the effects of ‘popcorning’ when single dosing). Specifically, I wanted to look at a couple of settings around a medium drip grind that I use for some pourover brew methods, and several settings close together right up at the coarse French Press end of the scale.

And, I wanted to assess and compare the particle size and distribution curves of a sample from the plan cafe’s fairly new drip and FP grinder, our Bunn G3, with my Tanzania.

The Bunn is a well-known drip grinder that is widely used within modern speciality coffee circles, especially in the US, and it’s fairly highly regarded. Admittedly, the stock, pressed, burrs are not nearly as handsome as those on many other top-end modern coarse grinders, such as the Tanzania, etc, but, there are certain features with the Bunn that help to mitigate and overcome this. I suspect the Bunn might still display a less ‘optimum’ curve than the Tanzania in some ways (it should do anyway, although I could be wrong). But, the Bunn does make some very tasty coffee all the same (which raises other questions about what is actually optimum, and how this affects brewing …another topic).

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Then, a local coffee enthusiast Mukhtar approached me with news of his newly acquired Hausgrind Made by Knock hand grinder, and expressed interest in having the grind laser analysed.

I had already heard about the Hausgrind. They are one of a few new hand grinders coming out recently (like the OE Lido and Lido 2 for instance) that have been specifically crafted to produce exceptionally uniform grounds in the medium to coarse range used for filter and FP methods – and which are potentially comparable to the top commercial electric grinders, like those mentioned above (along with the likes of the Uber, EK43, Dittings and other Mahlkonigs) (and with Varios with special steel filter burrs, and certain other Mahlkonig models, offering an option at the top-end of the domestic electric grinder range). The samples I’ve seen, and tasted, from his Hausgrind seem really very good indeed.

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So, now, this has happily developed into a nice little comparison of some of the top coarse grinders out there, both commercial, and domestic hand-driven!

In the end, we almost coincidentally selected the exact same bean for our samples, and, we’ve followed pretty much the same protocol, to standardise our samples, which has worked out brilliantly, as this will now make for an even more direct comparison between the grinders.

Some of my (edited) notes regarding my samples from the Tanzania and the Bunn:

Suke Quto washed Guji light filter profile from JGC.

Roasted 27/03/14

Samples ground on 6th and 7th April 2014 (1 additional sample added ground on 13/04/14)

All samples 20g, in order to accurately replicate the grind profile/distribution produced by the grinders for an actual small batch size.

5g of Suke Quto purged through on each new setting before taking sample.

Samples ground directly from Tanzania into the press-seal plastic sample bags.

As per my standard practice, with Tanzania, beans loaded onto static burrs, weighted mod applied, then burrs switched on. For Bunn, beans are dumped into already running burrs, again as per my standard practice for this grinder.

Matt mentioned he might even run analysis on a sample from his own Hario Skerton hand grinder as well (which is not really meant to be in the same league as the other grinders, but which is still a very nice little hand burr grinder), which would be great to compare alongside the others as well.

In other news, my recent espresso selection at the plan cafe has been: JGC’s Naturelle (composed of Santa Maria natural and Daterra Special Reserve organic Brazils, with Suke Quto washed Guji), and also Formula 6 (30% Fazenda Samambaia, Brazil 100% yellow bourbon, 30% Fazenda Sertaozinho, Brazil, 16% Guatemala Conception Pixicaya Lot #1, 16% Guatemalan Finca Cuxinales, Genuine Antigua, 8% El Salvador Finca Suiza Micro Lot).

Filter profiles available for beans and French Press at the cafe have been JGC’s Finca Zarcero Costa Rica, Fazenda Samambaia, Tanzania Blackburn Estate Pick of Harvest SUN, and a personal favourite, Suke Quto washed Guji filter profile.

We’ve also seen two coffees from pioneering coffee agronomist Graciano Cruz’s Panama farms, Los Lajones and Emporium (Caturra), via Union Hand Roasted’s light roasts. Both natural process, and exhibiting variations on lovely ripe fruit, like strawberry, blueberry, orange, pear, and wine, translating into various fruit sweets (like Starburst!). Very well processed, ‘clean naturals’, as you’d expect from Graciano’s designer coffees. The Emporium Caturra microlot is currently available, right now.

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I’ve also been enjoying some filter profile samples of new Colombians at home, like Finca La Primavera, and look forward to seeing more of these soon!

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Oh, and yes, it’s true: The Bean Vagrant and better half have had an amazing, bouncing, beautiful baby bean of a boy, Tom!! Welcome to the world! 8-D

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23rd February 2014

February 23, 2014

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The recent view from above the espresso hopper; A sea of Brazil Daterra Special Reserve Organic, Santa Maria natural, and Suke Quto washed Guji. Recent seasonal changes saw this departure from the more usual washed-only nature of the components of the Naturelle blend.

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Gloria …returns!

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Suke Quto individually, at home, as a delicious, (even lighter) filter profile. Probably my favourite filter at home since… the last Ethiopian coffee: Worka Woreda OCR washed Yirgacheffe.

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Suke Quto pourover filter brew.

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(Possibly) the most geeky/obsessive thing in my extensive coffee cupboard? An ever-expanding box of grind samples. Samples of different coffees from different (craft) roasters through various grinders at various settings, to compare and assess grind profiles/distributions, shapes, and sizes, across different types of coffees, roast levels/styles, and brew methods.

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Press of a Brazil: Start.

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Final seconds before break.

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The same thing.

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(albeit completely different)

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My First Coffee

December 15, 2013

A couple of months ago I spent some time at the cafe with Dutch filmmakers, Johan and Norbert, as part of one of Johan’s film projects, My First Coffee.com. Knowing they would be visiting Wales for just a couple of days to do some filming, they had done some research, and had approached me about making the film whilst here. The little film they made of me is now completed and up on their site. I love their films – they make for pretty addictive viewing for any coffeegeek!

In other news, next week sees a couple of lovely coffees becoming available in the cafe for French Press: Rwanda BuF Cafe coop Red Bourbon (Nyarusiza station, Nyamagabe district, 1750-1900 MASL), and Operation Cherry Red grade 1 Worka Woreda washed Yirgacheffe (1650-2700 MASL)..! These are also available (on request) already as 250g beans if you want some lovely, fruity, floral, fresh coffee at home for Christmas filter!

18th November 2013

November 18, 2013

Our current selection for cafetière at the plan is a bit of a twist on the norm: an all Costa Rican selection. In fact, the 3 coffees on the blackboard for French Press right now are all grown by the same family (the Aguilera family) on their three farms, in the same region of Costa Rica (Naranjo), using the same arabica varietal (Villa Sarchi), the same processing, and (presumably) the same general cultivation and harvesting practices. So it’s a case of spot the difference, or even, rather, spot the similarities! Whereas we normally have 2-3 completely different origins on the board, often with wildly different flavours, these are all quite similar – just lovely, clean, juicy, balanced Costa Rican coffees. There are just slight  leanings more towards the fruit, nut, or chocolate elements, depending on which farm you try – brought about in this instance solely by the individual micro-geography and soil of the particular farm. JGC have also deliberately kept the roasting as similar as possible across the three lots, to further allow the subtle differences, and similarities, to speak for themselves.

It’s about a year since I introduced the new system for the cafe that allows me to change our selected filter profiles for cafetière much more fluidly and frequently. With the previous system, menus were still seasonal, naturally, and the coffees changed every few months, but they were more fixed, for more extended periods. As such, we got through a smaller range of coffees, and it was easy to keep track of what coffees we had experienced, as I only had to look back at my menus. Whereas over this last year, we have (very happily!) now been able to change more frequently, as soon as the newest and most exciting coffees come into the roastery, and as such, we have tried rather more coffees within the same time period than we would have under the previous system. This is great, of course. But I do like to look back over the coffees I’ve experienced, periodically. To remember the flavours, the highlights, the experiences (highs and/or even lows), the variations between ‘vintages’, the developments and experiments that each individual coffee might have brought about with brewing techniques and parameters, etc, etc (at home and at work). But without trawling through all my daily brewing notes, or blog and Twitter posts, it’s been hard to see at a glance what coffees I’ve worked with. And so (purely for my own peace of mind!), I think I’ve rounded up the majority of what we have had from my main craft roaster, James’ Gourmet Coffee, over this last year. There have been others too though; another benefit of this new system is that as well as having Guest Roasters occasionally for the Espresso of the Day, I can now also throw guest roasters into the mix for our filter line-up here and there too – and we have had several (light roasts) from Union Hand Roasted recently, for instance, as well, such as the Konga washed Yirgacheffe that I’ve been enjoying at home on my day off this weekend through both the Chemex and ceramic filter cone. So this list is by no means everything that we’ve offered, or tried, in recent times (and one or two of these are samples that I tried but which were not available for service in the cafe), but it’s most of it:

Finca Providencia Guatemala

Kenya estate blend: Makwa and Ngutu

Rwanda BuF Cafe bourbon

Kenya Ngunguru
 
Guatemala Conception Pixcaya lot 1
 
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Idido natural
 
El Salvador COE Miravale
 
Aricha Tchembe Yirgacheffe natural
 
Beloya Special natural Yirgacheffe
 
Bolivia Julio Gonzales farm
 
El Salvador Suiza 2012 and 2013
 
Manco Kapac Bolivia
 
Colombian Finca Santa Barbara La Joyeria Lot #238
 
Rwanda Koakaka
 
Kenya Kirimahiga
 
Fazenda Serra Dos Crioulos 2012 CoE lot #9
 
Habesha filter blend (two versions)
 
Finca San Andre Esquipulas Southern Guatemala
 
Kenya Thithi Giiki
 
Finca Cirri
 
Knots family washed OCR grade 1 Yirgacheffe Worka Woreda
 
Suko Quto washed Guji Oromia
 
Kenya Karimikui 2013
 
Finca Vara Blanca Costa Rica
 
Aguilera family farms Naranjo Costa Rica filter selection (Fincas Beneficio, Angelina, and Tono).
…Not including various coffees for espresso, which have included Samambaia, Sertao, Passeio topiazo, Aricha natural, Finca la Paz, Winter Hoards circa 2012 and 2013, and various (many!) new seasonal versions of the Naturelle and Formula 6 blends!

For me, being able to work with wonderful coffees like these still continually feels like a real privilege. And a responsibility – to represent them as best I can. I guess I have this deep respect and appreciation for these coffees (more so than others on our team), not only because speciality coffee is my obsession, and I know how good the coffees are when carefully and successfully prepared, but also because I know how much has gone into personally cultivating this situation. It’s not been easy to get to this position, where I can select, brew and serve coffees like these, in the environment that I/we have created and nurtured, with the systems I’ve put in place for the cafe as a whole, and with the quality equipment that I (now) have available (at work and also at home). It’s taken many years of patience and hard work to gradually advance to where things are now (in both these environments), and for it to be a success. And, additionally, this has been in a region where there are few others doing anything quite like this… But it can always be better too (and what we do is admittedly very humble, by some standards). Therefore, attempting to always better understand and do more justice to these quality coffees, with (hopefully) increasing consistency and experience, is a continuous endeavour and focus, that is ever challenging, surprising, rewarding, and exciting in equal measures.

Speaking of gradual improvements, I’ve spent the last 6 months or so making even more than usual. Some bigger, some only small – but lots and lots of little changes and alterations and additions to what we do (and not just with the coffee!), in an effort to continually improve and fine tune what we already do, whilst not messing around with what works. And whilst remaining inclusive and unpretentious about what we try to offer.

I’m currently busy training the newest batch of staff members as well. At some point I might progress them onto coffee, but they’re not there yet, even after several weeks – I train all the more straightforward, non-coffee, elements of service in the cafe first, and only once staff are proficient with this, might we potentially go further with espresso training if they seem suitable and ready. Some never do. I put a lot of time into training! But it’s necessary, to continue to do what we do.

And we are altogether busier than ever before! And so now, we hunker down for the very busiest time of year..!

New burrs into the Anfim Super recently. Every time these go in, I relish witnessing and documenting the changes and results that occur immediately, and then also over the coming many kilos, until fully seasoned. Infrequent perennial events like this with the equipment, etc, give unique and fleeting opportunities to try to understand various processes better…

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Mostly pics, 5th September 2013

September 5, 2013

On Tuesday this week, I spent some time locked away in the cellar of the plan cafe, servicing the needs of two rather large (and very lovely), splendid Dutchmen, Johan and Norbert.

If you want to see me embarrassing myself, and probably saying all the wrong things, in a way which I suspect might make me feel incompetent and inadequate (more so than usual), then watch this space (in a few weeks time):

http://myfirstcoffee.com/ 

In the meantime, watch that space anyway – as it’s pretty cool!!!

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A lovely gift last week, from TOP customer, Ibby :). Direct from NYC to my kitchen (well, via the plan, of course) – who’d have thought it?!

bb

…and still fresh (and, I later found, apparently unaffected by the flight too…)!  

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Brewed.

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Further works to the Tanzania Mod, in progress.

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Detail.

Latest laser particle sizing results are back from the lab, super asap, thanks to the awesome Matt, for 6 samples (3 coffees, two washed filter profiles, and one natural espresso profile, at two different grind settings), from the current modification to the grinder. The positive effects on uniformity seem undeniable. But I have some more tweaks to do. ‘Machining’ (in my own little way) some UHMWPE this weekend, to replace the Acetal – ah, the joy!

cupp

Six coffees tasted at home last weekend, cupped blind, and some also brewed…

yir

…But this was the standout knockout, for me (predictably?!) (samples in the background bagged for sizing). 

pour

Not sure why that’s there…

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Naturelle, back on.

Pour Sept

Freepour, of course!

B1

…A (nother!) brand new grinder!

B4

Some moderately lengthy testing and comparisaon of the grind from 3 grinders into the evening for me at the plan cafe; Tanzania (from my house), Bunn, and Santos. No Lasers this time – just eyes, fingers …and mouth! And yes – that’s a ruler!!

caff2

FREE, to all our wonderful customers – help yourself!!

A little bit of most things, up to 15th August…

August 15, 2013

My long-standing, ongoing, preoccupation with coarse/filter grinding (amongst all other things coffee) receded just a little recently, if only briefly, and was diverted more towards water.

This brief shift away from grind was brought about by various factors (such as purchasing a Tanzania earlier this year for home, my ongoing experiments and reading, and recent experiences of brewing the same coffees in different locations; with Brita filtered Lincolnshire water and unfiltered local tap water at home in Wales, with the same brewing devices, and the same techniques and parameters).

This lead me to some research, and experiments with bottled mineral waters (mixed to match the SCCA ideal TDS with a perfectly neutral PH, and also various degrees either side with unmixed brands), and also to purchase a Brita filter for home tap water for testing also.

Some months ago, whilst delving into water more deeply for the first time, I also contacted Welsh Water, and received some wonderfully prompt and extensively detailed info (grinder manufacturers and grinder retailers so often seem to take a completely different stance, but that’s another story) about local water, the meat of which was as such:

There is no regulatory limit for hardness (in Caerphilly the hardness is approximately 53.5mg/l as CaCO3 ((moderately soft)) and in Cardiff centre it is approximately 100.3mg/l as CaCO((slightly hard)))

During this, I’ve been trying to keep brewing/pouring techniques and parameters, grind and batch sizes, fairly consistent, or even identical, as well as sticking to only a few brewing devices (I own a lot), to try to isolate the changes brought about by the water (and much of the same applies to continued experiments with grind as well – see below).

These are some useful links to read if you are also interested in looking at water:

http://www.scaa.org/PDF/ST%20-%20WATER%20STANDARD%20V.21NOV2009A.pdf 

http://web.archive.org/web/20080526072324/http://www.big-rick.com/coffee/waterfaq.html

http://coffeeforums.co.uk/showthread.php?7162-Bottled-water

http://londiniumespresso.com/blogs/londinium-espresso-blog/1096012-the-best-water-for-your-espresso-machine

http://www.jimseven.com/2012/08/19/we-underestimated-water/

http://branch.com/b/we-underestimated-water

http://www.jimseven.com/2010/11/28/fear-of-water/

http://www.jimseven.com/2013/02/27/what-to-do-about-water/

 http://www.coolpexarabia.com/tds_water.html

This is something I’m simply keeping an eye on.

Anyway, after that diversion, I’m definitely back onto aspects of grind. I am currently DIY modifying my Tanzania grinder (at home) to optimise its performance for its general use as a single dosing grinder, with a view to eliminating popcorning (and the potentially negative effects on grind consistency and uniformity of this phenomenon). It seems I am not able to own a grinder without modifying it some way (early on, I modified our Anfim Super Caimano 2nd revision espresso grinder at work with a piece of metal that I knocked-up, which now gives us roughly twice as many grind steps as usual – effectively making the grinder as close to stepless as possible …without actually making it stepless, that is). 

It came from thinking *Sure, the Tanz is good, but it could be better (although all grinders could be better!). How can I make it (even) better?* This is work in progress. I’m currently trialling various variations (and there are many, many possibilities), and sourcing parts. This is within ‘spare’ time. As with everything else in coffee preparation, any change you make changes everything else, so I’m currently tinkering, and then constantly reassessing, during these modifications, as each change is made. After these initial experiments, I might also investigate the route of having a bespoke auger made, if necessary…

t1

t2

For those wishing to look at some information regarding this subject, here are some links.

http://www.home-barista.com/brewing/why-do-bulk-grinders-produce-superior-grind-for-non-espresso-preparation-t14055.html

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/replacing-titan-hoppers-replicating-bean-weight-and-behavior-t21274.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/grind-consistency-of-column-with-weight-vs-stock-hopper-t19447.html

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/grinders-with-augers-t14771.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/best-brewing-grinder-t25505.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/brewing/mahlkonig-tanzania-for-drip-french-press-t14829.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/tips/is-single-dose-grinding-inconsistent-t4540.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/three-mod-night-or-taming-titan-macap-m7k-t19597.html 

http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/mazzer-mod-hopper-replacement-t25424.html 

This particular link line-up seems to be a bit of an HB fest, sorry, but sometimes that’s just how it is – when the topics just aren’t to be found being explored, or at least aired, elsewhere… Admittedly, many of these links refer to grinding for espresso, with espresso grinders, rather than coarser, filter grinding and grinders – but the ideas involved are still relevant. If anything this topic might be especially pertinent when it comes to filter grinding. Whilst consistency from grind to grind is of course absolutely crucial for espresso, and shot consistency, it’s generally accepted that ‘ideal’ espresso grind actually requires a wider, Bi or multimodal, less uniform profile, built-in, as a necessary and desirable quality (this is the grind profile produced by professional espresso grinders, and the brew method has therefore developed around this grind to the extent it is considered necessary for correct execution of the process. There are some interesting discussions and experiments going on at the moment exploring uniform grinding for espresso – but this is a rather separate, fringe debate, and not normal practice). Popcorning could therefore potentially even deliver something positive to this requirement, provided the damaging effects are simultaneously managed somehow, and grind settings are also adjusted accordingly to compensate. Whereas for coarse grind brew methods, and grinders, a grind profile that is as uniform as possible is generally considered optimum (again, a popular consensus, not necessarily gospel). So, it might be that the effects of popcorning, complicated and perhaps exacerbated by the scenario of single dosing various different weights, at significantly different grind levels (from medium fine through to very coarse), in terms of potentially widening (or altering) particle size distribution, is even more detrimental for coarse brew methods (and for the best grinders purpose-designed for these brew methods and grind levels), than it is for espresso. Just my own conjecture. During these modifications, it has been interesting to note that the flow of grounds from a (coarse, filter) grinder is in some ways (loosely) reminiscent of the flow of espresso during a shot, in that it is not simply the same from beginning to end; different sections of the event have a different make-up (the latter is well documented, whereas the former is not). The uniformity and distribution of particles in a single dosed sample of filter grind is a little different at the start, through the middle, and at the end (from unconfirmed casual observation, mostly). And this changes with any and every change you make to the way in which you feed beans into the burrs when grinding. Trying to eliminate this variance throughout the portion/dose (which naturally affects the end profile), and homogenise the output as much as possible, is my current quest.

This comes at a fortuitous time, as I’m also currently in the process of sourcing a new filter and press grinder for work for the plan cafe, and am researching the options …bearing much of the above in mind.  

So, as I said, back onto grind – for my sins!

Had a sudden thought one weekend recently, and it turned out that my phone and my thermometer agreed sublimely on the current ambient temperature in my garden. I liked this! No proof that either source was actually reliable, but it made me smile, and gave me some reassurance that the measurement of temps in my Paico might be correct enough, before the perpetual nagging feeling that I might need to recalibrate the thermometer, had chance to take hold before brewing..!

temps

At work, my occasional photography these days has shifted a little away from latte art, more towards simple observation of espresso crema, which feels like a logical progression, after all. Latte art is the more obvious show stopper, that screams *Look at me, aren’t I stunning?!* (and yeah, sure, it is), whereas espresso crema, is equally, if not more beautiful, complex, and mesmerising – but in a much more subtle way, on a smaller, more micro scale, that is easy to overlook (although these assertions are undoubtedly the obsessive barista in me talking!). And in fact, it’s (much) harder to control and master – to sustain and predict, with repeatability. And much more important. Even pretty great latte art eventually seems like child’s play in relation to the many other aspects of coffee, including crema. Naturally, I’ve been aware of, and enchanted by, crema for a long time. Aesthetically, it is beautiful, and objectively it is also charged with useful indicators, and as a barista, that makes witnessing its subtleties all the more alluring. But it is perhaps more recently, over the last couple of years, that I have become more in-tune with and watchful of these visual indicators, and have developed a more heightened awareness of the many indications and messages that crema can hold. Visual assessment of crema alone, is valuable, informative, and captivating, for me, and as something I spend a lot of time regarding, both from aesthetic and objective points of view, it’s nice to take the odd picture here and there too (although, as I also take quite a lot of pictures of spent manual filter coffee beds at home, for instance, I might not be the best representative for what is ‘interesting’ subject matter…). No fancy camera or lenses. Just some simple snaps to try to capture it. And in most cases, only the finished surface as well. Crema is a whole subject area in itself, of course, and you can delve pretty deep into the science, if you wish (I recently read one of Illy and Navarini’s famous articles “Neglected Food Bubbles: The Espresso Coffee Foam” which is one example), and there are many, many aspects of it which you can explore. But what I’m referring to here is simply observation of the colour, patterning, and textures, from both an aesthetic point of view, and from the point of view of correlating these visual indicators to taste-promise, using a mental landscape or catalogue compiled over countless observations and tastings. Of course, visual indicators are just that – only indicators, and not a total guarantee of success. And, the visual differences between an ok, but significantly flawed shot, and a lovely one, can be very subtle, even indistinguishable (and the variables that can lead to these variations are of course even more subtle). But nevertheless, there are often occasions when you just know; when these appearances within the crema surface make me virtually certain that there’s a success in the cup, due to this recognition of signs, from the catalogue of experiences (although admittedly, this intuition and assurance is also guided by other aspects during the whole shot making process as well, such as how the dosing looks and feels, what the flow rate and characteristics are like, what the aromas during and after brewing are like, etc, with the appearance of the finished surface being just one key indicator).

As with all things coffee though, the whole thing is very equipment, and coffee, dependant (not to mention technique!), and the attractive visual appearances that indicate potentially successful shots on one set-up might be different to another. Different machines, grinders, baskets (volume, shape, diameter, hole type, etc), doses, brew ratios, roast levels, bean types, techniques, naked or spouted handles, cup types, etc, etc, will all affect the results, and different combinations will produce different shots, and perhaps different indicators. Super tight, heavy updose, dense shots tend to work less well on our set up, taste-wise, for me (and rarely represent coffees well), and so this is not how I brew, generally, and therefore these visual indicators at our parameters will be somewhat unique, and slightly distinct from those brewing with different parameters and equipment (although saying this, there are, I think, certain common, recognisable elements which are fairly reliably and universally indicative of either warning signs, or positive information, about shots). Some people will also have specific preferences, some will have higher, or lower, expectations, and some a deeper, more evolved awareness. But gradually developing an affinity with what constitutes the appearance of likely successful, or at least acceptable, ballpark, crema produced by one’s own set-up, however modest or lavish the equipment or the results may be, within each set of given limitations, is valuable.

f6a

IMAG0424B

And speaking of crema, (nearly) every day, I continue to record basic espresso brewing notes/parameters/observations, which run into the many 1000s of words per month (not including similar notes at home regarding filter brewing subjects, as mentioned above, and others). I feel such notes are so highly equipment, site, and coffee specific, as to not be of any practical use to others, which is why I never see any value in publishing them. Perhaps this same reasoning is why there is, understandably, really so little concrete, in-depth, practical brewing information around on the web, other than the usual, rather vague, generic, often repeated overviews (although there are those going to the effort to make some available, and meaningful, to whom we should all be grateful). The variances between everyone’s equipment, grinders, parameters, techniques, and water, etc, is so vast. It’s easy to say “such and such recipe was amazing!“, but how useful is that information to others, practically? Not that it can’t be useful, but to make it meaningful takes some time. And, the process is highly prohibitively time-consuming for me as it is (even just to log data and observations, of dialling and continued brew settings and parameters throughout each day, in a rushed sort of shorthand that only really makes sense to me), without then also trying to round these up into any sort of interpretable, digestible form that would actually be suitable or useful for others. And so, I mention these notes occasionally, only because I personally find the process useful and valuable – and would recommend it as a learning tool to anyone, within their own practice.

Simply mentioning the subjects I’m looking at as I go along, alluding to the issues related, and providing links to some of the further research that I’ve been looking at myself, sometimes feels like the most helpful approach.

In other news…

Here’s a link to a nifty little Instagram freepour video of me pouring a mocha at the plan, created by Ace customer, Walid, a couple of weeks ago:

http://instagram.com/p/cZQyydi9ke/

And here’s one to a neat little article in the Australian Times.co.uk by Keil, a lovely guy who visited a few weeks ago:

http://www.australiantimes.co.uk/editors-choice/coffee-cult-visits-the-plan-in-cardiff.htm

The new August/September issue of Caffeine Magazine will be in the plan soon.

And right now, I’m serving (the legendary) Formula 6, and am particularly fond of the current version of the blend:

F6 14th Aug

…The 10% Aricha natural Pops beautifully and distinctively in there, with ripe, wild, winey, rosie, summer fruit notes.

Newest Guest Roaster at the plan cafe: Union Hand Roasted

July 24, 2013

So, our newest Guest Roaster for espresso is rested, tested, and will be on from tomorrow!

union1

This is Union Hand Roasted (a London-based artisan roaster). 

Whilst they’ve certainly been on my radar as one of the roasters to try for a long time, this is our first time with their coffees.

We have two different in-season blends from them that will be on as our espresso over the next two weeks, with some James’ Gourmet here and there and at weekends in between as well.

I have (predictably!) gone for the less deep end of their available variety of roast spectrum (which is going to be deep enough!), with their Bright Note and Rogue blends.

UNI

First up is Bright Note.

This is currently composed of two coffees from the Lambari farm in Brazil (a pulp and a full natural), Rwandan Gashonga, and also Cobahue from Guatemala.

Later on, we will also be brewing Rogue espresso, a blend composed of Brazilian Fazenda Bob-o-link and Colombian Asprotimana.

union4

BN4

Bright Note shot.

I could string together some more, or less, useful sentences where the phrase ‘Italian’ would crop-up (positively) several times, but won’t.

Whereas from James’ Gourmet roasters, there will be the latest incarnation of the Caffe Naturelle espresso blend in between, after finishing the last of their Colombian SOE Finca La Paz today (tomato!!).

And from JGC for French Press (or filter beans for home), we have Cup of Excellence Brazilian Serra Dos Crioulos, Kenyan Kirimahiga, and the Habesha Ethiopian blend, featuring two Yirgacheffes (one washed, and one natural; Aricha Keble), with one Limu.

:)

 BN1     bnc     bnb     bna

15th July 2013

July 15, 2013

icea

ice (1)

ice (11)

ice (4)

ice (6)

ice (8)

ice (2)

Heat wave = over ice, at home. Japanese Method


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