Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Drink Coffee Like a Man

That's right, gentlemen...drop that axe, come inside, and drink some coffee the manly way. Here's a guide to getting the most of your morning cup of gentleman's brown:

1. Abandon what is referred to in the middle school community as "flavored drinks". There should be no other explanation needed.

2. Black only, tiger. Yeah, it may be a change for that teddy bear of a stomach, but you can take it. Its the only way to truly taste those wonderfully rich complexities that are present in good coffee.

3. Drink coffee that is actually good. Good coffee can be relative to taste, but here's what's measurable: There are two types of unroasted (green) coffee beans that get imported: Commercial/commodity grade, and Specialty grade. Specialty must be rated by professional tasters at 80 points or higher. Warning: Specialty grade coffee is much harder to find. Right now the Specialty coffee industry is a baby. There are usually between 1-6 Specialty coffee shops in major US cities. This means you'll have to do some research. TIP: see google map to the right of this post! Most specialty shops have a passion for roasting the bean much lighter, in order to bring out the natural terroir flavors in the bean.

4. No Americanos. The term Americano originated by Italians who noticed that US soldiers couldn't handle the strength of straight espresso. They had to add water to make it weaker. So I ask you, my fellow Americans, do we really want to be known as a bunch of lightweight namby-pambies? I think not. Ron Swanson agrees.

5. Find a barista who knows more than you do about coffee. There's nothing less manly than faking it, and you don't want to go into a shop thinking that a "carmel macchiato" is a manly drink. Ask them what is featuring well right now, and get home-brewing advice. NOTE: if your barista can't tell you how to properly brew, find another shop. Here's a great question to gauge the knowledge of your barista: "What beans are present in your espresso blend?" If they answer, "dark ones" move on.

6. Don't take shortcuts in your home coffee brewing. Here's what you need to brew a proper cup: a Burr Grinder (nope, a blade grinder just won't 'cut' it. ha), a fresh bag of beans roasted within 3 weeks, a scale, a manual coffee brewing device (french press counts, but there are wayyy better options to get better flavor, as in a pour over cone, or an Aeropress), a coffee:water ratio of 1:15. Check out for techniques.

7. Don't overcompensate. Getting a large drink doesn't usually mean more coffee..on the contrary, it means more milk...oh how manly. Yes, the espresso/macchiato/cortado triumvirate are served in semi-dainty glassware...but they also usually contain a double-shot, which is the same amount of espresso as your buddy's large queen-of-the-hill latte. Think about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Raul Rodas's routine was largely about bringing out the sweetness of his coffee from La Soledad, using a unique (to Guatemala) processing technique of pulping the coffee, then letting it ferment for 14 hours dry (with no water), then placing it on raised drying beds for 15 days (instead of the standard patios, common in Guatemala). The result is a sweet yet clean cup. He created an interesting beverage (two, actually, shared among the judges) featuring cascara (the dried remains of the coffee bean's outer layer), and mucilage (what's under the outer layer), and then brewing coffee with an extremely lightly-roasted bean. This part is interesting to me. Raul implied that because of the processing, the coffee would be sweet, so what this part of the signature drink highlights was how sweet the coffee was, even before it was roasted to bring out the sugars of the bean (see maillard reaction). Also interesting was Raul's duel drink components. He pulled his first espressos using 17 grams, and his second set at 18 grams, featuring different taste components that make up his two beverages. Hmmmm. complex, eh? I admire the experimentation that went on with the farmer's processing, as well as the experimentation with brewing/tasting. It seems that 2012 is definitely the year of processing, and using different fermentation/processing methods to bring out unique tastes. Neato.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Congrats to this year's US Barista Champion, Katie Carguilo, from Counter Culture, NY, NY. Amongst a strong, well-known field of competitors like Intelligentsia's Charles Babinski, Verve's Chris Baca, and Jared Truby, and many more, Katie pulled out the victory swimingly. Looks like that origin trip to Aida Batlle's farm paid off! She used two coffees, both from the Yergacheffe region of Ethiopia, one washed, one natural. Her signature drink consisted of a representation of fermentation water Ethiopian-style, adding a mash of nectarine, lemon, sugar, and jasmine green tea, and vinegar. She'll compete in Vienna June 12-15 for the title of World Barista Champion. I'm sure her winning routine will be posted online soon. Check it out when it does! Good luck, Katie. Win the world, girl!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Coffee Map Updates: New cafes in Cental and S. America

There are finally some great coffee shops popping up in Central and South America. Here are the new additions, as can be seen by visiting the google map to the right: Caffe Lucca (Curitiba, Brazil), Cafe Suplicy (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Coopedota Cafe (Santa Maria, Costa Rica), Viva Espresso (San Salvador, El Salvador). Viva Espresso is home to Alejandro Mendez, the Current World Barista Champion, and first barista from a coffee producing country to win the competition. Click on the link below the map, to open it up!!

View Coffee Shops in a larger map">

Monday, August 29, 2011

My favorite things (so far) of 2011

1. weight-based grinders: Baratza has been a quality company for years now, and they've stepped things up even more with the addition of the Esatto accessory, a programmable weighing system that works with the Maestro, Maestro Plus, and Virtuoso grinders. Also integrated into the Vario grinder, is a built-in version. No more need for weighing coffee before you put it in the grinder! Brilliant. I'd now like to see commercial espresso grinders with it (hint, hint).

2. Chemex Kone, by Coava: the chemex is already the most gorgeous of brewing methods (minus the occasional siphon), and with a metal filter...fogetaboutit. If you don't have one, buy one, immediately. You will thank me later, so will your house guests.

3. Artazza Walnut Tamper: A tamper is like a baseball cap: some just seem to fit, and some don't. For me, this was the easiest tamper I've ever used to achieve a level tamp every time, and the most form-fitting, ergo espresso tool I've laid a hand on.

4. Kalita flat-bottom pourover: Its great to see diversity in the pourover world, and paired with a long-spout kettle, this will probably change worlds. I've still got a lot of love for the glass v-60 by Hario, but the Kalita products are an exciting addition to a booming method that every barista is using at home or in the shop.

5. Less appearance-based baristas and a return of smiles: it used to be the case that if you were a good barista, you were known by your portafilter arm tattoo and your snazzy vest and tight pants. These days, thankfully, there has been an reduction of appearance-based baristas, who were good, but often only so they could appear like professionals, instead of actually immersing themselves in the study of coffee farming practices and coffee knowledge. This has led to a re-welcoming of the average-looking barista who knows their coffee. Believe it, or not, good coffee tastes just as good when made from a style-less sartorial heathen, than when made by a moustache-thriving tight-panter. I am excited for coffee scientists wearing t-shirts and mustering occasional smiles at customers.

6. the reemergence of the Portafilter Podcast: we were lost for a couple years there...sure glad you guys are back. If you've never heard this podcast, get ready to live: portafilter podcast

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Denver Coffee Review

There's a great new site if you're a coffee lover in the Denver area:

The site is a serious look at Denver shops, good and bad. The reviews are made by a few industry professionals, including baristas, owners, and roasters from around the state.

Friday, March 18, 2011

10 things your barista wishes you knew

10. Yes, I did go to school for this. I only mention the word 'Starbucks' for sake of framing my story: Starbucks sends certain "baristas" through a 2 week training about how coffee is grown, and how to prepare certain menu drinks. The total coffee learning portion of this equals about 20-25 hours (including hands-on training). For many good coffee shops--I'm talking third wave specialty shops here--these hours wouldn't even qualify you to be a dishwasher or barback. I know several coffee companies whose educational system involves more than what would be required for a bachelor's degree at a state university. There is an insane amount of science and precision involved in preparing coffee.

9. Buying a bag of whole bean coffee, and then having it ground is a waste of money. Save up for a, not the $15 one at Wal-Mart. You need a burr grinder, and you need to save the grinding for right before you brew the coffee. The moment you ground the coffee, is starts a much more rapid degradation process, losing almost half of its flavor within 30 minutes.

8. The Cup of Excellence. This is a competition where coffees are rigorously judged, and the winning coffees are auctioned to the highest bidder. It is a great way for producers to get a livable wage for their good work, as well as a way for consumers to drink what professional tasters (called 'cuppers') have deemed a top coffee in a given country.

7. There is a growing gap in knowledge between baristas and consumers. Don't let this happen. Sharpen up your knowledge with the wealth of coffee information out there. Check out for brewing recipes from the worlds' top shops, Stumptown for information about some great coffee varietals, Has Bean for a free 10-day online coffee class, Coffeed for the more intricate and scientific coffee discussions, Home Barista for home espresso info including machine reviews, and for amazing arabica alliteration accounts, aka news.

6. The coffee descriptors "smooth," "bold," and "strong" are old hat and confusing. Coffee has more possible flavor characteristics than wine. Its time to upgrade. Here are two great threads on terminology and the ongoing discussion about said topic: Nate's top 5 abused coffee terms and Coffeed's "what is bold?" post.

5. No we will not serve your espresso to-go. Its a quality thing, and a culture thing. It is meant to be drunk immediately, thus making it in a paper cup is wasteful and shows that the barista does not want the customer to enjoy their drink properly. Espresso is, in large part, a beverage of immediately decreasing small bubbles, called crema. The layer of crema contains a large amount of the flavors for that espresso, and if left for more than a minute, are dissolved and flavor potential is lost.

4. Bigger isn't better. Rather than ordering a 16-20 oz coffee once in the morning, order a 6-8oz cup, and then another later. This will be better for your appreciation of the coffee, as well as for your body's ability to properly use caffeine. My routine is this: 6oz coffee around 10am, espresso at noon, and occasionally another 6oz cup or cappuccino around 4.

3. If you need your coffee in under a minute, you don't need quicker coffee, but a slower lifestyle. Good things take time.

2. No one is getting rich off of your cup of coffee. There are literally 100 + people involved in the making of one pound of coffee. That's 100 people that need to be paid, not to mention equipment, packaging, buildings, ect. Coffee prices are going up, generally. This is actually a good thing. As it is now, many farmers do not make enough money to feed their families, and are forced to pursue other crops. We are talking extreme poverty here, in many cases. If the prices don't go up, no one will be drinking coffee in 5 years because no one will be able to afford to grow it. For more info about why low-quality coffees forced the coffee prices down in the 1970's and why specialty coffee is a better model for the world, read God in a Cup.

1. Cream was made for bad coffee. Remember in the 90's when you started adding cream to your coffee to make it bearable? Coffee has changed since then. Good coffee actually exists now--coffee that will make you smirk when coming face-to-face with cans and green logos. Any trace of dairy mutes the natural nuances of a coffee, thereby making it flavorless and dull. If you go to a shop who cares about their product (for a list, click on the google map to the right) you aren't doing yourself a favor by adding cream. Lose the habit, and skip the dairy. Its like this: ketchup belongs on hot dogs, not fillets. There is nothing more depressing to us than to see a customer order a $7 Cup of Excellence coffee only to see them pour cream into it without even trying it. Let old habits die. Drink it black.