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.
Last week I got the chance to go visit the 2018 Coffee Festival in Baltimore, Maryland. I live in New Jersey and so aside from New York, Baltimore, Maryland is the closest a coffee festival will get. I contacted the Festival team via Facebook messenger requesting media tickets, since I own a blog. The people who were responding to the messages were nice and prompt and provided my wife and I with 2 tickets for the show. The reason I reached out to them for media tickets is because this is a trade show so coffee enthusiasts who don’t own a business cannot attend. I don’t own a business just a blog. If you’re in the coffee industry, tickets are $60 for the duration of the show Friday to Sunday).
On Saturday, we drove to the Baltimore Convention Center where the show is taking place, found street parking and headed to the building. After receiving our badges and “goodie bags” we entered the show.
The show had an excellent mix of coffee roasters, coffee equipment manufacturers and coffee industry related items (coffee bags, label machines, etc.). Since I only had Saturday to check out the show, I was only able to check few of the exhibitors.
1) la Pavoni: seeing la Pavoni at the show was exciting because I love their commercial espresso machines and because I haven’t seen a la Pavoni Professional lever machine in person before. If you’re in the catering business and looking for heavy duty espresso equipment (even 2 groups) that is also 110V then you know that la Pavoni is one of the few manufacturers that make those. I was also excited to pull a shot on a la Pavoni professional lever machine. I always wanted to do that but never had a chance.
2) Wega and Astoria: I was always curious about these machines but never saw or played with one in person, the show was a great opportunity to do just that.
3) HM Digital: is a worldwide leader in EC, TDS, pH and ORP water testing instruments. I was happy to see them at the show since I have used their products before and always found them to be reliable and easy to use without breaking the bank. Also, they introduced a coffee refractometer, which is very interesting to me. The coffee refractometer also comes with a very user-friendly app that makes the refractometer easier to use. I was happy to have a demo, which I have recorded and included below.
4) Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino: I have soft spot for Nuova Simonelli because I have a Musica and I love the Mythos One grinders. I also got a chance to play around and pull couple of shots on a Victoria Arduino 2 group machine.
5) Brewista: never used their products but I think they have an incredible lineup of coffee brewing vessels, kettles and scales. Their new brewing scale won the best new non-consumable product for the show.
6) Malabar Gold: I always heard about them from the Home-Barista forum. Forum members always recommended Malabar Gold especially for use as a base for lattes and cappuccinos so I was happy to finally try it out. The shot I tasted had a similar flavor profile as the Lavazza Top Class I usually use at home but had a little more complexity and almost no acidity. Only downside is that they sell a minimum of 5 lb. bags, either all in one bag or in 5, 1 lb. bags, which makes it hard for someone to try it out.
7) Hollander Chocolate Company: This company is relatively new and it competes with Ghirardelli. Their products are mostly sauces and powders aimed at cafes serving chocolate drinks and espresso based flavored drinks. All their products are created from Holland’s Dutched cocoas and other high quality ingredients. They had an Oscar 2 and a cheerful barista on duty who made us a dark chocolate mocha latte and another white chocolate mocha latte. Both drinks were better than any mochas I tried at Starbucks or at catering events that use Ghirardelli’s products. They also gave us samples to take home and try out, which I have used to make a white chocolate mocha latte at home and it was absolutely fantastic (video below). The sales rep who was talking to us was very exciting about the brand and very educated about the products, which is always excellent. He wanted to make sure that we had all the information we need, even after he learned that we do not own a cafe!
This was my first coffee trade show (previously I only attended the New York Coffee Festival, which is open for the public) and I was happy to see the diverse exhibitors and the level of excitement for everything coffee. I look forward to coming back next year or when the festival is in New York City.
If you haven’t read Part 1, please do so before reading this post for complete details and tasting notes. To quickly summarize, the first and second shots I pulled were off. The first shot was too fast and the second was too slow. This time, the flow and timing were right on point using the same variables, only difference was the grind size. I started by using the 300 and 600 micron sieves and 34.6gm of coffee from the Super Jolly, which is almost two times my usual dose of 17.5gm.
I dumped the 34.6gm of coffee into the Kruve and started sitting for approximately 1 minute.
The result from the middle tray was approximately 22.5gm, which means between boulders and fines, I lost 12gm. That’s a hair better than last week’s experiments.
Out of the 22.5gm I used approximately 17.5gm (my usual dose) and pulled the shot
The shot was neither fast nor slow, very much the same time it takes for my non-sifted shots but the taste was nothing like my usual shots. The shot was absolutely delicious, creamy, sweet, rich and with a tiny little bit of welcomed acidity. I’m not a fan of too much acidity that’s why I stay away from light roast coffees but the acidity here was just a hint and it added to the complexity of the shot.
My conclusion here is that the Kruve and its impact on the uniformity of coffee grounds is undeniable but the questions are, will I be okay with sacrificing more than 10gm of coffees every time I pulled a shot? What about the time, do I really want to add more than 15 Minutes (cleaning the Kruve and the mess it makes take time), to my routine and workflow to achieve a better shot? With these questions in mind, I have decided to use the Kruve but only on weekends. On weekends, I have much more time in the morning and I can enjoy the process. On weekdays, not so much.
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!
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 Aeropress brewer is loved almost universally. I have neither talked to anyone who complained about it nor read a negative review by someone who bought it and didn’t like it. This love and appreciation by coffee lovers all over the world is mainly due to the delicious coffee the brewer produces, ease of use and portability but not due to the delicious espresso it produces. You see, the AeroPress promises to be a coffee and espresso maker but coffee lovers, including myself, disagree with the “espresso maker” part.
Now, a company named Fellow, which makes the fancy Stagg gooseneck kettles and other coffee brewing equipments and accessories, decided to try and bring the AeroPress closer to its promise of making espresso by manufacturing and selling the Prismo. To be clear, the Prismo does not promise espresso shots instead it promises espresso-style (more on that in a second) shots. According to Fellow (copied from their website), the reason they can’t claim that the Prismo produces an espresso shot is the following:
“Traditional espresso has a long and honored tradition of how it’s made, from tamping the puck to pulling a shot in the right amount of time, to that well-revered 9 bars of pressure. There were enough differences between how “espresso-style” coffee with Prismo works and traditional espresso that we felt the need to let our customers know. Here are a few important differences we wanted to share:
The pressure inside Prismo doesn’t reach 9 bars… unless you’re superman! By our calculations, you would need to put over 2,000lbs of force on top of your Aeropress Coffee Maker to reach 9 bars (130psi) with Prismo. That’s not something we recommend trying at home!
The temperature of a Prismo shot is somewhat lower than an espresso shot. High end espresso machines tend to have pre-heated group heads, which help to maintain high temperatures in the puck while pulling a shot. Our preferred recipes with Prismo haven’t involved pre-heating, which means the coffee slurry temperature is a little lower. This lower temperature does great for producing chocolatey flavors with a lot of body and is excellent for blends and medium to dark roasted coffee. Your local cafe’s espresso blend will probably work great! However, for some lighter roasted single origin coffees, we’ve prefered brewing a full cup of coffee on the Prismo rather than an espresso-style shot.
Our best tasting espresso-style recipe takes about 70 seconds from start to finish. We’ve loved the flavor we’re getting from Prismo’s espresso-style coffee when we give it just a little extra time to develop. With some stirring, the right temperature water, and a strong press, we’ve produced full-bodied shots with a thick, yummy crema that lasts. But yes internet, a traditional espresso shot is about 20-30 seconds.”
Fellow’s approach to the Prismo was to replace the original plastic basket (or filter holder) of the AeroPress with one that has a pressure actuated valve. This valve allows more pressure buildup inside the AeroPress, hence making it easier to produce a shot with qualities, such as crema, resembling a traditional espresso shot. The way the Prismo allows for more pressure buildup is simply by having the valve require more pressure from the user before it opens up to release the coffee. This idea is very similar to pressurized baskets used in lower end espresso machines. The pressurized baskets help cheaper machines achieve the pressure needed for an espresso shot while making the grind and the grinder less important.
The Prismo comes in two pieces, the first piece is the plastic basket replacement and the second piece is the built-in 80 micron filter.
The Prismo has few benefits that I like:
It allows for the use of paper filters if you prefer paper over metal filters. I personally use a combination of both (yes, a paper filter fits on top of the metal Fellow filter)
It eliminates the need for brewing using the inverted method since the valve does not release coffee unless you’re applying pressure. This also makes the AeroPress much easier to use as you do not have to rush and insert the plunger after you have poured enough coffee to start the blooming phase of your brew.
The metal filter by itself, which is included with the Prismo, makes the device worth the $20 I paid for it.
After playing with the Prismo over the period of few days, I don’t believe that it produces an espresso-style shot/coffee. The Prismo produces excellent coffee and an americano I made with it was absolutely delicious, and the “espresso-style” shots I made were full bodied, had a rich mouthfeel and really maintained some of the chocolatey notes I usually pick up in the shots I pull using my Nuova Simonelli Musica (coffee I used was Lavazza Top Class). However, I think the same way the Bialetti Moca Pot and the Turkish coffee made in the Ibrik don’t claim to make espresso or espresso-style coffee, the Prismo shouldn’t claim that either. The reason I believe so is that I don’t think it’s fair for the Prismo! While Fellow went to great lengths to explain what they mean by espresso-style, I’m positive that many people out there will confuse espresso-style with espresso and the Prismo will still be compared and measured against traditional espresso and the verdict won’t be in Prismo’s favor. Having said that, when the Prismo is judged by itself as a coffee making device or accessory, that can take a brewer (AeroPresso) to the next level, the results are very favorable and highly desirable.
One of the myths and misconceptions out there is that you need an expensive tamper to pull good espresso shots. This couldn’t be further from the truth. An espresso tamper serves one main purpose, which is tamping or compacting the coffee tightly together as to ensure proper and even flow of water throughout the puck. Now, the most important feature of a tamper to ensure a quality tamp, is the base size. Water is lazy and it will always take the path of least resistant. A smaller diameter tamper, will only tamp part of the coffee but not all of it. This will cause the coffee that was tamped to be overextracted while the ring of coffee that was not tamped (due to the smaller diameter tamper base) to be underextracted. The mix of underextraction and overextraction will cause the flavor to be off. For under $30 you can find a perfect size tamper, depending on the size of your basket, that will last you a lifetime and will do the job perfectly (assuming you have the proper tamping technique down).
Many people believe that tamper weight is very important and they seek heavier tampers made out of stainless, metal, etc. but I personally disagree with that. As explained earlier, the size of the tamper is the most important feature of a tamper, weight is merely a preference as some people prefer a certain heft in their hand while tamping. Having said that, there is a case to be made for lighter tampers but that’s a different conversation for another day.
Having said that, many people will spend $200 on tampers, which is perfectly fine, but keep in mind that many of those tampers serve and do the same job the $30 tamper does. The main difference is that the $200 tamper most likely has a handle made out of fancy wood or exquisite materials with unmistakable craftsmanship (and other cosmetic attributes) while the $30 tamper is made out of metal or other plain more modest materials. The $200 tamper is most likely beautiful to look at but that’s about it. There is one exception to this however, some tampers that do cost $150 or more actually do a lot more than simply ensure a full tamp of the coffee puck. Tampers such as The Force Tamper, Bravo Tamper, Espro Calibrated Tamper etc. also ensure a perfectly leveled tamp as they sit on top of the basket ensuring that when the tamper base comes in contact with the coffee, it is fully leveled, this ensures that the water is (by sliding to the lower side of the puck) not going to prefer one side over the other. A sloping, uneven tamp can be seen from a bottomless portafilter if the coffee stream/cone is off center and can also be seen if using a double spout portafilter and coffee is coming out of one side of the spout more than the other. The Force Tamper will even go a step further than most tampers by applying the same tamping force, regardless of dose. This convenient feature is nice to have if you change dosage or coffees as you won’t need to adjust the travel distance of the tamper to ensure proper pressure.
To summarize, an expensive tamper won’t do a better job than a cheaper one if both tampers are appropriately sized for the coffee basket. The only time a more expensive tamper will do a better job if it can ensure a leveled tamp (by sitting on top of the coffee basket) and/or if it can ensure a consistent tamping pressure/force, shot after shot.
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.
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.
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:
For this week, I decided to take advantage of the fact that The Force Tamper, which I have reviewed and blogged about before, have been sent to me with multiple bases and make a video to compare the effects the shape of a tamper base plays in the extraction of an espresso shot. What I’m after is to find out if there is a basis to claims that some bases perform better than others taste and looks wise. I chose the following bases for the test as they are more commonly used/known:
For this test, the following variables are constant:
Temperature is maintained at around 200F by doing a 5 to 6 seconds cooling flush
The basket is the same one used across all 4 shots, a VST 20g basket in a bottomless portafilter
The input is 17g of coffee and the output is around 32g to 34g of liquid.
Distribution evenness was maintained by using the WDT distribution technique (paper clip to distribute/agitate the coffee grounds in the basket) and a Chinese knockoff distribution tool similar to the OCD.
The following are pictures showing the shots 10 seconds from the moment the first drop of liquid appeared from the basket. This will give a basis for comparison that’s pretty consistent.
First shot is using the Curve base:
Second shot using the C-Flat base:Third shouting the Ripple base:
Fourth shot using the Flat base:
Looking at the pictures, I seem to think that the Ripple and Flat bases have performed best. Taste wise, I haven’t noticed any major difference, except that the shot extracted using the Curve base tasted unbalanced and the shot extracted using the Flat base tasted the most balanced. Please note that these tasting notes are based on my palette, others may be able to detect much deeper differences and complicated notes that I may have not tasted. I personally use a flat base as I find it to be the easiest to work with and the most consistent but others have found other base shapes to be best for their coffees, use or machines. You can also watch the video below for the full extractions and feel free to leave me comments with any questions or suggestions you may have.
This weekend was a busy one. On Saturday my wife and family celebrated my 32nd birthday and went above and beyond to get me a cake fit for a coffee addict/lover like myself. My wife tricked me into believing that we will be going to my parents house to celebrate my birthday when they were in fact all coming to my house. The biggest surprise of the night, aside from not knowing that people are coming to my house, was the cake. My wife used one of my instagram latte art pictures and worked with the baker to make me a custom-made cake in the shape of a latte mug with latte art. The cake stole the show and people started taking pictures of the cake instead of myself!
On Sunday, we decided to go walk around New Hope in Pennsylvania and pay Sky Roast Coffee a visit. Sky Roast Coffee is a new coffee place located in the newly constructed New Hope Ferry Market. Ferry market is located on Main Street and it’s home to 13 vendors offering different culinary experiences and a wide variety of food and drinks. The owner, Alan Cohen, is an active member of the Home Barista forum and his journey to obtain and open this place is well documented there and I had intended on visiting his place once he was in business. Alan was on premises and so I introduced myself and congratulated him on the shop. I proceeded to order a medium roast coffee from their batch brew and my wife ordered a chai tea. The place has a bar and stools to sit and the seating is facing the beautiful 3-group Victoria Arduino Athena copper.
Alan was working on tweaking the grind for optimal espresso shot extraction and then offered me a double shot and tasted excellent. It was balanced with plenty of body, very different from the usual, more common acidic and floral notes I get at most other specialty coffee places. I then proceeded to check the collection of whole bean coffees for sale and picked a Brazilian blend that promised a lot of chocolate notes and very little acidity, exactly the way I like it. One thing I liked about the package was the easy open tab on the back of the bag. Opening a sealed bag of coffee usually requires scissors or you can try to open it by hand and risk having your expensive freshly roasted beans fly all over your kitchen!
After I went back, Alan offered me their signature drink, a Maple Syrup Cortado! The drink was delicious, the maple syrup balances out the bitterness in the coffee and adds to the sweetness of the steamed milk that makes up 50% or more of the Cortado.
Aside from the espresso and the espresso-based drinks. Batch brews and pour over coffee are also available and by the looks of the pour over station and the smell of the freshly ground coffee, I expect the coffee to taste delicious.
New Hope and its neighbor, Lambertville in New Jersey already have excellent coffee places such as Rojo’s Roastery and the Lambertville Trading Company but Sky Roast Coffee, with its hands on approach by the owner, the excellent coffee selection, freshly roaster beans and excellent location, takes the already excellent coffee scene in Bucks County to a new high. These are great days for specialty coffee and coffee aficionados in and around Bucks County.