My First Latte Art Competition

It’s been a little more than a month since I posted here despite the fact that I promised myself to post at least once a week but I guess a busy work schedule and family obligations are getting in the way.

On May 17th, I attended my first latte art competition at The Coffee Box in Plainfield, NJ. The cafe is nicely decorated and well equipped with a Mahlkonig Twin and a La Marzocco Linea 2 Groups. Also, the owners and baristas were cheerful, friendly and just awesome.

Since this was my first time, I really did not know what to expect. I did not know what the rules are or how the winner is determined. Nevertheless, I paid the $5 to pour (free to watch) and wrote my name down.

A short while later, the rules were announced and each round included two baristas. For the first round each Barista needed to pour a heart and then a panel made of 3 judges voted on the better design of the 2 cups (one for each Barista in the round). Unfortunately, I haven’t poured a heart at home in a long time and so I was out of practice and was eliminated in the first round! However, I won the first raffle prize and I had a choice between multiple items and I chose a delicious Bolivian coffee from Intelligentsia.

Just winning the coffee made my whole night, I never win anything in raffles so I was excited to have won something. Aside from the coffee, the whole night was great. People were so much fun to hang out with and strike a conversation. Also, it is always nice to meet like minded folks with the same interests and hobbies and share information and knowledge.

Even though I was eliminated after 15 mns of the competition kicking off, I stayed till the end to enjoy the coffee and art. The winner of the latte art competition won an Acaia Pearl scale (Acaia was one of the sponsors), which was awesome.

I’m looking forward to the next one, can’t wait!

Kruve for Espresso, an Experiment – Part 1

Since I received my Kruve, I never gotten the chance to test it with Espresso so last week I decided to give it a shot and see what I can do with it. I started by using the 300 and 600 micron sieves and 34.5gm of coffee from the Super Jolly, which is almost two times my usual dose of 17.5gm.

After I shook the Kruve for a minute or so the yield in the middle tray was almost 21.5gm so I lost 13gm between the boulders and fines.

I chose to only use my usual dose of 17.5gm and the results were underwhelming. The shot was too fast and somehow way too bitter. The bitterness can be caused by the coffee lacking the boulders and fines but the water temperature could have been higher than usual as well.

This week, I decided to try the experiment again but this time move the adjustment collar/ring on the Super Jolly couple of notches finer. By doing so, I was hoping to create a finer grind to slow the flow while keeping the dose the same at 17.5gm give or take 0.1 or 0.2gm.

I started with the same amount of coffee I started with last week, which is 34.5gm (remember that the grind is finer here)

After shaking the Kruve for a minute or so, the result was 24.1gm, so I lost a little more than 10gm, which is better than last week when I lost 13gm. This can be attributed to the grinder being more consistent as the grind gets finer or maybe I shook the Kruve harder last week compared to this week.

To stay consistent, I kept the dose to my usual, which is 17.5gm and pulled a shot. The shot was on the slow side but the taste was much more balanced. Still, bitterness was a little higher than I’d prefer but there was absolutely no sourness whatsoever. Personally, I’m not a big fan of sourness in coffee, or anywhere really so this shot was a really good one to my taste.

Next week, I will go only one notch finer instead of 2 notches like I did today and do the same test again and see how the shot will taste. Stay tuned!

Leveraging Different Employees for Different Tasks

This is my first post in a while. As stated in my previous post, I was recovering from a terrible virus that caused me to basically be a non-functioning human being for weeks! Having said that, I’m thankful to God and my doctor for a full recovery and I’m excited to be back here posting about coffee!

In this post I’d like to talk about how some coffee shops and coffee catering businesses tend to leverage their employees (baristas) to perform tasks around the business.

The common strategy in any small business is that the owner pushes all employees to know and be able to perform all tasks. Business owners may provide training accordingly to make sure that if one employee is out then the other employee can step in and perform the task at the same level as the first employee. This strategy is a good one in a small business setting as it ensures continuity but it ignores something very important, different people have different strengths!

In a coffee catering business setting, you will typically find that two people are needed for any one event (some events require more). Those two people may not be good at exactly the same tasks and that’s fine. One person can be pretty good at the logistics aspect/tasks of the event/business, tasks such as determining, packing and organizing all the equipments, centerpieces, lighting, etc. needed for the event. The other person’s strength may just be coffee related tasks. Tasks such as tasting the coffee/shot and determining if adjustments are needed, knowing the proper proportions of the different drinks, doing latte art, etc. The first person may take the lead in the logistical part of the event and the second person can take the lead in the serving coffee part of the event.

Doing so doesn’t mean that the first person can’t serve coffee and the second can’t handle the logistics, in fact when one is taking the lead on the task/aspect of the business they are good at, the other person should be helping, but in the event that these two employees need to switch roles, their performance won’t be stellar and business owners shouldn’t be unhappy. Instead, they should celebrate the diverse set of skills they have on their team and use each employee to their strength.

The Force Tamper Distribution Tool vs. the OCD Knockoff Distribution Tool

For this week’s post, I wanted to compare two different coffee distribution tools, The Force Tamper distribution tool vs the OCD knockoff distribution tool. Both tools are supposed to achieve the same thing, which is distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the portafilter basket, albeit using different methods. The OCD knockoff is using three fins that are slightly angled as to push (distribute) the coffee around as you twist the tool. The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool uses a metal bar that sits on what appears to be tiny springs. The base’s weight sits on the coffee grounds and when you start twisting the tamper/base the metal bar starts pushing the coffee around to also distribute the coffee and the springs that the bar is sitting on ensures that it adapts to coffee bumps or any unevenness in the basket, the same way a car’s suspension adapts to road unevenness.

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For the purpose of this comparison, I have chosen to pull 2 shots, one using the OCD knockoff distribution tool and the other using The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool. The only variable here is the distribution tool. Both shots were pulled using the same coffee (Kimbo Superior Blend), same grinder (Mazzer Super Jolly), same espresso machine (Nuova Simonelli Musica), same cooling flush duration (5 to 6 seconds after flash boiling), same basket (VST 20gm) and even same tamper (The Force Tamper, one with base that has the built-in distribution tool and the other with a flat base without the built-in distribution tool).

The results were interesting, the shot pulled with The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool looked nicer and a little less bitter. Below is a side by side comparison of both shots 10 seconds after the first drop of coffee appeared from the basket.

The Force Distribution Tool vs. OCD Knockoff
Shot pulled using the OCD knockoff distribution tool
The Force Distribution Tool vs. OCD Knockoff 2
Shot pulled using The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool

To be totally fair, the less bitter taste could have been the result of a little longer cooling flush before I pulled the second shot but it could also be the result of a better distribution, as shown in the side by side pictures above.

Personally, I prefer The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool for the following reasons:

  • Visually better extraction (taste difference is negligible but definitely better distribution).
  • Tool costs under $30 and can be easily retrofitted to your existing The Force Tamper. The OCD knockoff costs around the same, although it can be used with your existing tamper but with less than ideal results.
  • More streamlined workflow as there is no need to switch between tools.
  • Unlike the OCD knockoff distribution tool, The Force Tamper does not need to have the depth of the fins adjusted (manually or by adding shims) every time you change dose or coffee, as it adapts to the height of the coffee bed.

I have made a video documenting the comparison and you can watch it here:

The Force Tamper Distribution Base

Couple of months ago, Zubing Sun, the owner and inventor of The Force Tamper posted a video on Instagram demoing a tamper base (for The Force Tamper) that can distribute the grounds inside the basket before tamping, needless to say I was intrigued and impressed. Zubing graciously sent me couple of units for review along with a clear glass basket so that I’m able to see in action the distribution done by the new base.

As pictured below, the base has a thin metal bar going across the diameter of the base Zubing sent me one flat and one ripple base. This thin metal bar moves up and down as needed and depending on the amount of coffee in the basket.

The way it works, you sit your The Force Tamper on the basket like you would do for tamping, except instead of pressing down right away you let the weight of the Tamper sink inside the basket and then you rotate the tamper handle few times at either direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). This motion leverages the metal bar that’s built in the base to sweep or distribute the coffee.

Here’s a video showing how it works

Here’s another video showing the distributor tool in action, using a clear basket that was designed to showcase the distribution action.

Before receiving this base, my flow involved using a separate distribution tool (similar to the OCD distribution tool) to distribute the coffee and then tamping the coffee. There are 3 main things I like about this base:

  1. No need for a separate tool. Distribution and tamping can now be done using one tool and that’s The Force Tamper.
  2. No need to adjust the depth of the distribution tool. If you have owned a distribution tool, you know that every time you change dosing or coffee you will need to manually adjust the depth of the blade of the distribution tool to get a flat, even puck with no holes or irregularities. Since the distribution done by the base relies on the weight of the tamper, there are no adjustments needed.
  3. The price. For $29 you get a base for tamping and a distribution tool. This price is unbeatable on the market as the cheapest distribution tool out there cost more than $80. Even the Chinese knockoffs of the OCD distribution tools cost more than $40.

Overall, I’m very happy with the new distribution base for The Force Tamper. It does the job effectively and efficiently while saving you some cash in the process.