Today was my first day at the 2011 Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo in Houston. It’s the year’s biggest coffee event and host to the United States Barista Championship and Brewers Cup. There’s coffee pouring from every corner of the convention center, more tote bags than you could ever fill and rows upon rows of syrups, smoothies and tea that seem a bit out of place.
This being my first coffee expo, I quickly learned the best thing about the event wasn’t the free swag or tables of new products—it’s the people. The incredibly passionate people who make up the specialty coffee industry. To be surrounded by people who inspire you and continue to push the limits of what they do in search of ways to be better, is an incredibly energizing feeling—though it could just be the caffeine.
I spent the first part of the morning tasting coffee from around the world at the “Best of Origin” area. There were about 12 coffees to try and I made it through about half of them—the coffee from Ka’u Hawaii surprised me the most, it was quite nice. Next I sat through a lecture about developing a training program for baristas, but found most of it to be pretty basic, common sense stuff.
After the lecture I met up with 2/3 of Handsome Coffee Roasters and hit the showroom floor to do some window shopping and make the rounds. Here are some highlights.
First stop was the La Marzocco booth to try a shot of Ryan Wilbur’s competition espresso, pulled on a Strada.
Checked out a demo of the EsproPress, a microfilter press pot which created a surprisingly clean cup.
Discovered the company responsible for producing some of the nicest coffee packaging on the market, including Intelligentsia, Verve and Social Coffee Co. Now I’ll be prepared when I’m finally hired to design someone’s coffee bags (hint).
Got to see the new Baratza Essato, a weight-based grinding system. Cool, but definitely overkill for a home-brewer. I can see the benefits for a small volume café, but I think it ultimately has limited use.
Had a cup of Square Mile’s Santa Lucia on the new Kalita pour-overs that Nick Cho recently started importing.
A Hario hot-brew iced coffee maker. While it’s pretty clunky looking, it creates a nice cup of coffee. The clear plastic funnel is filled with ice, and a double strength V60 is brewed on top of it—melting the ice and cooling the coffee simultaneously. Unlike cold-brew systems it retains some of the coffee’s brightness that I enjoy, but is often stripped away.
Some new products from Hario. I love the double walled press pot. Beautifully designed, with wood where most companies would use plastic.
A couple of former World Barista Champions (Stephen Morrissey & James Hoffmann) announcing the semi-finalists of the USBC.
The Championship trophies made by Reg Barber. Two more days before we know who they’ll belong too. Congrats to all the semi-finalists and good luck!
In January, I had the pleasure of trying PT’s Coffee for the first time. I ordered a bag of their Panama Elida Estate from GoCoffeeGo, and was completely blown away by it—which you can read about here. After such a great first impression, I looked forward to the next offering I would have the pleasure of trying from this midwest-based roaster.
When I finally stopped traveling long enough for the guy’s at PT’s to send me something new to try, this Kenya Thiriku was their homepage headliner. A few weeks ago, I excitedly received a bag of the Kenya along with some of their Burundi Kayanza Gatare (Lot 3). While the Burundi was a really nice coffee, with notes of smooth white chocolate mixed with a citrusy sweetness, the Thiriku was my favorite of the two.
Aroma: The aroma flowing from the Chemex as I buried my nose in it was refreshing and alarmingly sweet like cherry Jolly Rancher candy with a citrus twist. As the cherry vapor left the carafe, it evolved into a tart and accurately noted ruby red grapefruit.
Taste: This coffee celebrated its introduction to my mouth with very bright and sweet grapefruit characteristics. The body held up surprisingly well for a Chemex-made coffee and met my palette with a smooth honey mouthfeel. As the citrus mellowed, it shifted into a sweet caramel and salted nut finish that lingered pleasantly on the tongue.
Once again PT’s delivered an exceptional coffee that I woke each morning eager to brew. Unfortunately, the Kenya Thiriku is no longer available and the Burundi Kayanza Gatare has taken it’s place on the homepage. Sorry for the delayed review, which means the missed opportunity to try it yourself, but I doubt you’d be disappointed with another offering from PT’s. I’ve got my eye on their Costa Rica Finca Cerra Paldo as well as the Panama Carmen Estate—or just ask them for their recommendation on twitter.
This video is a trailer for an upcoming [now available] book called Coffee Story: Ethiopia, published by Ninety Plus Coffee. The book, written by adventure author Majka Burhardt and photographed by father & son duo Travis and Helmut Horn, tell a variety of stories about coffee and it’s role in Ethiopian culture. With Ethiopia being the legendary birthplace of coffee, there is a lot of history and folklore weaved into the culture and this book is meant to share some of it. It should be an enlightening read for any coffee lover.
Ninety Plus Coffee works with producers at origin in Ethiopia and Panama to develop and implement new packing technologies and other system-related solutions to help source, develop and export some of the highest quality coffee from these regions. You may be unknowingly familiar with them if you’ve ever tasted a Nekisse, Amaro Gayo or Hartmann Honey. The site’s blog reads less like that of a coffee exporter and more like the travel journal of a romantic, experiencing the wonders of a beautiful world.
Along with publishing the upcoming book on Ethiopia, Ninety Plus also offers a sensory spoon handmade from ancient silver coins in Ethiopia as well as the opportunity to become part owner of an Ethiopian Gesha Farm. The company has a very unique and refreshing approach to sharing their business with the rest of the industry.
This video from Crema in Denver is brief but beautiful. Crema loves you and wants to make you a drink, here’s how they do it.
This shop came highly recommended from everyone I spoke to about coffee and it didn’t disappoint. The shop was small, but bright and comfortable. Fresh art on the walls and a bunch of cyclists sitting out front enjoying the weather. While I was there, they were serving Novo (roasted a block away) and Herkimer from Seattle. Their focus was mainly on espresso, but they had French presses available for fresh made coffee. It’s a bit of a walk from downtown, but totally doable and worth it.
While the name is overused, they have one of the coolest coffee websites I’ve seen.
Ashley E. Rodriguez is a former chef turned teacher, blogger, and mother who publishes a beautiful food blog called Not Without Salt. The site is filled with culinary adventures, recipes, and photos that all make you want to #popitinthegob. In March her family took a trip from Seattle to Portland and visited a few of the top shops in town—Coava, Barista, and Heart. The photos from their trip are fantastic and I wanted to share a few before sending you over to her lovely site to see the rest.
For the last week, the coffee industry has been held in suspense following the announcement that Michael Phillips—current World Barista Champion—and two other world-class baristas, Tyler Wells and Chris Owens, all resigned from Intelligentsia Coffee. Last night I got a note from Tyler announcing the future efforts of the these three fine men—Handsome Coffee Roasters had launched.
While I secretly hoped the three of them would travel the country in a rebuilt 1962 Ford Falcon, entertaining children with a puppet show about coffee production and the evil carbon gremlins who escape from their parents French roast—I’m totally stoked on this as well. Congratulations guys and good luck with the endeavor.
We will make amazing coffee the way we think it should be made. Full stop. Our way may not be for everyone, and thats okay, we’re not making coffee for everyone, we’re making coffee for you — for those that value craftsmanship and quality over convenience and cost — we’re your Huckleberry.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending the day with Jake Brodsky, President and Co-Founder of Novo Coffee in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been involved with a great project in Boulder so I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the area recently. As much as I love this part of the country though, it can be a bit of a coffee desert. In Denver, I could only find two shops that offer single origin coffee, made to order—Novo’s own café beside the Denver Art Museum and Crema Coffee House ( and since returning home, I’ve also discovered Aviano Coffee).
For such a modern and progressive city, I found the coffee scene a bit disheartening and underwhelming. However, Novo has made it their mission to provide the Mile High City with great coffee, whether or not they have to do it alone.
Novo is a close-knit family run operation, I was greeted at the door by Jake’s father, who was just as excited about talking raw food as he was coffee. Their friendly spirit made me feel right at home in a way that doesn’t always come natural at roasteries.
The roasting facility is located in an extremely generous space north of downtown in the warehouse district. Complete with a barista training lab, cupping room, and ping pong table. At the center of the room were two beautiful Vittoria roasters that had been rebuilt and lovingly customized to complete the space.
The first time I tried Novo was a cup of Amaro Gayo, Ethiopia at Chinatown Coffee Company in DC. I remember it being the first time I strayed from my normal Intelligentsia selection and had no regrets. I was extended an invite to visit Novo’s roastery via Twitter and decided to schedule it along with their Friday afternoon cupping. The cupping had been canceled for the week, but that didn’t stop Jake from setting up a beautiful spread of coffee for me to try anyway.
The four coffees we tried were unique and diverse, with a slant towards the Ethiopian coffees where Novo tends to specialize. There was a Papau New Guinea (Kunjin) that smelled and tasted so much like tomato soup, I couldn’t think of anything else. We tried an El Salvador Pacamara (Mundani) that was smooth and floral. The Aleta Wondo from Ethiopian was a bright and gingery experience, while the Anyetsu from Wellega, Ethiopia blew me away with a mouthful of black currant and cocoa pebbles. I kept returning to it as a clear favorite and left with a couple bags of my own.
After cupping, we grabbed lunch at a great cafe and talked about the ample opportunity for coffee growth in Denver. Jake gave me a tour around town and suggested a fantastic place for dinner, proving that he knows good food as well as he knows good coffee. Nothing beats a day filled with great people and great coffee.
There are a number of coffee apps and timers out there, but the Café Timer is about as simple as they get. With one touch of the app icon, an illustration of a French press launches and it immediately begins counting down from 4 minutes. If you remain in the app, you’ll hear a clock begin ticking when there’s 5 seconds left, leading to an ample alarm and vibration when it’s done. If you happen to leave the app, a slightly quieter pop-up will alert you. Tapping the screen flips to a few coffee brewing tips, like using fresh roasted coffee within 2 weeks of roast date, grinding right before you brew with a burr grinder and using water below boiling (however I disagree with suggesting 190°F, it should be closer to 200°F).
While this app is primarily meant for those who use a French press, there are a few options to alter the steep time in the phone’s settings. This allows you to use the timer for other methods, like an AeroPress—sadly the illustration doesn’t change.
For $1.99 it’s more than what most people would expect to pay for such a simple app, especially one that doesn’t really add new functionality to your phone other than convenience. However, when you’re about to pour water on your grounds, it’s much easier to tap once than getting tangled up switching from your morning alarm, back to the timer in the iPhone’s default app (3 taps). You’ve probably spent $1.99 on less useful things, and if a French press is your daily brew method, it’s a nice looking alternative to the standard timer.
As a gift to DCILY readers, the app’s developer Benjamin Cullen-Kerney, has kindly donated a few free versions for me to give away to readers who help spread the word. Everyone who retweets this and/or posts it on Facebook, today through Sunday, will be entered to win a free Café Timer app on Monday. If you can’t wait that long and you’d rather buy Ben a virtual cup of coffee, go purchase the app now.
Coffee and love taste best when hot. -Ethiopian proverb
When my non-coffee loving friends begin sending me links to things before I’ve seen them, red flags immediately go up. This isn’t because I think I know everything about coffee, but if something has bypassed all the normal industry channels and immediately lands on the pages of non-coffee blogs, there is usually something gimmicky or blasphemous about its existence. Coffee Joulies happen to be both.
The creators of Coffee Joulies are currently raising money on Kickstarter. While they only needed $9,500 to begin production of their product, they’ve already raised over $134,000 with another 3 weeks left. That’s awesome for them—it really is. I support entrepreneurship and getting that kind of financial backing is a dream come true. They’re even going to produce them in the USA, reviving an old silverware factory and probably create more jobs than the US Government. However, their product is a joke.
In a video that demonstrates the Joulies ability to cool coffee, it takes less than 90 seconds to bring the temp of boiling water down to 140°F (60°C). Wicked fast, right? But here lies the ultimate problem with the product. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 160° (71°C) is the temperature when flavor and aftertaste are at their greatest intensity. Those flavors continue to evolve as it cools, with 160°–140° being the ideal temperature range to best note the acidity, body and balance of a coffee.
With a set of Joulies making your coffee race past both temperatures, it takes less than 90 seconds before you miss the opportunity to enjoy some of the best moments your coffee has to offer. You may be able to chug 3 minutes sooner, but you’re going to miss out on the coffee’s unique flavor notes the farmer and roaster worked so hard to discover and highlight—assuming it doesn’t look like the charcoal they used in the photo above.
For $40, you’re better off investing in a burr grinder, which many people fail to do. This will improve you’re coffee dramatically, as long as you can wait a couple minutes before you start sipping it. If you have a grinder, treat yourself to a couple bags of really nice Direct Trade coffee instead. While I’m constantly trying to get people to stop putting things in their coffee (cream & sugar), along comes someone asking them to drop a few steel “ice cubes” into their mug. How long before an eager coffee lover chips a tooth?
I’m tired of reading praise for design solutions to non-problems and seeing people—who seem to know very little about coffee—flooding the industry with more junk we don’t need. Who keeps a cup of coffee for 3 hours anyway? Even Starbucks dumps airpots in their store every 30 minutes if the coffee hasn’t been purchased because of quality loss.
They say there’s a sucker born every minute. In this case there’s over 2000 of them. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the punchline.
I recently mentioned having conversations with soldiers about how terrible coffee is while they’re deployed and I can only imagine how important it is to their long days on patrol. This video show’s a few Canadian soldiers keeping themselves entertained by showing friends at home how they make coffee in the field. Bring them home!
Warning: every other word beings with “F” if that bothers you or your boss.