The Chemex is possibly the most elegant looking of all brewing devices and one of my favorite ways to make coffee. It was designed in 1941 by a German chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, who immigrated to the United States in 1935. The modern hourglass shape of the Chemex, hugged in the middle by a wooden collar and leather tie, became a part of MoMA’s permanent collection in 1944—just a few years after its invention.
Apart from its sophisticated design, it makes an equally great cup of coffee when it’s not looking beautiful on your counter or the walls of a modern art museum.
The upper portion of the Chemex cradles a thick, bonded filter (also made by Chemex) that resembles lab parchment more than a typical coffee filter. This filter is what helps create such a clean cup of coffee that really highlights the brightness, clarity and sweetness in certain coffees that I personally enjoy very much.
The design is nearly identical to the original product, except the glass is no longer made by Pyrex. There is an alternate, glass-handled design that is easier to clean and allows a better view of the coffee brewing process—or there’s the handblown versions for three times the cost of the mass produced ones, if you’re a purist with extra money to spend.
Apart from the design itself and the quality of coffee it makes, I also like the Chemex for its ease of use. In regards to pour over devices, I find the Chemex to be one of the easiest for beginners to take up. The thickness of the filter and slower brew time allows for a greater margin of error, while the one-piece design reduces spills and can be less intimidating to handle. Although the larger ones are not ideal for smaller servings, there are several sizes of the Chemex available depending on your needs.
There are many variations on how to use the Chemex, but at its simplest, add a bit of hot water and let bloom for 30–45 seconds, then pour the remaining water in a circular motion, keeping all the grounds wet. I generally stick to a “60g of coffee/1 liter of water” ratio for the Chemex—but as always, adjust to taste. There are a number of tutorials on BrewMethods.com, but this one from Intelligentsia has always been my favorite.
Here are some nice charts from the Colombia Coffee Hub that show 14 possible green coffee defects. They include brief summaries of what causes them and how they affect roasted coffee. I almost find it hard to look at—like photos of STDs in a science text book—the sad little leprous beans that will never make a happy cup of coffee. But we must not avert our gaze, but show compassion for the process, and learn from them.
If you haven’t signed up for the Colombia Coffee Hub yet, there’s a lot of nice articles worth reading. It’s also a really cool site, but a bit lonely right now.
Michael Phillips, the 2010 World Barista Champion and 1/3 of Handsome Roasters, recently gave a Super Talk about coffee at a TED-like event in Korea called Super Series.
The talk, named “Cultural Coffee & Artistic Barista” begins with a brief definition of Specialty Coffee before Mike goes on to share his passions for coffee and being a barista. As the talk progresses, he discusses important changes taking place in the world of coffee guided by cultural interest in the process and origin of the things we consume and a desire for authenticity in our every-day experiences.
After briefly explaining barista competitions, Mike elaborates on why they are good for baristas and the positive innovations they have led to in the industry, which results in better coffee for the consumer and inspired new ways to look at coffee.
Things like this have caused coffee to be reborn, re-examined, and challenged in entirely new ways.
This video is an approachable explanation of the changes people have begun seeing in their local coffee shops, read about online and heard about from their friends. There’s a lot of great information delivered without pretension and a handsome face.
It’s been awhile since my last coffee app post, but I’m really excited about this one. Bloom is a new app for iOS5, created by Jeremy Boles, that allows users to create custom recipes for their brew methods and coffees. Unlike other apps that I’ve reviewed that just keep time, or have set recipes that can’t be edited, Bloom is fully customizable.
The app comes pre-loaded with a solid list of standard recipes for six common brew methods—Beehouse, Chemex, Clever, French Press, Syphon and V60. While I’m personally bummed there’s no Aeropress icon, I’m sure that’s something that can be added in a future update (fingers crossed).
There are a few things I really love about this app, mainly how utilitarian it is. There is no unnecessary start-up screen to slow the load time—just a couple taps and your timer is counting down. Once the clock begins, a yellow strip highlights what step you’re on (i.e. bloom or pour). When you create custom recipes, you can add as many steps as you need and name them what you like. You can also switch between remaining time or elapsed time, which is a nice feature.
Once you’ve created a recipe you like, you can duplicate it with one tap and tweak the parameters, creating a new variation of the recipe. This is great for keeping accurate records while dialing in coffees. Once you decide what tastes best, delete the others.
My only critique at this point is the wood background (it’s too similar to the Intelligentsia app and the new Coffee Tools app), let’s mix it up a bit out there! Give me some brushed metal or a field of daisies or something. A different shade of wood even or maybe a pattern in blue and white greek bath tiles.
I’d also like better control over how the recipes are arranged. Currently they arrange themselves alphabetically according to brew method or coffee name (if you add one). However, if you have multiple recipes for the same brew method and one is for Kenya Kieni and the other for Rwanda Abangakarushwa—they will no longer be grouped together on the list because the coffee name supersedes the brew method.
If you visit the Bloom website, you can watch a demo of the app in use or purchase it for $2.99—which I think is reasonable considering the limited size of the market (this isn’t Angry Birds). I like to think of it as buying the creator a cup of coffee to thank him for all his hard work. Jeremy also informed me that he submitted an update that will soon allow users to email, text or tweet parameters to others. #awesome.
I try to keep the primary content on DCILY as well-curated as possible—usually no more than one post a day. But there’s always some kind of relevant action going on via Twitter or Facebook (where DCILY just passed 45,000 fans), to inspire you to brew another cup.
For those who aren’t on Facebook, DCILY now has a new Google+ page, where you’ll find extra articles, photos, and conversation that don’t make it to a full post. So check things out on Google+ and add DCILY to your circle.
I’ve talked about my visit to The Coffee Collective’s original shop at Jægersborggade in the past, and I recently used one of their coffees to compete in the World AeroPress Championship in Milan. So it’s fair to say I’m a big fan of what they’re doing.
While I was in Copenhagen picking up my competition coffee, I also stopped by their newest location at Torvhallerne, a public market near the city center. Oliver Strand was one of the first to write about visiting the new space, and I was excited to see it myself.
This location consists of a really long bar in the back corner of a modern glass pavilion. It’s surrounded by other vendors selling chocolates, baked goods and spices that will more than inspire your appetite.
A steady line begins at one end of the bar, where orders are placed, that makes its way down the line passed the lovely (world exclusive) Spirit espresso machine. If filter coffee were ordered, you continue on to the V60 bar where there’s an unobscured view of each coffee brewed by the cup.
A large, full-color map of the world illuminates the back wall and serves as a colorful backdrop for the baristas working methodically to serve the 700 to 1000 cups that can be ordered on a given day. The map is punctuated with photos from the farms where coffees have been sourced, adding a visual sense of scale to the process.
The new shop has a completely different feel than the original, but the coffee is just as good. So depending on your mood and the kind of atmosphere you’re looking for—you now have a choice.
Two weeks ago Starbucks made a big announcement. Bigger than dropping their written name from their logo (which I never covered), and bigger than this month’s roll out of Starbucks k-cups. On October 18th, the green giant announced that it would start selling lighter roasted blends, misleadingly named Blonde.
This is big for several reasons.
First, it supports the notion that a growing segment of the market realizes that Pike Place tastes like charcoal and they’re looking for something not-so-burnt. It may also encourage other roasters—who were worried that the size of the light roast market would not support their business—to lighten their roasts. If the market for lighter roasted coffee is big enough to gain Starbuck’s attention, there’s enough room for the small guys to compete in better ways and with more panache.
I’ve previously written about the uselessness of the term “bold,” and Starbuck’s role in perpetuating its use. Like it or not, the size of their business allows them to shape the language and perception of coffee for many people. How many independent coffee shops regularly get requests for tall, grande and venti drinks? Or have upset customers who ordered a macchiato, by serving them a shot of espresso with a bit of foam on top—where’s my caramel!? If Startbucks and its ginormous $2 billion dollar marketing megaphone can get people to think lighter roasts are a good thing—it allows the roasters who have already been roasting more enjoyable coffee to reach more people.
All of that said, there’s one big caveat to the Blonde roast—it’s not actually “light.” The new roast has been compared to the “milder taste” and “lighter roasts” of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, not Tim Wendelboe and Intelligentsia. So there is a bit of subjectivity in how the Blonde roast has been described. In the Starbucks video that announced the new roast, two Starbuck’s roasters discussed the process saying:
We went through 80 to 100 iterations…we were narrowing in on it for quite a while. At second pop is where we found the sweet spot for Blonde roast.
Second pop? On my recent trip to The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, the first pop (or crack) took place in the cooling tray of the roaster. There’s usually another minute or two between the first and second crack in roasting, which means the Blonde roast is being cooked for 10% longer (or more) than light roasts that tend to highlight the taste of the coffee and not the roast. Not that its a fair comparison, since Nordic roasters are often teased for simply brewing green coffee, but it does put things into perspective.
For the sake of those who truely do roast light, its nice that Starbucks choose the name “Blonde” instead of “light,” even though it’s really medium dark. Just because Blonde is roasted lighter than the other Starbuck’s coffee (which isn’t hard to do), doesn’t make it a light roast. But it does make for great marketing, who doesn’t love a tall blonde?
So will Starbuck’s Blonde roast steal customers away from other roasters who have been roasting lighter for years—highly doubtful. Will it open the door for those same roasters to have conversations with new customers about lighter coffee—absolutely. It may even make the occasional, intolerable cup of airport coffee, slightly more tolerable.