Reflecting on Coffee Common NYC

02.02

After completing the fourth Coffee Common event in our first year, I’m really excited about the future of cC and specialty coffee as a whole. There’s an excitement and eagerness among consumers to learn more about coffee, the choices they have, and making it better at home. While every Coffee Common event has been a success for different reasons, our event in New York was without question, my favorite so far.

The space we used was a bright corner unit across the street from Highline Park called A Startup Store. It was just a few blocks from Chelsea Market and provided ample room for three bars, lit by a flood of natural light through floor to ceiling windows. Each bar had a different theme that introduced guests to new discussions and experiences around the coffees being served. After walking in and paying a nominal fee of $5, guests were handed a ceramic cup to use during their stay.

The first bar, Taste&, was an introduction to each coffee brewed in a V60. It was an opportunity for guests to try several coffees from different origins and roasters side-by-side, while talking with baristas about differences, thoughts, likes and dislikes. By the time customers walked away, many of them had experienced for the first time just how different coffees can taste from one another.

Everyone left this bar with a personal favorite and reasons why they liked it more than others—the sweetness, the fruitiness, the brightness, the balance. The tasting was far less intimidating than a cupping and more akin to an informal wine tasting. Guests lingered and chatted with baristas, or went back for seconds and thirds of their choice coffee. It was the central gathering point of the event and created a context for which the other bars could work within—that not all coffee is the same.

The next station was our Ingredients& bar. This stop fostered a lot of conversation, even among those who didn’t attend. The premise was simple, illustrate the effects that additives like milk and sugar have on two types of coffee—specialty and commodity. First, guests were given an unnamed commodity coffee to try black and then discussed what they tasted. Ashy, burnt, smokey and bitter were common responses. That coffee was then dressed with some milk and sugar and it transformed into a coffee that most people were familiar or comfortable with.

Next, one of the featured coffees were sampled in its unadulterated form. The unique characteristics of that coffee were then discussed and usually agreed upon as much nicer to drink in its black state than the previous coffee. Milk and sugar were then added to the specialty coffee, which reduced its complexity, making it less interesting and ultimately diminishing the qualities that made it special.

Although some still enjoyed both coffees with milk and sugar, most noticed the adverse effects it had on the flavor. The purpose wasn’t to say what was right or wrong, but once again illustrate that not all coffees are the same and discuss those differences. [Erin Meister, a barista who worked this bar, wrote a great piece about it on Serious Eats]

The third bar, tucked in the back corner of the space, was the place to go for hands-on demonstrations and personal brewing tips from baristas. Method& was the coffee equivalent of an Apple Genius Bar and my favorite of them all.

There were three stations where guests could chose the coffee and the brew method they were most interested in learning about. Baristas at this bar would brew a round with step-by-step instructions, answering questions along the way, and serve the resulting sample to everyone within reach. Next, the tools were passed on to guests who wanted to try it themselves, being guided through the process.

Seeing the look of empowerment and success on a persons face after making their very first Chemex or AeroPress was the most rewarding part of the event. When someone realized that with just slightly more effort than making EasyMac, they could enjoy much better coffee at home, it was a big win for everyone involved. Watching people leave with a smile on their face and—in some cases—all the equipment needed to brew coffee themselves, was a win for everyone in specialty coffee.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen and all of you who came out to participate (especially those who waited in line). If you haven’t had the chance to join us at Coffee Common yet, I hope that one day you will.

 

 

posted by on 02.02.2012, under Misc.

The End of Cheap Coffee

11.30

GOOD Magazine recently published a great article about the end of cheap coffee—due to things like climate change and a growing global demand—and the impending shift to coffee as a luxury. The author, Zak Stone, sets the tone for luxury coffee with a visit to the slow bar at Intelligentsia’s Venice location, before talking with a list of industry experts—including Ben Kaminsky (Ritual), Peter Giuliano (Counter Culture), Geoff Watts (Intelligentsia) and Dub Hay (Starbucks)—to get their perspective on the changes ahead.

If you haven’t read it yet, definitely take the time to check out the full article.

“We think our coffee is ridiculously cheap,” says Ben Kaminsky, director of quality control at Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, where a pound of beans starts at $19.95. His sentiment is echoed by many working in high-end coffee. “It’s interesting to me that the same consumer that will go to 7-11 and buy a bottle of Fiji Water for five dollars will go crazy and complain about a cup of coffee,” says Geoff Watts, Intelligentsia’s vice president and green (unroasted, that is) coffee buyer. “This is a meticulously grown agricultural product from halfway around the world that was hand-harvested, hand-picked, and roasted and brewed. It’s got all these different flavor characteristics. It’s got antioxidants. It’s got all the things you could want in a drink.”

A luxury drink, that is. “Coffee as cheap fuel for the masses is a historical anomaly,” says Peter Giuliano, director of coffee at the North Carolina-based roaster Counter Culture. “There’s no nutritive value. It’s drunk just for the pleasure of it. It’s a total miracle of global agriculture, a feat that spans cultures and countries.” -GOOD

Illustration by Dan Matutina

posted by on 11.30.2011, under Coffee 101, Misc.

Green Coffee Defects

11.12

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.

[click images for a larger view]

posted by on 11.12.2011, under Coffee 101, Misc.

The MANE Coffee Event – Part 2 Recap

10.13

 

The second day at MANE was a long one, filled with 4 classes, a brew down and an after party. But there was no shortage of great coffee going around to keep everyone focused on all the great learning going on.

I started the day at “Introduction to Espresso” with Scott Guglielmino from La Marzocco. After gauging everyone’s knowledge and interests, the conversation steered towards best practices for dialing-in using the three golden variables—dose, grind and temperature. We discussed the characteristics to look for in a shot, to know which of the three variables that need to be adjusted, and how to make those adjustments. Scott also spoke about some of the unnecessary minutiae that muddles up making a good shot.

Some highlights from the discussion:

  • Try brewing coffee as filter before dialing in as espresso. This creates a reference point so you aren’t blindly adjusting to achieve unknown flavors.
  • Tamp pressure isn’t that important, just push down evenly.
  • An uneven flow has to do with an uneven machine, or dirty/defective spouts—not an uneven tamp.
  • Don’t spend a ton of time grooming, just level the grounds and tamp.
  • 19% extraction is horse-shit. The correct extraction is what tastes best.

 

Next was a great panel discussion with Trevor Corlett, Dan Streetman, Philip Search and Gwilym Davies called “Training to be a Barista Champion.” Moderated by Troy, the group shared their personal experiences competing, tips for preparing yourself and how to make your presentation unique.

Some tips for competing:

  • Read the rules. -DS
  • Find a coffee that you love and really get to know it. -GD
  • If you enter the competition with the sole purpose of winning, you’ll destroy yourself. -PS
  • You can take a lot away from competition, without playing to win. -DS
  • Equipment shouldn’t matter, don’t let it dissuade you. -TC
  • Make a signature drink that accentuates the coffee. -TC
  • Find that thing you’re passionate about, that magic spark that can lead your presentation. -PS
  • Be consistent. Break your routine into steps. List them and learn them. Make them muscle memory so you can focus on the service. -PS
  • Play, have fun, get creative and experiment. -GD

 

After a nice lunch that included some of the best apples I ever tasted, Gwilym taught a class on the classic, but often feared Leva machine. He began with an introduction on how it works, why the standard rules of espresso don’t necessarily apply and the danger of flying levers. A disassembled group was then passed around to give everyone a better look at the giant pressure creating spring attached to the lever.

It’s a surprisingly simple machine that works in many ways like a high-powered AeroPress (or the AeroPress works like a low-powered Leva). After a brief tutorial, we took turns pulling levers and shots.

The last class of the day was a filter brewing lab where we picked a brewing method we were unfamiliar/uncomfortable with and took time to learn and experiment with it. I choose the Clever and teamed up with Jessie Kahn from Counter Culture, to see if I could actually produce a better cup of coffee with one.

After many attempts and realizing the water was causing everyone’s coffee to taste off, I walked away still unconvinced by this brew method.

By the end of the 4th class, it was time for a break. Everyone split-up for dinner on their own, so I went with Mark Hundley, a Providence local, to get burritos and walk around Thayer Street for a bit. Then we came back early to pull shots on the Strada before the whole group returned for the brew down and after party.

There was more coffee brewing, beer drinking, laughing, and fun—and just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, a surprise appearance by Providence’s own Extraordinary Rendition Band got the room moving.

The following morning there was a light breakfast and two more sessions. My last two classes were a second manual brew lab and a class about how to implement a modern brew on demand program. The latter was a bit dry, with lots of information, but without any visuals and very little applicable information. It was more of a general overview of the pros and cons of making such a move.

Afterwards everyone began to disperse to to head home or spend an afternoon in Providence before catching flights. As a left, I had a bag full of coffee and a notebook full of knowledge and a lot of excitement about the direction the coffee industry is moving. More passion, better education, and improved skills will mean more great coffee.

Thanks to all the new friends and thanks again to Troy and Gerra (and all the volunteers) for making MANE such a valuable event to attend.

The Mane Event – Part 1 Recap

 

posted by on 10.13.2011, under Misc.

The MANE Coffee Event – Part 1 Recap

10.11

I just got back from a great weekend in Rhode Island, where the best coffee conference I’d never heard of, took place. MANE, or the Mid-Atlantic / Northeast Coffee Conference, has evolved over the years from a barista jam to its current state. The event has grown into a gathering of more than 150 coffee professionals sharing knowledge, taking hands-on classes, and partying with new and old friends in the industry. I heard about MANE for the first time just 6 weeks ago and when I saw the dates aligned with my trip to the US, I did what I could to make it to Providence.

MANE offered 4 “tracks” this year, including Barista, Advanced Barista, Roaster, and Owner & Manager. For only $75, attendees received 2 full days of classes, all the coffee you could brew and drink, food throughout the day, beer at night and a swag bag full of goodies. I’m not really sure how Gerra (of New Harvest) and Troy (of Cosmic Cup) pulled it off, but a huge thanks to them for doing so.

My first day was a crash course on all things milk—starting with a class called Milk Science. We began by cupping various milk samples—heated to different temperatures as well as properly and improperly steamed—before discussing what we liked and didn’t liked about them. From there, Todd Mackey broke down milk into its key components (water, fat, sugar, protein) and what happens to those components when they’re being steamed (adding surface area and splitting disaccharides).

The class wrapped up with Trevor Corlett talking about his experience using non-homogenized milk at MadCap and some of the advantages (sweeter and creamier) and disadvantages (seasonal diet of the cows affecting milk taste) of using it. The class was an enlightening primer on dairy and set the stage for what was next—Latte Art.

After a brief introduction to proper milk steaming techniques and reminding everyone that texture and taste is more important than the aesthetics of a pour, we wasted no time breaking into groups to work on all three.

After the first day of classes, dinner and beers were provided while everyone relaxed and practiced what they learned on the bar stations set-up throughout the space. After a bit of downtime, a warm welcome by Troy was followed by Gwilym Davies keynote, which addressed the importance of staying hungry for knowledge.

After Gwilym set the tone for a great weekend to come, it was time for some more drinks, fun and a little latte art throwdown.

Overall the conference was off to a great start. It was equal parts inspiring, humbling and encouraging. Seeing so many people in one place with a desire to continue pushing their abilities to make great coffee, is something I would have never imagined in the days I worked on bar. Coffee has come such a long way, and yet we still know so little about it. Gwilym made the point repeatedly, saying, “we have to admit that we really don’t know that much.” So we agreed and set off to learn as much as we could.

…to be continued

posted by on 10.11.2011, under Misc.

The Power of the Scale

09.14

There are a few things a person needs to help them brew better coffee at home and the tool most often overlooked by beginners is a digital scale. Weighing coffee and water, rather than using scoops and cups, allow consistency when measuring your ingredients.

Different coffees have different densities depending on how they are roasted or the size of the bean, so one tablespoon isn’t equal for all coffee. You’ll also notice that many of the better coffee brewing tutorials found on the internet use grams as the common unit of measure. Since 1mL of cold water weighs 1 gram, it’s simple math to calculate your dose ratio and learn to measure and brew coffee this way. Most coffee shops concerned with quality use scales, if not for brewing, at least for weighing the proper dose.

When I make coffee for friends, the first reaction to my scale is usually, “whoa, you’re really serious about this, huh?” Well, yes, but the scale shouldn’t be an indication of that. The digital scale is a valuable tool that every kitchen should have (even the New York Times agrees) and cost between $10-$50. When it takes less than a gram of coffee or a milliliter of water to alter the balance of a good cup of coffee, the scale shouldn’t be reserved only for “coffee nerds,” but should be embraced for the consistency it adds to the brewing process and the quality it creates in the cup.

The NYTimes article, though specifically about cooking, shares this coffee revelation:

The scale also ensures repeatability. I once calibrated exactly the amount of beans that I need to make coffee the way I like. Now, every morning, I place my can of beans on the scale, and then scoop out 28 grams — allowing me to repeat the same pot every day.

You don’t need to buy a scale that’s super fancy, just something with accurate gram measurements and a tare function will do fine. After fresh-roasted coffee beans and a good grinder, a scale will help improve your coffee brewing the most. Understanding your dose and being able to consistently repeat it, will contribute to better coffee on a regular basis without much added effort.

Browse digital scales curated by DCILY on Amazon.

posted by on 09.14.2011, under Coffee 101, Misc., Products

2011 MANE (not Maine) Coffee Conference

09.13

What’s better than New England in Autumn? Coffee in New England in Autumn! This year’s MANE (Mid-Atlantic/Northeast) Coffee Conference in Rhode Island is the best way to enjoy both. What began years ago as a barista jam started by Gerra Harrigan of New Harvest Coffee and Troy Reynard of Cosmic Cup Coffee, has transformed into full a on coffee conference for baristas, roasters and coffee industry professionals. There will be speakers and forums and workshops oh my!

Kicking off the weekend with words of wisdom from Gwilym Davies himself, the weekend will progress into selected tracks for baristas, advanced baristas, roasters and owners/managers. Each track will offer specific skill building workshops from industry professionals with some intimate hands-on experience—who doesn’t love that? There will also be an opportunity for baristas to take a BGA Level 1 Certification test while they’re in Providence.

There’s a great list of presenters lined up, including:

Gwilym Davies – 2009 World Barista Champion
Jay Caragay – Spro Coffee
Dan Streetman – Irving Farm Coffee
Trevor Cortlett – MadCap Coffee
Scott Guglielmino – La Marzocco
Tommy Gallagher – Counter Culture Coffee

just to name a few…

Since I’ll be in the States in October, and I love foliage season, I’m be taking a weekend trip to Providence to take part in the fun and share some collective coffee wisdom from an often overlooked part of the country. The cost of registration is only $75, so if you’re in the industry and live along the Eastern seaboard, sign-up now and I’ll see you there!

MANE Coffee Conference

posted by on 09.13.2011, under Misc.

Deep, Dark, Delicious Yuban & Coffee Seasonality

08.19

After reading an article about coffee & seasonality on Nordic Coffee Culture recently, some of what the article discussed reminded me of the entertaining marketing spin used in this 1950′s commercial for Yuban Coffee.

(Yuban is) Richest because it is blended with rare, aged coffee beans…Yuban adds to its blend, beans that are aged to peak flavor; like vintage wine, the choicest cheese, the finest steak…well worth the few extra pennies you’ll spend.

Who wouldn’t want to buy a coffee that’s compared to the finest wines? That technique is sometimes still used today to try and differentiate “third wave” coffee from the rest. Ironically, that strategy is 60 years old and was once used to sell canned coffee from God-knows-where. While Yuban may compare their rich tasting “aged coffee” with vintage wine, Tim Wendelboe compares the technique to defects in corked wine.

The problem with storing unroasted coffee is that after a certain time, (depending on how the coffee is dried, packaged, shipped and stored) the coffee will start loosing moisture and taste more bitter and woody after roasting (almost like corked wine).

If you haven’t read the article, it’s worth checking out. It will give you a better understanding of the seasonal direction many progressive coffee roasters are moving in, as they strive to offer the freshest and highest quality coffee experience possible.

Coffee and Seasonality – Nordic Coffee Culture

posted by on 08.19.2011, under Misc., Videos

The Art & Joy of Coffee Touring

08.11

I love to travel and thankfully get to do so quite often. However, my method for exploring new cities has changed over the years. Before leaving on trips, I use to bury myself in travel guides at the bookstore to map out what to do and see. But my strategy has shifted to combine my love of coffee with my love of travel to create much more fulfilling experiences. Coffee shops have become my bookstore and baristas my travel guides.

Coffee touring has many benefits, aside from tasting the best coffee a city has to offer. Here are some of the reasons why its become my preferred way to travel.

Unexpected Places
Many independent and progressive coffee shops can’t afford, or choose not to pay, rent near the city centers and tourist attractions. They tend to open shops in neighborhoods, art districts, and future up-and-coming parts of town. By visiting these shops, you find yourself in new parts of the city that a guide book may never lead you to. It also creates a trip unlike those who only visit the typical landmarks—most of which look the same as they do in pictures anyway, only with the mobs of people surrounding them. By allowing yourself to wander, you’ll gain a more unique and personal perspective of a place.

Baristas Know More Than Coffee
Any good barista will love talking about coffee, but there’s a pretty good chance they have other interests as well. If they aren’t too busy, engage them in a genuine conversation. They’re residents of the city you’re visiting after all, which make them wonderful people to talk with for recommendations on the best burrito joint, parks to relax in, art galleries to visit and even other coffee shops that aren’t on your list. I’ve learned about upcoming concerts, closing art exhibits and even parties to attend from talking with baristas. Just consider putting some of that money saved on travel guides in your barista’s tip jar!

Stay Energized
A seasoned coffee drinker can easily consume three beverages a day. And if you get them all at three different shops, you can cover a lot of ground in between. When I travel I try to walk everywhere I can. Even in cities with great transportation, you will see much more while walking than if you’re underground or even on a bus. Walking also allows you to take detours down alleys and try on that cute dress you passed in the thrift store window. You’ll have plenty of time to sit and recover at the next coffee shop.

Most coffee shops have some kind of food. Whether its pastries or paninis, you should be able to find something to hold you over until following that burrito recommendation.

While it’s generally frowned upon to make a coffee shop your personal office, there’s always the chance that you can plug in long enough to recharge your phone or camera. If they have wifi, don’t forget to check a map of the area and tweet Instagram photos of you planking on the La Marzocco Strada. Just be considerate, obviously.

Locals In The wild
One of the best ways to gain authentic insight to a place and its people is to view residents in their natural habitat. It’s in those instances when I often realize we’re all human with many of the same habits and vices, no matter what country or culture you’re from. Since locals tend to avoid the overcrowded tourist hubs, you won’t see many of them at cafés in Time Square and Covent Garden. So its the coffee shops in unexpected places, where you’ll find and meet the people who live there.

Planning a Coffee Tour
So how should one begin planning a coffee tour? Being here is a great place to start. There is a category on the right sidebar that lists all of the coffee tours I’ve published so far, and will give you suggestions for coffee shops worth adding to your list. You can follow DCILY on twitter and ask me for recommendations and I’ll do my best to help you find great coffee wherever you’re traveling.

Once you have a few coffee shops on your list, you can begin plotting which ones to visit that allow you to see the most. Be strategic. Sometimes you’ll find a couple great shops within a block or two of each other. If you plan to visit all of those on the same day, you may not make it out of that neighborhood. Once you get to your locations, talk with baristas, talk with locals and let those conversations help shape your trip.


These tours are by no means complete and are to be seen as inspirational suggestions for your own travels. If you know of any shops in the places I’ve been that I haven’t checked out, please leave a comment and let me know about them. Enjoy!

Past DCILY Tours
New York, New York
Portland, Oregon

Reykjavik, Iceland
Oslo, Norway
Copenhagen, Denmark
Göteborg, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 1
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 2
Helsinki, Finland

posted by on 08.11.2011, under Coffee Touring, Misc., Recommended Roasters

Nordic Coffee Culture

08.10

There’s a great new coffee resource to add to the continually growing list of must-read websites—Nordic Coffee Culture. Featuring an editorial team that includes some of Scandinavia’s most inspiring coffee professionals, it aims to discuss the “themes that unite the coffee cultures of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.”

The people of the Nordic countries have a passionate, deeply rooted relationship with coffee. So deeply rooted, in fact, that it is rarely spoken about, and rarer still, given serious thought. It is accepted as a matter of course, a part of the cultural fabric, and – in a more narrow sense – a culture unto itself.

The site is supported by Wilfa, a Norwegian based housewares and lifestyle company, but aside from a small logo on the site, their presence is non-existent. It’s nice to see such a respected collection of voices talking about coffee with consumers in mind, instead of geeking out exclusively with others in the coffee industry. Congrats on the launch and I’m looking forward to a future filled with great content.

From the Tim Wendelblog regarding the launch:

I have been working with Wilfa for a long time now to help them improve and develop some new coffee brewers. (To be launched at this years Nordic Barista Cup). In this process we felt there needed to be a blog to celebrate the Nordic Coffee Culture.

Nordic Coffee Culture
Twitter: @nordiccoffee

 

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posted by on 08.10.2011, under Misc.