Wednesday, June 28, 2006


for the two of you addicted to reading dumb blogs, i'm leaving for vacation for a couple weeks and will return--hopefully--with some fun stories to share.

see you then....

Monday, June 26, 2006


for you three reading this blog, here's a poll question. does a smallish selection of good beer and good wine compliment or hinder a coffee and espresso bar? why or why not? have you seen it done well? does the presence of alcohol swallow up good coffee?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

three and out

today on fox news channel they were talking about the civet poop coffee. they gave some audience members samples of the coffee and the result was what you might expect: some shook their heads in disgust. others sipped and turned up their noses. still others nodded their heads somewhat quizzically yet approvingly--the way someone like me does when a waiter pulls the cork on a bottle of wine and lets me smell it. "oh yes," says i, "that'll do nicely." (like what am i going to say?!? "send it back!"?)

the other funny thing they had today on the t.v. "coffee" segment was starbucks new frappuccino offerings. banana loco coco something and green tea frappalatta delight. they were saying how one of those carries up to 700 calories. drink three and you're done for the day intaking calories. nice.

three martini lunch. three frapp day.

foam foibles

hard to find good help? try finding a good cappuccino. from the napa valley register. [hat tip: coffeegeek]

but drinking a cappuccino in the afternoon? maybe that's going to be her next article.

Friday, June 16, 2006

outshining through

sometimes when i cup there's a coffee on the table that i actually want to drink right then and there. generally i'll spit most of what i cup, only swallowing down spoonfuls of coffee when i'm looking for a leave.

i was cupping this really nice decaf costa rica (la magnolia estate, swp) that was so pleasant and pleasantly different from the other coffees on my table. i just kept slurping and drinking, slurping and drinking. a nice zing, good lemon tang but not so bright and acidic you want to scream. there's enought body in there to balance it a bit. feels kind of like a lemon meringue pie very lightly sprinkled with shaved bittersweet chocolate. oh, that's nice.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

spice trade blend

[part two of my earlier post on blending]

so if you guessed the ethiopia harar with the sumatra mandheling you'd be correct. i had the most basic moka-java type blend in mind: the deep resonance of a smooth java with the wild gaminess of a coffee that hailed from the cradle area of coffee. dark and fruity, what a lovely combination. at least on paper. here's what really ended up going down in the form of good news and, well, not bad news, but interesting news.

first, the good news. a really beautiful synergy of differing characteristics showed up.

but the surprise twist? the interesting part? not very much of what i expected to show up, showed up. at least not the way i expected it to.

instead of heavy earthiness contrasted with sweetwine fruitiness i got lemon rind sweetsharps with dry, cedar-like tastes that really kept the juiciness i was expecting from the harar in check. in fact, the more the cups cooled the drier the tastes got. here are my descriptor notes, in order of appearance.


-creamy base--taste for butter

-medium body

-good acidity, liveliness, movement

-a touch spicy; blends well into berried fruit medley like yogurt covered blueberries dipped in coffee

-cedar starts to pull away as it cools...starts to dry out like lemon rind mixed with crushed blackberries

-super ripe strawberries and cedar

-not as syrupy a leave as sumatra usually is. dryness prevails

[now as it's beginning to cool...]

-a high dryness in the leave, way afterwards

-really dries as it cools, very dry now, almost tannic.

-lemon-cedary, piney fruitiness, pinenuts meets...pineapple?

-more now as it cools like a mellow malabar type fruitiness would a raspberry/blueberry/strawberry mixed with the coffee.

-has an oatiness (dryness)

[by this time it's nearly tepid and i've cupped all the cups to the grounds]

-blueberry oats now as it's fully cool. almost a saltiness in the oatlike tastes.

-dry...not a juicy, syrupy leave like expected.


i don't usually capture that many taste/flavor descriptor notes when cupping. but i was so intrigued by what was being presented that i just sat down and began to cup and slurp and actually "drink" this coffee from the cupping spoon.

i have said in the past that blending can be a cop out, to be undertaken if you have something to hide. i know that there are some folks doing a great job really pulling the best profiles from certain coffees to create very interesting blends highlighting tell tale characteristics from certain growing regions. and after my little experiment with my basic 50-50 blend, i might (emphasis on MIGHT) make a more concerted effort to explore this art/science a little further.

so i may post this blend for sale for a limited time on my website and see if there are any takers.

...only now, what to call it? any suggestions?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

sameness as a means of distinguishing

[i'll get back to part two of "creating a new blend" from the last post soon.]

i've been doing some thinking lately about the whole barista competition thing. [warning! here comes another piece on something about which i have no direct experience.]

i've been hearing folks talk to and fro a bit about the espresso each competitor chooses for his or her competition espresso. various and sundry discussions and opinions are bandied about discussing, among other things, optimal temps for the blend (or even finding a temp that harmonizes and synergizes the various component beans in the blend).

another common debate is about dosing quantities and tamping techniques. in all, there are myriad variables that go into one's espresso expression.

but something my cyberfriend steve from across the pond at the illustrious brit outfit has bean mentioned to me the other day got me thinking about a particular aspect of said competition espresso. he mentioned his love for a particular country's contribution to some highly touted espresso blends he's created in the recent past (most notably, james hoffman's u.k. barista championship blend) and how that country figures to be producing some highly prized beans good for espresso (among other things, i'm sure).

so here's what i was thinking. what if every competitor in a particular year were required to use the same exact coffee(s) for their espresso? each year some neutral party would determine, based on whatever criteria they chose, to feature a different country, region, etc., for that year. (it could be based on coe auctions, or a desire to spread the love to deserving farms or whatever. not the point here.) each competitor would have access to the same beans for practice. perhaps every sanctioned competition would be required to use it as well. if you are a registered contestant you will be given a certain number of pounds for your personal practice.

i recognize there are significant costs associated with mailing all that coffee to competitors. maybe you cut that cost by only having the blend at the actual competition. this would add an additional X factor to the competition but shouldn't be an undue hindrance. i mean, everyone will be working from the same blank sheet of knowledge with this espresso. the technique needed to create a solid shot of espresso doesn't change. only the taste of the actual shot based on the blend's components.

which brings me to another potentially cool sort of calibration thought...the tasting judges would all know whether the shot was "good" because they would be familiar with the blend and would have tasted it prior to competitions to calibrate their palates to what it should taste like. the governing body at the competition could calibrate the machines to the same temps to ensure a level field and one that highlighted the best from that blend.

essentially what would there be to complain about? so you don't get to pick your espresso. big deal. nobody does. can you shine with what you've been handed? even under those circumstances, some shots from some contestants will still taste better. that will make the focus come down more on technique--where it should be--and not on who has what blend for their espresso. leave that for the signature drink. (hey, here's another crazy thought: maybe everybody has to use the same ingredients in their signature drink! they could use varying amounts prepared various ways; but they have to all be in there. that could be interesting.)

i've simply observed a few conversations about these competitions and would humbly put forth--having never even been to one--that standardization might be a strong ally in taking these competitions to a new height. there is, to my mind at least, no compelling reason for each participant to have their own blend, except as maybe a rock star component. but that can best be expressed in the signature drink portion of the competition, where creativity is exactly what you're after. the espresso portion is not--i would guess--designed to express individualism via the blend, but rather to judge technique at creating an incredible taste experience.

i don't claim any special insight on this; nor do i feel i have exhausted each possibility in the points i have briefly raised above. again, i point out that i have never been to a barista competition and am not trying to make myself out to be an expert on them. just opining. that's what blogs are for. but they are also for exchange of ideas, so i'll solicit yours...what do you think?

Friday, June 09, 2006

blending in by blending

i have had impure thoughts lately. meaning, today i actually considered diluting the single-origin purity of one of my coffees by, gasp, blending it with another. here's the story.

you see, it's easy to consider oneself a "purist" when the reality is one just simply may not adept at creating complex cool blends. now, this may or may not actually be true of your humble blogger; you'll never know and i'll never tell.

actually, i have been holding closely to the sage words...someone...was saying once about new roasters being stuck years later with their embarrassingly elementary house blend because they succumbed to the perceived pressure to put out a "house blend"...something that carried their name and their signature taste. so i don't blend. i just don't know enough about coffee to do so. maybe.

or maybe not.

so as i was speaking about in one of my recent posts, i have been working toward a decent espresso for a prospective client. as anyone out there who roasts knows, this can be a massive, painstaking and very time-consuming process. like, months time-consuming. (and here i'm trying in several minutes to come up with some foundational espresso blends to show to someone! the verve.)

anyways, all that mixing and matching for espresso got me thinking--again in a couple minutes' time--that i might just try to pull something together that could be interesting. something intentional but not scripted. infieldly logical but yet still a little edgy, a touch compelling, a slight bit novel. emphasis on the diminutive adjectives, there.

now, usually my "blends" consist of tossing in whatever doesn't get cupped out at the table today to have the next morning: two, three, four coffees with nothing in common and very little in harmony--let alone in symphony. my ever-loving family. if they only knew the blending imposter i am. they drink it and smile, mostly because they're half asleep when i shove the cup into their hands. God bless 'em. they just keep encouraging me.

okay, so back to the science of blending. i always hear folks talk about coffee blends like they (the blends) are some sort of cuisine: "a dash of this, a shot of that, a little pinch of the other for good measure. now stir it all around in the pot and voila! now you're cookin' with grease!" (as the old southern saying goes). if i were going to make a blend it was going to be simple stupid--two beans, fifty-fifty. that's all the smarts i have.

so what did i have in my current lineup that could be interesting? well, my little bit of smarts i do have said i'd better start with what i had already roasted the previous day that didn't get used up in the "espresso blends." here's what i had:

guatemala fraijanes

sumatra mandheling

a washed indian robusta

costa rica tarrazu

brazil cerrado

ethiopia harar

(no, i didn't combine all of those, or even think of combining all of them, for an espresso blend! shame on you for thinking so.) i first thought of using the guat as a base, since i so thoroughly enjoyed it in my cupping yesterday. but i became a bit afraid that any central/south american component i used might suffer the same fate i keep (seemingly) willing it to--to lose itself in its own perfection and become obfuscated in a blend. if i'm going to blend something i don't want one of the blended components to be inveigled by the other. otherwise, what's the point? that'd be almost like relegating one of the components to the role of the blarg they put at the very butt of the cigarette...even worse than the "good" blarg used in the rest of the cigarette. and if the blend was going to be a fifty-fifty split i'd better select something with a little more uhmph.

uhmph? well, using that descriptor meant i was going to have to use only two on that list.

can you guess which two? be continued...


i'm penitent over what i said a couple months ago about guatemala coffee in particular and over centrals in general. i recall posting something to the effect that these coffees are handled so well from start to finish that you forget how lovely they are and actually get bored of them when you are trying to decide which of your coffees you want to drink.

i bought some guatemala from sweet maria's a few weeks back...from fraijanes. i first roasted and cupped it back then and was impressed by its range for a guat. i noted its cupping score on my scoresheet, filled a few orders for it from some customers...and forgot about it.

until yesterday. i'm trying to compile a basic espresso blend for a potential client. he currently has a beans supplier that is a long way from here and he would love to get more local.

actually, a little back story. i never go up this particular road in san antonio. i just never have occasion to. only last week i decided i was going to go hit a newer coffeehouse and a top-end new cafe as potential clients and i saw as i was driving by a little yellow coffee shack. made a mental note to swing back by on my way down and went about my way.

well, after my visits (and some really, really poor espresso...another story), i pulled into the small lot at the portacoffeebuilding and walked right up to the drive-thru window. confused, the owner opened the window and asked, "can i help you?" realizing my mistake i put my hands on my imaginary steering wheel and ordered a double espresso. he laughed and obliged.

nice sweetness in the midranges. maybe a little too long a pull or the temp was too high. more acidy bitterness than i wanted. but not bad. fairly full crema that didn't disintegrate upon seeing the light of day. a decent, round feel on the palate. and a nice linger.

anyways, we chatted a little bit about his espresso; i revealed that i roast "for a living;" he asked me my story and i asked his, etc., etc., etc. then he asked me straight up if i could duplicate that shot. i asked him the blend's general parameters and he obliged--

--and so i came home and fired up the roaster. a little of this. some of that. a dash, maybe, of the other. and some of that guatemala.

so yesterday i'm cupping these and now i fully remember why i got this guat in the first place. totally unusual for a guatemala, with a real fruity presence. not juicy, mind you, fruity. it was a veritable liquic trail mix in the mouth: dried pineapple, papaya and mango with some little drops of chocolate and nuts to round out the lower end. (it was the "nuts" and "chocolate") component keeping it from being juicy.)

it roated up perfectly to a city++ with no quakers and no visible defects on the beans. sometimes when you drop a batch of beans into the cooling tray you just sigh a sweet pleasing sigh because you know you've got a winner.

i'm tempted to give him just the guat to try as an s.o. espresso. but i'll blend up some options and we'll go from there. and since a sum is only as good as its parts, i'm pretty confident, guatemala in hand, that we'll get to something that strikes his palate just right.

i know it did mine.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


who is producing the best robusta these days? india? mexico? uganda?

pull up the ladder behind you

one would think that really cool coffee people would be interested in sharing their craft with as many people--inside and outside the industry--as possible. or maybe not. i was reading the other day a post on a forum about a particularly cool lot of coffee that just went on auction and fetched a very hefty price. some of the comments centered around how a few prescient purveyors had been selling this exact coffee for a few years already. and then, a very interesting comment from another well-respected (by me) person in this industry. something to the effect that now that this coffee has won at auction everyone who buys it now is merely a hanger-oner, a johnny-come-lately.

i thought about this for a long while. i wondered at all its possible meanings. the only thing i could come up with was a comment that bordered on elitism. now granted, the contributors to this particular forum by and large are the elite of the industry. but why the seeming "we four and no more" attitude?

i'm sure the comment was not given half as much analysis when it was made as when it was read by me. so i'm definitely not interested in making a big deal out of it. nor, as a bona fide johnny-come-lately to this level of the industry, was i offended in the least. it just struck me as a very curious thing to say, is all, and i thought i'd comment on the comment here in my own personal opinion space.

is there room at the top for anyone with the money to get a top calibre coffee? do dollars trump all, even if you're a johnny-come-lately? will you/should you get the respect of those who have been working hard at this for years?

what do you think?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

the most punk rawk thing ever, or, my new mcwebsite kit is up

hey y'all. just wanted to humbly point out that i finally broke bad and made good on the web domain name i purchased almost a year ago and built the beginnings of my website.

it's really lame, er, i mean, punk rock and very, very d.i.y. there are no pics up yet, and not even all my links have been finalized yet. this isn't even nearly how it will look when finished. but have a look around and tell me what you'd like to see here.