Archive for the Coffee of Course Category

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.

Morning Buzz

Posted in Coffee of Course on November 25, 2010 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

This morning a customer informed of an article he had read in the New York Times. The article by Frank Bruni entailed a coffee drinkers experiences in a cafe, asking Baristas and shop owners about home brewing equipment and how best to use it. It details his experiences with the French Press, the Hario V60, and finally the Chemex. From his radical word usage It seems as though Mr. Bruni hates brewing coffee by the cup at home.

After reading the article I had a number of thoughts regarding the act of home brewing, it’s cost/reward ratio, the cost of our product and the customer experience.

-I’ll admit. I brew coffee at home and it’s rarely Great. I use a Chemex or a Clever, a Hario Skerton, a digital .01 gram scale, a timer, a Hario Buono kettle, and a measuring glass to measure Minneapolis city water. There’s a few things I do alright, but most if it could be done better. I know that others make worse coffee at home and I know that others make better coffee at home. regardless, I still do it. I would prefer to do it than to have to leave the house and have someone else make it.

-I also make myself an omelet/breakfast on my mornings off. I source all of my groceries from The Wedge, most of them local and organic. I’ve gone through a few different routines, a few different breakfasts and found out pretty well what I like. I use multiple pans, multiple utensils, and multiple herbs, spices and oils. This is certainly not me trying to brag about my routine, quite the contrary as it seems to me such a simple selfish pleasure. Much rather I’m trying to point out that it seems silly to expect that I would only use one pan, one utensil, one plate and one glass. Different foods cook differently, and therefore to me different kitchen tools are required. So it goes.

-I don’t want to get into the argument of whether nutrition, both food and drink, should be valued as high as they seem to be today. I can’t say why I value them so much considering my Barista income, but I can say at they are very valued. Maybe excessively.

-Brewing coffee at home is almost obviously cheaper than buying coffee at a coffee bar on a daily basis. Depending of course on your equipment, and where you buy whole bean coffee.

At the shop.
10oz coffee 2.75avg.
X 5 days = 13.75/wk.
X 4 weeks = 55/mo.
X 12 mo. = 660$/yr.

At home
Clever = 12.50$
Hario Kettle = 55$
Hario Slim = 34.50$
Gram Scale = 25$
Filters = 7$
Coffee = 15$/455g avg.
455g/12g doses = 37ish brews
We’ll say 1-455g bag = 1 mo.

Whole bean costing 15$/mo. And 1 cup at the bar costing 55$/mo.
Equipment costs 132$
Saving 40$ per month home brewing, the equipment would be paid for in roughly 3 1/2 months.

This of course makes many assumptions about your ability to make coffee at home, your desire to, and that this would be your only equipment. Adding more would cost more, using more coffee would cost more. On top of that, this is all to say that you would be making coffee at home that’s alright. Sometimes Great, but rarely.

To me, making a connection with a customer about home brewing is so much fun! I don’t know if it’s the fact that I get so much pleasure brewing coffee, troubleshooting coffee, that it reminds me of my routine, or that someone else is actually excited about it too. Of course it could be all of the above. All I know is it’s pleasant for me. I feel I can say that anytime I, as a customer, have an experience with a service industry person and they are/seem happy, passionate or excited, I have a better experience. That’s good.

At first I was honestly a bit upset about the NYT article. Now I’m actually pretty excited that single cup home brewing or hand brewing (Chemex) is in the paper. The fact that it’s a topic of conversation is great!
I certainly don’t mean for this to be a rebuttal against Mr. Bruni. Simply my thoughts on the matter, that I decided to let out. Also, I really like the word expeditiousness.

Guatemala COE

Posted in Coffee of Course on July 15, 2010 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

I’ve been foolish for the past 5 years.

I’ve been foolish in the sense that I have worked in coffee, and have not taken advantage of an extremely powerful tool that Minneapolis, and St. Paul have to offer coffee professionals, that Tool is Cafe Imports, and Jamin Haddox.

For those who don’t know, Cafe Imports is a green coffee importer, and wholesaler.  Their warehouse is equipped with an awesome cupping lab (no surprise there) and a really awesome coffee lab, equipped with a 2-group Synesso Cyncra, Robur, Anfim (temporary), Probat, Clover, Ditting, Fluke, and Extract Mojo among many other really cool little toys and tools.

Jamin is the Director of Quality Control for Cafe Imports, basically sample roasting and cupping everything that comes through the doors.  He’s awesome and has been super insightful to us and to the coffee industry in the Twin Cities.  Much thanks Jamin!

Jamin has also set up public cuppings of most of the Cup Of Excellence selections of which I haven’t had much of a chance to participate in (bad priorities on my part).  I recently was able to participate in the Guatemala COE cupping, and let me tell you, it was really cool!

The cupping was composed of two rounds of two tables of 7 coffees, 28 coffees total.

I was in attendance along with @MWalcher (Michael), @CoffeeBrigade(Shawn, my roommate), @madcapcoffee(Ryan Knapp),  and manager of @quixotic_coffee(Gordon), all from Madcap’s new account Quixotic coffee in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. also, @kopplins(Andrew Kopplin) @BullRunDan(Dan, my coworker) and of course Jamin.

COE Farm List

The cupping score in the box is mine (obvious) the one circled is the average of the room, the one above it is Jamin’s (most respected palate/Q cupper) the one way over on the left is the score from the judges at origin.

I was amazed at how consistent our room was considering that this was my first COE cupping and our group doesn’t typically cup 28 coffees at a time.