Archive for January, 2011

At the roastery

January 30, 2011

Spent a great day at our roasters, JGC, in Ross on Wye yesterday! For me, part of being a professional barista working with such great speciality coffees, is wanting to understand as much as possible about all aspects of how these coffees are produced, from the farms and the processing, to the crucial stage of craft-roasting them, as well as developing all the techniques I use in my craft when preparing them at the end stage of the cafe.

Hence, whilst I have visited the roastery briefly a few times before when building my UKBC blends, etc, I really wanted to find out more about the actual roasting process, and so Peter and the team kindly gave me a whole day of their time, and took me through various aspects of what they do in a bit more detail, which was really interesting and fun. Before, I had some vague knowledge of how roasting works, but nothing practical, and Friday demystified the basics, which was great.

I spent the day roasting just one coffee many different ways, and several other new coffees all one way, on the sample roaster, as well as having a run through of both the larger roasters (a Diedrich and a Loring) with Andy, and then cupping the various samples I’d roasted (pretty poorly!) later in the day. As a result I got a good basic practical understanding of some of the physical changes that coffee goes through as it roasts, like 1st crack (and potentially 2nd..!), weight loss, and colour, aroma, etc, along with things like more precise profiles and profiling for specific coffees and brew methods, temperatures, timings, and other variables, etc, on the main roasters. Great!

Thanks to everyone for having me, and good luck to Andy for his regional heat of the UKBC – his coffee and latte art were stunning – and still two weeks to go..!

27th January 2011

January 27, 2011

Big congrats to Will Corby, aka Caffeine Kid, for WINNING the London heat of the UKBC – well done!!

18th January 2011

January 18, 2011

Brewing Cafetalera Herbazu Estate as the espresso of the day at the cafe for 2-3 days …right now!

As Peter our roaster notes, this is a coffee that may have ‘peaked socially’, and I guess this could make this coffee (and others with a similar story) less attractive for all sorts of reasons for some people. Maybe this is something we might have the luxury of being able to worry about a little less here in Cardiff? Some people might also frown upon a Costa Rican single estate (either, or both, let alone both at the same time!) being used for espresso rather than filter (OK, it’s 13 small farms going under one estate banner, not sure about the etiquette there). Either way all I know is this is a new coffee for me, and for the cafe, and I have enjoyed some beautiful shots with it today. So sweet, and dense, yet clean – love it! There seems to be quite a bit of flexibility with it too in terms of bringing out the goodness in slightly different ways, with slightly different shots/recipes/ratios. I’m very happy with the temp I’m brewing this at (fortuitously picked the right place straight away there), and the type of dose, but think I might experiment with time a bit more whilst I still have this coffee.

15th January 2011

January 16, 2011

Fazenda Passeio ruby natural tasting beautiful through the V60 at home this afternoon. It’s always a joy and a surprise just how well the V60 works when a coffee is properly fresh (this is about 4 days from roast). With admittedly careful and ever more practiced pouring technique, it’s so much easier to get a lovely pour, cone formation, good extraction time, and resulting cup with coffee like this (as I use it, anyway). I’ve learned that as the next couple of weeks go by this will become increasingly difficult, to near impossible. The 1 cup pourover seems particularly tricky and freshness-reliant. The 2 cup V60 I have found is altogether easier, even when the coffee gets a little less-fresh.

1 cup V60.

14-15g grounds medium-fine.

260g water (at maybe 91C average in the slurry) added with a continuous pour, keeping all grounds in contact with the brew continually until just the last 20 seconds or so.

2 mins 40 secs – 2 mins 55 secs total brew time, including 10-15 second bloom with roughly 30g water.

With the 2 cup, and a slightly courser grind, I find I can easily aim for a 3 or up to 4 minute brew.

It’d be fun to get my hands on an EMojo at some point (not sure how or when!), to see if those figures back up what seems like successful stuff.

15th January 2011

January 16, 2011

It’s often the case that it’s only just as a seasonal blend is about to run out that I finally feel most comfortable with it, and feel that I have come to more fully understand and sometimes successfully capture its very best qualities. Through experimentation and tasting I discovered (fairly!) early on where I most enjoyed the ‘Winter Hoard’ blend, and it was a strange journey of fine-tuning that led me to almost certainly some the lowest doses I’ve used intentionally. Sure enough when I brought my scales into work to check out the numbers, I found that as expected I had arrived at a brew ratio that went all the way down to nearly as low as 40% (aiming for about 43% ideally) – only just still espresso by many folk’s standards!

Not sure exactly why this was (and perhaps others might prefer this coffee made differently anyway), but I guess it might be something to do with it’s all African nature, or the predominance of Sidamos and Yirgacheffes in the blend… A striking example for me though, of how different coffees really do nearly always require different handling and fine tuning, often for quite some time, until you are able to best represent their characteristics to your liking: one of the things that over the last year or so, since acquiring top quality machinery, I have been able to better understand, experience first hand, and put into practice.

It’s strange too, how different coffees require different types of grinder adjustment to keep them where they should be. On our Anfim, sometimes it’s mainly the timer, and sometimes almost only grind, that mostly need utilising to keep the coffee behaving. My modification to the grind steps helps in that regard.

It was whilst using this blend that I also experienced a blend going a little further from roast than I would normally aim for these days …but with some surprisingly very happy results, which makes me think about re-assessing my usual target window for espresso freshness, in terms of what might work best for individual coffees. Even on the very last day of this blend, I had one of the most beautiful shots I’ve been able to achieve with it, and did not actually find this blend very adversely affected by a slightly longer than anticipated stay.

Then afterwards, fresh Caffe Naturelle went back in the grinder for the rest of the day, after a considerable absence, and I quite soon found myself happily brewing at about a 63% brew ratio (this is a blend I already have a feel for, so easier to get up and running), and …Wow! I’ve taken to mostly liking a single shot from a split double lately for both tasting and enjoyment, but this was one of those shots where I just had to drink the other half as well, straight away! (after a recent post by James H I’ve tried letting good shots go cold, and then tasting, and have found it useful and interesting – but I still much prefer them warm/fresh/just hot!)

Great right now to have a lovely batch of our organic milk to work with. For about a week I think we were once again suffering the less than ideal effects of what the cows had been having for their tea recently. Although sadly not everyone realises or appreciates the difference in texture, appearance and mouthfeel, to me this new batch is worlds away from the other, and a joy to work with and drink – such a difference!

The above mentioned use of scales and weighing of shots is one of the tools for better understanding coffees, shots, and issues of repeatability for both doses and shots that I have found really interesting and useful over the last year or so. Admittedly, I’d agree it’s not something we should be too reliant upon (just like time or volume), and that tasting is the best tool – but I have certainly found it can help to really nail a coffee, and work towards better understanding and repeatability of that once there, as one part of many things we can utilise in unison like taste, time, dose, volume, visuals, instinct, and knowledge of roast age. It’s also surprised me by sometimes illustrating just how inaccurate (or rather inconsistent) timed doses can sometimes be, and also how quickly shot parameters can get out of whack, even when visually very similar. But, even though this is a great tool that allows for ever better fine tuning, it really does have its limitations. For instance, just because your brew ratio is ‘right’, it doesn’t mean the extraction was ideal in terms of evenness, etc, or that the temp was ideal during that extraction. And there are often various slightly different combinations of dose weight and dose volume in the basket, grind size, and shot weight, that can all lead to the same brew ratio, some of which might not be as ideal as one of the other combinations. Even though brew ratios and brew recipes can be very precise, that’s all they really are – recipes and guidelines for what can work best, all being well.

My feeling is that achieving 4th in the UKBC finals last year, and now being able to work with great machinery in recent times, are by no means near the ceiling of achievement or learning as a barista – if anything these things have simply created a sound base to build upon, and the points above are some of the things that I’ve been able to explore since then, to continue to progress my skills during my day-to-day life as a full-time barista, alongside continued (but more controlled) exposure to as many different coffees and blends as is sensible, which gradually develops my awareness of origins and tastes. This is also in combination with lots of little things like starting to watch for and pull quakers and overroasts here and there, continued refinement of latte art and milk skills, developing my barista training for staff, and general management of everything the plan cafe currently does with its espresso, adopting thorough machine cleanliness practices, carefully tightening up the freshness of all the coffee we use for espresso particularly, and the more in-depth exploration of various filter brewing methods and techniques at home, and a little (so far only the theory, as I don’t have any gadgetry for this) research into things like extraction %/yields and TDS/brew strengths, etc, which is helping me to have a broader feel for coffee, and other great methods for coffee brewing.

…Just a few things I wanted to note down, partly for my own interest so I can remember at what stage I learned certain things, but also incase they might be of any use to anyone else.

Oh! And, partly deliberately, but so very gradually I almost haven’t noticed, I’ve made the transition to almost always drinking coffee black now – straight espresso and black filter are my usual brews of choice (whether successful or not!), although the odd flat white or capp are still a real pleasure here and there …and if a pourover isn’t perfect, a little milk  might go in, and do wonders!

15th January 2011

January 15, 2011

New seasonal coffees for cafetiere at the cafe – landing next week:

Operation Cherry Red Adado Misty Valley Washed Yirgacheffe

Brazil Fazenda Passeio Ruby Bourbon Natural

El Salvador Finca El Carmen Washed Orange Bourbon

14th January 2011

January 14, 2011

A few of the coffees that quickly come to mind as memorable favorites for me during 2010 (forgive the bias towards one roaster – it’s simply the practicality of what I mostly encounter, and I feel little need to complain, or apologise, about that!):

JGC Bold Red espresso blend

JGC ‘Brambly’ espresso blend

Miroroma Kenyan as espresso

…And (as always!) JGC Caffe Naturelle espresso blend

Square Mile Washed Yirgacheffe mixed heirloom filter

Kenya Karimikui Rungeto Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society filter

Operation Cherry Red Adado Misty Valley Washed Yirgacheffe

Costa Rican Finca La Candililla Geisha varietal washed filter

14th January 2011

January 14, 2011

A recent review from Bean Hunter.

4th January 2011

January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

La Candililla geisha at home over Christmas was WOW! (really)

Santa also brought my new scales for work, and it’s been interesting today to finally put some figures to what I’ve been tuning-in over the last couple of weeks with the present blend. As suspected, I seem to aiming for a brew ratio of around 41-45% with it, which I think must be an unprecidented figure for me, and partly explains why it took a while to get there! This coffee, and brewing it in the way it seems to most enjoy, has been unusual, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, and caused various useful lessons to be learned and investigated, throughout the camp, which is all part of the fun!