My Coffee

Posted in Coffee of Course with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

Throughout my time working in coffee and judging barista competitions I’ve noticed that my palette is very fond of approachable coffees.

Coffee with depth and complexity and a distinct yet subtle flavor characteristics.
Coffee you can drink and not think about while after finishing makes you think “wow, that was awesome. What was that”

My experience with this phenomenon almost always falls in the lap of coffee from El Salvador. In lesser cases Guatemala and Bolivia.

That being said, I am absolutely settled on using a Central/South American coffee for competition.
These coffees may be seen as “safe” in a competition setting, to me that absolutely doesn’t make them bad. It means the routine has to make up for and best communicate that specific coffee or the barista’s relationship with it.

After Kyle Glanville won the USBC with the Finca Matalapa, obviously from intelligentsia, And I started working at dogwood, I played around with El Salvadorian coffee as espresso. Kyle’s routine is one that I hold close. He won the USBC in Minneapolis, the first year I attended SCAA expo or any expo for that matter, and the first time I saw a barista competition. I regularly refer back to it.

Last year while thinking of competing we (Dogwood Coffee) had a coffee from El Salvador by the name of Finca La Ilúsion. If I were to compete, I was set on using this coffee. El Salvadorian coffee as espresso sings to my palette. Lovely citrus, paired with subtle complexity, and decent balance. Likely on the acidic side, but not too far and typically balanced with some other nuanced spice (cardamom, grains of paradise, cinnamon). I love it.

This season we weren’t able to get Finca La Ilúsion. It happens.

We did get some samples of some other El Salvador’s though. Stephanie Ratanas, our roaster/buyer, roasted two or three of them up as samples and brought them to the coffee bar where she and I tasted them as espresso. I honestly didn’t want to have any presumptions about the coffees other than that they were from El Salvador so I didn’t know the farm names or any other details.
What we settled on and what we bought was the Finca Alaska. Unbeknown to me, Another one of Juan José Ernesto Mendez’s coffee farms.

Over the next few weeks, and over the past few months, we’ve been adjusting/tweaking the roast profile so that I can a) get it dialed in b) get as familiar with all of the ways this coffee will extract and c) get comfortable with how it ages. (it’s vacuum packed, so hopefully it’ll last two more months, but who knows)

As of right now, I’m 80% sure this is going to be my competition coffee.
But who knows how the next few moths play out.


Barista Competition

Posted in Coffee of Course on November 28, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

Last year, when I was thinking of competing and then in the end decided to be a sensory judge, I was maybe shocked maybe not, by the difference of perspective that competitors have in going into competition.

Some are super closed and shut off, not willing to discuss any aspects of their routine. Some are super open, willing to discuss answer questions and receive feedback.

It seemed some of the best competitors asked the most questions. We’re the most genuinely interested in the judges responses, and understood their own downfalls.

I could justify being quiet about my routine and my coffee because of a few reasons. First and foremost I could see this happening because in order to compete I would have to be very comfortable with my coffee. Comfortable to a point of confidence that could be construed as arrogance. I could see the same thing happening with a specific routine. Maybe it’s clever. Maybe it’s new. Maybe it pushes the boundaries of the rules and regulations. It’s probably not new. It’s doubtfully clever.

Honestly, I think competition is about communication. Who presents their coffee best. That’s what it came down to for me as a sensory judge. That’s where the points are. Well, that and the coffee has to taste good.

I’m competing this year.
I have a very good idea of my coffee.
I have a pretty good idea of my routine.
I really would love input.
Because I know they could use work.

The Importance of Travel

Posted in Coffee of Course with tags , , , on November 28, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

On many occasion I have asked an employer if they would help me (financially) to attend certain things like regional barista competitions, national competitions, world competitions, and camp pull-a-shot.

I hate asking for money. It’s always made me feel uncomfortable. When I first thought of attending such events I was told by my then employer that they would love to help me out. At first I was shocked because to me at that time, it was vacation. I was working 70 hours a week on a salary, and this was a time to escape. Though it was a business trip and was still very much, if not more, coffee related it was a time to escape the day to day and gain knowledge and insight into other techniques, equipment and perspectives that other coffee people had.

I was and still am told that it’s valuable to the company that I work for to attend such events. To this point I honestly believe that. I believe that attending coffee events nationally is a two fold benefit. It benefits me in my professional career and it benefits the company that I work for in a number of ways.

To me, some of the greatest feelings I have are relating to a guest or in some way getting them to be excited about coffee or some aspect of coffee, whether it be a brewing device, a grinder or one specific coffee. The best ways I’ve found to do this are to either relate to them in some way that makes me/my company more knowledgeable/different (knowing a shop in this guests hometown or a specific barista is a powerful thing in that it can get people really excited/sentimental). The other way I’ve found to get guests excited is maybe obvious, but that is for myself to be excited. The simplest way to do that is to have some new or fresh perspective on something. Be that the newest coolest brewing device, or some new profound approach to use an old brewer, a new coffee. Excitement.

To me, this excitement is gained or significantly enhanced by traveling to events such as barista camp, or regional competitions. By doing so, I feel as though I’m a) more knowledgeable and b) more excited to give the product I have to my guests and c) refreshed from a mild vacation.

This may or may not be a statement for other baristas to help them get out and travel. I have no idea. I know it’s something I think about very much, whether it is worth it, and how much it’s worth. It’s always a difficult conversation for me. But it’s on my mind a lot so I figured I’d share it and see if anyone else has thoughts on the matter or maybe some equation.


Posted in Coffee of Course with tags , , , , on October 24, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

I seem to have a very similar conversation at every coffee gathering that I attend.

It goes something like this.

“We use a Synesso.”
“Oh, how is that?”
“it’s great”
“what do you think of Simonelli?”
“meh. It’s the competition machine so I/we put up with it.”

I’ll state first hand, I love Simonelli espresso machines.

In coffee I’ve noticed different flavor profiles in obvious categories: origin, roaster vs roaster (Intelligentsia vs. Alterra), and dirty vs clean equipment.

And then in less obvious categories: roaster to roaster (Stephanie vs. Christopher), espresso Machine to Espresso Machine & Barista to Barista.

I’m starting to finally come to terms with the fact that there are some people who like dark roasted coffee. Not that they’re confused or haven’t had a good light roast. They just really prefer a dark roast coffee. It’s a strange phenomenon. But hey, it happens.

Some people also prefer Espresso Machines. Baristas are like fan boys for some machines. Some based on taste. Which I think is great. Then some because everyone else likes it. Synesso in many cases fits into this category. This is in no way to bash Synesso. I enjoy those machines. In my opinion they make really excellent tight syrupy shots. Maybe updosed. Maybe just pulled short. Tight extraction profile. That’s great.

I really enjoy slightly larger, fluffy cloudy espresso shots. Cleanliness is something that I aim for. I don’t really aim for body. You’re having an espresso. It has body.

To me and to my taste, Nuova Simonelli does a great job assisting me in creating an espresso with that profile.

I always try to get onto the topic of flavor profiles created by different roasting machines. I have experience with a few roasters personally and have obviously worked with a few different roasters. I can say that hands down, I prefer drum roasters. Preferably cast-iron drums. Preferably with a large amount of air and flame control.

It’s really hard to have discussions with other baristas about roasting as really, none of us have the hands on experience that we have on espresso machines/grinders.

Really, I’ll argue any preference I have. With a caption that we all have different preferences, and that’s ok.

SCAA 2011 Recap

Posted in Coffee of Course with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

First off, Houston is a pretty lousy city (in terms of weather, from my Minnesota perspective). It was 70-85, super humid and always cloudy. It was 32 in Minneapolis. I arrived Monday, for the USBC judges workshop Tues. & Weds. And then the exposition/competitions Thurs.-Mon.

The coffee scene, is pretty rockin. More than I expected anyways. Catalina rocks a Linea Paddle a bunch of Mazzers and a V60 bar (Amaya coffee, and a rotating). Revival Market had an old Faema E61 that looked sweet! A Mazzer Major, and Chemex (Brown, Amaya, Ritual were all there when I stopped) I wasn’t able to stop out to Green way, but I heard good things!

The cocktail scene, was rather impressive. We stopped at a bar the first night that had an old Slush machine labeled Moscow Mule.
Anvil was super awesome! Classic cocktails, Tiki Tuesdays, and they had a pretty incredible liquor selection. Rittenhouse Rye well, lots of Mescal cocktails, cold draft ice and beautiful glassware. We spent some time there Tuesday, getting acquainted and then again Sunday for the BGA party.

The convention center was Red White and Blue and rather reminiscent of the Titanic with Red Smoke stacks paired up. Heck the whole inside was Red White and Blue too. I was pretty excited about that.

I went through the judges certification which seems like a drawn out regional certification. Lots of hypothetical questions, lots of getting off topic and distracted. Details. A lot of us were there trying to figure it out, from a competitor perspective. The nitty gritty is confusing if not simply subjective extrapolation of the rules and regs. Like a lot of things in the SCAA and BGA it shows a lot of potential for what the judging criteria could be in the future. There are a lot of things that are not perfect, but for what it is, the judging criteria is the best we have. I’m excited to see where it goes in the next few years.

I went to Houston for a few reasons. Mostly to judge the USBC and everyone involved with it. Secondly to see the brewers cup/cup tasters championships. Lastly to see the show floor (sometimes there’s exciting new stuff)

I don’t think enough words can be said for the amount of energy put into barista competition and how at home I feel with everyone involved with the USBC and the SCAA expo. Like a family reunion, that’s pleasant.

I really wish I could have spent more time checking out the brewers cup, simply for the sake that I think it could do a lot for brewed coffee in the Café environment. Which I think is super important, especially with the number of shops switching over to by-the-cup offerings, which are arguably poorly crafted compared to fetco extractors.

Lastly, the show floor. My first stop was The La Marzocco USA booth. Rightfully so. They had two Stradas, one decked out with Marco über scales built into the drip tray, with auto-taring after 3 seconds. Groovy! Secondly, the über boiler has a new chip, that allows it to read in degrees F and has some new boiler settings that I’m really excited to get installed at Dogwood. Second stop was the Synesso booth. I was a bit confused. They seem to be switching over to semi-auto groups. Or giving dual options. Seemed like a bit of a grasp for a new/larger customer base.
Lastly was the Baratza booth. The new grinders seem nice, but I can’t say much for them. I hope they pick up. I don’t have one, and we don’t sell them at Dogwood. I personally think it’s a huge investment, that doesn’t necessarily need to be made for home coffee. Though I’m not too concerned about my home coffee. Personal bias.
Coolest take home from the show: VST 17/18g basket. Holy awesome!
That’s a whole different post.

SCAA 2011 day 1

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

It’s Monday.

I arrived in Houston at 9pm. Caught a bus at 10pm. Met my roomie for the week Alex Negranza (@barista_alex), took a shower, we discussed cocktails for a few minutes as we’re both bartendistas as David Buehrer (@greenwaybarista) coined it. We’re stoked to be here. Duh!

After initial understandings of that, we decided that it was probably best to get food and a drink. Night cap. We did such at Grand Prize. A killer little bar that David drove us to. They have a Moscow mule slushy machine. Apparently it changes on a weekly basis. Cool.

They also had a picnic table full of crawfish. Which, being from Minnesota, I haven’t experienced much of. They’re basically super little lobsters. You can suck the brains out of their heads. Needless to say, it was delicious, and lots of that’s what she said jokes were made.

Later ended up at David’s house to meet Matt Banbury formerly of World Bean.

Topics of conversation:

Dosers vs. Doserless. Do any of us really still believe in dosers? Who knows. Timer mods are hands down a necessity. That was unanimous. Waste = bad. Thanks Aaron Blanco. You started it.

Cocktail bars vs. Coffee bars: service varies widely. Bartenders are typically bad, sure. Luxury cocktails are different. Service is typically better/ the patron/guest can’t really leave. They’re forced to stay. You can force educate them. In coffee you’re lucky to have 30 seconds, depending on your build out/setup. Are there parallels? Or are they totally different because of the demographic/ expectations of the customer.

Price: coffee is not a money makin’ business. Should we charge 5$ for an espresso? Should we have table service? Should we have espresso “bars”? Can we do those things and get away with it? Is World Bean the perfect setting to try that?

Money: do all forefront leaders in coffee have huge financial backing? Or are there some little guys? Is that bad or okay or just the way it is. It’s clearly working to some extent.

Either way, Alex and I both bartend, because A) there’s a lot to learn from the industry. And B) there’s money. We need to pay the bills.

Well. Right now, I smell like crawfish. And am super looking forward to the judges workshop in what 4-1/2 hours. Stoked for this week!

PS: Texas is effing warm for us minnesotans, but these people are nice! 🙂

Battling a Bias

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

As a barista and a student of coffee I think I can safely say that I’m not alone, in the industry, in having a bias. It is my opinion that we all have a bias. No matter how hard we try to be as objective as possible, unless it’s a double blind tasting experiment we will always have a bias. Even when it is, we will have a taste preference, and therefore a bias.

With this post I had more than just the obvious intention of setting out that this happens and giving an example of it. I also wanted to point out what I have noticed in having a bias and how it has negatively affected experiences that I’ve had, both as a barista and as a consumer.

Some of our biases are set in “better” equipment i.e. More expensive (Robur E, for example)
Some are set in the underdog, or opposed to the more expensive equipment. This is imaginably either out of hope that the more expensive equipment is in fact not “better” hope that the cheaper equipment is better/good enough or that everyone using the more expensive (Robur E) is simply blindly following what seems to be a really great piece of equipment. Double Speak I’ve heard Nick Cho call it. My understanding is that something false happens, is backed by influential figures and is therefore taken as truth.

The biggest example of this that I can think of is preinfusion. Please correct me if any of my data is incorrect, I don’t hold to any specific timeline, but a simple generalization of a timeline. The original La Marzocco Linea did not have preinfusion or flow restrictors/gicleurs. This was bad. The coffee puck was hit with water at 9 bars, super fast. Bam. Broke. Channeling. To fix this, La Marzocco added a simple preinfusion program, when enacted, the pump was engaged for a burst allowing a small amount of water onto the coffee puck, then it paused and was engaged again after that pause for the rest of the “infusion”. Some time later, flow restrictors/gicleurs were added to these machines. Primarily negating the need for the burst style preinfusion. The water came out at a slower pace, and needed to ramp up to 9 bars of pressure, giving the puck a decent amount of time to swell before infusion (depending on restrictors size). After this, there was still a flurry about preinfusion. From my perspective, this is why Synesso machines had preinfusion. Though the preinfusion time was now adjustable and at a different pressure, it was still primarily not necessary unless used for longer than 4/7seconds which would create a different shot altogether. This is what baristas wanted. So this is what Synesso did. From there, I know of a number of baristas who swore by preinfusion. Heck I was one of them. Point being, the facts weren’t really laid out, we were given the equipment, understood the expectation, and stood behind it. Whether it was right or wrong, we only now know. Or at least in my experience, preinfusion is not necessary. At our shop we’ve gone through using a Synesso Hydra, A WBC Aurelia, a Kees Idrocompresso, and now back to the Aurelia. To me, with our coffee my bias, hopefully more taste focus is on towards the Aurelia. I’ll have you know I was super skeptical at first. I thought the Synesso was Bomb. After tasting shots on the Aurelia, I was amazed that a machine without adjustable preinfusion, without control, could produce such delicious espressos.

Maybe you have a different perspective. If so, great! I’d love to be proven wrong, but in my experience tasting our espresso blend, I have had the best shots off of the WBC Aurelia.

Now to the point of dismay. After using the other machines, I don’t know if I could go back to them and happily serve my customers. They would be different espressos, yes. But would they be great espressos, I don’t know. In my experience, with a new piece of equipment, a new blend, or anything in the shop that I’m having trouble with, if I have difficulty dialing in to it, I almost give up. If it’s not going to be fantastic, or I can’t make it fantastic (in my eyes/perspective/to my taste) I have trouble finding a starting point. If it’s not going to be what I want then I struggle. This is maybe a bad thing to say. Sure, I’m the last person to touch this coffee, and the last one to make it “perfect” so that it live up to the potential that that coffee had. I most certainly don’t feel like I am the strongest or the last link in the chain and therefore most important, or that because I’m dealing with customers I have the toughest job. That’s a bunch of hooey. I’m not more important. But I still have trouble fighting a bias against things that are not designed around my taste/flavor profile.

As a customer I’ve experienced this as well. Asking a barista for something that they’re really excited about and getting a blank look, or a “well, this week is ok. We don’t have that really special coffee we had last week, sorry” my experience from that point on is almost always doomed. I’m sure there’s a coffee this week that’s fine, and I’m sure there are redeeming qualities in it.

As a barista, in the shop I find myself clinging to those coffees that I can stand behind, and having at least 2/4 menu items that I’m actually excited about. Without that I fall into the same “doomed experience” pitfall. The best, easiest way for me to sell coffee is to actually be excited about it. I’m a bad faker.