University of California Considering Coffee Degree

03.14

coffee-and-books

The University of California, Davis is considering the potential of a degree in coffee sometime in the near future. The university recently opened the UC Davis Coffee Center as part of their Food for Health Institute, whose stated goals are to “increase value at every step of the coffee pipeline, to ensure safety and quality of the global coffee trade, and educate the next generation of coffee scientists.”

The Coffee Center just wrapped up its first coffee research conference and they are currently looking for partners in the coffee industry to help expand the program and its research. NPR spoke with the director of the Food for Health Institute who made the case for why coffee is an obvious area of study:

There aren’t a lot of things that so many people consume several times a day, every day,” says J. Bruce German, who directs of the Foods for Health Institute at Davis. But given how much coffee people all over the world chug, there’s a surprising lack of academic research on the topic, German says.

There’s a lot we still don’t fully understand about coffee, German says. What’s the best way to treat the beans while they’re still green? What’s the most environmentally friendly way to roast them? And why are we so obsessed with how it smells?

And since the university is already well known for its winemaking and beer brewing programs, German says coffee seems like a natural next step. –NPR

As someone currently working on a Master’s Thesis about coffee, I can confirm how little academic research there is on the topic and I would greatly appreciate the knowledge a program like this could produce. If you’re considering an academic degree in the future and you’re enthralled by the idea of studying the chemistry of coffee, its impact on human health, or how to improve coffee at any point of the coffee chain, keep an eye on UC Davis.

Read the full story on NPR.

posted by on 03.14.2014, under Misc.

Counter Culture Opens New York Training Mecca

09.24

counterculture_nyc1

On October 1, Counter Culture Coffee’s new world class, state-of-the art training facility will officially open in New York City. The fully renovated space offers 3,600 sq feet of epic coffee training wonderland that will include one of the first Modbar systems in the country as well as equipment from all the top equipment manufacturers—La Marzocco, Ditting, Mazzer, Nuova Simonelli, Marco and Mahlkonig. If the Modbar wasn’t enough there will also be several Über boilers and an EK-43.

Counter Culture Coffee is headquartered in Durham, NC but sells coffee through wholesale accounts in most major cities and beyond. The company doesn’t have cafés of their own and instead focuses their energy on thoroughly training their wholesale customers. The training program has proved quite successful for their own employees as well, helping both Katie Carguilo, the 2012 US Barista Champion and Erin McCarthy, the 2013 World Brewers Cup Champion win their respective competitions.

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The training center will be used for an array of classes from the company’s Counter Intelligence program and boasts an incredibly multi-faceted design to host a broad range of events. There will be free public cuppings every Friday at 10am (which also take place at their other training centers around the country), home brewing workshops and even food pairing events with guest chefs.

For the industry side, there’s an espresso training room that fits up to 20 people, a full service tech lab in the basement, and a competition training room. If you happen to be a Counter Culture wholesale customer you’ll even have your own key. As Counter Culture’s own Jesse Kahn puts it, “our training lab IS our wholesale customers training lab. They have access whenever they need it. It’s all about helping people have sustainable in-house training.”

The design utilizes ample amounts of reclaimed and salvaged wood filling the space, and its 16ft high ceilings, with some warmth. The architect, Jane Kim, has worked with other well known coffee spots in NYC, including the second location of Everyman Espresso and Third Rail, but the work for Counter Culture seems to better reflect some of her beautiful lofty residential work.

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[above the CCC dream team in their new training center: Park Brannen, Katie Carguilo, Jesse Kahn, Erin Meister, and Erin McCarthy] Photos: Alan Tansey

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For those of you in NYC this weekend, the training center will have an open house on Friday and Saturday to celebrate with cuppings, brewing workshops and giveways. I can’t make it, so stop by the new space, taste some great coffee, Instagram the hell out of it and give Jesse Kahn a giant hug for me.

The New York Counter Culture Training Center
376 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013

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posted by on 09.24.2013, under Design, Misc., Recommended Roasters

Coffee Common Comes To A Close

09.19

What began as a project to collaborate with great roasters and baristas to share delicious coffee at TED, unexpectedly transformed into a message and energy that transcended its initial purpose—it was a reaction to confusion. In the year and a half spent developing, organizing and running Coffee Common events in LA, NYC, Edinburgh and London—I learned an incredible amount. But most important were the people involved in making the experiences so fantastic and the knowledge they all shared so generously.

Working with Brent, Kyle, Peter, Sean, Stephen and Tim, meant being surrounded by an unmatched passion for coffee and their desire to share it with people. That energy is what drove our events forward and its what makes it so hard to see it come to an end. Coffee will continue to be at the heart of our work and our hearts will remain dedicated to sharing exceptional coffee. There will no doubt be other great things in the future and I look forward to sharing them with you when that time comes.

Thank you to everyone involved for making it what it was.

Read our official farewell:
Coffee Common is Dead, Long Live Coffee Common

posted by on 09.19.2012, under Misc.

Pop Chart’s Compendious Coffee Diagram

08.21

The chart masters over at Pop Chart Lab have just released an impressively comprehensive flow chart that diagrams the various elements required for all manner of coffee drinks. Including various types of grinders, brew methods, mixers, and the resulting beverages they create. The listed brew methods even include such new and notable options such as the Steampunk and Able Kone.

Overall, it’s one of the most accurate—and impressive—coffee illustations I’ve seen on the web. While obviously well researched, I noticed two glaring mistakes: the categorization of the AeroPress as an espresso maker and (most odd), connecting the “cupping” brew method to iced coffee. It may be too late for corrections, but either way, Pop Chart Lab will be printing 500 of them large scale, for wall hanging glory.

Zoom in and explore the full scale version at Pop Chart Lab

posted by on 08.21.2012, under Coffee 101, Design

Cartel Coffee & The Chemex

08.20

Since the early days of brew method videos, there’s been an impressive evolution in the quality of the videos being produced. From the academic, to the clever to the action packed—tutorial videos have become a way for coffee companies to educate consumers, market themselves and have a bit of fun in the process.

The latest addition to the brewtorial archive comes from Cartel Coffee Lab in Arizona. Using the same “Stranger Than Fiction” notations as their earlier video, their latest—also produced by Ah Dios—gives the mid-century modern Chemex a southwestern flair.

posted by on 08.20.2012, under Brew Methods, Brewtorial, Coffee 101, Misc., Videos

A History of Espresso From The Smithsonian

06.27

Smithsonian Magazine recently published a great article about the history of the espresso machine that’s definitely worth reading. While it doesn’t cover every minute detail, it mentions the key points that led to the creation of a commercial espresso industry and highlights the most important elements of quality espresso.

There is an art to the espresso as well. The talent of the barista is as important as the quality of the beans and the efficiency of the machine. Indeed, it is said that a good espresso depends on the four M’sMacchina, the espresso machine; Macinazione, the proper grinding of a beans –a uniform grind between fine and powdery– which is ideally done moments brewing the drink; Miscela, the coffee blend and the roast, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista, because even with the finest beans and the most advanced equipment, the shot depends on the touch and style of the barista. When combined properly, these four Ms yield a drink that is at once bold and elegant, with a light, sweet foam crema floating over the coffee. A complex drink with a complex history. -Jimmy Stamp

Read the full article at SmithsonianMag.

[hat tip Rob Walker]

posted by on 06.27.2012, under Brew Methods, Coffee 101

Mark Your Calendar: Nordic Roaster Forum 2012

06.18

If you’re a roaster or aspiring roaster, one of the best roaster events in Europe will be taking place in Stockholm this October. The Nordic Roaster Forum is an intimate educational experience to further the knowledge and skill of specialty coffee roasters.

I attended last year to help with the event and the cuppings, lectures and parties were all fantastic experiences. You can watch the videos from last year forum on Vimeo

Nordic Roaster Forum is a 2-day seminar where 65 roasters will gather to learn about varietals, processing, sourcing, trading and roasting. The program is a mix of lectures, cuppings, dialogue and social networking. Farmers from producing countries will speak about the coffee and the trade from their perspective. Roasters will reflect and talk about their approach. We will cup the coffees processed by these farmers and roasted by the roasters.

For more information and registration, visit Nordic Barista Cup.

posted by on 06.18.2012, under Misc., Recommended Roasters

Journey to Origin: Final Summary

06.07

 

To finally pick a coffee cherry off the tree and taste the inherent sweetness that should be found in your cup (cliché as it may sound) gives an entirely new understanding and appreciation for the farmers, roasters and baristas who are able to maintain the true characteristics of this wonderful seed throughout it’s long and complex journey. Great coffee should not be unpleasantly bitter, it should not need sugar, and it should not be insulting to pay as much as you would for the cheapest glass of wine on a menu.

I learned so much during this week, but nothing more important than just how little I know. Though I experienced many things on this trip, it was only a few farms, in a couple regions, of one country out of many, that produce coffee in different ways, in different parts of the world. After finally visiting origin, I now feel like I know less than I ever have—which is more of a reason to keep learning.

After five days of immersive education at coffee farms, labs and mills, the remaining two days of my trip were reserved for experiencing some of the non-coffee related highlights in Colombia. To wrap-up a long week of travel and learning, I was excited to relax on the beach with new friends, enjoy a few bottles of Aguardiente & dance the night away in moonlit clubs. I spent the weekend visiting cultural landmarks and enjoying a few restaurants in Bogotás lively food scene—complete with belly dancers, burgers & beer.

At the beginning of the year, I made it a goal of mine to visit origin in 2012, but I had no idea it would be through such an incredible opportunity as this one. I can’t thank the Colombia Coffee Hub and the FNC enough for this experience.

Marcela, Camillo and Michael were incredible hosts, answered all my questions (no matter how controversial the answers may have been) and were genuinely fantastic people to be around. Also the media team—Lina, Jorge and Sebastién who did their best to avoid awkwardness while filming my every move for a week. This journey would not have been the same without all the lovely people who were a part of it.

In the coming year, there will be more origin journey’s featured on the Hub, including another (like mine) to be given to a lucky Hubber. So if you haven’t joined yet—it may be one the best decisions you’ve ever made.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub & watch more videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5

 

posted by on 06.07.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Videos

Journey to Origin: Day 3 in Colombia

05.15

On the third day we left from Pereira and drove for an hour along the scenic “coffee highway” on our way to Chinchiná. Today would contrast yesterday’s fun on the farm with a more microscopic view of coffee at Cenicafé, the Colombian National Research Center—one of the world’s largest coffee research labs.

Sitting atop a mountain in the west Andes, Cenicafé is a beautiful research campus where a large team of scientists, engineers and agronomists work on programs that range from genetic mapping, coffee processing technology and biodiversity preservation. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of these brilliant minds who shared way more knowledge than I could absorb in one day, but I was introduced to new concepts and perspectives I had yet to consider in my understanding of coffee.

We began the morning meeting with Dr. Huver Posada, who talked about the Denominations of Origin program. The DO program is tasked with mapping chemical markers within coffee from all around Colombia to determine specific environmental traits that contirbute to certain qualities of Colombian coffee.

Using an infrared spectroscopy machine, Dr. Posada can test samples of coffee to capture and catalog data that includes levels of caffeine, acidity, sugars and many other chemical compounds. This information can be used to not only determine expected qualities based on where a coffee is grown, but it can also be used to authenticate a coffee’s origin.

Next we met with Dr. Alvaro Gaitán who gave us a tour of the campus and several labs while discussing Cenicafés genetic improvement program. One of the many projects by Dr. Gaitán and his colleagues include mapping the genome of various coffee species to study and compare gene arrangements. This allows them to clone the agronomically beneficial genes and try to develop solutions to problems that plague farmers, such as leaf rust and the coffee berry borer.

While enjoying your morning coffee, the last thing you probably imagine are shelves filled with cloned plant specimens and labs experimenting with beetle killing fungi. However, Cenicafé is where these scientific explorations of coffee take place to ensure that future generations of Colombian coffee farmers will still have their livelihood, should unmanageable pests and disease threaten their crops.

After lunch I met Gloria Lentijo who works in the Biology Conservation Department at Cenicafé. She shared some of the work being done to study, understand and conserve the incredibly rich biodiversity in Colombia without sacrificing the farmer’s productivity.

This department works with farmers to promote eco corridors that connect forests and vegetation patches on farms as well as how to properly use shade in regions where its needed. They’ve also cataloged hundreds of species of insects and wildlife that can be found throughout the country, which is also used to educate school children.

This information is shared with farmers in several ways, but one of the most interesting methods is through community bird watch groups created to foster appreciation and pride in the conservation of Colombia’s natural habitats.

Next, I got to meet Dr. Rodrigo Sanz, an engineer who worked on the Becolsub, a technology developed by Cenicafé that I was eager to learn about in person. The system was developed to speed up coffee processing, minimize contamination and use less water. While the traditional washed process uses about 40 liters of water per kilo of coffee, the Becolsub uses less than 1 liter of water per kilo.

The system consists of a standard pulper, driven by belts instead of a hand crank, that is connected to a “demucilager.” The demucilager is a small silo filled with knobby gears that spin at high RPMs. The depulped seeds travel up through the silo with a small amount of water and are washed clean of the mucilage—without having to ferment for the standard 12-18 hours. The expelled beans are ready to to be dried moments after the cherries enter the machine. I would have liked to cup the same coffee processed with both methods to see if there are any significant differences in the taste, but that would have required more time than we had available.

This method of washing coffee is becoming more prominent in Colombia and similar systems are being used in other countries as well, but the coffee is generally labeled as “washed processed.” I’d be interested in learning more about the Becolsub’s effect on flavor development—if any—as well as seeing more coffee labeled specifically with this processing technique out of sheer curiosity.

Before leaving Cenicafé, I spent the afternoon exploring the varietal research collection that features row upon row of varieties and hybrids that include plants from the Arabica, Canephora (Robusta) and Liberica species of coffee. It was incredible to see how drastically different coffee plants could be from one another. From the strikingly tall Liberica trees to the bushy Timor and the spindly Bourbons. A truly great experience.

Dr. Posada met back up with us in the field to discuss cross-pollination and to talk about the development of Castillo. This variety, formerly known as Colombia, is a product of cross-breeding Caturra with Timor varieties to develop a coffee that’s resistent to leaf rust with a high yield and short height that contributes to easier harvesting.

I often hear people suggest that Castillo doesn’t produce good coffee, but my experience during this trip found that to be an exaggerated stereotype. I had great coffees that were both Castillo and Caturra grown in Colombia. Just as one can find good and bad Caturra or Bourbon, there is also good and bad Castillo to be found.

After seeing trees that have been decimated by leaf rust on some of the farms I visited, it’s easier to understand the farmer’s needs to address the problem however they can. While quality may be of upmost importance to roasters, baristas and consumers—the ability to grow coffee is of greater concern to the farmers.

As we rode along the winding roads to the airport, I watched the passing towns and thought about the immense depth of scientific research and development found behind the humble coffee bean. People frequently toss around a statistic stating that coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil, if so, one should assume there is an industry of research behind it—I just never considered how advanced it might be until now.

The energy and resources that the FNC  and Cenicafé have invested into its coffee industry is impressive to say the least. I know that each origin has it’s own unique issues, but many of the solutions I’ve experienced here are interesting, inspiring and definitely worth studying in a greater capacity. Next stop, Bogotá.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub and watch the videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
Journey to Origin: Summary

posted by on 05.15.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Misc.

Journey to Origin: Day 2 in Colombia

05.12

After spending an evening at the lovely La Navarra Hotel in Armenia, Quindio I woke to another grey, wet morning. We ate a hardy breakfast of arepa, a flat bread covered with cheese, fresh fruit and hot cocoa, before heading to nearby El Agrado, one of Cenicafé’s regional research farms.

Upon arrival, our group was led towards a forest of bamboo that reached high above the trees, forming shelter from the rain. Inside was a circular grove outlined with benches that overlooked a porcelain brew bar set upon a bamboo table. Marta, the farm’s resident barista and head of its quality research lab, talked about the importance of proper preparation and sharing that knowledge and experience with farmers to help them better understand the end product of their coffee. She then brewed a Chemex for us all to share before we headed out to do some work.

Today was dedicated to learning more about the coffee growing process step-by-step. After spending the previous day at several farms, it was time to get my hands dirty and experience each of the steps throughout the process.

I began with a bag of Castillo coffee seeds in their unmilled parchment state. Castillo is a hybrid variety of Caturra designed to be resistent to leaf rust, a fungus that’s become a growing problem for coffee farmers in Colombia. The nursery bed was nothing more than a garden box filled with wet sand, where seeds would grow roots and their first pair of leaves during the next 60 days.

Taking my first handful of seeds I began to cautiously sprinkle them as if I could consciously place each bean as it landed. After being encouraged not to worry about uniform spacing, the blank sheet of sand became speckled at a much quicker pace. When the bed had been saturated with enough coffee seeds, I used a bamboo roller to level the seeds before spreading another centimeter of sand over them.

After planting my own seeds, we moved to a couple of beds that were further along in the process. After about 30 days, the seed itself is pushed up from the sand on a stem, while a system of vertical roots begin to take hold. By 60 days, the first pair of leaves develop and the tiny plants are transplanted from the bed of sand into cylindrical bags filled with soil and organic material.

The cylindrical bags and their new inhabitants are grouped together and set aside to grow for another 6 months, where they’ll grow to be about 12 inches high and develop roughly 6 pair of leaves. At this time, the plants will be strong enough to be transplanted to their permanent places in the field.

Arriving to the plants new home, I cleared away any brush, sticks and weeds and dug a hole deep enough to receive the column of starter soil—making sure the base of the plant rested level with the surrounding earth. I took the fill dirt I had removed from the hole and mixed it with about 1/3 compost, made of decomposed coffee cherry pulp, before refilling and packing the hole, making sure there were no pockets of air left in the soil. Then I moved on to my second plant.

While it took me about 30 minutes to bury my first two plants, a real farmer can plant hundreds of new trees in a day. I imagine with a bit more practice and a more flexible pair of jeans, I could increase my productivity exponentially.

Once my plants where in the ground, they would have another year of maturation before the first flowers would arrive, followed 8 months later by the first coffee cherries.

I also learned a bit about fertilization, which consists of spreading nitrogen and phosphorus pellets around the base of the plants when the soil becomes off balance. The rest of the growth cycle involves continued management of soil health  and preventing leaf rust and other pests that may destroy the plants.

In Colombia, the coffee cherries mature at different times, and many farms are on steep and uneven terrain, so once cherries begin to ripen they are picked by hand as needed. The farmers concerned with the highest quality will sort the harvested cherries again to make sure only the best ones are being processed. Tanks of water are are also used to separate the bad cherries which will float to the top, while the others sink.

When the ripe cherries have all been gathered, it’s time to process them. Colombia’s primary method of processing is washed, either with fermentation tanks or the Colombian designed Becolsub (or eco pulper). Once the beans have been separated from the cherry (depulped), they are left covered with a clear jelly-like substance called mucilage. In order to remove the mucilage, they are left to sit for 12 to 18 hours while microorganisms in the mucilage dissolve the sugars. This part of the coffee process is one of the most sensitive and can lead to defects that affect the taste if done improperly.

Once the proper fermentation time has elapsed, the coffee beans are washed clean and dried to reach a moisture level between 10–12%. Drying is done with the sun on patios or raised beds, and in some cases with mechanical heated silos. The silo I saw on this visit was powered by burning dried coffee parchment, a waste product from the mill. After the parchment coffee has dried to the proper moisture level, it’s bagged, taken to the nearest selling point and checked for quality.

Following our morning of work in the fields, we washed up and headed to the El Agrado lab, where Marta gave us a tour of the facilities and talked about the quality tests run on coffee sent to them by farmers. These tests help diagnose problems they can help resolve as well as discover farmers producing great coffee who they can learn from. I also looked at physical examples of green coffee defects and learned more about their causes.

After working my way through the coffee process this morning, it was about time to taste the resulting product. Marta had prepared a cupping with 5 coffees from different farms in the Quindio region, both Caturra and Castillo varieties. While each of the coffees were very nice, two of them stood out as definite favorites. Most surprising to me though, was how different these coffees could taste when all of them were from the same region. The complexity and nuance of coffee continues to amaze me.

With the most exciting and information filled part of the day coming to an end, we headed off to the Colombian National Coffee Park for a late lunch and some relaxation. The Parque Nacional del Café is a sprawling theme park that shares the culture and process surrounding Colombian coffee, as well as being home to several roller coasters and go-carts. Although the weather wasn’t the best for water rides, we strolled around the park and took in the view before heading to our hotel in Pereira.

Today was the most informative of my trip, which I don’t necessarily attribute to the amount of information received, but through the process of learning by hand. This helped me absorb what I learned and apply a level of physical effort to the knowledge itself. The romantic idea of being at origin was punctuated by the reality of how much work goes into growing coffee and the intensity of the labor involved. The most important thing I’ve learned so far at origin, is that everything I’ve learned has an asterisk.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub and watch the videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
Journey to Origin: Summary

 

 

 

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posted by on 05.12.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Misc.