17th February 2013

At work, for the plan, I have currently been selecting the newest Caffe Naturelle (bright, sweet, fresh, juicy, lemony-citrus and tropical fruity, sherbet, brown sugar, melon, honeyed fruit salad, floral), and (with it being that time of year!) Fazenda Samambaia, and Fazenda Sertao Lot #16 (ripe red fruits, chocolate, green tea, marzipan. So much more than you might expect). We’ll definitely be seeing a LOT more of the Sertao after I trialled it over a 26hr period last week. It will be back soon.

So, over the last year (or two?!), I have become a little obsessed with grind and grinding (amongst other aspects of coffee, as usual), and with the search for the ultimate filter grinder for home. This has been quite a journey already, and the catalyst has been my increasing love of manual by the cup brew methods at home over the last several years (see my ‘Brew Methods at Home’ page). Throughout all this, for about five years, I have been using a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder at home for these methods, and, perhaps surprisingly, it has really done me proud. But I have been itching for a long time to upgrade to something that can provide an even more uniform grind quality at the medium to coarse range for filter, full immersion, and hybrid methods (a grind profile that displays an even, homogenous, unimodal, narrow, ‘single peak’ particle size distribution is generally considered a good thing for these methods). Lots and lots of reading and deliberating. Then, a little while back, I bought a used Ditting KR1203 in good condition, expecting wonderous things. But throughout the entire time that I had the Ditting, given its reputation, I was surprised, and disappointed, by the grind quality. Even my (relatively) humble Rocky continued to produce a much better coarse grind quality, and better brews.

Then there was the huge and immensely frustrating effort to try to find out why this was, during which I was willing to pay for improvements to be made to the grinder. Huge, long story. As part of this I paid for the (original style pressed) burrs to be resharpened by the official Ditting service in Switzerland. However, same results as before. In the end it was determined by analysis of the grounds in Germany that the functionality was healthy, and that this was simply as good as it got, for those burrs. I remained dissatisfied though. I could have tried investing further in the newer style milled/machined burrs, but that was a move I wasn’t prepared to make if I couldn’t be sure that there would be a huge improvement in the grind quality, and I decided to part company from the grinder. I put together a lengthy lament of a post about all this, with lots of measurements and comparisons between the Rocky and the Ditting (percentages of sieved fines, etc, etc). But that is a past chapter now though, and publishing that post seems unnecessary. I still don’t know why my Rocky beat the Ditting hands down at the medium to coarse grind ranges. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

Anyhow, since then, I’ve been planning (and trying to justify!) my next move, and have considered every top-end coarse grinder that there is (both commercial and domestic) (more info here http://coffeegeek.com/forums/coffee/machines/592809). The upshot is I have decided to bite the bullet and go all out, and be done with it. I have ordered THE ultimate filter grinder, which is widely recognised as the absolute benchmark (with really only one exception, currently, which probably does exceed it, at a huge jump in price). I feel duly obsessed, and insane. But no change there, I’m used to that when it comes to coffee! Who knows, perhaps I will still feel the grind quality could be better (and I am under no illusion that it will be ‘perfect’; no grinder or grinding process is ever perfect), and I don’t expect it to magically make all brewing issues go away. But at least I will now know for sure that I am using about the best grind that is possible (short of a roller). That peace of mind in itself will be worth the spend, because now when brewing, tasting, and trying to learn more, I will be able to just focus on all the other variables without always having that nagging thought *hmmm, but what would it be like with better grind quality?* It’s going to be SO fascinating!

Some of my recent reading, along with God in a Cup (and of course, grinder stuff!), has been this little thread: http://www.home-barista.com/tips/basket-overdosing-time-for-serious-re-evaluation-t4501.html

I have mentioned my note-taking once or twice… These also border on the obsessive! But perhaps that ridicules and belittles its value unfairly. I find it really useful, and, although everyone does things differently, I would recommend the process to anyone continually trying to learn more. It’s nothing highly refined or conclusive, more just a logging of data, and some digestion of this, day by day. Almost every day, I note down all the parameters I’m using for each coffee I’m working with (primarily for espresso at work, and also for manual brew methods at home): The bean and origin information (as much as I can get hold of), freshness, grind settings, tamping, temperature settings, brew pressure settings, temperature measurements from various equipment and devices, machine performance and effects of any engineering works, dose weights, dose volumes and headspace, dwell times, shot/brew weights, brew times, puck characteristics, times of day and relative busyness, ambient conditions, visual indicators in the stream (naked and spouted) and the cup, and, of course, tastes and impressions (you know, all the parameters!). I don’t have access to Mojo type measurement (which is perhaps a Godsend?!).

I note these things down, and then write them up, in separate files for each brew method. Quite religiously. I usually end up with something in the region of 5000-10,000 words every month.

I’ve been doing this for about 15 months, and I find it useful. It’s been a couple of years since I last took part in the UKBC, and, once people have seen you do that, there is sometimes the (odd) assumption that if you don’t keep doing it all the time, you are somehow not still learning, progressing, and improving further. Far from it, I have quietly and diligently, away from (the theatre of) the stage, continued to learn so much more since then, just through simply practising my craft, continually working with lots of different coffees, reading and researching, and doing the things I mention regarding these notes. Looking back, it surprises me to think how little I knew back then, even as a UKBC finalist, and how much I have progressed since – and there is always more to learn as well. Competitions are a great way to learn more, in an accelerated way, and in a different environment. And they make it clear to everyone that you are doing so. But it is just one way. The truth is of course, if you genuinely care about what you do, and you apply yourself, you continue to learn and advance continually (try to, at least!) – whether you decide to go out and try to ‘prove’ it or not. I’ve had that experience, achieved as much as I wanted to, and feel no desire to repeat it at present. At present, I prefer instead to learn more by immersing myself in what I do as a barista, individually, and by focussing on and refining what I do as Head Barista and Trainer for all our staff, and for the cafe. 

Even though I only reread the extensive notes I write here and there for certain pieces of information, the sheer process of just documenting it helps to crystallise what is actually going on, and from there I can draw some conclusions from it, which makes it helpful and valuable, for me, however basic and rudimentary the information might be. 

At home, for several weeks, I have been bringing back bag after bag of the Idido natural Yirgacheffe, which I’m loving, a cycle only broken for a short spell by a bag of Miravalle El Salvador COE Lot #8. The Idido is a really lovely natural, with possibilities of candied citrus marmalade, red liquorice laces, figs, heady florals, crushed roses, ripe fruits, soft acidity, strawberry, and chocolate. I have had a great time brewing these coffees through my new Sowden and Woodneck brewers, amongst others, and both brewers have revealed and required all sorts different techniques and perspectives. 

Nice little review in Visit Wales recently, courtesy of Ed Gilbert.

Soon to be seen on Liquid Gold too, I believe..!

Soon I will be heading to Sri Lanka for my mountainous biking ‘holiday’ (!). Still attempting to source some more definite information about the location of coffee farms! Nuwara Eliya and the Kotmale area are looking pretty promising though, and we will be swinging past there on our way!


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