Thursday, November 08, 2007


napolean had his elba. the americans had their anzio. set against that relief, the issues today with big brown probably don't merit me getting all down in the mouth. frustrating, for sure; but nothing to get defeatist about.

now that the big engineering and main fabrication is done all that is left is basically tweaking the tolerances so that our new homemade roaster acts predictably well every time. one area we've been spending a considerable amount of time on this week is the tolerances of the drum vis-a-vis the faceplates. when the faceplates were first installed they fit true to the rotation of the drum with less than 1/10th" gap on either side and on either top or bottom of the rotation. my father in law will tell you that, had he to do it over, he would've first cut the recirculation vents in the faceplates, then welded them to the bases to buttress the drum. doing it in the reverse order of that has caused, as best we can tell, the faceplates to bow ever so slightly as to rub ignominiously and irritatingly with every revolution. and metal on metal--argh!--ranks right up there with fingernails scratched down the chalkboard; or the "shing!" of a silver fork pulled out quickly from clenched teeth; or (perhaps worst of all) the sound of a barista's tamper banging the portafilter between tamps.

for the last two days, my intrepid father in law has been laboring under the assumption that some combination of tension and release between the rods that run from faceplate to faceplate was the answer to the swivel and swerve of the drum. but after no luck with that, this morning he arrived just after second-breakfast with a metal grinder and oversized grinder disk to shave slightly the edges of the drum. i had to roast and run errands for most of the first half of the day, but when i returned, there he was, still frustrated at the lack of progress even after all his maneuvers. add to that the smell of burning metal from the grinding and all was not going well today with our progress toward our larger roaster.

at this point perhaps it was my fresh perspective that must've (luckily, probably) recalled something we were discussing before he and my mother in law departed texas for a month. i suggested that perhaps the problem could be end-ran if we either a) loosened one or both of the bearings at either end of the shaft upon which the drum rotates, or b) loosened the collar on the shaft that resides between the faceplate(s) and the bearing(s) that constricts or frees the drum on the shaft to have some "walking room." after some trial and error down these twin paths we realized we were definitely on something resembling the right track, and with a few bumps of the rubber mallet on the backside pulley right at the shaft's end we were able to eliminate all but a paper thin revolving scrape of the drum on one corner of the front faceplate.

so, hands full of the smell of metal and minds full of the grime of unrealized ideas, we decided that to get to the place where all we had was a tiny shimmy that would either eventually run itself smooth during normal operations once we got up and running or that we could grind down the final infinitesimal extra bit another day was as good-a-progress as we were gonna' see today.

and so we left it.

that was perhaps--let us hope--the last major hurdle in this final set up phase. the rest from here appears to not be reliant upon such exactitudes.

from here? onward to our (still prospective) roasting space several miles away down toward the center of town. we made good progress earlier this week in our negotiations with the landlords and have verbally agreed to press forward exclusively in good faith. i hope one day to blog about carl and grace, the little couple who own that space and who are just the sweetest folk you would ever want to meet. in all honesty, they are a big reason we have decided to continue moving forward in exploring that space as our potential new world headquarters. the other is our desire to help build critical mass in an interesting and eclectic part of san antonio that is beginning to see economic and cultural revitalization. again, more on that stuff in a future blog post, should we close on that space: i'll post a sort of neighborhood primer for your late night blogreading.

enough for now though. thanks to you four who still read faithfully.

more to come.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007


people talk about "fruit" all the time in reference to coffee. roasters and cuppers, especially, are particularly vocal offenders. as a retail coffee consumer it can understandably be daunting and a little bit intimidating hearing such nomenclature. to be sure, every area of study has its jargon but coffee descriptions can seem a touch over the top at times. and i seriously think that to be a good cupper is necessarily precluded by being a good vocabularist. with an alleged estimated 800+ identifiable flavor characteristics in coffees it's no wonder the two skill sets go hand in hand.

i know this because as both a roaster and a webtailer i am forever digging into the recesses of my tastebuds' memories for appropriate descriptor layovers for this new coffee or that. and while the bottom line is that in relation to good, clean fruit, good coffees have it and bad coffees don't, truthfully, there are layers upon layers of flavor complexities that the better coffees out there possess in spades. finding ways to capture lingually the essence of a substance that--quite literally--covers that very lingual muscle is an ever-elusive, ever-rewarding journey.

to that end, it makes imminent sense to your humble blogger that having a deep arsenal of "fruited" vocabulary can only come with an ongoing search for, well, more fruits to taste. real fruits. fruits you've tasted time and again (and can thus pull out when it's time to describe a coffee) and fruits you never knew existed. maybe that's the other layer to this onion of a scenario: maybe the reason a roaster or cupper begins to use the same fruit descriptors repeatedly is because he is only eating the same fruits repeatedly. over time, it becomes a little like the (old) adage that when the only tool you have in the toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

enough philosophizing. i've been buying weird, exotic fruits over the last several weeks with an eye (and a tongue) toward expanding my grasp of "fruit" as a coffee descriptor and refining my understanding of the sugar/sweet components in coffee--or, more appropriately, perhaps, how the brain perceives sweetness in coffee.

having access to a good produce market helps. dried up starfruit and bruised persimmons will never do. that's why--hate to say it, but--a place like austin-based whole foods is so helpful. they've been instrumental in this ad hoc learning journey of mine. not only do they stock a large assortment of traditional fruits, but they also bust out the fruits you've never even thought you've heard of hearing about. and let's not even get started on their extensive line of bulk dried fruits for everything from explosively sweet thompson flame raisins to curious acai and dried goji berries. (can't even begin to describe those. go. taste 'em for yourself.)

you're getting that the syllogism is simple: expand the base of knowledge your tastebuds have around the kinds of sugars that most prominently display themselves in fruits (of which coffee is one) and you'll likely be a more proficient cupper and thus able to identify more readily what is and is not a defect, overripe, etc. the goal is clear. it is to grow and mature as a coffee taster for the sake of unlocking ever more of coffee's myriad secrets. keeping sight of that goal each step will help the careful observer reference and categorize one's learnings into actionable thoughts and processes in the march toward greater coffee knowledge. couple that with a standard tool like the cupper's flavor wheel and you're arming yourself with knowledge at the cupping table that can help you better make those decisions of which coffees (if any) to buy and how best to market them after you buy them. it's both defensive and offensive in that sense. many wholesale dollars are riding on your decisions. many more potential retail dollars hang also in the balance. and between the two of will be able to act with greater confidence as it pertains to sweetness and "fruit" in the cup.

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