Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Being an Artisan: the truth is in the cup

I would like to thank everyone for the overwhelming support I've received regarding my thoughts on “The Ethics of Being an Artisan”. But there's an obvious part of that we have yet to discuss...

Words like “specialty, artisan, craft,” and the oh so popular “third wave” are thrown about too loosely. There is a moment where adopting certain language and terminology advances a specific set of ideals or standards within the industry. But as it is for most industries, once these words are adopted, they have little truth to them beyond carefully crafted marketing.


There are those within the coffee industry with an astounding level of knowledge when it comes to coffee science and specific minutiae in regards to the chemical breakdown during the entire roasting and brewing process. So how does one illustrate and differentiate between the concepts of Theory vs. Practice compared to Practice vs. Execution? Utilizing mellifluous phrases and dropping a bit of scientific jargon sounds impressive – maybe you can conduct seminars, and impress a number of industry folk, but are you an artisan?


Being at the top of your craft is not a statement about experience or knowledge, nor is it an indication of your passion or a reflection of the quality of ingredients you source. It is a statement about execution. Scientific sounding speeches and clever marketing cannot hide poorly executed coffee. What you deliver in the cup tells a story about what you do and what it took you to get there...but it's only the beginning.


Article on LinkedIn


Monday, January 30, 2017

The Ethics of Being an Artisan



I posed the following in an Instagram post, but I will explore it further here.

Fact: Ground coffee begins losing flavors and aromatics immediately after grinding and with every passing second.


So... what's the value of pre-ground coffee? Tick. Tick. Tick.

Let's think about this. If you are an artisan (craft, small-batch, third wave, progressive, high-end, etc.) coffee shop and you sell your coffee for $30 lb, you certainly can't charge the same for pre-ground coffee. [Now, of course this is hypothetical because we all know there aren't any high-end coffee shops that sell pre-ground coffee.]

The value of the pre-ground coffee would decline by the hour, by the minute, by the second. What are we looking at? Thirty hours? Thirty minutes? Thirty seconds until the relative value of that coffee is zero? Remember, the baseline is the whole bean, so you are not comparing it to other coffees, you are comparing it to itself. If you are selling single origin, small farm coffee for the reasons a coffee shop or roaster sells that quality of product, then by all measures, isn't the value approaching zero as soon as the bag lands on the shelf? Even if it were ground on the spot, the relative value would essentially be zero when it reached the customer's home.

It's your job as a seller of artisan goods to educate your customers, it's not on the customer to come to you already educated. Selling high-end ingredients assumes that you are not trying to sell to everyone, but rather you welcome everyone who is looking for something better.


The science is clear. It comes down to words many are afraid to use, and fewer actually embody. Ethics. Principles. Do you have them or not? Once you ask to be recognized as being at a higher standard, you have to operate at - and be held to - a higher standard. And as a practical matter, since everything you are brewing is by the cup, why would you have bulk grinders anyway?

I originally posted this article on LinkedIn 

Monday, January 02, 2017

My Conversations with Coffee

When I started roasting a little more than eleven years ago, I knew that it would take some time for the coffee and me to speak the same language. There were secrets. Lots of secrets. And if I didn't become coffee's friend first, I knew that getting it to reveal its secrets would be difficult. So I took it slow.



I had a conversation with the coffee. We got to know each other, and slowly but surely, the coffee had something to say. The coffee gave me a little insight on how our conversations were going. I paid attention to what the coffee was telling me. And I knew I could improve our relationship by listening carefully, by learning about where the coffee came from, and what made the coffee I spoke with a little bit different. Sure there are similarities between coffees, but learning about what makes each coffee unique is where the best relationships are formed.

And after carefully listening, writing and reflecting upon our conversations together in my journal, I began to understand what the coffee wanted to tell me. I knew a trust had developed and the coffee was ready to share its innermost thoughts. 


Coffee can be brooding and contemplative, it can also be lively and jubilant. Sometimes coffee has a few simple ideas to share, but it's very clear in its statements. Other times, coffee speaks poetically and whispers softly in your waking dreams – playing the part of both devil and angel and telling you about things you never thought possible. And then, it will reveal its soul. These are the mysteries that must be cherished.


Coffee can be your friend. You can't force the coffee to be your friend. You can't bribe the coffee with shiny equipment and expect it to tell you everything. If you treat coffee harshly it will be bitterly disappointed. And if you try to move the relationship too fast, the coffee will laugh at you. But if you treat the coffee with respect, and you take the time to listen to the coffee, then maybe the coffee will share secrets with you too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Espresso Blending: Insights and Innovation


Coffee is roasted. Coffee has an initial “de-gassing” and then coffee is ready to consume. That's the basics in layman's terms.

Here are some thoughts I have been exploring:


Different coffees are ready after a different amount of days, and furthermore, different coffees (in terms of realized flavor extraction) age differently. That being the case, it would make sense to construct your espresso blends to reflect this. So if you have a Sumatran coffee that takes 5 days to degas and a Guatemalan that takes 2 days, and an Ethiopian that takes 1 day, then if you roasted the Sumatra on Sunday, you would roast the Guatemala on Wednesday, and the Ethiopia on Thursday. By doing this, all the coffees are “ready” at the same time.


The second factor would be the longevity of said coffees flavor nuances. Now we know about coffee being good for X days from roasting, but in terms of realized flavor extraction of various beans at different roast profiles there is a window of useability for espresso that may or may not correlate with the specifics we find for brewed coffee. Yes, it may be a plus or minus shift of a day or two, so it is worth considering.


This is not detailed by any means, but it's something to get you to think a little bit. As a practice, it's certainly not a a simplistic one. You need to consider other factors, like: Does the flavor intensify over the useable time, and then drop off like a Dry Processed Ethiopian or does it peak from days 6-10 like a Central American coffee? What about percentages in a blend? How does roast level affect flavor nuance and stability? Then you correlate those factors to the initial degassing time and come up with a new set of variables. This is a simplistic look at some of the little discussed factors involved with maximizing the flavor potential in your espresso, and it is something I would suggest thinking about if you want to improve your craft. 

If you think about these kinds of things when you are roasting and blending, and would like to have a discussion, share your thoughts with me @ caffedbolla AT Yahoo DOT com.

Happy roasting!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Single Origin Espresso: How to create a multidimensional experience



Crafting a great single origin espresso should be approached the same was as you would in creating any other delicious espresso. Separate roasts. Separate profiles. Separate flavors. And then a wonderful espresso.
  

Espresso is not a tiny cup of coffee. It should not feel like a “tiny cup of coffee”when you drink it. Espresso has a density, intensity, and viscosity (mouthfeel). Whether it's floral and light stone fruit or dense chocolate and dark berry, espresso should still have a definite mouthfeel and density. Properly roasted and executed espresso has a density that supports and balances the clarity. Creating density enhances the clarity, it does not take away from it. Espresso that is thin and bright without the proper amount of sweetness and texture is simply an unbalanced espresso. Bracing flavor notes are not progressive, they are merely a sign of an underdeveloped or improperly developed roast.

Every coffee (probably) can be used in espresso, but not every coffee can be used as espresso. Sometimes the flavors developed in a particular coffee are too intense as an espresso. But those same notes will often be a wonderful supporting note or highlight if the proper balance is achieved in a simple two or three bean blend.

Ok. That's all fine and dandy, but how does one properly execute a single origin espresso?



There are a handful of coffees that are amazing out of the gate single origin, single roast espresso. Many of these can be improved by profile layering, but it's really not necessary. That being said, the issues are rarely with the coffee, rather they are a result of poor execution of said coffee as a single origin espresso.

When a coffee has great flavors at City, City+, Full City, and Full City+, why ignore that potential complexity by utilizing a single roast? Multiple layers of flavor and an unmistakeable textural mouthfeel are what makes an espresso come alive.


It's not always about choosing light and medium or light and dark. Sometimes, it is about small differences within a certain darkness (City+ for example) of roast, but differing profiles. One roast might be more nut forward, one more fruit forward, and one more balanced. Not only should you think like a skilled chef or a world-class mixologist and weave layers within layers, you should take the same time to develop your craft as they did to develop theirs.

You can choose simplicity or complexity, but even within simplicity, there are supporting areas of sweet, savory or umami that give dimension to the espresso. To truly understand the flavor potential you need to explore the range of possibilities at your fingertips. There are as many ways to construct your espresso with a single bean as there are with two or three. Simplicity is not about taking shortcuts, simplicity is a focused exploration of what's in front of you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

caffe d'bolla is twelve - Thank You!

Twelve years ago, Yiching and I officially opened our doors at caffe d'bolla. As all new businesses, we used a combination of determination and ingenuity to get everything off the ground. From traveling to trade shows, listening to as many presentations as we could, and taking furious notes to filling a trailer with all of our equipment – including a full size commercial refrigerator we squeezed through a hole in the drywall that would be a future door, turned on its side and rolled it on pipes before setting it in place, to working into the wee hours of the night so we could get everything right.


We spent every day in our shop together, taking turns running errands or having something to eat. We learned about the continuous discovery that is espresso, and latte art (which Yiching has always been better at), and I learned the craft of roasting so I could share something wonderful with our customers.




 Over the years, our hours have changed a little, and we have done a couple of remodels to the store, but one thing that has never changed is how much we love our shop and seeing smiles on customer's faces as they take their first sip. And although you may not see Yiching in the shop [much these days], she continues to bake our treats daily - from muffins to her perfect brownies, and she maintains our online presence (especially all the good pictures), and coordinates our overseas ordering and imports. This is all because more than two and a half years ago, our son Alex was born, and after an early introduction to coffee and espresso, he is now busy at home with Yiching learning all the things a curious and energetic boy should.


As the years go by, I know that Alex will learn how to pull the perfect espresso and brew siphon coffee to our standards. Maybe it will be you (yes, YOU) who tastes his first drink. Stay tuned for our celebratory "Thank You!" It's going to be another fantastic year!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Americano: the barometer for judging any coffee shop or espresso bar

If a coffee shop or espresso bar, especially one that touts themselves as “Third Wave,” cannot execute an Americano properly, can they execute anything properly?

You think it would just be all about the espresso, and it is -- to a point. I've known top-notch places that have great espresso, and fail miserably when it comes time to make an Americano. A failed Americano is the result of either improperly roasted espresso, under or over-extracted espresso, bad drink building basics, non-caring barista (it's not a sexy drink), non-caring ownership, or all the above. The Americano is a foundation drink. There are no excuses for poor execution.

The Americano, the quicker, fresher alternative to batch-brewed coffee is a drink that should be easy to execute, and reveals what standards a coffee shop or espresso bar actually has as compared to those that they claim to have. The recipe is simple: espresso brewed directly into the hot water, which is already residing in the cup.

“What about espresso first, and then add water?” No.

“Or maybe pull shots into shot glasses or some funky pitcher looking thingamajig and then pour over the water?” Again, that would be a “No.”


But for the Americano to work, your water should never be hotter than your espresso. Water temperature, relative to brew temperature, altitude, etc. should be as low at 180 F (82 C) or less (ours is at 178 F) for the best results. Once the espresso exits the group head, it has already dropped several degrees by the time it hits the water. Another thing is -  your espresso, and the resultant Americano needs to have body and texture. The proper amount of lipids and oils are necessary for good crema density, texture, and mouthfeel. Without them, result is the same as a weakly brewed cup of coffee. A thin, watery, espresso-like concoction is not an Americano. It's just a bad drink.

There are many new places that have come about in recent years - both in our fair city, and across the globe, and the Americano, much like the Emperor's new clothes, reveals all -- and it isn't pretty.


So for all you current and prospective shop owners, barista, and coffee-beverage lovers of all types – If you can't make a tasty Americano, an honest to goodness “That's good!” Americano, then you might want to examine everything you are doing. Yep, it's that important.