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.