Archive for September, 2009

“Are we there yet?”

Posted in Coffee/Espresso on September 23, 2009 by thatcoffeeguy

I have been involved in coffee for a relatively short period of time, really.  It’s a long period of time for me, but in retrospect, it’s  not much time at all and I still don’t feel I have a substantial footprint in the coffee industry, especially not in comparison to some.

However, in the short time that I have been in the industry I feel like we have covered more ground than in many, many years prior.  Decades, really.

Jet-set back to 1970.  Truthfully, I’m not even born yet, not even thought of for that matter.  In the coffee world there is no such thing as a micro-lot.  No Cup of Excellence.  No barista champions or barista competitions.  There is no such thing as Fair Trade Certified and certainly no Direct Trade.  There is no such thing as a Synesso, no thought to PIDs and pressure profiling and there is no debate about whether we should tap the portafilter with the tamper or not.  If we get really serious about it, there isn’t even a solid specialty coffee market in the US yet.  We are still one year away from Pike’s Place and the birth of green circled Sirens and quite a few years away from that same corporation moving toward commercial coffee vs. specialty coffee.  The life of someone in the coffee industry at this point is vastly misunderstood compared to someone in the industry now.

Back to 2009.  The internet is a breeding ground for debates, information, and (coffee) social networking sites.  Roasters and baristas scream in their Twits and blogs about how unfair it is that they can no longer source specific lots from farms.  We have people vacuum packing their green coffee beans at origin before they are shipped to the roasting facilities in the United States.  You mention La Marzocco and the first thought that comes to a discerning barista’s mind is “paddle group with variable preinfusion.”  You mention Mazzer and the first thought is that of a giant Robur with electronic dosing.  We have (somewhat controversial) tampers that increase the surface area of the espresso with ripples to yield a sweeter shot.  Shops are spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on siphon brewing bars.  Coffee shops are holding public cuppings.  Coffee schools are up and running.  Drip coffee airpot systems are being seen as inferior to methods such as vac pot and manual pour over.  Single origin espresso is hotly debated.

We have come a long way in a short time, so I pose the question:  Are we there yet?

There are certainly things that need to be fine-tuned, technologies that need to be tweaked and methods that need deeper understanding.  But are we there?  Is the finish line in sight?  Is there a finish line at all?  Of course, the obvious answer is no, and it’s the answer that I firmly believe.  But with the answer “No, we aren’t done yet,” the question “What next” obviously follows.  So where are we headed?  What happens next?

I know for the years that I have been deeply involved in coffee, baristas have been kicking, screaming and begging for advancements in grinding technology, and that’s really what this post is about- sorry for the insanely long intro.  We have conical grinders now that are putting out some fantastic coffee.  We have grinders that are more or less half a gram accurate in their electronicly programmed dosing.  A few years ago that term would have caused people to stop and wonder what in the world they were missing out on.  Where does grinding technology go from here?  Do we get water cooled counter-top grinders?  Do cafe grinders get roller-grinder features?Do we get to a point where we get to control some sort of digital graph on the grinder that displays what particles, in a specific micron size, are in what percentage in the grind output?  Is that even something that is necessary?  We all seem to say and advise over and over that grinding, and respectively the grinder, is the most important part of the preparation.  I guess the question I pose is… how do we make it better?  Can we make it better?  Are we there yet?



Grinding, but with less bumping…

Posted in Coffee/Espresso on September 23, 2009 by thatcoffeeguy

It looks as though Mark’s Tamping Science, Theory and Practice article on may actually get some life in terms of parts 2 and 3 after all.

I know when the article first appeared a couple years ago, I was really intrigued.  It was my first exposure to the idea of “not tapping” and my first introduction to the entire debate of “to tap or not to tap.”  For about six months after the article originally appeared I conducted an experiment using a bottomless portafilter to see if I could discover a substantial difference- or any difference for that matter- between a shot that had been “tapped” and a shot that had not been.  The main problems that I discovered with tapped shots were channeling, but this has become common knowledge now.  Tapping can cause the puck to break away from the side of the basket if done incorrectly.  However, when a light tap was present, I really don’t feel that there was any substantial decrease in quality.  More importanlty, though, there was also no substantial increase in quality.  What’s the point of a step in espresso preparation if the results are the same minus that step?  It reminds me of some home baristas I see that have nearly a 2 minute routine of insane dosing, distribution and tamping techniques that usually yield a product exactly the same as that of someone who does a more traditional dose, distribute, level, tamp and pull.
If all of the steps don’t yield a better product, why have the steps?
And this was really the first time my mind was opened up to the idea of exploring what steps were actually necessary in espresso preparation and which were not.  Many personal experiments have followed, usually with results that are quite obvious and that I expected to be quite obvious.  Regardless, it will be interesting to see where Parts 2 and 3 take us, if- after 3 years- they finally take us anywhere at all.

I know this article is now ancient. There really is a part 2 and a part 3 coming.

The problem is (and was) that I was waiting until the CoffeeGeek Tamper Project was finalised before posting the other two articles. The 2nd one is written, the third one is in draft form.

For several years, I’ve been trying to coordinate with Reg Barber to get what I thought was the ideal tamper built – at least what I thought was ideal. Prototypes were made – there’s about 20+ in existence now, and people like Jim Hoffmann, Andy Schecter, Matt Riddle and others have one.

Unfortunately (for this project, not for him), Reg is a very busy person, and we got bogged down in the minutia of the design. I wanted it to be perfect, out the door. There were many frustrations along the way.

Very recently (as in the last three weeks), the tamper project has been kickstarted again. New CAD drawings were done and the piston shape, along with the handle shape (it’s GOTTA be extremely comfortable) have had some final tweaks, including some very minor (but important to me) aesthetic and usability additions. I’m optimistic this tamper will eventually get built, and we’ll have an initial run of 200 to offer (already about 100+ are spoken for – not sure if that’s still the case, but there was some very serious commitments).

I am embarrassed and sorry that this has dragged out for so long, and that Part 2 and Part 3 haven’t seen the light of day here yet. Hopefully that will change soon.


So I suppose we’ll have to see how much longer this takes, but at least the article is again receiving light.


A Humble Start…

Posted in General Off Topic on September 22, 2009 by thatcoffeeguy

Everyone has a blog page these days.  People that have a website will still have a link to their blog page on the website.  It’s the thing to do for sure, and another sure thing is that I am getting into the game far later than everyone else.

So where to begin?  It seems like your first post should be something groundbreaking, earth shattering and overall, something that sets the whole thing in motion from that point forward.  What I realized, however, is that if I try to construct something like this for my first post, I’ll probably never get around to posting something I feel is 100% right.

So, this is post number one.  Painfully boring and uneventful.  It talks about nothing at all, especially not coffee.  I do hope, though, that it acts as a springboard to give me a tiny little start into the blogging community.


Let It Begin

Posted in General Off Topic on September 22, 2009 by thatcoffeeguy

As often as I spend time online looking at other people’s blogs and pouring my heart into the comments that I leave on them, I feel it’s high time I started my own blog.

So here it is, plain and simple.

We’ll see where this goes.