Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good Results

The new espresso blend has had excellent results so far. Originally roasted on the 13th of December, the body, flavor, and crema have all been wonderful. I only have enough for one shot left, but I will wait until the end of day to pull that.

semi-sweet chocolate, dried fruit notes, and a sweet finish.
More details later, but once it's ready to go, I will be including recommended brewing parameters with it as well.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Finalizing Espresso Blend

I've been working off and on for several months on a new espresso blend. I've been trying to source beans more directly and create something that both maintains high standards, yet is accessible ingredient (bean) wise.
I like an espresso to be able to work well as a shot, or in a cappuccino or latte. It needs to have a good mouthfeel, and there should be something memorable about it.
This is not always an easy task--hence (wtf?) the several months.

I think I have finally hit what I am looking for in these initial testing phases. If I can duplicate the roast with the same results, then we'll have a winner. I should know before the Holidays.

Monday, October 23, 2006

NWRBC - Congrats Billy

Billy Wilson took first place in this years North West Regional Barista Championship.

Congrats to all!
1. Billy Wilson
2. Jon Lewis
3. Kevin Fuller

Organic Guatamalen Coban

I roasted some of this wonderful coffee on Saturday for my good friend Nobu.
I just finished having a cup. Oishii!

Finca El Injerto

One of our customers, now living in Portland, brought ne some of Stumpie's Guatamalen Finca El Injerto. Even at 7 days, it makes an awesome cup.
Thanks Mike!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Decaf Macchiatto

We have a new customer--just came into town a couple of weeks ago. He comes in twice a day, before and after work, for a decaf macchiatto.
He enjoys his macchiatto, works on his computer a bit, thanks us, and is on his way until the next day.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Foundation of Excellence

David Schomer wrote in his 1996 article "Creating a Culture of Excellence",
"...We push and pull each other into better, more consistent performance as the cusine advances. Each person is totally excited to do his or her absolute best."
and he echoes this thought in his 2001 article "How to Compete with Starbucks", where he wraps up by writing,
"Soul alone is not enough. It is really the focus on espresso excellence and personal, intelligent service that is the edge over the big corporation, provided the independent can do everything as professionally as the big boys do it. Starbucks is a wake-up call to those dabblers that think the coffee business is easy and I say that is good. We do not want to go the way of the yogurt shops of the eighties. They will force us to create a culture of espresso excellence to survive."

The sad fact is, that while many complain about the problems with Starbucks, they seek only to become an imitation of Starbucks, and expect people to love them because they are a 'local' or 'independent' imitation, instead of focusing on creating excellence. There's always a lot of talk about 'we do quality this' and 'we train all of our barista,' etc., but when you actually find out what many of these shops are doing, the sad reality is they are creating an appearance of excellence with no excellence at their core.

Excellence begins with the heart and soul of the ownership. Ownership must have passion, consistency, persistence, and a desire to improve daily. If the leadership,--owner, manager, lead barista, etc., do not have all of these qualities, they will never really compete, they will be just 'another' caffe. Improvement must be an improvement in quality. Rather than asking youself, "How do I make more money?", ask yourself "How do I improve (my drink, my technique, my knowledge, my equipment, my service, etc.)?" Customers are becoming more educated as more and more quality coffee/espresso shops open up, and those who thought they could compete by having comfy chairs, live music, or a winning smile, are finding out that they need newer gimmicks to keep the customers coming. You will never lose customers if you build on a foundation of excellence, you will only gain a loyal following of passionate coffee friends.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Eye Opening and 'Customers Who Get it'

I live for those 'eye opening' moments when someone takes their first sip--especially if it's my press-pot coffee or a straight latte, cappa, or Americano. When there is an appreciation of the coffee/espresso in the cup, it makes it a great day. Fortunately, we have many of those days.

A few weeks ago a new customer came in, said we were recommended by another shop. He comes every day now and hasn't been back to the other shop. Thank You! :)
When he first came he was looking for 'coffee', we don't do drip coffee, but we do a fantastic fresh-ground, fresh-brewed Americano, and we also do a life-altering press-pot coffee of whatever I have roasted for the week (or additional overrun from customer coffee orders); to make a long story short, he ordered the Americano and was surprised by the depth and complexity of the flavor. He's now bought a new burr grinder, and ordered some of our fresh-roasted coffee so he can expand his enjoyment to press-pot at home. New customers are great. New customers who 'get' it are awesome.


I've been cupping coffees for only about nine months, but I still have a lot to learn. I will be taking a very basic cupping class at the Seattle CoffeeFest in October. I think it's good to make certain I really understand the fundamentals beyond my own table, and progress from there. If I'm not learning, I'm not improving.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A New Addition

Creating an espresso for limited use has its problems, but for the most part, this is not too difficult of a task. However, creating a new espresso as a permanant addition that can be used day in and day out is a daunting task indeed. (indeed! WTF??) Creating an espresso that works well as a shot, and also comes through in the milk, that is distictive, but not too distinctive, that has good mouthfeel, is complex, but not too complex, and has good persistence of flavor is what I am working on doing.

After finishing a couple hours of roasting, I will begin on Monday with what I have theorized in my head will work, and work well. I will do such and such percentage of these beans and adjust grind for flow, etc. When that seems right, I will begin to test. I will experiment with a range of temperatures until I find the 'sweet spot' for that particular manifestation of that blend.

Then I will adjust the percentages, and repeat the process.
And again.
at this point I will compare all three versions and determine a winner.

(Several (even more) inane details have been omitted to spare the reader.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Panama Carmen Estate

I was able to secure a small lot of this multi-award winning coffee.
It has been a top 3 Best of Panama for the past several years.
Bright peach and apple with a smooth mouthfeel. It's one of my favorite coffees.

From the Carmen Estate website,
"First Place (90.75 pts) Rainforest Alliance “Cupping for Quality” Competition Long Beach, CA, April 2005 -Second Place (88.00 pts) Rainforest Alliance “Cupping for Quality” Competition Long Beach, CA , April 2006 -Third Place (89.7 pts) Best of Panama “Cupping for Quality” Competition Volcán, April 2006 -Third Place (92.54 pts) Best of Panama “Cupping for Quality” Competition Boquete, April 2005 -Third Place (88.05 pts) Best of Panama “Cupping for Quality” Competition Boquete, April 2003 CARMEN ESTATE is a family owned business. We are sustainable coffee growers and very high quality, green coffee exporters. In 1950 Efrain and Carmen Franceschi began cultivating arabica coffee varieties on their estates. Today our single estate and mill -beneficio- produces just 1,200 bags (60 kg each) of unique quality green coffee beans. It is located in Volcan Valley at an altitude of 1750 meters (5,600 ft); latitude 8° 49’ 25’’ N; longitude 82° 37’ 55’’ W.The valley is considered the most important area in mountain and shade grown coffee plantations of The Baru Volcano region in Panama, Central America. This micro-region is heavily influenced by its proximity to both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. The cool, frost free nights typical of the area are coupled with dry, sun drenched days which together create optimal growing conditions. The valley follows the course of the Chiriqui Viejo river as it flows down from the blue mountains of Cerro Punta to the Pacific Ocean. The rich volcanic black soil and superb drainage are ideal for the cultivation of our Arabica varieties Catuai, Caturra and Typica. Our coffee quality consistency has been awarded several times locally and abroad:"

Don't miss it!

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Whether you are a barista, a baker, a tax accountant, an actor--or any profession, consistency is key.

As a barista, developing consistency in all aspects of your craft is what will allow experimentation, growth and excellence. Once you have selected the espresso blend (or SO) that you will use, you want to be certain your roaster is providing you with a blend that is consistent in roast level and flavor. You want to grind to a certain 'fineness' that you have determined to best extract ideal flavors from your espresso. You also want to consistently dose the same amount of espresso, and have even (consistent) distribution of the espresso in the portafilter so that every time you pull a shot you are providing the same excellence every time.

I have never dosed by weight. I feel it is unnecessary. BUT you must dose consistently. So in order to evaluate my level of consistency, I decided to weigh after dosing and see how I did.

I put the portafilter on the scale and zeroed the scale. I then dosed, distributed, tamped and then weighed the portafilter (post dosing) and these were my results.

1. 17 grams
2. 17 grams
3. 18 grams
4. 17 grams
5. 17 grams
6. 18 grams

Of course there's always room for improvement, but I am on the right track. If anything in my continued pursuit of excellence, I am consistent.

I think it's time for lunch.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Ethiopian Harrar this year has been very good, if not exceptional at times. It is my best seller on our 'roast to order' whole bean sales. At lighter roasts it has a bright blueberry note that becomes somewhat overwhelming if you let your beans age past two weeks. At a bit darker roasts you can coax out some good chocolate notes and you wind up with chocolate covered blueberry in your cup. As a coffee that's not too difficult to get, if that's not fan fuckingtastic, I don't know what is.

The Panama Carmen Estate is another story, another level of coffee excellence.
Maybe I'll explore that next time.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The mysteries of blending

Blending coffee can be a tricky task. Whether you are blending for coffee or blending for espresso, each has their own difficulties.

I have not been blending long enough to pinpoint all of the pertinent differences, but between the two, I find espresso blending to be a little more difficult. Which is a simple way of saying, "so much to learn..."

Sometimes I use Brazilian as a base, sometimes I don't. I try to match general origin, bean size/moisture content, or both if I preblend; otherwise, I roast each bean separately. Sometimes roasting separately takes too damn long, and sometimes the percentages are so low that its not feasible to do in small amounts.

I think about what each bean will lend to the blend, whether it is a lower toned chocolate, a higher fruited note, or maybe a middle of the road nutty flavor. I think in terms of washed, semi-washed, and dry process when thinking about crema, mouthfeel, and persistency of flavor.
What am I using as my base?
Is this bean X adding or subtracting? In what way?
What degree of roast is optimum for each bean?
Do I use beans with the same approximate optimum roast temperature?

Wait three days.

Test. Test. Test. Change brew temp. Test test test. Change brew temp. Test test test.
Finally come to a conclusion, and either praise or damn the beans.
It's never the roaster's fault... really. *grin*

Friday, June 30, 2006

Inspiring to be Average

My wife and I went to have lunch at a local "Japanese" restaurant for lunch--the ubiquitous 'Mikado'. The first thing you note about Mikado when you enter is how beautifully the marble hostess area is, as well as the tatami rooms lining the east wall. Once you are past that however, the idea, sans menu items, that you are in a Japanese restaurant begins to dissipate. The music and decor do not lend any noteable ambiance to the restaurant, but the primarily Japanese/Asian sushi chefs and majority of the same for hostesses adds a nice touch.

We ordered the gyoza and the agedashi tofu for appetizers, along with an iced tea and a beer. The waitress opened and delivered the beer opened, but did not pour. No water was offered--this is ok were it an actual Japanese restaurant, but the roomful of sweaty businessmen, made it defineable as pseudo-Japanese.

The appetizers arrived and, as a set, were the best part of the meal. The gyozo skin was slightly browned, and perfect in texture. The taste blended well with the sauce which had a nice hint of citrus in it~ala a ponzu variation.
The agedashi dofu were cubed into about 1 1/4 inch pieces and the broth was flavorful--allowing the tofu to melt delightfully in the mouth.

We ordered the ramen and the ginger pork, along with one order of tamago nigiri-zushi. As we were finishing our appetizers, our tamago was delivered--except that it was not tamago, it was eggplant. While the eggplant nigiri-zushi was actually a very tasty surprise, this presented two problems. First, this was lunchtime and there should be no reason to be out of tamago. I highly doubt that a slew of customers rushed in during the first two hours of lunch service and all asked for tamago. I think they did not have any prepared. This should have been communicated to the waitress so she would not have to approach our table with something that we did not order. The second problem is that the sushi chef made a substitution without asking if this is what we wanted. If we were sitting at the sushi bar, this is a different dynamic, and there is more of a flow of both dialogue and dining presence while being served directly by the sushi chef. But to not inform us before the replacement item is made and to charge us the same price is bordering quite precariously with being unacceptable. At this time, we were able to get the attention of the waitress for some water. I will leave this as inadequate communication on my part, and inadequate training on her part.

The thinly sliced ginger pork was served on a bed of Japanese slaw, with a bowl of steamed rice. The presentation was good, and the ginger sauce contained just enough ginger to blend nicely with the pork, but not so much that it became pork flavored ginger. The slaw was flavorful and was a nice addition. Overall, pretty good.

The ramen was an unfortunate demise. Perhaps the positive reviews of Mikado's tasty ramen from a few friends led to unrealistic expectations, but from the level of service and food that should be delivered from this restaurant, it was average to uninspiring. Now I knew that Mikado does not make their own ramen noodles. This can be ok, but what is not ok is for a section of the noodles to still be clumped together in a triangular shape as if still retaining a section of its original frozen form. The noodles themselves were decent. Not bad. Not great. Decent. The pork broth was tasty, but it lacked any depth to its flavor, and it was too thin for a pork based ramen. A pork-miso, rather than a chicken broth and pork paste would have been much better. But please, separating the noodles would have gone a long way in preserving some dignity with the ramen.

Drink Service: C

gyoza: B
agedashi tofu: B+

ginger pork: B
ramen : C-

Final Grade: C+

Friday, June 23, 2006


Excellence is something that's lacking in most food and drink establishments these days. Be it a top tier restaurant, a chain restaurant, or the local independant coffee house--excellence is hard to come by.

Excellence has to be across the board. Ambiance, decor, product quality, employee look, and service all have to be great, consistent, and each area must complement the others.
Perfect service by fat and slovenly employees does not work, neither does a industrial looking goth bar with a kickin' bartender that plays only Vivaldi and Brahms.

I am often reluctant to go to some of the recommended Italian restaurants here knowing that at best they serve piss poor coffee and espresso. Sorry, I don't give a rats ass how good your food is-- if you report yourself to be 'high-end' Italian, then you had better bring it with a top-notch cappuccino. Conversely if you are high-end Japanese--serve a perfect green or buckwheat tea. How can you have a chef spend years working on their craft only to have their dish ruined by piss poor coffee? Every facet of the restaurant, including liquor and/or coffee service must all achieve excellence for the restaurant itself to be excellent--otherwise you have only pseudo-excellence.

If you try to manufacture excellence you will fail. If you breathe excellence you will succeed. Breathe in excellence, breathe out excellence, and everyone will share in your passion.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Attention to Detail

A small rant...
There is a new employee at the bank. Let's call him "Skippy". Of the four times I've been 'fortunate' to have him be the available teller, he is SLOW, has to recount money too many times, and three out of the four times has made mistakes I've had to correct. This leads to repetitively bad service because of the lack of attention to detail. The two biggest reasons for bad service are employer, rather than employee based. The first reason is hiring the wrong people/bad screening process; the second reason is improper training.

Two rules to live by as an employer.

Step 1: Hire someone who is self-motivated, passionate about what you do--or in the least has something they are passionate about--, and make certain they can and will follow direction (are trainable).

Step 2: Train them well, and immediately dismiss them if YOU failed the first step.

It's easy to get frustrated with whomever, be it your barista, your waiter, your banker, or the guy at your local convenience store. But remember, they didn't hire themselves. An idiot can't help that they're an idiot, but what does that make the person who hired them?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I've been getting a number of requests over the past several months to do some consulting work. Among all of the daily questions from customers, newbie 'barista', and start-ups this is something I may consider pursuing. I think, "But I have so much to learn." It comes as a surprise to me that many people are not willing to seek out information on their own. Sure many of us in the industry exchange ideas and a few techniques, but one needs to show a certain level of commitment, a pursuit of perfection that can innoculate all the swill-drinkers against their malaise.

How can you be in the business for five, ten, even twenty years and serve garbage? Do you even want to learn how to not cripple the public's taste buds with your carbon ridden, tongue biting brew? I say, "Catch up, join the 'Third Wave' or get left behind." Morning comes once a day, but that chance to inspire comes every moment. Isn't it better to inspire than to poison? :)

I guess it is appropriate to look at greed as a disease, because in my opinion that is the difference between putting the coffee/espresso first and putting the profits first. It would be fair to say all of us want success. But who will you f$#! in order to get it? Low quality, overroasted beans that sit for weeks--sometimes even months, hoardes of untrained 'barista' all because of owners who don't care, or worse, who don't know. There is no excuse for stupidity, but if it was a crime, we'd all see the wrong side of a cell.

So at the end of my rambling; it once again comes to educating the public. Especially those who choose to enter the fray. Consult? I'm still perfecting my craft, but to that Tom, Dick, or Harriet who has the passion, but doesn't have the time to pursue caffeinated enlightenment on their own--if you're interested, I'm sure we can work something out--over a nice cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

brew temperature does matter

I wondered when brewing press pot coffee-- since it's not at best drinkable level until its below 150 degrees, how much is the flavor affected if you brew at 180 vs 200 ?

Answer-- a lot. I lose all of the higher fruity or floral nuances and only retain the 'deeper' flavors. The varietal characteristic that make that particular coffee an excellent cup, rather than just a good cup, are not there.

This, of course, is nothing other than what would be expected. But I had to taste it in actual practice, just so I can know.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Espresso or Cupping?

I've been toying with the idea of having a 'Espresso for the home user' class or offer some weekend cupping classes. There will come a time when I can offer both, but each has its own set of logistical problems, time involved, etc.

It's great when customers enjoy our coffee or ask questions here and there about espresso. I think we've even convinved a few into buying a good home setup--good burr grinder and all.

Stay tuned...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Public Education

Coffee education is important but it often presents a dilemma on how to convey the information to the customer so as not to make them feel 'stupid'. For the most part I try to educate by taste. The proof is in the cup. You will ask questions when you begin to wonder, "Why isn't all coffee this good?"

Education of the customer begins with my own daily education. Origin flavors, varietal flavors, how a particular roast works well for one bean and not for another, how the cup changes and gains 'character' as you drink it, understanding 'how' to taste coffee... These are things I do my best to learn about in some form or another daily.

I know if I start with a better bean, and produce a fresher and more flavorful cup, all I need to do is improve daily and I will always remain ahead of the pack. I don't always think it's what one knows that is important, it's realizing how much more there is to learn that matters.

So whether a customer asks, "How come this Brazilian tastes nothing like that Brazilian you had the other day," I just might be able to answer them.

Questions lead to answers which lead to more questions. All require study. Educate yourself, then educate the world. Banish coffee ignorance. :)

Friday, March 31, 2006


My learning curve is growing quickly since I have started Roasting to Order this month. I have already had some repeat customers, so that is a good sign. I've roasted Costa Rican La Minita Tarrazu, Ethiopian Harrar, and Ethiopian Sidamo.

The La Minita was probably the most finicky of the bunch for me, as it seemed to have more of a narrow window to hit just the right 'sweet spot'. The Sidamo was very popular, as I sold out of my available stock on my 3rd day of taking orders. The aromatics on the Sidamo are incredible. Sort of a plum/raisin coffee with just a hint of black pepper in the finish. For me the deeper plum--maybe fig(?) notes intensify as it cools. Whatever the hell it is... good cup.

I was sick the previous week so I hadn't had a chance to cup the Harrar. I just crossed my fingers and trusted I would roast it just right for the three customers that had already ordered it. I roasted enough to save a small batch for myself and yesterday, I finally had a chance to cup everything. WOW! Blueberry up the wazoo! Blueberry aromatics, blueberry in the cup, and a nice little chocolate tone as it cools. Many times I have to search for some of the flavors that should be present. Most of this is just a lack of experience as a cupper... not being able to put a particular name to a particular flavor every time--but that's coming along ok so far.
But with this Harrar, there was no guesswork. Wonderful.
I am roasting 2 more pounds of this wonderful coffee tomorrow for some new customers.
I rock! :)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Training is Essential

Whether you have a "top tier" espresso machine for $7K upwards, or you have a lower-priced, lower quality machine, all things being equal, training your barista is perhaps the most important, and most neglected link in the espresso production chain.

Let's assume you are using fresh, properly roasted espresso beans and a good grinder. I know that many establishments can't even manage to do that---but if that's you--STOP! (fresh beans, fresh ground....please).

Training needs to begin with the owner. Either the owner needs to be passionate about his product, and seek professional training OR the owner can hire a professional to come and train their staff. The problem I most often see is that the only training the owner/manager receives is from the salesman/tech they purchased the machine from. They are told, "You just grind it like so, put it in this portafilter here, and smash it with this deal on the side of the grinder..." Really!! This is just like buying a Viking range from your high-end appliance store, and after being told how to adjust the flame, etc---- you are now a master chef! Cool how that works, huh.

Espresso preparation is a culinary art. Those who don't treat it as such produce mediocre espresso on their best day.

'Perfect practice makes perfect' I always say. So before you attempt to call yourself a barista, or call your employees barista--damn well make sure they are trained properly and your espresso will go from being a tone deaf kazoo player to a symphony orchestra.