Saturday, December 30, 2006

late rip

found this over at arizona coffee and figured, hey, why not rip this and toss it up on my own blog?not sure i'd head down to the depths of 'triple shotgun murder.' perhaps a bit of british understatement might do it a touch better: 'things here are a mite sticky.' indeed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

aeropress redux

so i've been saying for some time now that i have an alternate brewing method for the alternate brewing method that is the aerobie aeropress. suffice it to say that while i have been brewing and drinking a lot of coffee lately--most of it from the likes of the aeropress--i do not have any huge revelations to share, no great knowledge to drop on any of you that you probably haven't already thought of.

that said, i do think i have an alternate version of brewing that is at least as worthy of consideration as the version that has been getting a bit of attention lately: the version where the brewer buys or makes a sort of felt filter in lieu of the plastic (and metal) stock one and brews the aeropress coffee upside down.

when i first heard of and then tried that method i realized that, while perhaps it might yield a nominally better cup, it was not worth the extra hassle, mess and spillage that almost invariably occured each time it was used in this manner. and while it's true that most of us who own one of these gadgets rarely uses it to specs, brewing upside down is one of the more radical methods of use.

as mentioned above, my method will not produce a mind-blowingly different/better result than the specs will. although it has produced, in my opinion and in the opinion of a few others i have introduced it to in blind taste tests, a distinguishably noticeable difference in taste with a mere modicum of modification to one's regular method of madness.

the long and short of my methodology focuses on three tenets: using less coffee/more water; pressing water through the grounds in two distinct stages; and stirring and emptying attentively. my assumption is also that the desired drinking quantity is somewhere in the six to eight fluid ounces of final product. anything else with the aeropress is, in my opinion, for what you're going for, something bordering on too much of a good thing. (don't shoot...after all, you wouldn't want a 16 ounce "espresso," a twenty ounce cappuccino or a 32 ounce coffee big gulp, would you? everything in its right place, as radiohead would say.)

back to the stuff. first, the ratios. unlike a traditional espresso, the aeropress is not pure in its prep methodology. i won't get into all that, as it has been said better and more completely by others elsewhere. but, unlike some who dismiss it as an unworthy subject for study because it basically opens the door to the bastardization of espresso, i firmly believe it is worthy of acceptance as a brewing method on the twin grounds that a) it follows all the general parameters required for good extraction of good coffee--it relies on fresh, high quality, properly and freshly ground coffee; clean water; a consistent temp; and rewards consistency in stirring; and b) if these parameters are followed closely it opens new avenues to allow the coffee to express itself and its characteristics. in other words, just as espresso itself may have been initially regarded as the bastardization of coffee, or coffee heresy back at its onset, additional expression of coffee such the aeropress can do the same in our time.

okay already, enough dribble. the method, please, you say. and so on with the show.

we were talking about ratios and i was saying that as a genuine brewing alternative the ratio of coffee to water must be understood and more or less universally accepted just as it is for drip coffee or other methods. the coffee "recipe" for the aeropress is crucial. and, as the generally accepted recipe for brewing coffee is two tablespoons coffee per six fluid ounces water, steeped for approximately four minutes, i would like to submit that after much deliberation i prefer one full "serving" of ground coffee--where the coffee just touches the top of the "1" circle and enough hot water (more on temp below) to get to the very top of the "4" circle. this is in violation of the aeropress doctrine that the numbers should correspond. but frankly, if one is trying to line up numbers for any amount more than "2" one runs the very real risk of overflowing the container if the coffee is fresh and blooms over. besides, as my method proposes below, we will neither be using all the water in one motion, nor will we be necessarily adding water post press from an external source. more on that in a second.

first, a subnote on water temp. aeropress says to use water that is in the 170F range for best flavor expressions of the coffee. this is tripe and accounts, in my opinion, for the "dullness" some contend aeropressed coffees present. in my experience with the aeropress, regularly temped water (i.e., 195-205F) is just fine.

second, a quick subnote on running more water through the grounds versus adding it post brew, or even adding coffee into pre-poured hot water in the cup. unlike an americano, where the strength of the properly pulled espresso is nearly guaranteed to shine through the addition of external water (either pre or post extraction), the human hand vacuum created by the aeropress is not sufficient to force enough emulsification through the grounds and thus depends critically on running all the water through the grounds, and, specifically, in two separate phases, as i'll explain now.

in traditional espresso, the high water temp, fine grind of the coffee and the incredible pressure brought to bear on it emulsifies the oils in the coffee and bleeds that through a portafilter and into the coffee receptacle. in the aeropress the "emulsification" process is the stir stick and the method of vacuuming water through the coffee in two stages. as is mentioned in the upside down brewing descriptor page, the main problem with the aeropress method is that the "emulsified" oils from the coffee cannot physically be forced all the way through the puck because of the limited strength of the presser and the vacuum created in the aeropress chamber. the solution posited by the upside down brew method is that by inverting the puck at the right time you basically allow more of those oils--the essence of the flavor characteristics of the coffee--to reach the receptacle. aside from timing and messiness issues, this makes a lot of sense. but instead of messing with messy inversions that need to be timed just so, why not simply add water and stir in two stages? like so...

first, add coffee (i like to use a grind finer that for auto drip but not as fine as i use for a hario pour over and certainly not as fine as for espresso) to the top of the "1" into the press chamber. add hot water to the water chamber to the very top of the "4." now, with your aeropress positioned over your receptacle, add about half the water to the grounds, leaving water to right about the top of the number "2" (not the top of the "2" oval). using the stirring element--or any stirring element, really--poke the water through to evenly saturate the grounds, then stir thoroughly until the "crema" colored foam has fully developed on top. when you remove your stirring device the grounds should slide off easily. if too much is still on the stirrer, you should be adding a touch more water to the brew in the first place. just a little tap to the stirrer and the water/coffee should mostly clear itself off into the brew. now, s-l-o-w-l-y and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y move your vacuum top, half the water still in it--into position over the brew chamber and s-l-o-w-l-y and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y press the vacuum down until you've reached the point where the chamber begins to "hiss" and most of the water has readily vacated the premises an into the cup. this is generally at about the top-pish of the number "2," give or take a centimeter. if you look at the puck, though, it still has tiny water/air bubbles in it that have not been forced through. do not keep pressing down. instead, very slowly and very carefully begin to weedle the water vacuum part back up and out of the brew chamber. i prefer to either twist and pull up or the to a sort of 90 degree twist and 90 degree retwist as i pull upward again and off. it cannot be stressed enough the importance of doing this pull up carefully because of the paper filter's propensity to curl up on an end from time to time under such conditions, resulting in grounds in the cup. not a good thing.

anyways, once the water portion has been released, add the remaining water to the not-quite-puck and, as before, stir very thoroughly to achieve as much as a crema foam as you did initially. this answers the inversion method's dilemma and need to brew upside down to get all the oils into the cup. by adding more water and now stirring those oils through the grounds you achieve a much greater scenario for the oils to make it down into the cup than if you simply brew and push in one motion. as mentioned above, the difference is noticeable, but not mind-blowing.

also as mentioned above, there is also the final step of "emptying" the rest of the coffee into the cup. this is basically a series of small pushes onto the puck to force the remaining water/oils into the black filter area; but it also includes lifting, tipping and releasing that coffee into the cup again and again to get the remaining good stuff in there. generally, after my second infusion of water i will press down completely and with all the strength i can muster, then lift the entire aeropress up at about a 45 degree angle, with the device pointing, say, to the "north" of the cup, which releases coffee drops into the cup. i'll then replace the aeropress over the cup and press again firmly, repeating my 45 degree lift, only this time lifting to the "south;" then again to the "east;" and yet again to the "west," and so forth, until no more drips readily come out into the cup. in this manner one is able to fully extract as much from the coffee and the device as possible to achieve a more favorable (flavorable?) experience.

an acceptable variation on this method is to follow all the steps outlined above, but during the second pour, refill the water chamber back up with more water--back up the top of the "4" if you want--and pour all of that through. this allows you to add volume and still extract it through the grounds as opposed to the external post add.

try it for a week or so to get it down. leave your comments here on what you found/did not find.

i should also say here that the aeropress pic comes from j. vaclav of paradigm photography, austin texas. if you're looking for a great photographer with a great eye and a very cool philosophy/approach to photography, check him out in this link to some of his blog pics he's posted of our recent texas barista jam, among other things. he'll do you right.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

brown interview

some of you who've been reading these blog pages for a bit know that i have been doing occassional email interviews with folks i think are all that. a new year's resolution from me is to get back to that with vigor. i've got some ideas already on next people. hey, maybe i'll interview someone who thinks blogs such as this one are too esoteric and full of b.s. okay, maybe not.

but anyways, in the meantime, someone has interviewed me and i thought you may be interested in watching me have the tables turned on myself a bit. jeremy is a friend of mine from church who has gulped up tons of brown coffee with his wife at church and in their home. (yes, our church drinks brown coffee from press pots.)

besides the diversion into my interview, jeremy's relatively new blog is a good read. he's a good writer with a quick wit and some interesting takes on some of life's smaller details many others might quickly overlook.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

have an enjoyable winter solstice around your holiday tree

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! yes, i said, MERRY CHRISTMAS, not "happy holidays." this is christmas, after all, not just a generic holiday. if you celebrate chanukkah, then HAPPY CHANUKKAH. if you celebrate kwaanza, then HAPPY KWAANZA.

my point being, christmas (as are all of them) is a distinct holiday that has its own history and traditions and i'll not water it down because someone is queasy about their relationship vis a vis Jesus, God, heaven, etc. it started as a christian holiday and still is, identity stealing p.c. secularists notwithstanding.

so anyways, MERRY CHRISTMAS...HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESUS! thanks, everyone, for reading this blog and for your kind support over the year. here's to a great 2007 and beyond.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


yeah! we made it. so wouldn't you know it that the very first issue me and brown are going to be on display in barista magazine, it would be christmas season and the mail would be running a week or so late.

this blog (and the company behind it) is a sentimental sort of operation. while we're no limelight hounds, we get excited when we have the opportunity to strut our stuff on the big stage. so i was really pleased when the opportunity came knocking to do a quick write up on our recent barista jam.

ah, the joys of being a blogger who has no idea what he's talking about. i guess i'm one of the ones who raises the ire of those who rule opinion in the industry by virture of their ability to carry a microphone and recording equipment. (and even if not, i include myself in there because i'm precocious that way.) yep, i have no idea what i'm doing. i'm just plodding along blindly and dumbly, hoping to back into my lucky break by--God forbid!--being published in b-mag, which, of course, only encourages me to continue doing what i'm doing. "can't shut down the business now, honey; we're in barista magazine this month!" (because as we all know, posting esoteric blogposts and getting printed in barista magazine = money, recognition and validation. "sarah, where's my fat check?!?") i'm sure it has nothing to do with the concept of being bold/stupid enough to try/say just about anything in the attempt to learn, be taught, push the envelope in any direction, proffer slightly touchy or controversial opinions, poke, prod and the like. it's all done for the sake of the coffee, not for the sake of ourselves. go, jaime! long live barismo!

the hypocrisy is just overflowing with irony. and i love irony. that stuff needs to be called out because it's diametrically counter to everything most of us love about this industry. especially if you haven't met most or even any of the people you're publicly downing. massively immature and quite a shallow, "we four and no more" viewpoint. perhaps just stop reading and you won't have to be pestered by our unwillingness to go away and stop being so meddlesome into the private party that is the specialty coffee industry.

i guess i, like many of the other blogs in question, didn't receive the memo that there are only a few spaces at the table, reserved for elite members of the community who go to all the conferences and shake the right hands. i suppose the only two options for an outpost of a blog such as this one is to either celebrate the little victories we can get--the proverbial crumbs off the table of the big dogs--with every piece of tiny recognition we can get; or shutter our doors and call it a great experience and move on to something else.

upset, am i? not in the least...not anymore, anyways. now i just sort of roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all--of a medium-sized fish calling the minnows a tedium. "can't be bothered by aspiration. i've already arrived. there can't be anything else to learn and study and ponder and discuss."

get over yourself. i invite you to apologize, reconsider, rephrase, recant, or remove your comments. they are surely not what we (thought we) knew about you.

as for us, here we come. get used to us. ain't going nowhere.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

frozen chosen

it was seventh grade during a physical education class. a friend and i were walking the track on a hot spring morning in texas, discussing some of the pros and cons of hot weather versus cold. my friend, a 'yankee' from upstate new york, opined that he liked cold weather much better than hot because with cold weather, said he, you could always keep piling on more and more layers. but in hot weather, "once you get down to the skin there's not much else you can do." (yes, i still remember those words all these years later.)

i work through those types of deductions sometimes in my own head regarding the state of excellence in coffee and how i can continue to improve in this area or with that process. some areas i've found a good groove: turnaround time for orders placed is very regularly less than 12 hours from order placed to order roasted. often, local deliveries get my sermon on overfreshness--i have to put the brakes on them and remind them that they need to wait a day before enjoying this two hour old coffee.

with the idea of overfreshness in mind i recall that conversation from so many years ago and conclude that there's not much more that can be done on the roasting side of the equation that will get the freshest possible coffee into the hands of my customers. so what other areas can i add "layers" and continue to improve?

it goes without saying that buying quality greens will produce quality browns, all other factors in play being carefully kept in line, such as the basic ticker below:

--storage: temp and temp swings, humidity, packaging, dust, rodent activity, exposure to ultraviolet light, etc.

--transportation considerations: what has happened to those carefully processed coffees in the interim from the mill to your warehouse? on the export dock? on the ship? the import dock? the importer's warehouse? in his delivery truck?

--roasting: the roasting itself can, of course, ruin all the other well-executed steps. as i've mentioned previously, a great discussion is unfolding over at barismo in the comments section of jaime's review of my guatemala finca vista hermosa. (i'm getting my butt handed to me by the pros, is what's happening.)

with those few areas there are worlds upons worlds where quality can be introduced, gained and improved upon.

this post is a call for discussion on storage, and in particular, on freezing as means of preserving peak ripeness. i've heard discussions of it here and there and know that some groups have been doing serious experimentation and implementation for a couple years now (i'd love to read some scientific type results...ahem!).

some parameter questions i've cooked up:

--does water in greens help/hurt the composition when frozen? ice crystals? does the water act as a sort of stabilizer?

--someone i recently read about was deep freezing freshly roasted. huh? benefits/drawbacks of that versus green?

--flash freeze?

--thaw parameters? in bag? how quickly? bean surface moisture/condensation in the thaw? how long before it's roaster ready?

--how do you determine the "peak" at which to freeze? can you, for instance, buy an early new crop, cup it out over a month or two until it "matures" into peak ripeness and then freeze? do you have to wait 'til mid crop ripeness and buy those beans and freeze immediately? can you make any money doing that, because surely then you'd be taking a bunch of extra steps and expense to get it from its grown country to your storage space?

--what is the best material for storage bags? mylar? food grade plastic? doesn't the composition of most materials break down/impart their composition to the beans after a while?

--40F below? i've heard of that. who has that much storage space at that constant temp? don't you stand to create an exhorbitantly huge environmental footprint just keeping that much space cold? how many smallish roasteries have access to that kind of space?

--fridge freezing: others say temps at something more like 0 degrees F will do. is there any consensus? what are the arguments for each?

--will freezing help even the score between super high grown beans and lower altitude beans? since it's generally accepted that density helps preserve flavor better/longer, couldn't freezing help level the playing field and potentially open even more doors for discovering great coffees that are grown lower?

--vacuum: do you vacuum pack bags? create a "near vacuum"? are one-way valves a no-no at such temps?

...and so forth. i'm expecting some good comments here, so bring 'em on. let's keep pushing the envelope. if these questions have been answered by someone, please hopefully we can see some printed materials somewhere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

great discussion

...doesn't only happen here on this blog (just so you know). i want to point you to barismo, a site run by a small consortium of fellows whose opinions i think more people need to hear. there is currently a very interesting discussion unfolding in the comments section for the post jaime put up after reviewing my treatment of my guatemala finca vista hermosa.

the discussion centers around coaxing out lighter roasts for the purposes of better character clarity.

i love the input already put in there and maybe you'll enjoy reading it and contributing to the discussion as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

a quick toot

have to give a shout out of thanks to jaime van schyndel of barismo for his kind words in a recent review of my guatemala finca vista hermosa. it's nice to get a little kudos once in a while, especially from someone whose opinion you respect.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

eating the whole thing

from time to time i come across a coffee site on the interweb that so intrigues me i spend hours soaking up all that it has to offer. yesterday i fell across this site while looking up something similar for my friend edwin.

i realize this is a commercial for guatemalan specialty coffee. but what a beautifully appointed commercial, rich with detail, and pleasantly detailed info about the country's major growing regions, down to the local roads and specific farms. before he had pulled up the site i was able to tell him the four closest farms surrounding his own farm. then he got online and we worked through the site together. it was a fascinating conversation we were having on the phone as we both perused the site on our own terminals several states away.
of course, it helps that edwin was born and reared in guatemala and he was able to add lots of great side/back info into the pics and diagrams on the site, even down to the stories behind the different hat and blouse designs of the people in the pics.

UPDATE: remember that if you're interested in visiting edwin's family's coffee plantation there are still some spots available. leave a comment here if you want more info or email me at browncoffeeco AT gmail DOT com.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

some cupping permutations

how i set up my stuff.