Saturday, November 25, 2006

christmas? in november?!?

in case you haven't heard, brown has a christmas blend up and running and ready for order. it's called 'winter's bane' and is a very unusual mix of african and asian coffees that is spicy, thick and luxurious. get it here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

shutters and jitters

heading to austin tuesday to meet up with a new friend who owns a camera and knows how to use it. "J" (short for jonathan) came to our recent barista jam and i got to chat with him subsequent to that on the phone for a solid hour or so. he is a stand up guy and, as i mentioned, is handy with the ol' point and shoot. take a gander at his blog.

what does this have to do with coffee? well, if all goes according to plan, i'll be able to convince J to come back to san antonio sometime soon to snap some pics of me in action at the roaster and the cupping table and other such 'action shots' for a future revamp of my website.

also, j's brother and sister in law own and operate caffe medici, austin's hip new espresso bar, so we should be slingin' back the 'spro while we hang out.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

a few thousand words

a few starter pics of last weekend's barista jam. more to come...

Friday, November 17, 2006


so the death matches haven't materialized as promised. those of you who were eagerly awaiting one like a pay per view cage match, get a life.

i am currently sipping on the last of what is a most delightful coffee: stumptown's guatemala el injerto. this is the maragogype version. huge...and i mean enormous...beans smile up at you from the bag and give of a kind of lavendar/vanilla scent.

i remember when stephen vick from stumptown sent me an email with the descriptors of the coffees they were donating for the jam he used a descriptor i had not really thought to use for coffee before: pretty. being something of a word junkie i tucked that one away for possible later use. but i kept it in my mind tonight as i was pressing the last of it. for beans with this much brawn there's a lot of real beauty here. very lilting. even crushed and sitting in the bottom of my personal press this coffee was still all smiles. pretty, indeed.

this is a tricky coffee for me to give apt description to. there is a definite vanilla feel in it. like one of those light purple wildflowers that grows in the median between the interstate. delicate but not about to just blow away with any passing car. it's underpinned with what seems like a very subtle minerality: faint glimpses of the same roundness that is a hallmark of edwin martinez' finca vista hermosa coffee. but it takes its own path. it is sweet and floral, slightly acidic but not crisp with that lavendar silkiness that dances around my mouth with i sip it.

i know you see this coming, but i have to agree completely with stephen's assessment. this is a pretty coffee that you must try.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

huehuetenango, anyone?

and may i have this dance? anyone wanna go to guatemala with edwin martinez of finca vista hermosa and me in january? we're cooking up a trip very soon that will be open to all baristas (loosely defined). already we have some interest from a certain well placed champion barista, which should make things interesting. we're gonna boogey with the details here very soon, so be ready to call in sick in late january for about 10 days.

i also promise and promise

some of you have been asking about a barista jam recap. okay. that, and a first blush review of the clover is in the works. i should have some pics ready with that, too. meantime, be looking soon for deathmatch 2 between two more barista jam 'leftover' coffees.

Monday, November 13, 2006

showdown at the c.p. corral, inaugural installment

taking advantage of a rare convergence of moon and stars, your humble blogger will commence a series of one on one, winner take all, fight to the death cuppings of coffees from around the world. said convergence is possible right now due to some leftovers (lefties) i took home that weren't snatched up by baristas at our recent barista jam. through the generosity of some of the country's finest roasteries our event witnessed what was the finest collection of boutique coffees i have ever seen in one space. heck, even the lefties are still way, way hotter than the best stuff coming from many a coffee company. i seriously must have drunk at least two gallons of coffee that day, three or four ounces at a time, out of that clover. i'm surprised i've slept since then.

i'll cup quickly in the days to come, hoping to catch each coffee in its peak freshness. i've taken the extra step of rebagging coffees in airtight containers that have been opened and are not in resealable bags. maybe this will become a more permanent series if it catches on and i start getting samples sent to me from roasteries. ahem!but back to the event at hand. the premise is simple. put two animals in a cage alone and leave them to duke it out until only one is left standing. the set up is bare and to the point: two 5.5oz glass whisky cuppers, two nickel plated cupping spoons in hot water in a rinse bowl, one glass of water to cleanse the palate between coffees, timer, spit cup, pen and paper. and oh yes...the coffee. 2 exact tablespoons ground to between paper filter and gold cone drip filter fineness, with 198F water poured over and allowed to steep for exactly four minutes. instead of a formal cupping sheet your humble blogger has chosen the more chaotic train of thought method for determining winners. i have simlply divided the sheet in two longways down the middle to give scrawl room for each coffee along the same set of rough parameters: dry ground and break aroma; first impression; second looks; cooldown tasting; leave. that may sound like a lot but it's instead designed to flow quickly and unobtrusively, allowing me to wield the spoon much more than the pen. pretty much every fight, er cupping, i do will follow this process. at the end i'll choose the winner based on these entirely subjective criteria. there is absolutely no appeal process, for my judgment is just and final and losers will only stand to make themselves appear whiny and thus become loathsome to my presence.

"scores" at the end are merely for comparison purposes and not a result of any actual scoring system. remember, i am supreme leader of this escapade and my whims translate perfectly into incontravertable "scores" that cannot be gainsaid.

so there it is.
today's smackdown will feature two seriously good coffees from very different growing regions. coffee one is counter culture's honduras el puente, marysabel caballero, aka 'the purple princess.' the pic on the left is the picture ccc pasted up there on their site next to the coffee description. one can only assume she is indeed the alleged purple princess, althoug i see very little purple anywhere on her person relative to what one would expect from such a moniker. hmmm. rather suspect if you ask me. coffee two is simply known as novo coffee company's hache and while this cup may not be as pretty as the ccc coffee girl, no one's gonna be drinkin' the brightly colored hat, guys. looks like the classic bait and switch if you ask me.
typically i will try to select two fighters, er, coffees that will be similar in build. or at least sound kinda cool together. i selected these two because i thought the terms 'hache' and 'purple princess' had a nice roll to it. maybe "hache!" is something purple princesses say when they sell their coffee at really high prices to american coffee companies.

but enough conjecture. on to the coffees. when i ground counter culture coffee's princess (the cccp?) it had to me a distinct note of red grapes. maybe even dark red, purple-ish grapes. hmmmm.... the hache, meanwhile, resounded with a light but sure blueberry aroma even from the moment i opened the bag and started to mangle the beans in the bag. the dry and wet grounds only carried that through. this would be a bad omen for the princess, as i have ever been known to be a sucker for blueberries in the cup. four minutes after drowning the princess and the novohache/hachenovo (which sounds better to you?) i broke the crust with my upside down spoon. the princess had quickly gone from sweet grapes to sour grape leaves. or it may be more accurate to call them savory, almost beefy grape leaves. at any rate, any grape goodwill had been replaced by plant like reality. meanwhile, over on the novo side of the ring, the blueberried hache had taken on a sweet lime dimension to it. i would say lemon but this was definitely less citric and more sweetly...hey, like a lime! i was beginning to formulate a winner already and i hadn't even begun the slurps.

after spoon rinsing, i dipped my spoon into ccc's offering, which was oddly not very purple looking. but doubt quickly gave way to belief as the princess kissed my lips. "i get it," i said aloud, realizing why peter giuliano et al over at ccc have so dubbed this coffee. all kidding aside, it was resolent with a purple feeling in a way few coffees have made me think of colors. i know the psychology behind the power of suggestion, but i almost couldn't help myself. i was feeling like grape ape as this coffee washed over my gums. it was almost uncanny, yet very, very cool. not only was the princess sweet, she carried an almost bitter baking cocoa taste after a couple slurps. dimension is good. complexity is good. fresh bamboo is not so good. i started to get a plant-like astringency that was akin to a plum that is yet unripe. tart and a little sharp. hache might easily pull this one out in a landslide so long as it doesn't screw up.

hache, meantime, was pleasing my fruity sensibilities with blueberry, huckleberry, black currant and that persistent limeness that sometimes fell into pineapple. sweet and tart at the same time. i like it. i kept tasting. solid acidity. slight bitterness on the sides of my tongue. blueberries. blueberries. blueberries. more blueberries. and on and on with the berries. what was happening? it was almost like someone had forgotten to teach this monkey more than one trick. sure, it was delicious to both look at and experience; but with only one solid dimension i started to find myself wanting to find more than this coffee might be able to deliver. it was beginning to feel like a rookie big league pitcher with one pitch--the fastball--that pretty soon gets timed and plunked by just about everybody in the league. yes, the fastball approaches 100mph. yes, he can blow you away once or twice or even a third time for the strikeout. but yes, eventually you want more. expect more. need more from a coffee of this calibre.

this berry delicious coffee trend continued as it cooled. the hache seemed to get almost sweeter and sweeter as it cooled. a very mild milk chocolate started to present itself but then would fade. a basket of other fruits tried to rally but went down with a whimper. it seemed as though whenever this coffee wanted to unfold and reveal something deeper, the berry clan rose up to beat it down. ccc's purple princess, however, began to strut her stuff. a buttery base began to present itself as the temperature dropped and the grape and lavender tones began to show again. more complexity equals good. princess is beautiful and smart. hache is all brawn and not nearly as much brains. round one to the hache. round two to the little princess that could.

onto the leave. while the princess seemed to dry me out a little bit it wasn't like falling over a cliff or anything. i scribbled the words, "drier than expected but not 'dry'" on my paper, and then scratched a quick "91" below. to the right, the hache got: "solid leave. delicious coffee! smooth afters" followed by a 90 for its final score.

and so there you have it. the purple princess, down on the ropes early on and fearing for her life got up, picked up her whuppin' stick and begun to go to work, beatin' down the hache with weapon after weapon until the hache was left standing speechless in the end, with only a hammer and one nail in hand. maybe it may be more appropriate to say that the purple princess built something big and beautiful out of what looked at first like noah's ark in the desert; whereas the hache drove up in a porsche that was fast and sleek on the straighaways but didn't quite have the world class suspension to handle the curves of the princess. not enough tools in the toolbox. to keep the car metaphor alive, there was the princess with all those curves and the hache didn't have the brakes.

big time hats off to novo for such a stunningly beautiful coffee in the hache. it would be easy to presume that because the princess took top honors that the hache was not a worthy opponent. in this case that is nowhere close to the reality. perhaps any other coffee and you would have been triumphant, hache. and thumbs up to our winner, counter culture's el puente, the purple princess. i guess it's true that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

until next time...keep on cuppin' and keep reachin' for the stars. er, right.

all star lineup

let me list, off the top of my head, the lineup of coffees present at the event. my hope is to give at least a passing review in the days to come of all the coffees i tasted--which was most that where there--so that you'll feel jealous of me somehow and think better of me as a coffee dude. or something.

in no particular order (except by company) and by no means do i claim to remember them all:

counter culture coffee:
espresso toscana
espresso aficianado
espresso forte
espresso aida (nick cho's el sal blend of competition espresso)
el salvador santa ana, finca mauritania
kenya gaaki co-op auction lot #....? (can't remember)
honduras la paz, el puente ('the purple princess')

cuvee coffee:
panama (unnamed region, co-op, etc.)
el salvador, finca san joaquin

paradise coffee roasters:
sumatra lake tawar
aged sumatra

ecco cafe: brazil coe espresso

stumptown coffee:
guatemala el injerto maragogype
ethiopia wild forest limu
nicaragua finca el cipres
sumatra lake tawar

novo coffee:
ethiopia hache
sumatra lake tawar
panama bambito estate
ethiopia wild forest tega
tawar rouge espresso

kenya mamuto, kirinyaga (top two faves at the event)
ethiopia yrgacheffe

and some of my brown:
ethiopia organic dp sidamo (total rock star, esp via the clover)
guatemala huehuetenango, finca vista hermosa
java pancoer
costa rica tres rios, aguas claras
kenya aa tembo
ethiopia harar
brazil cerrado (espresso)

just think about that for a second. if you're familiar with these coffees, you know how mind-numbingly good they all are. if you're not, the company names alone are enough of a who's who among u.s. roasters to make you giddy. and everyone delivered fabulously. i have a lot of big thank you's to get to...

which means...gotta run

not a full review

i'm not going to give the full-on review here without pics. i will in a day or so. suffice it to say now that this was one of the most fun coffee events i have ever participated in. everything went smoothly, generally according to plan, and only one small group of participants were mistreated because of my poor sense of distance judgment...they must've walked a mile each way to lunch.

i'm only beginning to fathom the depth of the greatness of the coffees that were present at the event. after everyone took home what they wanted there was still a stunning lineup of 'lefties' for me to play with this week. i'm rebagging everything into resealable bags to try to keep the freshness flame burning as long as i can. time. running. out. must. get. to. all. coffees. quickly!

look for full review and pics very soon.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

super rad fun

sorry the updates have been slim pickin's lately. been really busy tying up loose ends here for the texas barista jam i'm coordinating. i'm really pumped about it now that we come into the beginning of the end and just before we get into the last minute stuff.

i am really pleased to know that counter culture coffee will be so generous as to donate some of their killer selection of coffees, along with novo coffee (hope we can get some of that wild forest stuff they rave about!) and a small selection of coffees i've ordered just for the event to run through the clover. i feel as though this event will really benefit ME. everyone else is welcome to come along for my event.

of course, that's not exactly how it'll be. there are some great workshops and presentations lined up and i know everyone in attendance will get lots of good stuff out of it. but it is really cool to know that this was a jam i set up (with great help and plenty of donations such as the ones listed above) and i built it the way i wanted.

building this event made me remember how much i enjoy putting together big events such as this. events like i used to do when i was working with middle school and high school students back in philadelphia. fun events. events that when it was all over you said, "that was a ton of hard work...and it was super rad fun."

anyways, can't wait.