Archive for December, 2010

18th December 2010

December 18, 2010

WOW! It must be nearly Christmas!

This is a coffee I will be brewing very carefully over Christmas weekend! Brewed a few V60s today with some Karimikui and (with difficulty!) managed to get some pretty sound readings of the brew temp, and feel sure I have generally been underestimating the heat loss from kettle, through pouring kettle, to brewer, resulting in lower than ideal brew temps. I am therefore adjusting the temps needed in the pouring kettle to achieve the best slurry temps (whilst also trying to take into account the current seasonal conditions!). There is a lot of debate about the various ways which might be best to use this pourover in particular (it seems particularly contentious) in order to achieve the most even, and most proper, extractions, and this is something I’m still researching and experimenting with. There are always so many questions, and things I’d like to understand better, and have the time (and the gadgetry!) to experiment with more. At work it’s espresso, as ever, and at home it’s various other brew methods. Perhaps it’s a good time to be half way through Rao’s new book at the moment, and come Christmas I’ll have fun putting this special coffee through the V60 (sizes 1 and 2), the french press, and maybe even the Aeropress and Chemex too!

One entertaining thing during those V60 brews was that to start with, I ran some now pretty stale, very dark roasted Cuban coffee through, which I had not tried in the V60 previously, just to see if I could get the thermometer placed properly, before continuing with some much fresher (although not super fresh) Karimikui thereafter. The very old dark roast produced a massive bloom which unfurled to produce a textbook, picture perfect V-shaped cone, with the thickest, most uniform sides, all the way down to the tip at the bottom of the V, all with almost no effort, and with very sloppy pouring. I have never been able to make such a neat cone before, and although this is not seen by everyone as the best shape for the spent grounds, and although it tasted rank, it was a joy to witness all the same! Then back to the still fairly fresh Karimikui, and, as usual, even the most careful pours achieve nothing like the same results!

I had previously discounted the possibility of a good enough bloom for the best cone formation with coffee even as old as this Karimikui is right now (or any craft roasted speciality coffee of the same age), but clearly other coffees can be more flexible. Dark roasts just don’t give in.

The next moves ideally are to try to get a thermocouple, probe, and meter, for less obstructive measurement of slurry temps, new burrs for my Rocky, and continued experiments with different techniques!

14th December 2010

December 14, 2010

Some days are just better!

I have to admit I spent yesterday struggling to feel the love for the new blend in the grinder, and scratching my head – one of those days (why so many?!) when whatever moves I made, the espresso just would not taste good enough, to me, not even once. Quite the opposite even *shudder*. But then today, after thinking various possibilities over, first thing I make more changes …and wow the shots finally start landing on the money! Then the first customer’s an Aussie wanting a double ristretto piccolo latte (not something I’m overly familiar with, as such, by any means, but which is a pleasure all the same), and who then makes the effort (completely unprompted – ALWAYS the best way) to mention how much he enjoyed it, followed by a brief chat about coffee. Always great when you’re feeling the shots, and then others just pick up on it as well.

Musing a little about the importance, if any, of latte art recently. It’s something which, at it’s best, still holds a magical allure for me, and which is one of the many elements that excites me about artisan coffee. I don’t necessarily see it in the same way I used to. I know more now. I know that even freepour art can be made with pretty ropey (even awful) shots, and distinctly average, less than perfect milk. I know that even very nice pours don’t necessarily indicate the very best coffee, and that a coffee can of course be perfect without any latte art as such. When you talk with other baristas who are familiar with freepour, who see and practice it frequently because we are within the right circles, you often encounter the feeling that perhaps it’s not that special, and not indicative of quality in the way one perhaps thought at one point. It can indeed be almost meaningless, in fact. But I still think, on a more basic level, that good freepour intrinsically demonstrates a certain degree of quality of both flavour and texture. And, it shows there is a considerable amount experience, even passion, and practice on the part of the barista, some sound training, and an environment where the skills can emerge and flourish. It’s still too soon to dismiss its importance, in that regard, I think. But more than this, it struck me that, for me, my own latte art has gradually developed and become refined over my years as a barista, alongside the rest of my knowledge about how to make the best coffee I can, as often as I can. Good pours came quite early on, but there have been gradual improvements as I’ve learned more about the craft as a whole. Subtleties of touch and movement and knowledge and craftmanship that have emerged and evolved together, and which continue to progress (on a good day!) hand in hand. So for me, the very best latte art is still, and maybe always will be, a sign that all the elements, and the whole package, has at least the potential for being great, as well as looking beautiful to boot! Just like the other elements of quality; the beans, the roast, the shots, the knowledge, the skill, and the machinery, etc, there can be subtle levels of quality and ability (admittedly not easily discernible at times), from poor, through average, to good …and beyond.

10th December 2010

December 11, 2010

Can this be a first for us? A 100% African espresso blend? I think so! I’ve had some S/O Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Rwandans, etc, on previously, but this is a blend of, I believe, 3 (or even 4) Ethiopian coffees (two from Sidamo coops and one from Yirgacheffe OCR), and a Kenyan AA. As such, this is quite extra-ordinary! This is… the ‘Winter Hoard’.

A guy who knows the London coffee scene quite well popped in first thing the other day whilst visiting Cardiff and had a macchiato with the 67% Ethiopian OCR Sidamo and 33% El Salvador Brambly, and remarked how he was not very used to blends with Ethiopian coffees in, but enjoyed it very much (which was a nice way to start the day for me). It struck me that this is probably true for a lot of folks, whilst conversely I seem to work with blends like this most of the time. This all African blend is something else again though, and very intriguing. I have more work to do with this coffee over the coming week or two, but am initially finding the ideal window to be quite tight – a marked difference between 28 and 29 seconds for instance. I’m finding the same thing true with the Brambly blend (and many other coffees) – but perhaps even more distinctly so with the Winter Hoard so far.

And so, from the soft, gentle ripe fruits of the Brambly, the fruits are now that much brighter, and multicoloured – it feels like a string of Christmas lights! It feels a little strange to attach a seasonal blend to our seasons… but this is pretty fitting. There IS blackcurrant there too – I can smell it and taste it here and there, but it is by no means an overly, or simply, blackcurranty shot. Brambly has been one of my favorite blends recently, and I will continue to keep this running at the cafe as well, on and off, alternating with Winter Hoard, and probably others too!

My adjustment with my flat whites continues to receive my attention – it’s a move that can achieve the most tantalising results, but it’s by no means an easy route, as there are new subtleties and pitfalls that come into play with the technique, alongside more standard preparation for most others drinks. It seems to be about 3 or 4 out of 5 landing on the money at the mo, with 1 or 2 falling a bit short, which needs to be better!

Also, I have to say it’s not every week Intelligentsia Coffee and The Arcade Fire come into the cafe together (or separately even) for coffee! A great surprise! Todd from Intelli is a gracious fellow doing them proud, and it was nice to chat briefly. It would have been wonderful to talk more, but every day here just seems to get busier and busier recently, to the point of lunacy, and as such I felt a bit too distracted to stop for as long as I would have liked (a perhaps misplaced sense of diligence sometimes stops me from making time for things when I should). But the gist of it seemed to be that Intelli are going round with the band as they tour the UK, and taking them to cafes they’ve had recommended, in search of good coffee. Could there be a cooler scenario?! It was only when I spoke to Todd later in the day that it clicked though ”…Ah yes – I thought I recognised those guys from somewhere earlier!”. And don’t – I KNOW we’re in an arcade …it’s just too easy! I think a few of the guys had espresso and milk drinks, and hopefully these were OK, as this, when successful, is what we specialise in more, and it’s what I’ve worked to gradually raise the bar with. I think the lack of a specialised filter brew bar convenient for take out came as a bit of a surprise though, and hopefully our simple french press (totally unsuitable for take out, and still lagging a little behind our espresso in various ways) was quaint, rather than disappointing! It’s something I would love to do, but only in a more specifically coffee, quality, and skills focussed setting, because it would be impractical for the plan. It does mean we’re behind ‘the trend’ in that respect, but then doing manual filter brewing properly is not something to go into just for the sake of it if you’re not going to deliver a good product. Gradually progressing and maintaining the now pretty firmly cemented espresso side of things here has been quite a successful, but lengthy and challenging achievement in itself for me, and bringing yet another, skilled, labour intensive brew station into play is beyond my control, and not realistic, in this type of environment. I have hinted at it once or twice to some people, and there have been raised eyebrows… and the look of ‘but why?!’. It’s best left there! My pourovers and better filter grind stay at home for now.

Also (if I have been a good boy) new gram scales are on the way for Christmas! These will be slimline and more practical for shot weighing (directly on the drip tray hopefully), and will be able to stay in work with me …all the better for fine tuning and obsessing over the details.