Month: March 2014

An Update.

So, we haven’t really been able to work on espresso drinks because the non-pressurized basket for the crappy De’Longhi machine is still on backorder at Seattle Coffee Gear until sometime in April. Meanwhile, we’ve just been practicing a little latte art here and there. We’re really happy to get some great feedback from friends and family. We’re especially flattered to have requests to try our coffee! Hopefully, that can happen as soon as we get the new basket and get everything calibrated. I’m really excited, and at the same time curious, even dubious, as to whether the De’longhi will be able to perform. Its like expecting a Honda Civic to compete in a race amongst Ferraris.

I was going to post a latte art video today since its Thursday but decided to do something different and a lot better. Expect a longer video next week!

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Meanwhile, we’re loving this milk from Maple View Farms and trying out the Bourbon variety and La Golondrina. We’re still catching up on all the new coffees from CC. Happy weekend!

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Regarding the Palette

photo by cafefonte.com

My great-great grandfather witnessed the bloody Chinese revolution and overthrow of the Qing dynasty. Such a victory was a huge step forward for China, but he was still skeptical and ended up basically saying, “to hell with it” and left China. Rightfully so, since the following decades were wrought with conflict, poverty and bloodshed. As a simple farmer, he didn’t really understand politics. All he wanted was the means to a peaceful way of life. He traveled south, fell in love with the rich, fertile lands of Cambodia and never looked back. There is a saying that is passed down through our family that originated from that wise farmer. “You’re never truly rich unless you know how to eat and drink well.”

So, my family is Chinese by blood, but our heritage is deeply rooted in Southeast Asia. My parents were born and raised in Cambodia, but their period of peace and relatively easy living was forcibly ended by Pol Pot and his regime of genocide. Fleeing with just the clothes on their back, they found themselves in a refugee camp in Vietnam. Shortly after, they gave birth to my brother and I.

Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in the 19th Century as a by-product of French colonialism. French coffee is characterized by a very dark roast, creating an intense smokey and bitter flavor. At the time, milk was at a premium (if you could find it) and refrigeration was a luxury, so the Vietnamese started using condensed milk. It didn’t require refrigeration and it was the perfect compliment to such a dark, bitter, and intense coffee.

Coffee in our family has always been REALLY DARK and NEVER, EVER ACIDIC. In fact, when my mom first tasted Counter Culture’s Ikawa Rwanda, she gave me the same face a toddler would give if you fed them a lemon. She was clearly over-exagerating. Its just that since she’s had the same Cafe du Monde and Starbucks dark roast style of coffee her whole life, she associated acidity to something being rancid.

It wasn’t until less than two years ago that I’ve journeyed out of my comfort zone and started tasted a wider array of artisanal single origin coffee and coffee blends. I guess when you really love coffee, you want to embrace all different types of coffee, just as one would embrace all sides of a loved one. I loved going to local coffee shops such as Jubala and Sola, drinking amazingly crafted coffee accompanied by a book (usually Murakami) and soaking in the coffee shop culture. At one point though, I started to make crappy coffee at home because I was just so sick of getting my daily, routine stomach aches. Maybe I was depressed. I do remember the coffee that got me out of my rut, Counter Culture Ikawa Burundi. Shortly after, my stomach aches were gone.

It takes time, but don’t force it.
I’m no connoisseur, but from personal experience, I’ve learned that it takes time to embrace different tastes, especially bitterness. Jimmy and I both had times in our lives where we hated eating bitter melon! Why, I would wonder, would people want to eat something so bitter? But was we got older and our attitudes changed, we’ve discovered that bitter melon is one of our favorite foods.

A natural progression also occurs when developing a palette for craft beer. When first introduced, one may start off with a belgian white or a hefeweizen. While heavy, they aren’t harsh to the palette and are quite sweet, citrusy, and delicious. It draws the unsuspecting novice in. From there, you would probably make your way through brown ales, porters, stouts, and then onto the almighty IPA. Bright, floral notes and refreshing, almost grapefruit-like tartness keep you hooked. Once you’ve reached this point, you’re done for. You’ve descended into the depths of beer-snobbery. You’ve tested the waters, now come on in. The water’s fine.

Bitterness gives complexity. Acidity brings brightness. I don’t prefer one over the other and I’m not suggesting they they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. When searching for good coffee, I look for whatever is the most balanced.

Professional Advice
I’m a huge fan of Erin Meister from Counter Culture Coffee. In Tastebud Training: How To Become A Better Coffee Taster, Miester gives several important tips:

1. Sip Before Sugar

To many people, coffee is a seemingly overpowering flavor, with strong bitterness or smokiness that can seem harshly unapproachable at first. That’s often our first reaction to things like beer, wine, and fine liquors, too—until, that is, we develop a taste for them… Nobody ever developed their taste for beer by dumping sugar in it, and neither will you for coffee by doing the same. -Erin Meister

2. Practice Makes Perfect

3. The Nose Knows

4. Compare and Contrast

5. Quit Smoking

For the whole article, click here.

An exciting journey..
A whole world of coffee is out there, spanning regions all over the globe. Think about how many hands have touched your coffee. All of the people that have affected it and the people it has affected. Take a moment to consider the forces at work that get those beans from that farm in Rwanda to your kitchen counter. From a handful of green coffee beans to that rich, caramel-colored crema. You are the end of the line, the final stop. How those beans conclude their journey is determined by you. You are the author of the finale, the director of the swan song. Make it memorable.

Thoughts on Pour Over and Ceramic Drippers

Pour over coffee.

A slow brewing method that has gained popularity even in the face of society’s “need for speed”. In a world riddled with the coffee equivalent of fast food joints and pod-fed, automaton, one-touch wonders; pour over has built quite a following in third-wave coffee shops everywhere. The precise measurement of coffee, finding the perfect grind, the temperature of the water, the timing, “riding the bloom”; its all so technical and time consuming.

But is it all worth it? Hell yeah it is.

That collection of tedious tasks makes for one damn good cup of coffee. It unlocks fragrances and flavors you never knew existed in those beans. Citrusy undertones, hints of dark chocolate, that buttery finish.

Try getting that out of a plastic pod.

The equipment you use can be a huge factor in releasing all of those wonderful attributes. Today, we’re discussing ceramic drippers. There’s a lot of them out there. Hario, Bonmac, Bee House…hell, even the coffee chain that shall not be named has one! (I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Starbucks.) When we first jumped into the world of pour over, we bought The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee. We would venture to say that this book is to coffee as Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is to bodybuilding, but this is open to debate.

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s dripper of choice is the Bonmac and the Bee House. They pretty much built their business on pour over, so it would seem logical to follow their lead. We purchased two Bee House units and got to work. Other than two very annoying nubs on the underside of the cone (it was a pain in the ass trying to get them to sit flat on our homemade stand), they functioned flawlessly. We also purchased a Hario V60 to take for a test drive and found that it functioned perfectly as well. They had their subtle differences, and that was reflected in the coffee it brewed.

Hario V60

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The design is elegant, clean, practical and well executed. The V60s wide saucer ledge, coupled with a smaller inner lip allows for easy accommodations for various size cups and dripper stands. The handle and body have a good, firm feel to them, making it feel natural to grab and hold, especially while shaking and tapping the vessel.

The breakthrough in the Hario V60 is its precisely angled design, spiral-ribbed side walls and large exit hole. The spiral ribs extend the entire side walls, which allows the filter to free-float on the dripper. This allows air to escape and the grounds to fully expand. The Hario V60 is always showy with its full, round and dramatic mushroom blooms even with older roasts. So if you’re expecting to wow your guests, whip out the V60!

What makes the Hario V60 a must have in any coffee enthusiasts cupboard is that you can be so experimental with it. Got a dark roast and want a slower pour? Grind finer, lower your temperature and the hole is still big enough to accommodate. Then, take notes. How does it taste? Got a lighter roast? Raise your temperature, grind courser or pour faster. The point is, the Hario V60 opens up the doors for years of experimentation and it won’t let you down.

Well, there is one thing that can let many people down. The Hario V60 requires its own special filter paper and its not cheap!

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Bee House

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The Bee House has a gorgeous design, with its elegantly sloping integrated handle. The vessel itself features the classic wedge shape and is very similar to the Bonmac and Bonmac Pro. The ridges extend about 3/4 of way up the side walls and there are two exit holes. It is also the only ceramic dripper on the market that has ingenious viewing holes to prevent overspill if you’re not using a scale, making it very user friendly.

So what makes the Bee House different in terms of brewing? Firstly, the wedge shape allows the coffee bed to sit lower and closer to the drip holes. Andy Sprenger, two-time consecutive winner of the US Brewer’s Cup, explains:

I maintain the coffee bed quite low in the brewer (Bee House). I think this helps with heat retention and more consistent contact with water to grounds (minimizes high and dry grounds). (Source: Spruge.com)

We believe this is precisely why the ridges only extend 3/4 of the side wall. Pour over is like the espresso drink form of coffee because it is made uniquely on the spot. The large Bee House is designed to brew about 12-20g of coffee, which is perfect for an individualize cup of coffee. Andy Sprenger maintains that although he’s brewed countless cups using the V60 and Kalita Wave, he still gets the

…most flavorful, pure and evenly extracted brews out of a Bee House. (Source: Seriouseats.com)

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So, if you want a consistently good cup of coffee, the Bee House is for you. That is if you can overlook some poorly executed design elements. One being that the small, oval shaped saucer coupled with the larger inner lip makes its less versatile, or even dangerous to use with cups in your cupboard. Its been notorious for committing acts of coffee betrayal by spontaneously toppling over, sending a mass of hot, sticky, coffee lava all over my thighs. If you to decide to build a dripper stand as an alternative to stacking them on top of your cups, you may run into another issue.

Those little nubs you see on the far left and far right of the dripper left us frustrated. Even after sanding out a circular area for the dripper to slide into, we ran into the issue of instability due to those little nubs on the outer edges.

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On a better note, it does fit perfectly over the Hario Range Server and uses easily available wedge shaped filters!

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Other Drippers:

Seriouseats.com gives a really good overview of the major types of ceramic drippers: Hario V60, Bonmac, Bonmac Pro, Bee House and the Kalita.

Our Verdict

What we have found is that no design is truly superior to another. Subtle differences in design create subtle differences in the coffee. Differences that may appeal to some and not to others. Different techniques call for different tools and in the end, its about what works best for you on your journey to find YOUR perfect cup of coffee.

Good Luck!

Thrillist’s Best Coffee Roasters in America (10/2013)

In October of last year, Thrillest came out with their list of America’s best roasters, voted by the most notable coffee writers and coffee nerds in the nation. I think this list still stands very well today.

Here’s the full article on Thrillist.com

1. Counter Culture Coffee Durham, NC

2. Stumptown Portland, OR

3. Madcap Coffee Grand Rapids, MI

4. Intelligentsia Chicago, IL

tmg-slideshow_xl-1with their badass truck! Photo by Intelligentsia

5. Heart Roasters Portland, OR

For the whole list, click here.

How to REUSE your Spent Coffee Grounds

If you google “what to do with old coffee grounds”, there are quite a few articles that list the many ways of doing just that. Some are a little absurd and not very practical, while others are great and not weird. For example, using coffee grounds as an exfoliating facial mask? At the same time it’s saying you can use it as a green alternative to wood stain? See where I’m going with this?

So, I want to take the best tips and put our own spin on it. Hope there’s at least one in here that will apply to you! This article was inspired by theearthymomma.com

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Sputnik Coffee Blog: Pour Over #2 (Failed)

Its Thursday! Almost there guys! The weekend is approaching but unfortunately for people in Raleigh, I believe theres also a little winter storm approaching tomorrow? We are all so sick of it.

So just like there’s good news and bad news mentioned above, there’s also good news and bad news concerning this pour over run. The bloom was good. I dialed my grind back a notch to 30 instead of 31/32 and got a bigger bloom. However, either the dripper or dripper stand was tilted, causing the coffee to run down the side of the dripper and the all the way to the dripper stand. What a mess!

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Counter Culture Coffee: Beginner Espresso Class

Last Thursday, we had the awesome opportunity to attend a Counter Culture Coffee Beginner Espresso Course.

Why it was so cool:

1. We met people from all different backgrounds, whether they own a shop, work as a barista or are just home brewers/enthusiast.

We had a 10 student class; three girls from a coffee shop in South Carolina, two guys from one in VA, an owner of Not Just Coffee in Charlotte plus her daughter and a home enthusiast. We had a really good mix of people who where ready to learn, engage and just soak in the whole experience.

Its so refreshing and encouraging to be amongst peers who share a similar level of love, enthusiasm, passion and expect nothing else than going above and beyond when it comes to coffee. In traditional Japanese Culture, it is very honorable to select a profession/trade and stick with it your whole life. Even an occupation that involves standing all day cutting perfectly sized noodles is respected because that person has devoted their whole life to perfecting something that benefits their community and in turn, their nation. I remember watching the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi where Jiro has perfected sushi so much that even when charging his customers $300 for a single dinner service, he still has a waiting list of at least one year.

I know we have friends and family members, or even just people on our Facebook or Instagram that probably think we take coffee way to seriously. That we might even seem a little pretentious, which we wouldn’t blame them at all. Its the reason why I started this blog, to educate, inform and even entertain(or try to at least)  It was awesome to spend some time with like-minded peers, share knowledge and encouragement as well as network. I hope to visit Miracle and Destiny at Not Just Coffee in Charlotte soon!

2. The instructors are amazing, down to earth, knowledgeable and just are great representatives of such a great company.

Of course there is no way to perfect coffee. It is a constant journey and along that that journey, we are able to elevate coffee little by little. Fo this beginner course, the instructors at Counter Culture emphasize this point and try to give their students and tools and foundation to get further along in that journey without dictating it.

We had classmates who weren’t accustomed to drinking espresso shots, but our instructor made sure to emphasize that it was perfectly ok! Which is really cool because it can be intimidating being around people who are soo good with coffee and have been working on it a lot longer than you have. But it was all cool! We all felt like we belonged!

3. It was really hands on and we got the opportunity to use both the La Marzocco Linea and Strada.

Yes, it was really hands on. More hands on than no hands on. To be honest, it almost felt like I was driving a beautiful, top of the line luxury car or maybe a classic car without knowing how to work a manual transmission at first. I felt like I was insulting the Strada with my lack of skill. Jimmy did a really good job though! He was a natural! The years of working at Starbucks did prove helpful, and I’m glad that he finally got praised for this sexy looking milk, instead of being scolded by his manager, who obviously didn’t know what the f*$k she was talking about =P.

However, get ready to pour really delicious, sexy milk down the drain. Its just an unfortunate by-product of the learning experience. We really appreciate the cows for all their hard work!

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Tips if you decide on attending a class:

Speak up! Ask lots of questions. It helps to engage with the instructors and get the most out of the experience.

Network! Talk, get to know everyone in your class. You never know where it might lead.

Final thoughts

The class was totally worth it. It allowed us to figure out what machine we want for the mobile cafe. We learned from people who have us in their best interest. Its in CC’s best interest for us to make the best coffee out of their beans and they are ready to educate their customers!