Friday, February 06, 2009

he lives

for the two of you who may not have given up hope that your rss would ever bring you another post from this blog, thank you.

but we've moved recently.

for unknown reasons this blog fell silent last autumn and never awoke. and now, for several reasons we have begun a new blog here and have begun rebuilding a body of commentary on all things coffee as they come to my finite mind.

please point your feedreaders to our new blog space and link us so we can re-link to you, coffee friends.

has rekindled the desire to type thoughts for the world in 140+ characters and thus...

now, let the fun begin again.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

coming up

Catalina Coffee is the man.  Or are the men.  And women.  Or something nice and props-able.  I was so happy to be able to be in Houston for this event (see post below) and to be a part of Texas' growing coffee scene.  Having grown up in Houston, the city has a sentimental place in my heart.  But with the advent of Catalina and a small crop of fresh new coffee spaces (think Inversion, Taft Street and others) they are eschewing the soft-market sentimentality of feeling as though they have to offer the five "S'es" (sandwiches, soups, salads, syrups and smoothies) and going for the gusto by putting the coffee first and letting the chips fall where they may.  And if my time at their recent Latte Art Throwdown (and my subsequent Sunday afternoon visit) were any indication, the chips are definitely falling their way.

Space is the enemy here, and geopolitical boundaries seem to be the enemy of our coalescence.  Because the entity is known as "Texas" it seems to make sense that we should all be one big happy family.  But as the interstate sign makes clear as you cross into Texas from Louisiana, this really is a big, big place.  The sign reads:  WELCOME TO TEXAS!  Beaumont = 15 miles; Houston = 150 miles; El Paso = 798 miles.  Thus, we have to make the best of our situation by grabbing every opportunity for community, no matter how frequency and geographically-challenged and those opportunities are.  

Coming up:  the second annual SCRBC in Austin and a chance for our corner of the world to continue to build both momentum and a tighter sense of community.   

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Friday, September 26, 2008

refereeing a fight

my camera was sick and we sent it off to hospital lately.  thus, i feel as though my creative impetus had been on hiatus.  now it's back and here i am hitting the blogosphere again.  coincidence?  mayhaps.  

so what's been up?  i'm going to houston in a few hours to--get this--be a judge for a latte art competition.  me.  the guy who can consistently and perfectly pour the foam amoeba.  but you know what they say...those who can't do, judge.  or some such. 

anyway, catalina coffee in houston, where the event will take place, has quietly done a solid job
 becoming houston's most thoughtful espresso destinations.  a few weeks ago catalina's owner,
 max, called me up out of the blue (we had never met) and asked if they could order 50 lbs of Jacinto.  he explained they have an enthusiastically pursued guest espresso program and they have been buying stuff from around the country and featuring it until the order runs dry.  the espresso got there in good order and then...hurricane Ike.  max says they kept power for
 most of the time and that
 they were one of the few places around who had power, which, one can hope, means all the Jacinto got consumed and, one can further hope, enjoyed, by desparate, powerless houstonians.  

so one thing led to another and here i am making final preps and doing final roasts before going to houston to be part of this indieundergroundcoffeeevent.  $20 to pour.  winner takes all.  who knows but that the winner might just be a hurricane victim and this could be the most direct charity line from fundraiser to relief distribution in the history of coffee.   fun times in texas.  hey, even the weather has cooperated.  one thing about hurricanes:  they definitely bring cooler (read:  coffee buying and drinking) weather in their wakes.  

cheers, all.    

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

got milk?

sweet. salty. bitter. sour. savory (umami). what's missing?

calcium, evidently.

a couple quick, random notes about this.

one. why is it always such a big deal to re-inform people that mice, rats and the like share such similar biological makeups, as though the rodents are somehow more exalted than other vermin, or as though we humans are simply nothing special? funny.

two. i'm not sold on the whole "human animal's evolutionary makeup innately senses the need for calcium and thus seeks out food rich in calcium" worldview. for one, it's too darwinian for me. second, i've read the omnivore's dilemma and, heck, i can eat anything i want (even though pollan's descriptors of why we can eat anything we want are, well, a touch darwinian for me.)

third. while there seems to be a lot of scientific-like writing here to buttress these claims, in the end--well, so far, at least--they are still largely unfounded claims in much the same way as, say, phrenology was way back when.

this is not necessarily a coffee-related post other than to say i consider myself to be at least an average cupper but don't recall having ever attributed anything on the cupping table to "calcium." mineral, maybe. creamy perhaps. but milky?

one day mayhaps we'll all be hunting for calcium in our micro lots. but poor umami. no sooner does it don the mantle of lingual legitimacy than it has to give up the spotlight to a bunch of milk drinking rats. no justice in this world, i tell ya.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

global cooling?

it's raining here in san antonio. something rare during the summer months here. and it got me onto some rainy morning ponderations and note-taking experimentations. i decided to think toward and play a bit with two parallel tracks: pour techniques for a manual brewer such as my chemex; and how taste perception changes as temperatures cool.

typically, when i use my chemex (which is about every morning) i set up the 6-8 tablespoons of grounds using a sort of aztec-maya inverted step pyramid array. meaning, i poke my finger into the middle and carve out a niche point in the bottom center, followed by a wider layer above it with a terrace, and finally capped with a rim about an eighth of an inch in diameter around the outer top. when my water reaches temp i pour from the melitta kettle (love that surgically precise spout tip!) into the bottom cave and up onto the next layer, leaving the outer rim of grounds dry. the center blooms--as chemex recommends--for about 30 seconds, at which time i encircle the wet grounds with another string of water...carefully, carefully so as not to overflow the center grounds. eventually, the water level has risen to the point that all the grounds are wet, but water has not been poured and agitated over either the very center or the very outer rim. this is built upon the assumption that you don't want 100% complete saturation of 100% of the grounds, which helps ensure that you don't over-solublize the final brew. pretty soon all the grounds are wet, as you would expect. eventually, as the water levels dip i pour water closer to the center and let it all drain down--the whole thing generally taking around 4:30 and producing in my 30 oz brewer about 20-22 oz.

i've blogged all that before, i think. suffice it to say i was looking to try something different this morning. so i thought i'd migrate my melitta pour over technique onto the chemex and see how it goes. the grounds and water quantities are the same, though the setup is basically the exact opposite: set up a little mountain in the middle of the filter; pour your hot water around the outer most rim of coffee and work your way inward. in this method, water actually never gets poured over the center peak (about a nickle's circumference) because the surrounding water eventually overtakes the peak and sinks it into the center inverted-cone the chemex brewer shape forces the filter to make. same principle as above--you don't want all the coffee grounds saturated the same way and to the same level.

i digress. aside from the fact that i was very pleased at the liquid results of my migratory brewing adaptation betwixt apparati, the main show for me this morning was how coffee cools, or rather, how we perceive the change in flavors as coffee cools.

i decided to use the last of my samples of a very nice coffee, one kenya gethumbwini (peaberry) (which brown has chosen to add to its lineup, btw), since it possesses such an unmistakable flavor signature. roast level and profile were typical of my production roasts and where the drop happens in the no man's land period toward the very end of first, awaiting the imminent invasion of second crack.

i set up my mountain in the filter cone and carefully poured water at 200F even over 3:45, yielding me ~19 oz and was, as per my usual ritual, careful to give a "decanting swirl" before pouring.

brew temp was a constant 178F throughout, falling to 165F by the time I poured into my mug. my first sips were at 154F. at that point all the fuss and glory was in the top end acid. no surprises there. as we worked lower, though--into the 140's--the depth began to show and at about 133F i would say i found the "center mark" of the roast i applied to this coffee. at that temp i found the acid and body were in their best balance. or rather, in their best dynamic tension, as complex coffees such as this, in my opinion are always pulling thither and yon, showing you something different, giving you a different angle.

anyways, toward the high 120's the deepness this coffee has latent in it really begins to come out to play: the black currant, the ruby red grapefruit, the overripe thompson grapes/raisins. acid almost completely disappeared from my perception, or i should perhaps rather say that though it was surely present, the fireworks were now well deeper in my tastebuds and i was mostly perceiving these lower tones.

i kept sipping this coffee with similar taste results, thermometer probe faithfully submerged into the mug, until about 102F, almost body temp. i had walked away from the table for a bit to put on a c.d. of one of the kids' favorite bands and when i picked up the mug for my last sip of the "experiment" i was surprisingly jolted back to the acid, something i thought had long dissipated in the taste mix. my only explanation for that is that as i kept tasting this coffee, the perception of acidity had become dulled and accounted for in my brain in much the same way as the midnight trains' traffic horns aren't even heard anymore from my downtown apartment's sleep. but upon return the great acid this coffee possesses was suddenly recalled in glorious splendor from a gloriously splendorous coffee.

my on-the-fly analysis? yes, complex coffees will present different stuff at different temps. no surprises there. maybe this is the appearance of different sugars that dance most at their respective temperature ranges between the tongue signals and the brain synapses. but the disappearance and re-emergance of acidity after i had walked away and revisited the cup was what i found most interesting, and that is what spurred this whole wander-through-the-forest-post.

would this phenomenon of resurgent acidity perception hold true with the same coffee roasted differently? or with other acid-forward coffees? what would be the result if i used a very low acid coffee? how much did/does brew technique affect that? brew apparatus?

just some swimming thoughts as i prepare to swim back out into the deluge of rain we're enjoying and run some errands. constructive comments welcomed.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

third time's a charm

wow. i can't believe it's been almost two months since my last blogpost. for you six regulars, thanks for coming back to check in (feedreaders help, doubtless).

lots of stuff happening these days, though summer is generally a slower time business-wise, especially in these 100+ F days. in love with coffee as i am, it is always funnily difficult for me to understand why people don't want to drink hot coffee when it's still 89F at 9:30pm. go figure.

anyway, slow times or not, we're still here, plugging away, slugging away, doing lots of cupping, tweaking Big Brown, trying lots of exciting samples for the fall, setting up new wholesale clients and generally taking advantage of the relative downtime to plan for cooler weather when things will grow mad and fast toward the end of the year.

on a huge and hugely personal note, my lovely wife and i are expecting our third child. estimated time of arrival: 21 January 2009. we are both stoked, naturally. friends ask us whether we'll try to learn the gender before the baby's born (no...why spoil one of life's only true surprises?), whether we are hoping for one gender over another (no...we only pray for a healthy baby with five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot, and so forth) and how we think this will change our lives (who knows but God? but it WILL change, for sure!)

as i mentioned, we are ecstatic, though mom is still feeling a touch of nausea even here into the second trimester. but she looks great--she always has looked great during pregnancy--and is busy reading all about midwifery and homebirthing.

don't want to dominate this coffee blog with all the personal info. i promise i will get back to blogging coffee stuff very soon. i have been ruminating on some issues i'd like to share.

until then, stay cool.

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Monday, June 09, 2008


i'm a skeptical soul by nature. i meet people very slowly and trust them even more slowly. i don't know why. on the contrary, i consider myself something of an early adopter of new ideas, always on the lookout for the next major improvement or the newest promising trend. it's funny, but perhaps the internet helps magnify my particular personality mix: if i had to take new ideas directly from people i might never get past my impressions of that person's in-person persona, and down to the idea(s) they were espousing.

my point? i'm just thinking about new ideas and what people are thinking when it comes to the directions coffee is heading. someone i just met once said that coffee auctions are a price discovery mechanism, not quality discovery. at first blush that sounds heretical to the latest received coffee wisdom out there. but there is more than a nugget of truth to that when the usual top lots in auctions like the c.o.e. and b.o.p. tend to outpace their lower-ranked brethren, sometimes by obscene amounts, when surely the coffee at the top can't be that much more amazing than the number two, three, four and so on.

this is not a new discussion. it's actually just an example of ideas and how reading them sometimes gives me pause to think in new ways.

what are you thinking about in coffee? are we still edge-pushers? what's new in your coffee world?

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