the new portafilter.net
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 09:30 PM - 4 years, 8 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
Lots of changes.
By "changes," I mean life changes. I've been listening to some old Portafilter.net Podcast episodes lately and I'm both horrified and nostalgic, embarrassed and proud. More than anything, nostalgic.
As I've shared many times, the pf.net podcast was born out of a simple idea: I was learning so much from the many conversations I was having with more experienced coffee professionals, I thought that "for the greater good," it would be helpful and compelling to take those conversations public. Add a jolly co-host, a healthy dose of naivete, and at least a couple scoops of irreverence (arrogance?) and you had the makings of a hundred or so hours of audio. The value of that audio varies from person to person, but for me, it was a lot of fun.
Today, I listen to that podcast and I miss the circumstance that produced it, and I can't help but reflect on its demise. The jolly became much less jolly. The irreverence felt more stale. The naivete, while not gone completely, felt more and more overshadowed by experience. We're talking about about 4.5 years since the first episode after all. I certainly still have so much to learn, but I'm different now.
It's been almost 10 months since I closed murky coffee, and almost 10 months since I put my 3-group La Marzocco Linea into storage. I literally dusted it off last week and hooked it all back up, giving it a few new parts like long-overdue group-boiler gaskets. Damn. That machine has made thousands upon thousands of espresso shots since it was built back in 2003, and the last four, pulled just this week, tasted as sweet and glorious as any one of those thousands.
When I first bought the domain name "portafilter.net" in 2004, I had a dream for an independent community of coffee professionals... just like Coffeed.com. I was happy to see Alistair's project fill that need though, and I instead decided that the website would be a group-blog and podcast. The former didn't happen quite the way I had hoped, but the podcast, to date, has had over a staggering quarter-million total episode downloads.
I'm happy to have the Linea back up and running. Not just happy, but I'm excited to know that it has a purpose, testing, training, and learning as Trish and I are building our new roasting company.
So for a whole different set of reasons, I'm dusting off the podcast. I'm dusting off the portafilter.net blog.
I can't make any promises right now, but it will be necessarily different from the old podcast, while hopefully retaining some of what people seemed to love so much about it. Interviews. Discussion of current issues. Introductions to coffee people you might not know. I've had the idea of a more NPR-style produced-segment program, rather than the rambling free-for-all that the old podcast was. I dunno. We'll see.
I'll try to start blogging again as well, as well as providing the opportunity for others to guest-blog on here. I'm continually inspired these days by the compelling content from James on jimseven.com and by the freshness of sprudge.com, and I could only hope to have something worthy of similar attention.
Hopefully it's truly the right time. Only time will tell. Check your iTunes podcast feeds in a few weeks, and expect a redesign of the blog soon.
Here's to a fruitful and prosperous 2010!
The Decade in Specialty Coffee part 2
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - 07:13 PM - 4 years, 9 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
As promised, part two of a three-part retrospective on the past decade in specialty coffee.
Coffee of the Decade:
Panama Boquete Hacienda La Esmeralda 'Special'
Perhaps the most obvious pick in this lineup, the coffee known by many as just "Esmeralda" needs to be recognized not only for its own notoriety, but its impact on the wider specialty coffee industry.
In an area in Panama known as Jaramillo, a hunch inspired a 2002 exploration of the coffees on the Peterson's farm, leading to the discovery of a particular area with coffees of extraordinary quality. It was introduced to the specialty coffee world a couple years later, and it has been celebrated to the point of being called as the "sex goddess of coffee" by writer Michaele Weissman in her book, "God in a Cup."
Esmeralda Special has broken the highest specialty coffee auction price for green coffee at least three times, and had the coffee world scratching their heads and debating the correlation between price and quality, wondering aloud whether the bidding had gotten out of hand. Raising the price ceiling so high, however, had a definite trickle-down effect to other extraordinary coffees, with these exceptional coffees hitting retail shelves for $20 to $50 a roasted pound or more.
The other major impact of Esmeralda Especial has been awareness of coffee varietals. The renown coffee is of the "geisha" variety. It's apparently from Ethiopia, but still yet to be definitively and directly linked to coffees currently growing in that east African country, recognized as the birthplace of coffee. While many producers rushed to plant geisha seed-stock throughout their farms, farmers in other countries focused their attention on some of the other proven heirloom varietals: bourbon, SL-28, pacamara, among others. Until the latter part of the past decade, you would never have heard roasters or baristas uttering these variety names.
As the legend of Esmeralda Special grows, so does the idea of consumers paying over $100 a pound, or $10 for a brewed cup of extraordinary coffees. As the demand for specialty coffee grows worldwide, and prices inevitably climb, it's no great stretch to predict that we'll be thanking lady Esmeralda for clearing the way for an economically-sustainable market in the coming years.
Due to the sheer massiveness of this Brazilian company, but helped by great attention paid to coffee quality, Ipanema could be called the farm that linked the specialty coffee world together. From Starbucks to Counter Culture, in single-origin drip offerings to espresso blends, Ipanema coffees were everywhere this past decade. While not the most romantic of coffee-origin stories, the agrobusiness-level Brazilian producer represents the cutting-edge of large-scale coffee production, and is an undeniable force in the industry.
Coffee Roasting Device of the Decade:
Loring SmartRoast Kestrel S35
On the most part, there are two types of small-capacity (under 100 kg) roasting machines: drum roasters and air roasters. Perhaps better described as conduction and convection roasters respectively, little has changed to the fundamental design of coffee roasters in the past decade until the quiet introduction of the Kestrel from Loring SmartRoast.
Often called a "hybrid roaster" because the coffee is roasted in a drum but the heat transfer is convective, the Kestrel (and its cousin the Scirocco) is designed around a recirculation feature that essentially serves as its own afterburner, incinerating exhaust particulates and preserving heat that typical roasters radiate or blow out their stacks. This results in a significant reduction in emissions and perhaps unmatched fuel efficiency.
Global distribution has just begun, with Kestrels now installed at renown specialty roasters like Maruyama in Japan and Terroir in Massachusetts. While the specialty coffee industry generally waves the environmental sustainability banner, burning of fossil fuels and the resulting air pollution are problems that don't have many solutions yet. Further development in "green roasting" in the coming decade is both the industry's destiny and its burden.
The notorious Probat L12. Do a Google image search on coffee roasters, and you'll see photos of newly installed L12 after L12. Designed as a large laboratory roaster (hence the "L") by Probat, whose main business is large commercial roasting machines, perhaps hundreds of L12's are in use as small-batch and/or in-shop roasters. Infamous for being hard to clean and crippled by its inability to roast and cool at the same time (the newest "ProbatOne" L12's are shipping with two fans to change this), L12's have an important place in the hearts of thousands of roasters around the world.
Coffee Preparation Device of the Decade:
Fuji PXR3 Controller
Before the Slayer, before the GB/5, before the Synesso, before David Schomer's tricked-out Lineas, were the first PID temperature-controlled espresso machines known to be: the lowly Rancilio Silvia with a Fuji Electric PXR3 PID temperature controller.
Two then amateur coffee enthusiasts, Greg Scace in Maryland and Andy Schecter in New York realized that a PID (proportional, integral, derivative) controller might provide better temperature control than the typical bimetallic thermostats found in espresso machines. They announced their experiments on the USENET newsgroup alt.coffee, and the rest is history. The most widely installed controller has been the Fuji PXR3.
PID temperature controllers, most simply described as computers that use calculus algorithms to read and respond to temperature changes, are now in widespread use, both on devices that heat water (espresso machines, hot water dispensers), and on coffee roasters. Most recently, manufacturers are using PID controllers to control the pressure in an espresso machine rather than the temperature.
The era of hyper-focusing on temperature stability in espresso machines has somewhat come to a close, but only because flat brew temperature controls were made possible by PID controllers during the past decade. Currently the concerns have shifted to pressure profiling, with temperature profiling (actively controlling the brew water temperature during extraction) as the next horizon.
Until the Fuji PXR3, the only computers found in espresso machines were for brewing automation. A typical espresso machine in 2000 demonstrated a temperature fluctuation of up to plus-or-minus 6 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, the newest machines are stable down to 0.2 degrees or less, and baristas can trust that their machine is of a consistent brew temperature, freeing them up to focus on managing the other variables at hand.
Reg Barber Tamper
It's a little-known fact that any espresso tamper that you see that has the handle of one material or color and a piston/base of a different material or color is a Reg Barber copy!
Newer tamper designs have emerged over the past few years, but there's no question that the go-to barista tool has been the Reg Barber. The device itself is beloved, with its now-classic shape, balance, and quality, but Reg Barber the man himself, widely known as the nicest and kindest man in the entire specialty coffee world, takes the brand of Reg Barber from atop the espresso machine, straight into our hearts.
As always, comments welcome!
In the final installment, a last look at the decade past, and my pick for Specialty Coffee Person of the Decade.
The Decade's Top Ten in Specialty Coffee
Friday, January 01, 2010 - 02:30 AM - 4 years, 9 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
The internet has been flooded with decade retrospectives, but I haven't seen any involving coffee so I thought it would be fun to try to put one together myself. Here's my list, in no particular order, of the ten most significant things in leading-edge specialty coffee in the decade from 2000 to 2009. I welcome your comments, edits, questions, criticisms, or outrage. The standard disclaimer about "This is mainly to inspire dialogue and discussion and not to make any definitive claims or declarations" applies. Enjoy!
In 2000, baristas from fourteen countries competed at the very first World Barista Championship competition. Created to be an educational tool as much as it was a showcase of talent, the WBC has emerged as the decade's most significant vehicle in spreading the message of quality specialty coffee throughout the world.
With over 60 participating countries from Argentina to Zambia, the WBC and its standards inspired the barista world to start paying attention to factors like consistent dosing and tamping, taste balance, and station management. As videos of the competitions started to find their way onto the internet a couple years ago, the specialty coffee industry had a showcase like none other.
In more recent years, the barista competitions have been able to promote ideals in coffee roasting, processing and cultivation, in addition to preparation and presentation. The icing on the cake is the development of the global community that has emerged surrounding the WBC and its enthusiasts around the world.
Nespresso, Keurig, Senseo, Tassimo, Flavia, iperEspresso, ESE… though the first capsule coffee machines debuted in the 1980's, the 2000's, revenues from just the top four companies now total over $3 billion USD annually and represent one of the most accessible ways for consumers to engage specialty coffee.
As the leading-edge of the coffee industry began promoting specific origin coffees and a variety of roast profiles, the capsule-coffee makers followed suit, albeit in a pre-ground format of varying quality. The impact of this consumption category is undeniable, and the ease-of-use and consistency of these devices makes it a strong competitor to other brew-at-home equipment for many years to come.
Birthed in 2000 at the Michigan State University Institute for International Agriculture, Drs. Dan Clay, Emile Rwanasirabo, and Timothy Schilling, aided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the PEARL Project (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages) took the fledgling coffee industry of Rwanda and, with the help of specialty coffee buyers and traders, developed the vital infrastructure towards a world-class coffee origin country.
The reverberations have been felt throughout the specialty coffee world, and while Rwanda continues to develop its coffee industry with the SPREAD Project ("Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development," which is focused on developing access to international markets), other developing economies with nascent coffee exports have found great inspiration by the successes in Rwanda, who just announced $50 million USD in 2009 coffee exports, more than double the 2000 export total of $22.4 million USD.
Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Counter Culture
There are certainly larger and more famous coffee companies out there, but it's hard to deny the effect that these three specialty roasters have had in the U.S. and throughout the world during the second half of this decade.
Often referred to as Intelli, The Stumptown, and CCC, the rise to prominence of these roasters ran parallel courses. So much so, that they appeared alongside one another as characters in Michaele Weissman's book, "God in a Cup." Commitment to the highest standards coffee quality, tireless promotion of their ideals, and a dedication to development work with producers at origin helped redefine what it means to be a specialty coffee roaster.
Of course, as in the 2008 book, the companies are celebrated for their personalities as much as their coffees. The reputations of Geoff Watts, Duane Sorenson, and Peter Giuliano had new entrants to the industry quickly saying, "When I grow up, I want to be a green coffee buyer!"
The impact of these three companies has only begun, and apart from their continued work in their respective markets, they have inspired a growing number of inspired offspring and emulators. Vancouver's 49th Parallel, San Francisco's Ritual, New York's Cafe Grumpy, and others started out as wholesale customers of the "Third Wave Big Three" before starting their own roasting operations.
Cup of Excellence
Utilizing a one-two punch of quality assessment and market trading, the Cup of Excellence program took the model of Kenya's Nairobi coffee auctions to eight Latin American coffee producing countries, and more recently back to east Africa.
The Cup of Excellence (CoE) awards quality scores to submitted coffees in each participating country, then awarding the top scoring coffees by selling them in an online auction. Hundreds of coffee lots have been auctioned to date, and thousands of coffee producers, traders, and buyers have reassessed their understanding of coffee quality, as well as the monetary value of coffee excellence.
The first CoE was in 2000, and ten years later, the brand is synonymous with the absolute highest ideals of specialty coffee: superb quality, rewarding excellence, and facilitating relationships.
Online Blogs and Forums
The power and influence of the internet continued its exponential growth this decade, and specialty coffee was not spared its impact. So much so, that in certain circles, it would seem that the importance of knowledge and information about coffee is in danger of outshining the importance of coffee quality itself.
The source of so much of the hoopla are the numerous online coffee forums and web-blogs that have popped up this decade. alt.coffee was the grandaddy of online coffee discourse, leading the way for sites like Coffeegeek.com and Australia's Coffee Snobs for consumers and Coffeed and the Roasters' Guild forum for professionals.
Blogs gave enthusiasts and professionals alike a medium to share perspectives and information about coffee. This created an interesting and dubious phenomenon of the coffee-blogger, with the associated coffee-celebrity status bestowed upon the most prolific writers.
Forums and blogs have indeed created or fanned the flames of many of the controversies in the industry this decade, but they have unquestionably helped spread the lasting ideas and ideals vital to the development of specialty coffee.
The Coffee Wars: Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts vs. McDonalds
It was simmering for years, but in 2008 and 2009 the media couldn't get enough of the "Coffee Wars."
Starbucks' growth this decade was hitting full-stride when McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts decided to take on the Green Mermaid head-on. Both McD's and DD were founded around 60 years ago, and while Dunkin Donuts had already established itself as a major player with reportedly about half of its $5.5 billion dollar (in 2008) business coming from coffee sales, McDonald's has in its arsenal the sheer mass of its 31,000 locations (roughly double the number of Starbucks cafes).
Print and television commercial campaigns, bolstered by media stories about taste-tests and store closings and openings, had consumers worldwide choosing sides and declaring their allegiance.
Starbucks has been widely credited as being a significant gateway for consumers to later engage higher-quality specialty coffees. As more companies get involved in mass-market lower-end specialty, the future for the top-end specialty coffee market only looks better.
Perhaps the most misunderstood force in the specialty coffee industry, the 27 year old Specialty Coffee Association of America continued to mold, shape, and lead the global industry through the decade. Scarred by over-dramatized politics, financial scandals, and being the target of misconceptions, the SCAA's positive effects on the industry often go unrecognized.
The Roasters' Guild, Barista Guild of America, the Coffee Quality Institute and its numerous projects, the World and US Barista Championships, annual Symposium and Exposition, regional training events, and various certification programs have provided professional development for tens of thousands of coffee professionals.
Nowhere, however, do you see the fingerprints of the SCAA more than at coffee producing countries, through its various programs and standards, as well as the work of its staff and many volunteers. As the industry and global landscape changes, the specific work of the SCAA will change as well, but its continued importance and relevance is a certainty.
Perhaps a small blip on the past decade's radar, the next few years will solidify the significance of the imprinting of the roast date on retail whole bean coffee packaging.
The inclusion of roast dates is a clear indication of a roaster's philosophy concerning freshness. Certain roasters measure "freshness" in months, while others measure it in days. While other considerations, such as roast degree, processing method, varietal, etc. do provide some indication of coffee quality, freshness standards influence how consumers and retailers purchase coffee in a unique way.
A huge hurdle for the industry and consuming public to overcome is treating coffee more like fresh produce instead of a shelf-stable product. Roast-dates and the resulting buying and consuming patterns are the most significant way to continue to address this.
Whether you love it or hate it… or rather, whether you hate it or just dislike it, everyone working in specialty coffee has had to answer questions about Kopi Luwak coffee dozens of times.
It certainly wouldn't make anyone's "best coffees of the decade" list, but it certainly got people thinking and talking about coffee quality who might otherwise not. In a decade that popularized "a five-dollar cup of coffee" as a derogatory phrase for something that's unreasonably-expensive but commonplace, Kopi Luwak was a nice target for everyone's disgust… something that we could all comfortably poo-poo. (sorry).
Coming soon: Coffee of the Decade, Coffee Personality of the Decade, Roasting Device of the Decade, and Coffee Preparation Device of the Decade. Your nominations are welcome!
Sunday, September 13, 2009 - 01:42 AM - 5 years, 1 month ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
From unnamed sources (none from within the company or the SCAA): The new hotness in single-cup brewing is coming soon. The "Bubbler." Agitation, baby!!! Ya heard it here first!!!
Sunday, August 30, 2009 - 04:47 PM - 5 years, 1 month ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
A challenging and complex topic that's relevant to coffee professionals interested in the developmental aspect of specialty coffee: Krista Tippett, host of "Speaking of Faith" from American Public Media, interviews Binyavanga Wainaina, a writer from Kenya. "He is among a rising generation of African voices who bring a cautionary perspective to the morality and efficacy behind many Western initiatives to abolish poverty and speed development in Africa." Check it out here
Saturday, August 22, 2009 - 12:25 AM - 5 years, 2 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
Gwilym offers a great tip for baristas and coffeebar owners. Take a looksie!
Is espresso dead?
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 - 04:02 AM - 5 years, 2 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
Clearly not dead yet... but I've been noticing what looks suspiciously like a quiet revolt. Specialty coffee professionals seem to be more and more passionate about drip/filter coffees... and slightly less passionate about espresso year after year. Perhaps it started with the introduction of the Clover brewer. I was told over and over from our friends in the Pacific North West, just a few years ago, that there was little-to-no interest in filter coffees in their markets. They were all about espresso drinks, and didn't care for or want filter coffees. This clearly isn't the case anymore. The friendly folks at the industry-leading La Marzocco USA debuted some espresso innovations this year at their SCAA Atlanta Expo booth... along-side a french press grinder? Top baristas all over seem to be spending more and more time on their siphon-brewing than anything else. Is there something really going on, or is this just a phase?
More on crema, a.k.a. Hoffmann sez, "Crema is rubbish!"
Monday, August 03, 2009 - 07:12 PM - 5 years, 2 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
James clearly has a good portion of the industry a-buzz about this topic. As James' videoblog raised the issue, many have responded with, "Well, MY crema tastes great!" or "Well, it depends on the coffee." I think that everyone's probably right. So much of this does depend on the multitude of factors at work. I've had yummy crema. I've had salty crema. I've had bitter crema. I've had chalky crema. So to me, the question isn't "is crema rubbish?" It's, "How is YOUR crema?" To be totally frank here, I'm a bit surprised that James took such a decisive stance, rather than a more open-ended query. Granted, things are being taken a bit out-of-context in the telling and re-telling of James' provocative videoblog. One thing that I (and I know others like my bud and pf.net blogger Mr. Schecter) would love to see people spend some more time thinking about is how crema volume factors into how we're extracting espresso. Crema serves multiple purposes to a barista, and to the consumer/customer. Aromatic-vehicle, quality indicator, light-and-airy-layer, etc. A function that most of us take for granted is the way that the volume, and therefore the density, of the crema (both intimately related to, AND distinct from the volume & density of the liquor-portion of the beverage) establishes the critically-important perceived volume of the shot (both the final volume and the volume as the shot progresses), therefore the extraction rate, therefore the entire extraction dynamic... with "dynamic" meaning a sort of catch-all to encompass everything that's relevant to the qualities of the beverage. AndyS and I and a few others have waxed poetic about how mass is the true constant, and that measuring by volume is somewhat a fallacy. As I've been thinking about it some more, it's clear that integrating little scales into the drip-trays of espresso machines isn't the answer either. In fact, in a our own sort of Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as you pay attention to one, you lose focus on the other, and both seem crucial. I'm clearly not providing many conclusions, so much as I'm raising more questions. Just a few coffee-thoughts on a pleasingly hot Washington DC summer Monday afternoon!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - 02:50 PM - 5 years, 6 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
What if espresso was made by extracting UP instead of DOWN?
2009 USBC Exposed
Sunday, April 12, 2009 - 01:07 PM - 5 years, 6 months ago - 2. Other Coffee Blogs - portafilter.net
From spitcup.net (bookmark or subscribe to their RSS, y'alls)