In this together.

•January 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

By Jason Scheltus

 

2910268464_4cd591a43fIt’s not just about the gravy. Coffee roasters in the UK may be limited by the availability of interesting clean coffee, but it’s not yet a problem, and it shouldn’t affect their prosperity.

 

The points of difference between these roasters will be shown to be service, branding, distribution, and reputation; rather than presenting a product that is completely unique to the market*. For example, in Melbourne (between the 70’s and now) most of the wholesale coffee companies were all offering low-grade (read: not “specialty”) coffee that was roasted in Italy, and cut with low-grade robusta. The difference between these companies, and how they competed, was in the branding, price and reputation, which was built on good relationships with successful cafes (e.g. Brunetti’s, Degraves, Lygon St Food Store, et al.). 

 

The same argument could be applied to specialty coffee roasters. Except it doesn’t. Oddly, competing over “specialty coffee customers” seems to be against each company’s best interest. Sharing that small market of people who like good espresso, or whatever, is a very small loss compared to the gain of converting one of the many Tesco instant coffee drinkers. I remember visiting a café, which had a list of other cafés that serve good coffee in the same city, right there on their blackboard. I thought that was useful and nice, so god-darned nice – wouldn’t you go back if they made you a good cappuccino? It’s self-promotion too, “hey look how confident we are in our awesome cappuccinos, theirs are good too”. Nice.

 

It wouldn’t hurt Coffee UK to have a greater selection of good clean coffee, but I think everyone will do very well with what is out there, especially if the focus is on promoting good coffee, not just “our awesome cappuccinos”, at least for the time being.

 

 

 

 

 

*An excellent example of a company being limited by one of these factors is Has Bean, who, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t have a retail outlet – limiting distribution. The online customers that are served so well by Has Bean (and I am one of them) give positive feedback on the internets, and so it goes forward to more internet custom. Having limited exposure on High Street (Hi Obama) isn’t a problem for Has Bean. Excellent product, top service, and we know where to get it – nice one.

 

 

Exotic coffee, posh cups… Must be December.

•December 30, 2008 • 2 Comments

p10101221What cups are you using?  Probably not thought about it since you last bought some, maybe you’ve never deliberately bought specific cups for different coffee drinks.  Can’t say that I blame you, there are many and greater things to think about, but opening these beauties on christmas morning focused my mind on this very subject and got me through the day.

They’re 5oz cappuccino cups from the 2002 Illy collection by Norma Jean and I don’t think I’m imagining it when I say they make my coffee taste better.  Thing is cups are something of a bugbear for me.  Too big and the drink ratio is all wrong, too wide and the mouthfeel of the crema is lost.  Too thin and they lose the heat, too thick and they feel nasty on your lips.

These seem to have it right in all departments and as a bonus they look pretty too.  Thanks Kate, you know me too well.  If you’re pulling espresso into teacups or making flat whites in mugs, steal buy a proper cup and see whether there really is any truth in this.

photo00181Secondly in this two subject bumper double post is this coffee from the Galapagos Islands.  According to the packet it is a blend of washed coffees roasted in September on the island, which is a lot of information compared to commercially available coffee over here.  If you have ever drunk coffee destined for its own domestic market you will have an idea of my level of expectation for this coffee.

To the cupping lab it goes then and things start off running true to form.  Opening the bag releases a smokey tarrey aroma and a brief inspection of the beans shows them to be scorched or tipped at the ends, but the roast level is definitely closer to medium than dark and there is very little in the way of surface oils.

The surprises begin when the crust is broken in the cupping bowl.  The brewed coffee gives off a pleasant toffee and caramel aroma, with no hint of the smokeyness present in the dry bean.  The initial tasting of the coffee whilst it was till rather hot was a disappointment after the aroma, tasting fairly flat and nondescript, but given a couple of minutes to cool the sugar flavours really developed.  The cup delivered a huge amount of sweetness, with a very cocoa base propping up some burnt sugar toffeeness.  It lacked complexity and there was certainly none of the crisp acidity alluded to in the packaging, but this is indeed a speciality coffee, on a par with a cheaper Brazil or mellow Sumatra.

Many thanks to Mo & Steve for bringing this coffee for me in their suitcase, it’s been fun putting it through its paces.  Samples are always welcomed from anybody visiting coffee producing nations!

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Stop yapping and drink it.

•December 16, 2008 • 7 Comments

p1010027Made myself a shot this morning.  Didn’t tamp it, just roughly levelled the dose and banged it in the machine.  It was good.  Did it again with a naked PF just to check and yep, good again.  So pleased was I with the accuracy of my grind setting that I filled up the doser.  Made another shot with that same coffee 20 minutes later and guess what?  It was good.

I’m not going to start talking about the whys and wherefores of this.  God knows the last thing the world needs is another article pontificating on the minutiae of tamping technique but it led me to wonder what the enthusiastic observer would make of it all.  I’m talking about the 0.5%.  The enthusiast, you, us. 

We all pay close attention to how our coffee is prepared.  That’s part of the experience of getting a coffee from a good shop.  But how much does what we see influence our evaluation of the drink.  There are some of a Daily Mail persuasion for whom technique as described above would ruin their day.  There would be no need to taste the drink. Heresy on this level would immediately prejudice the tongue and Outraged of Middle England would be on that keyboard without delay.

Maybe Outraged of Middle England should just drink it.  The shot I made this morning was not an act of slovenliness, just an experiment.  An attempt to streamline a coffee making process which is bogged down in folklore and common wisdom.  There is no need to tamp.  Ground coffee does not turn to manure in 10 minutes.  You don’t get salmonella if you don’t polish the basket.

I don’t think any of us would complain if the next time we ordered a coffee the Barista gave a full WBC style presentation complete with running commentary and a signed photo of the coffee farmer, but should we expect it?  No.  The making of espresso has been so thoroughly dissected, poked and prodded that it has become this holy grail which everyone hopes to find in a cafe but never will. 

Of course we should never stop trying to improve espresso but I think a lot of the time we should just relax.  Put those 0.001g scales back  in the cupboard.  Don’t get the hoover out next time you use your grinder.  Leave the yogurt pot for holding yogurt.

It’s really not that difficult.

Pressure Got The Drop On You

•December 8, 2008 • 3 Comments

p1010046What did I learn about coffee this week?  Well largely that it tastes like shit when you have a cold and it’s best to give it up as a bad job.  With the planned Aeropress experiment put on hold I concentrated on finding the best Lemsip recipe (1 sachet Lemsip Max, juice of 1 sastuma and a big squidge of honey.  Man that stuff has a stimulant kick.) and the best whisky recipe (don’t mix it, get it down your neck and HTFU).

 

What was dwelling on my mind during this forced abstinence was why the previous experiment with the CoE Sin Limites espresso could not be successfully repeated on a  Marzocco Linea.  Same coffee but that intense sweetness seems impossible to extract.

 

Pulling very short shots on this machine seems to bring out all the salt from the coffee.  The sugar is there but is overwhelmed by an unpleasant brininess.  Pull a more regular ‘normale’ type shot and this goes away but you are left with an espresso which lacks sufficient body and is overtly sharp.

 

So what incredible revelation does this lead me to?  Well, believe it or not I have discovered that a lever machine will deliver a very different tasting espresso to a pump machine.  Seriously.  No shit. 

 

Ever since I have been lucky enough to have access to commercial kit I have been slightly concerned that I could not make espresso I enjoyed as much on the big-boy kit as I could on the domestic gear.  But it has nothing to do with being at home, having time or comfort zones or any of that cobblers.  It’s pressure delivery pure and simple.

 

We see machines coming out with adjustable preinfusion systems and selectable pressure profiles.  All much hyped and surrounded with hyperbole but to me it looks like that wheel you were perfectly happy to roll along in has been reinvented.  No rotary pump wizardry is going to be able to deliver the perfect pressure profile for your coffee the way a lever machine can.  The feeling up the forearm as the puck begins to saturate and the pressure needs increasing, the steadying as the pour forms correctly and turns from initial drips into a steady pour and the tailing off of the pressure as the puck exhausts and the stream thins.

 

Compare this to a standard rotary pump equipped machine.  Pre-infusion:  What, you gonna blast that carefully prepared puck at full bore for a second before you press play?  Extraction:  Linear 9bar pressure applied from beginning to end regardless of how much those solids have left to give.  A fancy fully adjustable machine is better, line pressure preinfusion has got to be a good thing, but you never know exactly how long is best, nor do you know during extraction exactly when those pressure changes need to come into play or how analogous the transitions are.

 

Operating a lever machine is a truly visceral sensation and one which teaches the operator so much more about the relationship between pressure delivery and extraction than a pump machine ever could.  It’s all the machine you need.

Excellent. Too Excellent?

•December 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

p1010090I am in the fortunate position of being in possession of several hundred grams of Costa Rica Cup of Excellence lot #2 from Finca Sin Limites.  A fragrant, delicate, dainty coffee with a lightness of body and a knife-edge balance.  Brewed correctly, and you do need to brew it correctly you should be refreshed by a well defined juicy apple brightness and lightweight mouthfeel.

 

Not exactly robust then.  Not a candidate for SO espresso of the month.  Probably not but it’s worth a try.  The sample here is four weeks post-roast.  Getting on a bit for this high-maintenance show pony.  The top end has dulled significantly when brewed in a pour-over filter which results in a perceived boost to the body.  The aroma has bulked up and lost it’s youthful vigour, giving way to more of a peachy, tropical note.

 

And so to the machine.  Having dialled-in the grind, the first shot out showed promise.  A little on the sharp side but there was some sweetness that I was sure could be boosted.  Second shot, and with a shorter flush of the HX lever group to raise the brew temperature I was getting somewhere.  Honey and caramel base but a pithy finish.  Tightened the grind a little, produced a very slow drippy shot and nailed it.  Heavy, syrupy, honey sweet, very clean and perfectly balanced with a hint of the white fruit finish this coffee is known for.

 

I was surprised.  I did not expect to get a drinkable espresso from this coffee.  It just seemed so fragile.  Putting it through the espresso machine seemed like asking Darcy Bussell to breakdance.  Well she came out doing headspins.  The age of the coffee surely plays a part in this success.  Any less than 3 weeks post-roast when the acidity is at maximum attack would surely cause major problems, but this suggests to me that a high quality coffee such as this can keep on giving when most would be beginning to taste just plain old.

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So this coffee rates amongst my favourite espressos.  But the other constituents of that list are mostly blends and single estate Brazils.  Beautiful coffees all of them but significantly none come close in terms of price or acclaim.  The Sin Limites was not an order of magnitude greater than more down to earth coffees when used as espresso.  It was transformed.  There were hints of it’s original character but that delicacy and lightness of body were hugely concentrated into a heavy sweetness, a sweetness and balance which can be assimilated with the right choice of blend components.

 

So it’s possible to make espresso with a fancy top-dollar cup of excellence coffee.  But should you?  Probably not.

New Arrival: Yirgacheffe.

•November 30, 2008 • 5 Comments

image027There have been some exceptional new arrivals at the roastery lately. The ones exciting me have been the new crop organic Guatemala from Finca Entre Rios, the latest Colombia from Sr. Octavio Rueda and the one I’m going to concentrate on here, the Yirgacheffe from the Sidamo region of Ethipoia.

Coffee from Yirgacheffe was among the big names a couple of years ago when my interest in speciality coffee began. I found a local source for Sidamo and was instantly disappointed. The citrus notes I had been promised were overwhelmed by way OTT acidity. In fact it was plain sour however I brewed it. The question for me was ‘Is this what I’m supposed to be tasting?’ Was I the victm of the emperor’s new clothes or have I been sold some bad shit?

Now obviously I already had a deeper interest in coffee than the average Joe, but it was my attempts to find a Yirgacheffe which lived up to the hype which led me to this obsession with coffee and a complete change of career and lifestyle.  Quite something for a cherry pip.

All of which is why I get excited by a great Sidamo. It is intolerant of poor handling and to get a great cup everything down the line needs to be just so. On this occasion the hard work of everybody in the chain shines through in the cup. The first thing to hit you is lemons. Not sour like pure lemon juice but sweetened like a lemon tart. This rounds off on your tongue to a blossomy fragrant earl-grey aroma and finishes with a dark chocolate smoothness. Throw some milk into it to transform it into a vanilla-laced chocolate bomb.

Take a look at Yirgacheffe itself in this beautiful video by Stumptown: http://stumptowncoffee.com/videos/6

Brewing method? For me this tastes best in a press-pot but then I have been on a big french press fad for a couple of weeks now. I think the body you gain from a press helps to balance the brightness and accentuate the base tones. I also enjoy a heavier more oily cup as a change to the filter coffee I drink so much of during the day.

My press method for the Yirg is 45g coarse ground coffee to 750ml of water at 89*c (leave the lid off the kettle for about 3-4 minutes after boiling and you’ll be somewhere near). Steep for 3 minutes, sink the scuzz on top, don’t stir, press then serve.

 

Do yourself a favour and get some of this coffee while the batch is still young.  I really have never tasted an Ethiopian coffee such a great balance.  If you have ever been put off African coffee beacause it was described as citrusy and bright but when you got it home it made you pull a face like a tea-towel holder, then this will restore your faith.  You no longer need to fear bright coffee.

If this is gonna be that kinda party…

•November 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So, thanks for stopping by.  You should congratulate yourself.  Pat yourself on the back.  Crack open the champagne and stick your dick in the mashed potato because you, gentle reader are a pioneer.

 

You have more than likely been coerced into this corner of the internet by myself.  In which case, thank you.  You will be quizzed on your diligence shortly.  You may have stumbled upon this attention seeking journal of egotism whilst actively seeking information about the diverse world of coffee preparation.  Excellent.  I hope you find something useful.  If not, do come again later.  Least likely of all you may be somebody I have never met.  Never heard of.  You didn’t find yourself here by mistake.  You came here on purpose.  Somebody you know read this blog and said to you: “I say, I read a fascinating web log by a chap calling himself Bombcup.  You really should get your bad self over to bombcup.wordpress.com and take a look.”  If this is you, then come in, take off your coat and sit yourself at the head of the table because you are the guest of honour.

 

So now I suppose you will be wanting some content.  I guess this is going to take the form of an irregular dumping ground for my thoughts on the world of coffee, with occasional sojourns into tangential subjects and deliberately concocted experiments.  To begin with though, here is an article you may have already read on my Facebook page.