Baby Steps!

I just recently saw What About Bob. My family quotes it often and I was always out of the loop, so I educated myself. And when I watched the quite funny movie I found it had some universal tips that can even help the at-home coffee brewer in you. Use baby steps.

Here is the first small and reasonable goal you can make before you even have a scale. That goal is to take care of your beans. This means properly storing them.

There are a lot of myths about how to store your beans and even how long they’re good for. Jamie cleared the air for us.

After beans have been roasted for two weeks you lose the ease of making a great cup of coffee. They’re not going to taste how they should.

“We’ve all done it. We’ve all bought the pound of coffee and its two and a half weeks, three weeks down the road and you still have the quarter of a pound and you don’t want to throw it away because it’s expensive, so we brew it. And that’s fine. It’s just not gonna be great. It’ll be an ok cup of coffee.”

So what about the freezer? Can you keep it in a tin, ground up until you want to use it?

Not exactly.

You can keep the coffee in the freezer and it will stay good longer to a certain extent. But Jamie says it needs to be a long-term decision.

“It’s not something where you store it there and then take it out every morning. If you are to choose to put your coffee in the freezer it’s because you purchased more you can drink in the time its fresh.”

The steps to properly freezing your coffee are as follows:

Do not open the bag of coffee. Keep it sealed in its original package. Take that bag and put it inside a Ziploc bag and make sure to get all the air out.

Once the coffee is in the freezer you freeze any liquid content. Just because the moisture content of beans isn’t high doesn’t mean it’s not good for the bean. Every time the bag is pulled out there’s an opportunity for condensation. You don’t want that. It destroys the integrity of the bean every time it happens. So, only let it defrost once. Don’t even open the Ziploc bag until it’s room temperature.

If you have the right amount of beans to use in a two-week period you should keep them in an opaque, airtight container.

While your coffee is properly stored there’s another step you can take at home before major purchases need to begin.

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I’m a journalist, so my joke is always I write. I don’t do math. But, you’d be surprised with how many numbers and measurements go into making a good cup of coffee. Most of the time I still use a chart.

For as much as I dislike using numbers I’m still very thankful for them, because knowing your ratios makes what could have been a bad cup of coffee a lot better.

This is great for all you readers who don’t have any coffee gadgets (yet). The only thing you’ll need is your electric coffee brewer, which you probably already have, and a scale. (There will be a whole post about scale brands and prices. Plan to spend around $30.)

To make better coffee at home you need to control your water to coffee ratio.

Let’s break it down. This is how Jamie explains it:

We weigh coffee and water in grams, because it’s the easiest. For every gram of coffee you use you should have between 16-18 grams of water.

You’re looking for a ratio of 1:16, 1:17, or 1:18.

It’s easy math, even for me. Jamie says to take your electric coffee brewer’s carafe and tare it out on your scale. This means to weigh it and then pretend like it’s not on the scale anymore. All electronic scales should have a tare button.

Next, fill your electric coffee brewer’s carafe with water and weigh it. Write that number down. Pour your water into your brewer and then divide the total water by 16, 17, or 18, depending on the brew strength you want, the smaller the number you divide with the stronger the coffee will be. The number you get is how much coffee to use.

The equation:

X equals the amount of water in grams

Y equals the amount of coffee in grams you use

x/16=y

This is just the beginning of great coffee. Don’t let it overwhelm you though! Remember, think of it as baby steps.

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At Home Brewing: A Series

I’ve noticed most of the time when people talk to me about my blog they say,

“Yeah, I always read it, but I don’t really get what you’re talking about.”

This sounds bad. But, it’s not. This just shows me more non-coffee professionals are reading my blog, or at least are talking to me more about it.

Some people, the people who don’t always get what I’m saying, have come to me and said they want easy, cheap ways to make good coffee at home.

So, in response to your curiosity (thank you for it, by the way) may I introduce you to The Barista Blog’s first series:

At Home Brewing with Jamie Cunningham

                                            

Jamie is Bongo Java’s protector of quality. He makes sure all the cafes are making only the best drinks and he brainstorms ways on how to make them even better. This guy knows his stuff.

I recently sat down with him to talk about all the ways that you, my readers, can make excellent coffee at home. He’s a very thorough man so he talked about everything you’ll need; brands, prices, methods and he even dispelled some myths! I’m so excited to share this with you guys. Your coffee life is going to change for the better with every post you read.

But, of course I don’t want to overload you with info, so for the next week I’m going to post every day a new addition to your coffee tools and everything you might want to know about it. I’m giving you bite size pieces!

Here’s an outline of what’s to come:

Tuesday:  Baby Step Changes – What to do before you have the stuff, but what you’ll need to make it even better

Wednesday:  The Importance of the Grinder and what the heck burrs are

Thursday:  Kettles and Scales

Friday:  Choose Your Method – Jamie clears the air about French Pressing

So, keep in touch. Let me know what you think of all this new information. I hope you’re stirred to try it. Ask more questions. Keep the conversation going. I know that’s how I learn – maybe you do too?


Crema wins 2nd place in Roaster’s Choice Competition

A few baristas and roasters from Crema spent a week in Portland and came back with exciting news.

They are the 2nd place winners of The Roaster’s Choice Competition at the SCAA.

This is a big deal so I wanted to applaud Crema publicly for what they’ve accomplished. Anyone could have entered a roast but for their shop in its infancy to win second place at one of the few national coffee conferences says a lot to the quality of the beans and the skill the roasters have. Congratulations!

30 roasts entered and were cupped by Q tasters. The top 5 were then blind cupped by SCAA attendees throughout the week and voted on.

The roast is the El Salvador Finca Suiza. You can try it out in their shop brewed with a Kalita.

 


I’m Calling You Out


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Is it surprising that our customers just want to feel accepted when they come in to our shops                             for their daily coffee?

 

 

I don’t think it should be. We are all customers who just want to have a good experience when we go somewhere and pay for what is supposed to be a delicious drink or a unique sandwich. We no longer just want the item, we want the whole experience.

Maybe you see this as a bad thing and you think customers shouldn’t feel so entitled, but I think it’s great. It forces even low price point service industries to step up their game.

As baristas, and others in the service industry, we need to be aware of this. How are you interacting with the customer? Do they feel dumb? Unwanted? Like they don’t belong in your amazing coffee shop?

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s hard to be nice to every customer, because maybe not everyone knows to not talk to me when I have 15 drinks to make. Place whatever it is that ticks you off in this scenario. I think it’s worth it to strive for a better barista-customer relationship, even when the line is out the door and your slammed and won’t get to take a break that day.

We work in an industry that’s not about us in the slightest. Too often I see baristas, myself included, upset because they thought it was about them in the first place, and now their day is messed up. But you are at your coffee shop, working that shift, because the customers are there and want drinks and food and they want it now. It was never about you to begin with.

We’ve all had bad service experiences and they usually make us never want to go to that place again. I’m challenging you to not be a part of someone’s day turning sour because of their barista. There’s no need to enhance the perturbed barista stereotype. That’s something to be embarrassed of anyways.


Find. Eat. Drink. Article

I wrote this article for Find. Eat. Drink., a great website that gives inside tips and recommendations from the food and drink industry’s top players. It’s about Crema and what they stand for. 

Enjoy!

Find. Eat. Drink. – Crema


Coffee is Kind Of Expensive Now…But, That’s Ok.

“Just the actual ritual of grinding your coffee, brewing it, and drinking it, it’s like putting on a pair of slippers. You think about it, but you don’t think about it. You have people that worked it into their daily lives. It’s a frightening thought to not have it in your life,” said Derek Wolfe, Wholesale Manager of Bongo Java Roasting Company since 2003.

A world without coffee does sound scary. Not that we’re running low on it. But, with such a high demand for the caffeinated bean growing in the past few years customer’s attention to price hikes has caused a stir in the pot. People have to make the choice between paying more for the coffee they love or lower their standards.

Back when Derek started at Bongo he says coffee prices were less.

“It was kind of an afterthought,” he said.

But now they have no choice but to raise their coffee prices. They’re not only thinking about themselves but of the farmers who put so much work into harvesting these beans. Bongo Java raised their prices twice in 2011, about 10%. Derek points out that their raise was not nearly as much as the coffee giants, which were around 20%.

“The supply and demand is so tight that any kind of big rains in Guatemala, you know, can really mess up the system,” he said.

But, that’s not the only reason coffee prices are at an all time high. It’s also because people in the producing countries are for the first time wanting to drink their own coffee. He said in Chiapas there was a Starbucks on nearly every corner, just like here, and the cafes were filled with people sitting on their laptops. It was a familiar sight. When these countries don’t have the incentive to send it out because they can use it at home, why would they want to do the extra work?

He said another issue is urban expansion. Land that could be used for coffee farms isn’t anymore. Derek talked about more technology in these countries. People have more options than they used to, especially the children of these coffee farmers.

“It’s just so hard, I imagine for a lot of these kids to just see their parents work forever and really not get too far ahead,” he said

For the families that do continue to make this their living, Derek sees it as just another crucial reason to raise coffee prices. He understands where they’re coming from.

“I’m from Idaho and I worked on some orchards and farms growing up. And at some point it is all the same. It’s agriculture. As farmers they want to sell high and supply, you know, a livable wage for their family, and have a car and go to a good school. Ultimately I think they’d like their kids to not have to work on coffee farms. But, I think, it’s just, a lot of the farmers; maybe they didn’t even have a farm growing up. Maybe this is their first chance to own a house and land and have control over their own destiny,” said Derek.

Not that it’s an easy destiny to have.

“It’s kind of a ridiculously hard endeavor. If you compare coffee to apples, coffee to almost anything, you have this very finicky plant that needs to be in a certain part of the globe, certain elevation…It’s growing on mountain slopes. It takes years, three, four, five years, for it to even produce a pound or two of coffee. And then you have to start processing it. And then you have to get it to the mill and to the market. It’s mind blowing that on that side of the equation that people can make a living, because it’s so much work,” he said.

Knowing the behind the scenes of importing coffee seems to not only make a person care more about the final product, but it makes you think what you have to do to make sure everyone, including the customers that want to get in, get out, and drink their morning coffee, see the bigger picture behind their cup.

Charles Babinski, Intelligentsia’s Venice Coffee Bar educator, said consistent methods help this. Using scales and weighing your water are all good things.

“None of that attention to detail needs to be perceived by the customer, though,” he said.

Derek talked about doing small things like using doser-less grinders. He said they’ve saved Bongo at least 10% in espresso costs. There’s also the idea of only doing by-the-cup brewing, which has the potential of zero waste. Charles saw it the same way.

“The higher price of great coffee, a new and hard reality, emphasizes the need for new models of service, but it isn’t the main impetus. The coffee is,” said Charles.

And that’s exactly what The Venice Slow Bar does. It creates a new customer experience based solely around the coffee. Each week one barista is chosen to run the slow bar from 8-2 only on weekdays. They have total control of what is served and how they serve it.

“Justin Coates did a slow bar based around his favorite 90s rock albums… It was a little cheeky, yes. Lord knows, cleverly mixing alternarock and coffee isn’t proper progressive barista affectation, but these are the things Justin likes. These are the things that inform his vocabulary and circumstances, that he could spend a week having that reflected in his menu and service is very cool,” said Charles.

There have been plenty of other slow bars; one where Charles collaborated with Jaymie Lao, creating a dim sum style menu, where people could order several different espresso “pulled on a single basket into a wide-mouth, thin-walled teacup.” They also highlighted their teas with single infusions.

Charles said the customer experience is a different one with this kind of bar.

“Amazing things can happen when neither the customer nor the barista have the pressure of the line bearing down on them,” said Charles.

He admits the bar isn’t the perfect answer to our problem. It will take time.

“The fact that we spent so much time awkwardly fitting coffee of unprecedented caliber into volume-focused service systems is a testament to how undervalued coffee was for so long,” said Charles.

And now that coffee is getting more of the love it deserves there’s a chance that we can only go up from here.

“In some ways I think it’s a more clear coffee world – because of the conversations,” said Derek.

So keep talking to one another. Continue brainstorming. Have fun with the thousands of flavor experiences and find new ways to show them off to the customer. Of course we all wish the customers would get it right away, but they won’t. Not unless they have a barista with the patience to show it to them.

 

 

 

 


A Post About My Thankfulness for Coffee

I feel like I have an allotted amount of posts that can be just about my love for coffee and my thankfulness for it in my life. This is my first purposeful post of this type, so I have at least, like, what, five left in my blog’s life?

Here starts my girlishly sappy journal entry…about coffee.

Yesterday I pulled shot after shot for two and a half hours. I must have pulled 100. I used over 3 pounds of espresso. I was working with one of my managers to find the best extraction for a two-day old espresso. I won’t lie, it was a tedious training session, but I was determined to have a really great attitude about it.

The entire time my back ached and I couldn’t breath out of my left nostril, but I made it and with an 18 gram input, 28 gram output at a 26 second extraction we found the tastiest, smokiest shot of them all. But, that’s where it stopped. I cleaned up as fast as I could and went home to make dinner, not thinking anymore about it.

But then, this morning I’m sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops drinking a French-pressed Tanzanian. It tastes like a chocolate plum. And I sat there, and I thought to myself how mysterious and wonderful it is that you can move a burr less than a centimeter and put a gram difference into a portafilter and you can taste wildly different things.

It made me very happy to know I get to be a part of unearthing this mystery of flavors. And as much as I don’t like math or science, I’m glad I have such a standard to brew by. Such a small bean, hidden inside of a cherry, is capable of producing such a vast amount of flavors that the least I can do as a barista is make sure I get the most flavor out of it each and every time.