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.

Monday, April 11, 2016

caffe d'bolla. Gesha. Siphon.

After brewing somewhere north of ten thousand cups of coffee on the siphon, it's rare that I come across a coffee that separates itself so far from the others that the words “excellent,” “outstanding,” or “superb” simply do not communicate the brilliance of the coffee. This is one such coffee.

This is a Gesha from Acatenango in Guatemala. It is one of the two most complex coffees I have ever tasted. The other, a Gesha from the heralded Finca Esmeralda in Panama. Both are coffees that I roasted. These are two iterations of the same magical cultivar with differences arising from terroir and microclimate. With the Panama, and now, some five thousand or so cups later with the Guatemala, all I can say is “wow!”

Let me start by saying that this is not about experiencing one sensational coffee. It's like experiencing three distinctly different sensational coffees in one cup.

Once your coffee is poured, you will want to wait a good nine minutes to begin your journey. The first part of the cup greets you with complex floral notes from hibiscus, jasmine, rose, and lavender. A touch of peach blossom tea makes an appearance, and all the floral notes are interspersed with flavors of pomelo, pink grapefruit, and mandarin. A different set of flavor combinations in every sip, with a buttery mouthfeel elevating the experience.

A great siphon coffee, especially the Gesha, is about pacing. After an additional five to eight minutes of cooling, a juicy fruit punch and ripe berry note emerges for a few sips, with a silky essence caressing your tongue like an passionate lover, and leaving you with a warm, satisfied smile.

After another five minutes to eight minutes -- being wiser to opt for the latter, sweet cream and berries linger on your palate with a touch of assam tea and a hint of lemon-honey. And a hint of cocoa lingers on your palate if you wait for it. A little more patience, and you will be rewarded with the comforting essence of warm butterscotch sweetness in the final sips.

This is a journey worth savoring, and should take you thirty-five to forty-five minutes once the coffee touches your cup. Use your time well, and you will be rewarded.

The Acatenango Gesha will be offered on siphon starting on April 12th for about two weeks. We will offer an additional run before the end of May.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Espresso: Building a Foundation

Roasting as a professional is a craft I do my best to approach in a thoughtful manner. There are too few coffee roasters who approach from the perspective of:  skill+knowledge+time = craft development. Most roasters seem to approach from the perspective of : green coffee+heat+time = brown coffee. brown coffee = "I am a roaster!" This distorted perception is not a reality, and is one of the most deceptive practices perpetuated throughout our industry.

I've been roasting for ten years now, and although we are a small roaster, we roast 40 or more different espresso every year, all consisting of usually 2-3 coffees, and we never repeat a blend. This is in conjunction with roasting about 50-60 strictly SO coffees throughout the year for whole bean and siphon coffee at our shop.

Many customers have said there is something unique to our espresso that they don't experience anywhere else, and I think that's true for every roaster who has found their voice and wants to communicate something to their customers. Espresso has a language of its own, it speaks to your senses and it speaks to your heart, but it has to start somewhere.

What coffees? What percentages? What profiles?

Those are all good questions.

The higher quality your green, the greater ability you have to construct a great espresso blend from a few components. I personally like blends more than SO espresso for two reasons, 1) not every coffee works as an espresso and 2) you will run out of said coffee too fast. As I mentioned before, I prefer using two or three component coffees for our espresso, more coffees than that and they start to get lost in the mix.

We do not use filler or commodity coffees for our espresso. All coffee we roast is above Specialty Grade, so as components they each have a wealth of complexity to draw on. I start with two different premises, one is a base component with highlights or accent notes from one or two other coffees. And the other is from a synergestic perspective of the component beans coming together to create a flavor (or flavors) greater than those of the individual beans.

Having a base coffee does not necessarily mean that will be the highest percentage in a blend, but it does mean that particular coffee will have the most dominant flavor. The greater familiarity you have with each coffee and how their flavors manifest in the espresso extraction process, the greater chance you have of creating a wonderful espresso blend.

This is how I would advise a new roaster to begin the active process of creating a great espresso blend: Start with five, ten, or twenty coffees. Roast, brew as coffee, and taste. Take notes. Now brew each coffee as an espresso and compare the differences in specific flavors to those from your coffee notes, paying close attention to which flavors have intensified from the espresso extraction method. This way you can understand how the extraction process changes, highlights, and reveals those unique characteristics. This is a starting point. Repeat the process for those same coffees with a different profile. Do this again and again and again until you have a feel for how each new coffee will act as an espresso.

Always roast components separately.

You will want to understand the tendencies of different bean densities and how they work together. What about SHB, maybe soft beans or Pacamara or Margogype, or peaberry? How does an Ethiopian peaberry roast compared to a Central American peaberry, and how do each work as a component of espresso? Continue building your knowledge base, know what profiles work best with what coffees, know how profiles should change for a Central American paired with a Brazilian vs one paired with a dry-processed Ethiopian.

Begin blending those coffees. If you started with twenty coffees, that will give you 380 two bean blend permutations and 6,840 three bean blend combinations. And quite a bit more once you factor in the varying percentage possibilities. That's a lot of tasting!

Do this for the next twenty coffees, and so on and so forth. Again. And again. And. Again.
After thousands of tastings, notes, profiles, and blend possibilities you will have a firm grasp of the basics. Now, with a solid foundation, you are ready to begin.

With each new roast, I seek to learn something new, and develop my craft. I hope you will do the same.

Happy roasting!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ideas shared, nurtured, and cultivated grow into dreams realized

It was an early summer evening in 2001, Yiching called me and said, "I think we should start our own (coffee/tea) business."

I was making the bulk of my income delivering pizza at the time, "Let me run some numbers," I replied. I spent the next several hours driving around, furiously jotting down notes and figures on a stack of napkins, until I eventually called her back.

"We can do it." I said. The napkin never lies.

And at that moment, we forever changed our lives.

From an early feature on caffe d'bolla

A seminar or two from the Small Business Development Center. Determining how to best fund our venture. Two years of traveling to CoffeeFest, and the SCAA with each of us taking different sets of classes with reams of notes, and figuring out by the following year what was and was not relevant to us. This was followed by months of hitting numerous coffee shops and espresso bars locally, in the Pacific Northwest, and overseas, where we quickly developed an understanding of why that first sip is so important.

We also sought out those owners who were doing something special and did our best to pick their brains with what limited understanding we had at that time. Sprinkled in the midst of it all was an on-going search for wares and ceramics, as well as eighteen months of location searching and lease negotiations until we found the right spot. Design decisions, planning, re-drawing, and more planning. Menu development, espresso testing, and a whole host of other decisions made on the fly, which was only possible because of our extensive research and planning.  And that barely scratched the surface of what happened.

The beginning comes and goes so fast that you barely have time to appreciate it. There were many relationships being built behind the scenes, most which we still maintain today. It was a time of discovery and a time of challenges, but soon a greater challenge loomed ahead. There came a day for both of us, in the early summer of 2004, when we said goodbye to the our former lives, unlocked our doors and pulled the string on the OPEN sign for the first time.

caffe d'bolla first year store front

When I look back to how this all started as an idea some fourteen years ago, just a few short months after we were married. I am most proud of the support and belief we had in each other so early in our lives to know that together, we could accomplish anything.

Best of State 2015, our third straight.

And as soon as Alex learns how to pull shots, we can think about our next adventure.

Alex, Yiching, and me. Kansai, Japan 2015.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Coffee and Inspiration

We have hundreds of amazing customers who come for our espresso and coffee, and each one is met with a cheerful, "Hello" from my wife, Yiching. She knows most everyone by name, and always remembers their drinks. 

She catches the eyes and stomachs of many who come in with her cakes, brownies, muffins, and cookies, which she bakes daily. 

She helps me identify flavors in all of our espresso. She takes the simple and makes it beautiful, whether it's with an addition to our china and ceramics or her latte art. She consistently makes the best cappuccino around, and always gets a smile when she tells our customers it's because she makes them "with love".

So every time you taste an espresso, enjoy a siphon, or wonder why the coffee you take home is so good, thank Yiching. She is the reason I am inspired to create something wonderful.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Teacher. Leader. Friend.

nuki by caffe d'bolla
nuki, a photo by caffe d'bolla on Flickr.
Masterful disguise
Buddha wrapped in a fur cloak
Your new path begins.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A new model for new expectations in coffee

For me, it's always been about "the coffee", and that's a great way to go, but it's not just about the customer coming and getting coffee, it's about them having the time to appreciate and understand what they are getting. We're in a hectic world, and as coffee professionals we should change our business model(s) to cultivate an atmosphere that will entice customers to slow down and enjoy.

But how do we convince them that we have something worth taking time for?
How do we approach this idea?

Gone should be the long queues of impatient people wanting to grab their coffee and go. Excellence needs patience. More owners should make the move to focus on the experience of their in house customers rather than focusing on numbers through the door. As long as we cater to impatience, we will never adequately convey what coffee has to offer.

In terms of design, do away with the tacky "coffeeshop" look. No more Starbuckian browns and tans, nor should we be too avant garde with bright neon walls. Simple colors. Clean lines. Refined and/or casual. When the customer opens the door they should know that a different experience awaits them.

It's not just about the customer slowing down and enjoying the coffee, it's about the barista slowing down and enjoying the process of making it. It goes without saying that all drinks, whether coffee or espresso, should be made by the cup.

Think of coffee as a dish, not as merely a beverage. In fact, it's the main dish, and everything that accompanies it is a side item. As such, guests should be seated and put at ease, simple one-sided menus given, options quickly explained, and after a few minutes, orders taken. A lot can change with customer behavior and customer expectations when the standard chalkboard menus and extended queues are a thing of the past.

We need to be cautious about service. Unobtrusive and casual, but providing support and answering questions when necessary. In order to elevate the experience and have the opportunity for the customers to see and appreciate what is happening, this is the direction we need to move.