Barista Space/Customize Coffee Tools Milk Jugs

Earlier this week, I received some sample milk pitchers from the folks at Cutomize Coffee Tools (@customizecoffeetools on instagram). One of the pitchers I was most excited about since it was custom made with my logo etched on it. I have been slowly working on getting some digital and physical branding done for my blog and YouTube channel and so I started off with the logo then the YouTube channel banner and now this pitcher. I’m also working on a video animation intro for the videos but anyways back to the pitchers.

As soon as I came back from work I ripped the package open and was greeted with 3 boxes, one for each pitcher. Packaging was generally good, enough to keep the pitcher protected but nothing fancy. The pitchers themselves though are just something else! They are beautifully coated and polished and the custom pitcher has the logo beautifully and accurately etched.

Once I moved past the aesthetics, I checked the spout and found it to be exactly what I was looking and hoping for. A narrow and more protruding spout is featured on all 3 pitchers. Having been using generic, $8.99 pitchers from amazon, the spout design was a nice addition to my arsenal.

Another feature I love about the pitchers is the handle. The handle design is simply more ergonomic and much more comfortable than the average pitcher. This however may be a less important feature if you pour one or two lattes per day but if you do more, you will appreciate the handle design and comfort.

Custom jug on the left and generic on the right

Excited, for the last few days, I simply been making lattes and pouring some of my best latte art as of yet! These are some examples of latte art I poured with the Barista Space Titanium/Rainbow pitcher and my The Coffee Field custom pitcher.

To be perfectly clear and honest, if you are not currently pouring latte art and think that the pitcher is what you need to finally pour a Rosetta, then don’t bother with these pitchers yet. Focus on more important factors such as milk quality, steaming techniques and steam wand position, etc. The pitchers are awesome is that they will take your already good latte art to the next level. I feel that the pitchers will make you better at pouring latte art and they will unlock more patterns or at least make them easier to pour more beautifully.

For full disclosure: I have received these pitchers for heavily discounted prices in exchange for my feedback.

Kruve for Espresso, an Experiment – Part 2

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.

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!

Fellow Prismo – Review

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.”

The Prismo by Fellow

 

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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. The metal filter by itself, which is included with the Prismo, makes the device worth the $20 I paid for it.
No leaking/dripping from the device. Without the Prismo, this can be achieved only if the plunger is in.
No leaking, even without the plunger!

 

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.

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:

A Visit to The New York Coffee Festival 2017

Last year my wife and I visited the 2016 New York Coffee Festival and we had a great time. My wife is not as crazy about coffee as myself but she enjoyed the live music, the excellent selection of talented up and coming musicians and the live latte art booth at the festival (yes, a live music indoor set is part of the show!). Last weekend my wife and I decided to repeat the experience and visit the New York Coffee Festival again. 

The New York Coffee Festival 2017

Last year, the festival was held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, which was not a good idea. The 69th Regiment Armory is an indoor venue with high ceiling but no AC! This issue became the source of many negative reviews and feedback to the festival’s organizers as the place got warm and people were sweating profusely, especially after few espresso shots. This year, the location was different and much better as it was held in the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th street between the 6th and the 7th Avenue. This place was better, cleaner and much cooler (climate wise). 

One of the great things about this year’s festival is the fact that more manufacturers and more roasters showed up. More showing at these festivals, especially by equipment manufacturers, is extremely important. Currently, major distributors such as Seattle Coffee Gear and Whole Latte Love are spread out and they carry certain brands of machines, grinders and even cups so for the consumer who’s looking at different brands and would love to be able to compare them side by side (almost) and pull shots on both, a Coffee Festival or show maybe their best bet.

This year, I was excited to see Breville attending the show for the first time. They had their brand new Oracle Touch on display along with the Smart Grinder Pro (excellent grinder for the price point), the BES920XL dual boiler machine and of course their new coffee maker. Their staff (or the staff they hired for the show) was friendly and they let me pull shots, steam milk, and play around with the machine. While at the booth, I met one of my heros in the coffee industry and that is Chris Baca! I have been a big fan of Chris, I listen to his podcast, I follow him on Instagram (@realchrisbaca) and I watch his YouTube videos. Chris was down to earth and was open to taking pictures and really seemed like an even cooler guy in person than online! 

Myself and Chris Baca, owner of Cat & Cloud and an all around cool guy

On my way out they give us a bag with a microfiber cloth/towel on it to wipe the machine! Neat!

Also, attending the show this year for the first, is Commandante hand grinders from Germany. This was also great to see as the grinder is not sold by retailers I know and the show was one of the few opportunities to be able to touch it and play with it. 

COMANDANTE grinders attending the show

It is also important to note that some manufacturers from last year were also attending this year, which is always a good sign. Manufacturers include Bodum and La Marzocco. However, I noticed that some manufacturers were not attending this year, which I thought was a little disappointing as I’d personally love to see as many manufacturers as possible. Espresso Parts, Espresso Supply/Bonavita are among the ones missing this year. Also, it is otable to mention that some of the attendees this year had a weaker showing compared to last year, those include Nuova Simonelli. Nuova Simonelli last year had the Oscar 2 on display and they allowed guests to play with it and pull shots. This year there was none of that and the only Oscar 2 on display wasn’t even plugged!

The show also featured plenty of roasters from New York and elsewhere around the country such as Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy, Apes & Peacocks and others. Overall, the show was exciting and I can’t wait for next year and hopefully see more manufacturers on display! 

The Force Tamper – Review

While browsing coffee gear and coffee-related posts on Instagram, I stumbled upon a post by Socraticcoffee showing The Force Tamper and indicating that a review of this tamper is on its way. Looking at the tamper, I was intrigued. Every tamper out in the market that promises a leveled tamp has to be manually adjusted to accommodate different doses. What do I mean by that? Basically, self leveling tampers that promise a perfectly leveled tamp and a consistent pressure works by manually setting the travel distance of the tamper base to a set level and this level is controlled by your dose. In other words, if you dose 19gm in the basket and you adjust the travel distance of the tamper to tamp down at let’s say a 30 lb of pressure but then if you decide to dose 21gm or if you change coffees (and the new coffee has different density) or if you use different size baskets then you will have to adjust the travel distance of the tamper or you will be tamping too much (or too hard) before the leveling base reaches the basket for a leveled tamp. Once Socratic confirmed that this tamper provides a perfectly leveled tamp regardless of the dose, I was ecstatic and I reached out to the owner (Zubing Sun) on Instagram (@starmoonxp) and asked for more details.

After some back and forth, The Force Tamper complete with multiple bases and handles, was on its way from China to New Jersey and I couldn’t be more excited.

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The Force Tamper with all its glory
The Force Tamper comes with the following:

  1. One handle of your choice (see picture below)
  2. One base (see picture below for different choices)
  3. One small pouch/bag in case you would like to transport the tamper (see picture below)
  4. One rubber tamper base to sit your tamper on it (see picture below)
  5. A plastic clear box where everything fits

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3 different handle shapes, the Jelly (far left), the Mushroom (middle) and the ball (far right)
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The bases are (in order from top left then bottom left): Flat, Curve, Euro Curve, C-Flat, Ripple, Euro Ripple, US Ripple and C-Ripple
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The pouch, the box and the base on which the tamper sits
Once I unboxed my tamper, I wanted to see how the mechanism of this tamper works and to confirm my understanding of its uniqueness and so I disassembled most of the parts but before I show you the parts and components it is important to understand why this tamper is unique. In my mind, the perfect tamper is a tamper that tamps level while applying consistent amount of force or pressure. All tampers on the market that I’m aware of (before the release of The Force Tamper), promise either a leveled tamp (by having a base that sits on top of the tamper), or a consistent pressure, or both as long as your dose is consistent and your coffee is the same. Never existed a tamper that promises a leveled tamp, a consistent pressure regardless of coffee, basket size or dosage (more on that later) without any adjustments!

What makes this tamper unique and what ensures the consistent pressure is the method it employs to apply the force to the coffee. Most tampers on the market that regulate the pressure applied to the coffee in the basket, do so by using some sort of feedback function such as a click or a compression spring that’s designed to provide a preset level of pressure. The Force Tamper unique design is different. Pressing down on the handle of The Force Tamper compresses a spring, then at a point controlled by an internal mechanism, the spring is released pushing or punching a piston down onto the base and then the bases compresses the coffee. This genius of this mechanism is what eliminates the need to adjust the tamper travel distance, like with other tampers, every time you need to adjust your dosage or change coffees.

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Some of the many parts making up the genius design of The Force Tamper
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A picture of the leveling base (without the tamping base) that sits on top of the basket to ensure a leveled tamping
The pressure or amount of force applied can be adjusted. You can do so by unscrewing the handle from the tamper then you will find what looks like a washer (t’s not) with two dents or bumps (see picture below). Grab a coin, then insert it in the two holes and rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Clockwise will increase the pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee and counterclockwise will decrease he pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee.

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I have embedded below a video I made showing how you can easily adjust the pressure.

From the day I saw Socratic’s post on Instagram, I knew that this tamper is a game changer and once I received it and started using it, I was sold. The Force Tamper with its perfect leveling and consistent pressure tamping, practically eliminates tamping as a cause of bad extractions. Also, for cafes with multiple baristas or multiple locations it helps uniformize tamping. Finally, for working baristas, The Force Tamper eliminates elbow and wrist injuries caused by hours of tamping as you only need to hold the portafilter and tamper still while pushing down on the handle.

I have made a video review of the tamper as well. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received the tamper in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. 

 

10 Things to Do for a Successful Coffee Catering Business

As someone who’s been working in the coffee catering business for some time, I have the opportunity to experience and observe the business first hands. The 10 to-do things below are things I see all the time and things that I would personally do if I ever start my own coffee catering business. The advice below will make it easier to operate the business smoothly and successfully.  

Photo credit: blog.microbiologics.com
  1. Use 110/120V equipments: this one is a little tricky because most heavy duty commercial machines are 220/240V and catering work requires commercial machines. The good news is you can still buy 110/120V commercial equipment but you will have to look a little harder than if you were buying 220/240V. 
  2. Use new equipment whenever possible: used/second hand coffee equipment may seem like a good value at first glance but look deeper. Used equipment, especially ones without service records or invoices for all the work done, can cost you a lot of money in the long run, making any financial benefit of their lower price questionable at best. Think of a scenario like this you find a second hand machine for $2000 and new the same machine goes for $4000. At first, this seems like an excellent deal, a 50% discount off the original brand new price but look deeper. Getting a commercial machine with heat exchanger or a dual boiler professionally descaled can cost upward of $300 (scale buildup in the boiler is common if hard water is used)! Replacing a solenoid valve can cost upward of $150 per group. This number can be $300 or $450 for machines with 2 or 3 groups. Rotary external pumps is another item that can cost upward of $350 with installation. Adding any combination of some of these items together may cost you anywhere between $500 to $750 and this is only for parts and maintenance without taking into consideration any opportunity costs. What opportunity costs you ask? Imagine this, you’re doing an event and you are serving for 2 hours, after one hour and when you’re having a line of people waiting for their drinks, the machine acts up and starts losing pressure. An incident like this may cost you explicitly and implicitly. The lost money/profit you’re making off of the event (or whatever compensation you will offer to the venue or the event manager) is your explicit cost but what about implicit costs such a as damaged brand image and reputation? Adding all this up, you can easily see why buying new is the way to go. Finally, new machines have warranties, so even if something were to go wrong with a new machine, the fix is one service call away. No out of pocket cost for repairs and parts. 
  3. Buy your equipment from local, close by vendors: last thing you need, if something were to go wrong with your equipment, is to have to ship your machine or drive for hours to a service center. Shipping will not only cost you a lot of money (machines are heavy), but the reckless way UPS and FedEx handle large, heavy packages/ shipments will likely cause damage to the machine and result in more work for your technician.   
  4. Always have a backup machine and grinder in your van: this may seem like a waste of money at first but look deeper. A backup machine and grinder can be the difference between a happy customer and a successful event and miserable customer and a nightmare event. If you’re still not sure where the nightmare will come from, go back to my second point and the part I talk about implicit and explicit costs. The good news here and to save money, your backup machine can be a used one, why? Because a backup machine is just that, a backup machine, it’s only used in case of an emergency. This is not your main work horse and its sole purpose is to help save the day when your main work horse is out in the middle of an event.
  5. Don’t buy machines with 2 or more groups: instead of buying one machine with 2 groups, buy 2 machines with one group each. This may seem like counterintuitive and inefficient at first glance but look deeper. Buying 2 one grouphead machines is better than buying one machine with 2 grouphead for the following reasons: 1) If a machine with 2 groups goes down, that’s 2 groups out. If a machine with one grouphead goes down, no problem use the other one grouphead machine. 2) one grouphead machines are lighter, easier to use and carry. They are also easier and cheaper to maintain 3) many baristas cannot multi task to take advantage of both groups. The end result is one group is used way more than the other. 
  6. Your image, your image, your image: I can’t stress that enough! Your business and brand image are critical for your success. If you think showing to an event with a faded black shirt or a shirt missing buttons is not important, think again. If you think showing up with a nasty machine is no big deal, think again. If you think using a 20 year old banged up van is okay, think again. Every little detail matters. Your equipment, shirts, looks, van, etc. say a lot about you. A nasty image give people the perception that you don’t care and no one wants to do business with someone who doesn’t care. Your van is a mobile billboard advertising for your business so make sure it’s clean, in good shape and a good representation of your brand and company. 
  7. Don’t hire people who don’t drink coffee or can’t drink it late at night: this may seem obvious but you need to make sure your employees are comfortable drinking coffee late and/or at any time, why? Because your employees must be able to taste the coffee before serving it to the guests. Someone who can’t drink coffee after 5 pm because “it keeps me up at night” won’t be able to dial in the machines and taste the espresso shots/coffee to ensure it’s good for the guests. Going by coffee color, flow and crema is not enough to ensure good tasting coffee, a good Barista must be able to drink coffee before the start and during the event to ensure consistency. 
  8. Maintain an exact set of brewing parameters and define your drinks: Ideally, you want repeat customers to taste the same coffee and drink the same beverages. The last thing you want is for a client to hire you for an event and love your coffee then hire you again just to taste different coffee! Imagine how annoyed will you be if you go to McDonalds, order their McMuffin and love it just to go the next day to order another McMuffin and have it taste different, missing ingredients or have ingredients you don’t necessarily like. Consistency is key, not just to maintain clients but also to diagnose issues. If you were hired by a client for an event then the following event you learn that they have hire someone else, having consistent drinks will rule out quality as the reason why you didn’t get the job. It could have been pricing, customer service, presentation, etc. but definitely not the drinks. Also, make sure those parameters are listed on your menu and don’t deviate from them unless explicitly asked by the guest. 
  9. Focus your energy on straight espresso orders: pulling straight espresso shots (single or double) is very important since they will not be diluted with milk, syrups, whipped cream, etc. the espresso quality in this case is extremely important. Any bad flavors or weaknesses will be totally exposed. On this topic, always ensure that you do a cooling flush before you pull a shot. Running some water through the grouphead helps stabilize the brewing temperature and clean the shower screen of old grounds from the previous shot. 
  10. Fresh coffee makes a huge difference in taste: Ensuring your coffee is fresh for all events is critical as it helps ensure consistency. Don’t store the coffee in its original bag, use a vacuum sealed coffee storage canisters. This won’t eliminate coffee deterioration as time goes by but it will at least slow it down.

Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, NJ) and The Coffee Room (Newtown, PA)

Saturday my wife and I decided to do something different. Lately, we have been spending our weekends cleaning up the house, hosting or visiting friends and family so it was time for a change. One of our favorite towns to visit and walk around is Newtown, PA. The town is located in Bucks County and less than 20 mns away from New Hope, PA (also in Bucks County) and Lambertville, NJ and 35 mns away from Frenchtown, NJ. All 4 towns are quaint and charming and have something for everyone. Plenty of clothing shops, antique shops, bike shops, restaurants, cafes, espresso bars and bike trails. Since my wife and I adore coffee and love biking, all 4 towns offer a great deal of fun for us.

Map
This map shows the location of all 4 towns, only 40 mns between Frenchtown, NJ and Newtown, PA

As we headed out to Newtown, PA from North Brunswick, NJ, we decided to stop at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, NJ. As outdoor lovers, we enjoyed our visit tremendously. The Grounds for Sculpture is located where the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds used to be and it includes three of its major historic buildings. The Grounds have a gorgeous and diverse collection of Contemporary outdoor sculptures and acres of perfectly manicured landscapes for your strolling enjoyment. The Grounds allowed me to practice another hobby of mine, photography. The pictures below, although taken with so much care and effort, still don’t do the Grounds justice.

After we have spent hours checking out the sculptures and admiring the trees, flowers and landscapes, it was already 2.30 pm and it was time for us to head to Newtown, PA and enjoy another stroll on Sycamore and State Streets. We arrived around 3.15 pm and first thing I did was to open the PlugShare app and check to see if there is a car charger in town to charge my Chevrolet Volt. Sure enough, there were 4 chargers on Swamp Road available for free. Luckily Swamp Road was a 5 minutes walk from State Street so we parked and plugged the Volt and headed to The Coffee Room. After we made a right on State Street coming from Washington Avenue, the Coffee Room was right there on our left. For full disclosure, I have been here once before and I enjoyed the coffee and ambience then.

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Enter the shop and you are greeted by the coffee bar/counter on the right and a wall with merchandise (t-shirts, mugs and Counter Culture coffee bags) on the left.

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Once you have placed your order and if you would like to stay in the café, you have two seating options either you walk in and sit in the back or you can sit facing a beautiful window overlooking State Street.

Part of the seating in the back is this table designed for a larger group of people
This counter style seating is across from the group table. I especially loved the coffee posters and the directed warm lighting
The high chair window seating overlooking State Street
In addition to the beautiful yet simple decor, the place is very well equipped for folks who love to get work done while sipping on their favorite coffees as electric and USB outlets are readily available for charging all your electronic devices.

For my order, I asked for a small latte and a chocolate biscotti. The latte was served in an 8 to 10 oz latte cup but no latte art, which struck me as strange for a hip coffee shop serving specialty coffee such as Counter Culture, but nonetheless the latte tasted excellent (latte art is more of a visual treat but its lack thereof can be an indication of improperly steamed milk, not the case here). The excellent beverage taste was courtesy of the barista but also the slew of professional grinders (Mazzer, Mahlkonig EK43 and a Mythos) and of course the espresso machine (LaMarzocco Strada). Every time I visit a café, especially a newer one, I’m simply fascinated by their choice of equipment and the way it’s all laid out for workflow efficiency. High quality equipment serve as a sign that the café is serious about coffee. Of course the barista plays a critical role but the equipment are the first impression.

Overall, I found the location of the café to be convenient, the decor to be comfortable and inviting (warm light helps, LEDs are not cozy) and my latte and biscotti to be delicious. I will definitely come back the next time I’m in Newtown for a stroll or a bike ride.

P.S. here’s a money saving tip, before you visit The Coffee Room, visit one of the local stores on State Street, you will find discount cards like the one below. Enjoy!

New Coffee and Espresso Station/Table

If you haven’t read my previous post about my coffee equipment and station, please do so before reading this post as it will give you a better idea as to how different this new station is. 

For some time now, I have been scouring the web trying to find a table that’s 60 inches wide by 30 inches deep and 34 to 36 inches in height and under $100 (my total budget for the project is $100 to $120). The reason for those measurements is simply because that’s the largest table I can fit in my kitchen and I was going after the largest table since I have a lot of stuff and I wanted to contain it in one place. Also, my wife was getting tired (never complained though and that’s why I love her!) of me sharing the kitchen counter space with her so this size table will allow me to get everything done in one place and also tuck the mini fridge under the table instead of next to it. This was my setup until last weekend before my father and I completed the new station 


As you can see, it’s nice but not enough space to prepare the coffee or the espresso shot and definitely no room to add more accessories or gear in the future. 

I finally found the perfect table, it’s a butcher block, measures 60x30x34.25 inches and looked like it was built like a tank, one issue though, I live in New Jersey and the table was in Long Island, New York. 

The table was listed on Facebook marketplace for $75 and I negotiated it down to $60, which is a discount that helped offset the cost of tolls and gas. It was a Saturday and I borrowed my mom’s Chevrolet Equinox (I measured my wife’s Jeep and the table wouldn’t fit) and my wife and I decided to make a day out of it. We left New Jersey heading to Long Island around 10 am and was there, on time, at 11.30 am. The table didn’t fit all the way in the car and so we ended up leaving the trunk slightly open but tied down with ropes and bungee cords. Upon arrival and further inspection, I noticed that there are some deep scratches that will require some major sanding and paint chips on the white paint, which will require sanding and repainting. Here’s a picture of how the table looked like when I went to pick it up. 

And another picture showing the scratches 

Scratches and green stains were tough to get out, even after 4 hours of sanding with 100 grit sand paper and a palm sander

On the way back from New York, I went to Home Depot and purchased white semi gloss paint, wood stain, 2 paint brushes and sandpaper. The supplies cost a little less than $40, bringing the total cost of the table to just under $100, not including tolls and gas. As soon as I got back home I went to work on the table and called my father and asked him for help. Luckily, he was free the whole day Sunday and told me that he will stop by first thing after church to give me a hand. 

First thing I did to the table after we came back home on Saturday was to sand the tabletop


First thing Sunday, I decided to continue sanding till my father arrives and once he got here we made the cutout in the bottom shelf to accommodate the mini fridge


Once the cutout was done we started sanding the white paint to remove the paint chips and prepare the surface for a fresh coat of paint. 


Once we laid down the white paint, we started staining the tabletop and the shelf. 

My father giving me a hand and while I was taking pictures
Once the staining was done the table was pretty much complete. 

The tougher part was lifting this beast and bringing it inside the house, this required my wife’s help as my father’s back has seen better days. Once inside I proceeded to arrange my stuff and admire the weekend’s worth of hard work….and it was beautiful! 


These are pictures showing my old and new espresso/coffee tables. 



Please let me know what you think in the comments below or if you have suggestions for updates or a better layout.