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My two cents for the crema debate…

So there’s been a lot of buzz in blogs about what crema is, and whether it detracts from the taste in a shot of espresso. Some industry professionals call it “rubbish” while others say it’s integral to a shot of espresso. I’ve always personally had a distaste for crema myself, but have just thought it was an unavoidable part of an espresso shot. My first experience with someone removing the crema from a beverage was at the Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, and it was fantastic! Top five drinks I’ve ever had. Now, I can’t decide if that was because the crema was gone, or if it was just simply because it was a 5 ounce single origin Americano made with Ethiopian Aricha, which was excellent last year. Either way, by the time I got back state-side I had forgotten about it until it started popping up on blogs again. I began scooping the crema from 5 oz americanos and Macchiatos and noticed a huge difference in the cleanliness and smoothness of the shot. I made a few for discerning customers to see what they thought with similar results. My conclusion is that crema does take away somewhat from the taste of the shot. Solution? Not so easy. We pull very short ristretto shots that come out mostly dark crema, and scooping every production drink would be too time consuming and take  away from the volume of the shot, thus the ability of the espresso to cut milk.

This made me look at what makes the crema so bitter, and to do this I looked at the blooms in other methods of brewing, including french press, and pourover. I noticed that the blooms that were the largest and wildest came from very fresh coffees and Indonesians. How this relates to espresso is that coffee is very volatile in its first few days out of the roaster, and seems to directly translate into the cup. If your coffee is volatile, the taste will be too. This taste doesn’t translate necessarily into a cup of coffee that you french press 3 days out of the roaster, but when you take the same coffee and extract it under extreme pressure, and drink it right away, you can expect some issues with the taste. It will still be good, but the volatility in the soluables translates into bitter crema. We went from letting our espresso sit for 4 days, to 6 days recently, and it has made a world of difference as far as taste and crema is concerned.

In conclusion, I definately understand and respect the professionals debating this issue, but I think the issue should also be from a practicality standpoint, “how do we make our crema taste better?”

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and I’m back

So I haven’t updated in quite a while, but I have new motivation to blog. For the longest time I was very nervous to blog my coffee opinions in the face of so many experts that know so much more, but now I realize that everyone has something of value to share, and learn from one another, and even issues like espresso and crema are up in the air at this point. (I’m making reference to a great debate in specialty coffee about whether crema should be considered a good thing on espresso or if we should get rid of it.) So I will be a-bloggin once again with new fervor. A few new developments since I last posted:

1. I went to Europe for 2 months where I had mostly mediocre coffee experiences, but also phenominal ones thanks to the great coffee people at Coffee Collective (and their americano crema skimming ways which set off this controversy, but also made the best damn americano I’ve ever had) and Estate Coffee (incredibly nice and welcoming)

2. I came back to Backporch to find a brand new mazzer kony special electronic mod from espresso parts (yay!) only to find it to be the biggest hassle of a grinder I’ve ever experienced (ohhhh.) More on that some other time.

3. I’ve officially started roasting at Backporch which has been amazing and enlightening. I’m learning so much right now about the art and the craft that it’s hard to take it all in, but it seems very natural at the same time.

4. I’ve learned a lot about the art of cold brew this summer.

5. More recently, we got our first direct trade account, which I’m so excited about: Costa Rica La Minita. The first roast went into the barrel today, and it’s a beautiful bean, very clean with the caturra shining through. We took it mid-30s, and really worked it at the end. First taste tomorrow. Hopefully it’s as good as it looks.

6. A friend brought by a convex tamper for us to play with. So far I’m loving it, and I’m sure some great experiments will come from it before it becomes a permanent fixture around the grinder.

So all that should give me enough fuel for many more posts. I look forward to it.

New hot stuff

Once upon a time there was a machine that gave specialty coffee folk a happy feeling similar to the feeling you got the first time that you saw that special guy or gal for the first time, and you knew it was love. That machine was the clover. A fancy, pricey, little box of joy that produced a single cup of coffee at the push of a button, with the taste of the french press but with more clarity. Everyone was happy. Shops were shoveling out thousands of dollars for these machines, and customers were handing out four dollars for a cup of brewed coffee. It seemed like heaven. The coffee world had found it’s holy grail. Then starbucks bought the company, and angry mobs took to the streets in Portland taking their clovers and dragging them behind their fixies and priuses and hitting them with their chuck taylors. Ever since then there has been a void that has yet to be filled in brewed coffee for the specialty coffee industry. Today, I read a blog about  something that could, possibly, maybe, under the right circumstances start filling that void, the Marco Uber Boiler. It was unveiled this week in Ireland as a joint project between some really cool, geeky, and passionate people. Basically, it is a glorified water boiler. A sleek design that is temperature stable, temperature controlled (for different coffees and different brew techniques) and has a built in scale. Here’s the full blog from someone working on it who knows more than I do about it: Marco Uber Boiler.

Uber Fun for all your coffee and techniques

Uber Fun for all your coffee and techniques

The problem of drip

We at Backporch are avid French Pressers. When we were given a commercial airpot brewer to play with, we were a little lost. So, Dave and I spent a couple of days trying to figure out if it is possible for drip to do justice to the coffee. As far as I know we’re the only shop in Bend that doesn’t drip our coffee. We do this for a few reasons:

1.) Coffee generally needs about four minutes of contact between the water and the grounds for proper extraction. (Unless under intense pressure such as in an espresso machine) In most drip coffee makers you’re lucky if you get one minute of contact. This leaves the coffee seeming thin and under-extracted.

2.) Drip machines are generally hard to keep clean. In addition to a sprayer which gets all sorts of grimy build-up on it if not properly cared for, I’ve found that there’s always a delicious metallic taste that comes from drip. 

3.) Those darn filters. I don’t like tasting paper in my coffee. Period.

Now I would love for everyone to be daily french pressers, and to have a vacuum pot for the weekends, but I also know that it’s very hard for some people to leave the comfort and convenience of their drip coffee makers. To those of you who can’t let  it go, here are a few tips for getting the best out of your drip coffee:

1.) Keep it clean! Clean your sprayer thoroughly after every pot. It will keep you from tasting your old coffee in your next brew. Also, remember to keep hard water from building up in your system. I recommend taking some distilled vinegar to it every month or so, This will help avoid that metallic taste and help you taste more of the coffee and less of the brewer. 

2.) Rinse your filters! It’s not okay to have paper as one of your flavor profiles. Pour about one liter of hot water through your filter before each pot. This will diminish the paper taste quite a bit.

3.) Figure out your dose and grind! This is probably the biggest issue with home drip users. It seems everyone makes coffee the exact same way that their grandma taught them when they were twelve. Hopefully you aren’t making Maxwell House anymore, and you should put the scoops away. You should use approximately 60 grams of freshly ground, amazingly roasted, Backporch Coffee, per liter of water. Not a big fan of metric? Well, I’m sorry, I like it. It’s just so precise. A cool gram scale is a good investment for any coffee lover. As far as grind goes, I can’t tell you. It depends quite a bit on the amount you’re brewing. My advice is to start on the drip setting of your grinder, and go coarser the larger amount you brew. Avoid the temptation of saving coffee by brewing less grounds on a finer grind. You might get some strong coffee, but you’re losing out on all of the flavor nuances that hopefully you spend the extra money for. 

4.)Lose the electricity! If you can’t be swayed from your drip, try a pour-over system. This is a much more hands on and precise brewing method than electric brewers. (sorry mr. coffee.) You can find a lot of pour-over systems out there, (also known as swiss gold) but the general consensus is that chemex makes the best. This is because of the functional (and swank) glass design and because of it’s specially designed filters that allow for appropriate contact time (about 4 minutes) and are unbleached. If you just ran to your local kitchen store and purchased your first chemex. Here’s a great video to show you how to use it: Pourover Video.

Slapping it fast in Portland

IT’s always a fun time when we get the chance to head north over the pass and enter a little place called Portland, or as we know it, coffee nirvana. There is a reason this city is known as Coffeetown, USA, and it’s definately not all hype. In addition to being home to a little known roaster called Stumptown, Portland is home to some of the best Baristas in the country. There are a number of coffee shops within walking (or biking) distance of the city center where you can get a world class capp, or shot of espresso. It’s a little unfair.

We left Bend at 7am with our bellies full of vac-potted Kenya (it definately doesn’t taste like tomato soup) and hit the road on a delightfully frosty morning. We arrived by ten and met our good friend and ex-backporch slinger Calvin at a breakfast joint called Juniors. After some creative potatoes and eggs, and a discussion about which movie star our waitress looked like, we moved onto our first stop: the venerable Albina Press. The Press has been a BP favorite ever since its humble beginnings on Albina and Alberta, but today we visited its snazzy incarnation on 50th and Hawthorne. It felt good to be recognized, kudos to Anthony for smiling so nice, and making us feel good. The espressos were delicious. I’ve never known what it’s like to pull five consecutive doubles for such discerning customers, but he pulled it off quite well. Best espressos of the day, extremely balanced, with chocolate, a cherry finish, and extremely ristretto, an albina trademark.

After leaving the Press we travelled west to the most hip and happening area on Hawthorne for a glance at some vintage clothing, and a trip to the Fresh Pot. Connected to the Southeast branch of Powell’s books, the Fresh Pot was not what I was expecting in such a well respected coffee shop, but the espresso didn’t disappoint: definately the heaviest bodied shot of the day, and a great Colombia on the press. Didn’t catch the name of the farm because there was some confusion on whether it was Sumatra or Colombia when Dave got his cup. After one sip, it was clear that it was Colombia, and Dave was happy.

Onto Downtown Powell’s for some good reading material, and up a few blocks to my new favorite coffee shop in Portland: Coffeehouse Northwest. With the best capps in town, a friendly, knowledgeable staff, and a pretty synesso, this shop has become the one that I spend the most time at when I’m in Portland lately. Thanks to Daniel for the stellar work and being nice to us. The shot he pulled me was extremely heavy upfront, receding into a Yirgacheffe-like finish.We left them with some of the Backporch Blend to play with, and hopefully enjoy.

We then eagerly walked down to try and peak at the spot that Billy Wilson’s (Northwest Barista Champion 2007, 2008;Second Place North American Barista Championship 2007, all around rock star, and nice guy) new shop BARISTA! was rumored to be opening at in February. We walked around the Pearl District a while before giving up, and deciding that such a magical place couldn’t really exist (Three different espresso blends pulled on three Mazzer Roburs, a three-group synesso, a refurbished GS-2 with glass paneled sides, and a full syphon bar. Talk about living the dream). I will be paying this place a visit as quickly as possible when it opens.

It’s very inspiring as a barista to go to Portland. To see so many dedicated, and passionate baristas makes me want to be a better barista in Bend. I’m expecting the old Backporch Blend will be receiving a little extra love tomorrow morning after watching these guys.

Kenya, and how we describe coffee

We’ve just received a shipment of the highest ranked coffee Backporch has ever purchased, a 93 pt. Kenya AA Thangathi, and we’re very excited. With cupping notes like, “Soft, balanced, sweet-toned aroma: flowers, cedar, chocolate. In the cup crisply dry with a gentle underlying sweetness: night flowers, black currant, cocoa. The cocoa note in particular carries from cup to long, quietly resonant finish.” this coffee should sell itself right? Well, not exactly. Kenya is a notoriously poor seller at Backporch, even though it is a staff favorite. When asking ourselves why this is, I can’t think of any reason this extraodinarily complex bean shouldn’t  sell except for the scary way that those of us in the industry choose to describe it. Tomato soup, celery, tomatoes, and grapefruit have all been different ways I’ve described Kenyans in the past to customers, only to have them cringe and buy the Sumatra. Sometimes we can ingrain ourselves so much in the industry that we forget that one of our main goals is to teach customers about great coffee, and do it in a way that’s accessible to them. Kenya may taste like tomato soup, but if describing it as so will disuade someone from trying one of the best coffees in the world, then maybe we should put our cupping notes aside and just enjoy the cup of coffee with them. It could spawn some great discussion, and hey maybe they too will taste tomatoes, and it won’t seem so scary to them.