Posted in Coffee Cupping on April 11, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

When we receive a new coffee it has an ID number.  In the case of this particular Burundi it was 2152.  Before I go about tasting a coffee I don’t want to know too much about it.  If it’s a farm that I’ve dealt with before then I might start formulating flavors in my mind that aren’t actually present in the cup.  Now, this isn’t the case with this particular coffee, and it was an impossibility that it could have been the case because of my limited exposure to Burundi coffees in the past, but still I thought I would shed light on how unfamiliar we are with a coffee when it’s first given to us as a sample.

So, to get back to the point, this coffee was tagged as Burundi 2152.  After I tasted it I logged onto the importer’s site and read up on the farm and washing station so I could become a little more informed about the coffee before posting my findings here.

Burundi Kayanza Yandaro Bourbon
Bourbons are usually a very buttery, smooth coffee and this one was no exception.

About the farm:
The Yandaro washing station is located in Northern Burundi, near Kayanza on the border of the Kibira National Park.

"Le ville de Kayanza" photo by Irakoze

The farm is located west of the other Burundi I tried this morning.  Just like the other coffee the farms carry an average altitude of 1750 meters and smallholder farms bring their coffee to the washing station.

In the cup:
The coffee wasn’t as dynamic as the Mwurire for me.  Lots of the same characteristics and qualities, and if I broke down the description into flavor terms it would almsot mirror the Mwurire, but everything just wasn’t as pronounced.  It was a little bit more buttery, but that was about it.  The finish was pretty non-existent.

Final Stats:
Aroma: 7.1
Flavor: 6.9
Acidity: 7.2
Body: 7.0
Finish: 6.8
Total: 85

More later.



Burundi 4-1-1

Posted in Coffee Cupping on April 11, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

Technically it’s just that today is 4/11, but you know… catchy titles are where it’s at.

Burundi Kirimiro Mwurire Bourbon
In the Cup:
Trail mix.  Yup.  To give a little more detail, we make a trail mix that has dark cocoa chips, sunflower seeds and raisins and this totally reminds me of that.  It’s winey from start to finish.  You grind the beans and it’s red wine.  You add hot water and it’s red wine.  You break into the grounds and start tasting and it’s red wine.  It caught more and more chocolate as it cooled off, which is where it started reminding me more of that trail mix we make.  Also as it cooled, the “grape” part started becoming sweeter and sweeter, which is where it started turning toward sweet tomato sauce for me again.  There was a little flash of blueberry for just a second.  Only caught it once, but it was pronounced enough that it stuck with me.  The finish was clean and simple.  The flavors present in the cup lingered for about 20 seconds and then faded gently.  It was a really pleasant cup.  We have it at a couple different roast levels, the level that I tried today was extremely light. We brought it out of first crack and dropped the beans.

Final Stats:
Aroma: 7.3
Flavor: 7.2
Acidity: 7.4
Body: 7.8
Finish: 7.5
Total: 87.5

Losing a couple points from 1 hour past roast until 12 or so hours after roast is pretty normal.  Right out of the roaster everything is very vivid.  The coffee is really bright and dynamic.  Then those flavors kind of go away for a few days before reappearing in the realm of 72 hours after roast.  We’ll really get a feel for this coffee on probably Tuesday or Wednesday.


Testing 1,2,3

Posted in 1 on April 11, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

So many different taste tests today.  Saturdays tend to be like that, however.  The slower weekends allow for more experimentation and cupping than usual.  Today it just so happens that we also have a ton of new cocoa ingredients because we are working on reformatting our chocolate for the cafes.  So today the tasting went beyond coffee, although there was still plenty of coffee.

We are currently trying to figure out the best combination of high-end and not so high-end cocoas to use for our chocolate.  Sure if we could we would run with Bernard Callebaut at 100%, but our mochas would also probably cost about $5 for a 12oz, which some might be willing to pay, but then we also turn into “that” shop, and I enjoy not having to wear a suit to work, thank you very much.

So we purchased some different cocoas and tried them out.  Scharffen Berger, Ghirardelli, and plain-ole Costco bulk.

Now, I can’t do a full break down of everything flavor related because I haven’t developed a palate for tasting chocolate the same way I have for tasting coffee.  What I can tell you is that Ghirardelli tastes like crap.  I never would have thought so, but break it down into a straight cocoa sauce (cocoa and water) and it tastes like you are swishing a role of dimes around in your mouth.  Absolutely disgusting.  In the coffee realm we would describe these flavors as medicinal and metallic.  You get the picture for sure.  It’s like when someone tries to fake cherry.  It tastes nothing like cherry and just gets way too sweet.  There’s always something a little off, whether or not you can put your finger on exactly what it is, you know something is off.  That’s exactly what happened with Ghirardelli for me.  On the other hand, the uber-bulk Costco was actually leaps and bounds better than Ghirardelli.  Both cocoas were a little gritty, but the Costco had no off flavors like the Ghirardelli.  And at something like 1/3 the cost of Ghirardelli, I’ll take the one that doesn’t taste like crap, thanks.  The Scharffen Berger was about 100% better than the Costco, but that was to be expected.  The cocoa is something like $12.50/lb when you buy it in super bulk, not cheap at all.  However, also not gritty at all, no off flavors, just super smooth, dark, rich, velvety, “full” flavor.  The true taste test will come later when we compare the Bernard Callebaut to the Scharffen Berger to see which is the high end that we carry (although, I suppose we could end up going with both).  We’ll move forward with adjusting the ratios once we have a better handle on what all of the raw ingredients have to offer (or in the case of Ghirardelli, how catastrophic their nuclear mouth blast zone is… seriously, it took a lot of water to get that taste out of my mouth).  More to come on the chocolate side of things in the coming days.

The coffee.
More of the same, but also some new ones.  I revisited the two Ethiopians I tasted the other day to see how they had developed on a couple of days of rest.  The results were quite positive!  I also ran Burundi coffee past my taste buds for the first time in my life and was happy enough with it that I’m going to keep trying it throughout the week.  I’ll start with the Ethiopians I gave you a preview of the other day.

Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Koke Co-op:
Final Stats:
Dry Fragrance: 4.1
Aroma: 4.2
Acidity: 9.1
Body: 8.9
Flavor: 8.9
Finish: 8.9
(add 50)
Total: 94.1!

In the cup:
A couple more days rest on this coffee made it quite impressive.  It gained a ton of sweetness and balance.  The flavors have really come forward.  There are more flavors and each of the flavors are more pronounced and easily detectable.  Maybe I’m just having a “good palate” day… who knows.  The citrus note that I was tasting before isn’t really as present anymore, but has been replaced by an extremely pronounced blackberry flavor.  It reminded me of a blackberry Izze soda, if that resonates for anyone.  The little citrus that I did catch today was more like Ugli fruit, if anyone has tried that.  Think a mixture of tangerine and grapefruit and you’ll get an idea.  Really sweet, though.  Fantastic cup.  If we can scrounge the money together we are going to try to snag up like 60 pounds, not sure if it’s possible yet.

Ethiopian Sidamo Guji Shakisso, Maduro, Haile Gebre
Final Stats:
Dry Fragrance: 4.3
Wet Aroma: 4.4
Acidity: 8.9
Body: 8.9
Flavor: 9.2
Finish: 9.1
Total: Ninety Four Point friggin Eight!

In the cup:
I score coffees low.  Truly I usually do.  For me to give a 90 takes a lot and the difference between a 90 and a 93 for me is like the difference between a $3 bottle of beer and a $7 bottle of beer- i.e. those $4 go a long way, and so do those 3 little points.  So for me to give a coffee a 94.8 is saying something.

I haven’t tasted this much blueberry in a coffee in 3 years.  It isn’t like it is fermenty or anything, far from it.  The blueberry taste is so fresh and pleasant, it’s amazing.  Blueberry on the nose, blueberry when it’s hot, and blueberry as it cools.  Floral aspects are laced all throughout the cup, but today they reminded me much more of rose than of the lilac and honeysuckle I was getting the other day.  Truly an exceptional coffee.  I could go on all day about how much I enjoyed this coffee and how glad I was that I decided to taste it first thing this morning.  It really put me in a good mood all morning and afternoon long.

Burundi Kirimiro Mwurire Bourbon
Like I stated earlier, I’ve never tried coffee from Burundi before.  Not sure why, they produce some awesome coffees and I’ve known this for a while, just never gotten my hands on any.

I used a different scoring system for this coffee, and I think I like the system a lot.  The new categories for grading are all based on a scale of 1-10, with the different categories being aroma, flavor, acidity, body and finish.  There is an additional “Cupper’s Correction” category, but I rarely award bonus points to a coffee.  At the end you add 50, just like in the other system.

About the farm (what I’ve gathered by scouring different internet sources):
This coffee comes from the Mwurire washing station, located in Kirimiro, which is in central Burundi.  The farms have an elevation of approximately 1785 meters.  Different smallholder farmers bring their coffees to the Mwurire mill.  The coffee is of the Bourbon varietal, but has different Bourbon derivatives (among them Jackson and Mibirizi).  The coffee is fully washed, undergoing double fermentation (18 hours dry, 18 hours wet, then 12 hours soaking) before being dried for 5 days on raised (“African”) beds under shade screens.

In the cup:
The enticing aroma had me hooked early.  It wasn’t really complicated, but that almost made it more complicated.  I realize that makes no sense, but I often go “hunting” when I’m tasting a coffee.  I try to seek out an outlying flavor or attribute, and in the aroma I couldn’t.  It was clean, fruited and a little floral.  I guess I could summarize it as being a little like a merlot.  The flavor had me even more hooked.  Extremely sweet (I know I’ve been tagging a lot of coffees as sweet earlier, but if you were tasting them, you’d agree).  It was rather complex, berryish and winey, but also a little toasty with glances at some sort of sweet roma tomato sauce or something.  Quite interesting.  The acidity was brisk, with continued sweetness and mirrored the winey attributes of earlier (think dry red).  It had a pleasing medium body, or mouthfeel, something like what a 2% milk would give you over a skim milk.  The finish was very long and lingering, still giving weight to the winey flavors (so I suppose overall you’d be stupid not to say this coffee was very winey).

Final Stats:
Aroma: 7.3
Flavor: 8.0
Acidity: 8.1
Body: 7.1
Finish: 7.8
Correction: +0
Total: 88.3

The Burundi was only 1 hour old when I cupped it, so it should do a lot of changing over the next 6 days or so of tasting it.  I’ll post my findings.

Busy, fun day.


“My Coffee is Called WHAT?!”

Posted in Coffee/Espresso on April 8, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

One thing that I encounter a lot when I try to introduce someone to a coffee is a defensive wall as soon as I say the coffee’s name.

It’s frustrating.

“09 Guatemala Huehuetenango Finca El Injerto Bourbon.”
And there goes the defense mechanism.  That’s all it takes.  After I say Guatemala they turn off.


If you walked into a winery and your sommelier told you they had an awesome new wine, you’d hope they were able to tell you more than, “Well it’s a Californian.”  Color?  No mention of the type of grape?  Valley?  Farm?  Harvest?  Flavor attributes?

Why is coffee so different?

A bag of coffee isn’t like a box of cereal.  It isn’t always the same year after year.  A Mexican from us isn’t going to be the same as a Mexican from someone else.  Not only that, but our Mexican Chiapas isn’t going to taste the same as our Mexican Oaxaca.  Not only that, but our Mexican Chiapas Bourbon isn’t going to taste the same as our Mexican Chiapas Catuai.

What’n the heck is a Chiapas?  Don’t go gettin’ all city on me, boy.  This’n just coffee af’r all.

Sure.  And reaching for the Folgers over the Farm Gate is just saying that you don’t care about the life of a kid, that’s all.  It’s just a caffeine delivery service right?  But there I go gettin’ all city on you all over again and that’s a different article for a different time.

You’re supposed to be confused originally.  It’s new.  You haven’t dug in yet.  It’s fine.  It’s normal.  But why go through life putting something in your body every single day and not know where it came from?

Chiapas is a state.  The same way Washington is state.  The same way Oregon is a state, the same way Michigan is a state.  Can you even imagine how strange Mississippi must look to someone from Kenya?

Run with that analogy for a moment:
International Checkers Hall-of Fame, Pelahatchie, Mississippi, United States.
Think that makes any sense to someone in Papua New Guinea?  Or do you think they glaze over everything except for the last two words?

Get curious.  Get involved.  If you just drink “regular” you probably spend about $1000 on coffee a year (if you don’t go all crazy about it like me, otherwise it’s a scary amount more).  And you’ll probably drink coffee for 50 years of your life.  If I’m spending $50,000 on something I want to know about it, that’s just me.

I’m not saying everyone has to scour the internet for 6 hours a day reading up on different coffee offerings, their farms and farmers like me.  I’m an extreme example, I realize that.  All I’m saying is that the next time you look at the name of a coffee and it reads like a novel, ask the person what the heck everything means.  Chances are they’ll know exactly what everything means.  You’ll feel a lot closer to the fingers that toil over picking only the ripest cherries.  The backs that are broken from carrying hundreds of pounds of coffee down dusty roads to the mill.  The eyes that are sore and strained from staring at the line, meticulously scouring for defective beans.

“09 Guatemala Huehuetenango Finca El Injerto Bourbon.”


Cupping Session 4/6

Posted in Coffee Cupping on April 7, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

Today I put two different Ethiopian coffees to the test.

The cupping system that I am most familiar and comfortable with is really, quite basic: fragrance (1-5), aroma (1-5), acidity (1-10), body (1-10), flavor (1-10), and finish (1-10).  At the end of everything you add 50 points to bring it to a score out of 100.

Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Koke Co-op:
I tried this coffee for the first time yesterday and really wasn’t that blown away, but what a change for today!

About the farm (quoting Tom, our importer):

“Yirga Cheffe coffees are a renowned wet-processed type with effervescent brightness in the cup. This past season, buying Yirga Cheffe coffees from specific mills has been difficult, as the new Ethiopia Coffee Exchange rules took effect and the traditional auction was abandoned. The new rules mean that the coffee suppliers will be paid quickly by the exporters, and there will be a new level of transparency in pricing within the country. But it has also meant that, for the time being, we don’t know the exact mill or farmer group where outstanding lots like this originate. Nonetheless, it is not like great Ethiopia lots have disappeared. And in fact we were able to buy coffees direct from the Unions (the name for a farmers’ cooperative) that are traceable to the source. This is from Koke coffee mill (pronounced Ko-Kay), a part of the Yirga Cheffe Coffee Union.”

In the cup:
Tons of floral right up front.  Lots of rose and jasmine on the nose, interlaced with ripe red cherries.  Adding water increased the intensity of these flavors and also brought forward a smooth sweet chocolate scent.  Upon tasting the cup’s acidity hits right away with a nice snap.  The cup is very clean and the flavors very dynamic, but overall is well balanced.  The nuances present in the fragrance and aroma carry straight through into the cup with the addition of some nice citrus tones, especially lime.  There were also hints of tart apple and the slightest bit of a sweet tomato sauce that I found really interesting and quite pleasant.

Final Stats:
Dry Fragrance: 4.2
Wet Aroma: 4.0
Acidity: 9.0
Flavor: 8.9
Body: 8.6
Finish: 8.8
(add 50)
Total: 93.5

Ethiopian Sidamo Guji Shakisso, Haile Gebre
We already knew this coffee was going to be special just because of the extensive amount of work our importer has done with this farm in the past, but wow, it’s really awesome this year.  Not the top Sidamo I have had this year, but definitely in the top 5.

About the farm (again, from Tom):

This is a coffee from a remote area of the Sidamo district, quite far from where most Sidamo coffees originate. In fact, it is mostly known for the large gold mine in the area, and sadly the local tensions between mine workers and farmers becomes open conflict. The area of Shakisso is on the Guji zone, and when I was in Ethiopia in December, the local conflict made travel there unsafe. Nonetheless, we met the farmer who produces this coffee, Haile Gebre, in Yirg Alem, and we were able get a sample to cup some of this new crop Maduro lot, in anticipation of the following harvest. Maduro? This is a dry-process coffee where extra care has been directed toward harvesting only crimson-purple coffee cherries, a deeper red than the picking point for most coffee fruit. Maduro means mature in Spanish, and I am not sure how that name was adopted for and Ethiopia coffee, but that is the one Senor Gebre chose.

In the cup:
Explosive is really the best word I can come up with for this coffee.  There is tons of fruit in the cup, and for me (didn’t seem to hold as true for Tom) tons of floral aspects as well.  More floral on the nose, more fruit on the tongue.  The fragrance brought me fresh spring lilac and also strawberry.  The aroma, again, heightened these attributes, turning the lilac to honeysuckle and adding a pleasing milk chocolate note.  Also, the addition of water started bringing the spice notes to life for me.  Clove and allspice were what really stood out for me, with faint hints of cinnamon in the background.  The flavor brought a quick burst of floral, but quickly fading into sweet, ripe red berries with candy like sweetness.  There was a hazelnut note in the finish that I didn’t expect to find, but that added a really interesting dynamic along with the previously mentioned flavors carrying through to help keep the cup balanced until the end.

Final Stats:
Dry Fragrance: 4.4
Wet Aroma: 4.5
Acidity: 8.9
Body: 8.5
Flavors: 9.1
Finish: 8.9
(add 50)
Total: 94.3 (no kidding…)

I think I’m going to continue cupping these each of the remaining days of the week to see how they develop as they age.


Two Part Commitment

Posted in Coffee/Espresso on April 6, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

I don’t cup enough coffee for what I do.

It really is as simple as that.

I also don’t blog as often as I should.  I come up with great things to write about and then I become lazy, the idea gets pushed to the back burner and then it never becomes anything more than, “Oh yeah, I was just thinking about that the other day.”

However, I also don’t want to overwhelm myself with too much (even though realistically, I could probably do this very easily) so I’m going to take it slow.

A commitment:
I am going to cup 4 coffees a week and blog about what I find.  I’m no cupping expert by any means, so don’t go taking my advice for your purchasing decisions or anything like that, but I’d like to become a better writer and also a better coffee cupper.

This seems like the easiest way to accomplish this.

Tomorrow I will be posting my findings on Ethiopia Sidamo, Shakisso, Guji, Haile Gebre.  We received some other Ethiopia samples this week from CoffeeShrub and I plan to move through those, as well as other origins, over the next two weeks.

This should be fun.


Time to Update Your Profile

Posted in Coffee/Espresso on February 8, 2010 by thatcoffeeguy

Lately, when I think about some of the fancy-pants new machines hitting the market, I feel completely at a loss.  For the first time in a really long time, it seems like- as far as the coffee industry is concerned- technology might be moving faster than we are able to process it.  I don’t mean to say that we fully understand all technologies that have been presented to us over the past couple decades, but if I were to speak honestly, there have been quite a few times where I have gone off on some crazy tangent about how it would be so cool if ______ would happen, or if someone would develop ______.  I mean, just look at the few posts I have in this blog… portafilters and portafilter baskets made of glass?  Grinders with user adjustable graphs that manipulate macro and micro particle sizes?  Really?  But at the same time, I often look at the (lack of) technology advances in grinders and think how painfully far we could still go if we would just apply ourselves, apply our finances and (we as baristas) apply our voices for change.

The Fuji PXR3 controller

The last decade gave us temperature stability and temperature “profiling” as we thought it was.  The introduction of the Fuji PXR3 into temperature PID (proportional, integral, derivative) controlers was, in my opinion one of the more important advances of the past decade.  All of the things that have come since might not have come at all if we hadn’t had the temperature stability provided by these devices.  A giant thank you to Greg Scace and Andy Schecter is in order, I think, as they were both really the “founding faters” on this one.

Because this could be flying over the heads of quite a few individuals that frequent this blog, I’ll back up a little bit.  A PID controler, very simply, works much like a very sensative thermostat.  It is a computer that uses calculus algorithims to respond to temperature  flucuations and variations.  They are being used all over the place now… espresso machines, coffee brewers, hot water towers, even roasters.  I know I have a burning itch to PID my toaster :0)

The temperature stability world  is now something I feel we have dialed in nicely.  Having worked on painfully UNstable machines for a few years I can promise you that the new temperature stability of, give or take, 0.3-0.5 degrees (sometimes even less) is certainly a giant sigh of relief.  It’s an awesome feeling to leave behind thoughts such as “Did I run enough water through before the shot to bring the group up to temperature?  Did I run too much water through?  How much water is the correct amount of water anyway?

Slayer debut at SCAA/WBC 2009

Just as some would say we started to get temperature control under our belts the introduction of pressure profiling gets thrown into the mix.  For the most general of general statements regarding pressure profiling… typically you are pulling a shot of espresso at 9 bars of pressure.  With the introduction of pressure profiling it gives you the opportunity to start at a lower pressure and then slowly build the pressure over the course of the shot and then slowly lower it again.  Or you can give it full pressure from the start and lower later.  Or you could do a slow build to full pressure then cut off all pressure.  The possibilities are somewhat endless on this front.  I can tell you from personal experience that when I stood in front of a Slayer at WBC 2009 in Atlanta I felt completely clueless for the first time in a long time.  I knew that adjusting the pressure was giving me different results in my shots, but I didn’t know why and I didn’t know which adjustments were leading to which result.  Surely if I had spent more than just the hour or so I did in the booth I’m sure things would have come together better under the Slayer crew’s guidance and explanation, but I really felt overwhelmed by possibility.  It was an awesomly horrifying feeling to have everything seem so “beyond” my ability to comprehend.  If that wasn’t enough, last year La Marzocco, the fearless leaders of the espresso machine industry (and I’ll let everyone else argue on that point)  introduced a machine that really leaves me scratching my head.  Labeled at the same WBC event simply as “New La Marzocco Technology Inside” was what we now know as the Strada, a machine that allows us the most play with pressure that we have ever seen.  A paddle on the front of the machine allows the user full control of all things pressure.  On the Slayer a certain pressure “recipe” is created, for example, 3 bars to start, then build to 9, then hold until 25 seconds into the shot, before slowly fading back down to 3 and then totally off.  Where the Strada differs is that it allows you to do, more or less, whatever you want.  Sliding the paddle towards the left builds the pressure higher, to the right relieves the pump’s pressure.  You could, if you wanted, build some crazy pressure profile for a specific coffee where you introduced 2 bars of pressure, then built the pressure to 8 bars, then spiked it to 9 for a second before bringing it back 7, and then spiking it again, then fading to 5, and then 3 and then off… I’ll let your imagination run from there.  The possibilities with this machine are a little beyond most any barista’s comprehension right now, as far as I’m concerned.  I really don’t think there is a barista out there who could walk up to one of these machines and feel totally confident they could tweak the pressure all over the place and be able to predict what the outcome was going to be (and be correct) more than 5 out of 10 times.  The results from a drastic change is pressure is something I can detect, but I’m not sure I could pinpoint the difference between an 8 second ramp of pressure and a 7 second ramp.

So we have this “pressure thing” that we are trying to get our minds wrapped around.  We are starting to understand more and more of it everyday, that is for certain.  Slayers are popping up in artisan cafes all over the place with some of the countries best baristas putting the machine through it’s paces.  We are learning the machine and learning how to best manipulate it to get the best results.

And now the talks surrounding temperature profiling begins.  In other words, being able to fluctuate the temperature during a shot up and down the same way we are currently doing with pressure.  Gaa!  I haven’t the slightest clue what this is going to do for the espresso world in the future, but I’m excited to see, that’s for certain.  Being able to sweeten and soften a shot by raising and lowering temperature during different parts of the extraction is very intriguing to me.  If anyone reading this has a machine that allows this to happen and wants to do some experimenting please contact me.

Temperature stability? Check.
Pressure adjustment during a shot? Check.
Temperature adjustment during a shot? Check?

Technology is in the fast lane, pulling away from us, and it’s about time.