Another Variety blog for Joe Bean. This has been one of the funnest projects I’ve yet been involved in.
Remix: Enter Typica
Exploring the family tree of coffee at our cupping table has been invigorating, fascinating, and, of course, delicious. By focusing on a very particular line of genetic relationships, those stemming from the Caturra branch of the Bourbon variety, we have come to…
Who would’ve thought blogging a weekly coffee review could be so challenging? I certainly didn’t, and for that hubris, I embarrass myself by missing a week already. Not that I haven’t been on the table lately. Quite the contrary. So, with that in mind I’m going to write about my experience with two exceptional Panamanian coffees I recently sampled. Disclaimer: Though this is written as though they were cupped side-by-side, there was actually at least two weeks difference between the times these two were cupped. Any comparison is based on the notes I took when cupping each.
These coffees come from the same region, Stumptown’s Duncan Estate being in the Volcancito region that Square One uses to brand their bag. Duncan consists of fully washed Typica and Caturra, while Volcancito is fully washed Caturra. As usual, Stumptown provides a wealth of information on Duncan in their producers section, as well as the notes from a recent origin trip. Information particularly centers on Ricardo Koyner, owner and operator of the Duncan Estate, micro-climate specifics, and innovative and sustainable processing practices. This is a great read, even if you can’t drink the coffee.
The similarities and differences between these two coffees are difficult to reconcile with some of what I know about their varieties, and since the micro-climates are so similar, I am tempted to believe that processing is the major factor separating the two. That said, the similarities outweigh the differences, and for the most part I experienced many of the same things in the two cups, just at different points in the brew cycle. Thus, the Fragrance of the Duncan contained more citrus, edged by maple and milk chocolate. The Volcancito, however, was nuttier, mostly praline and pecan, with grainy midnotes and a slight grape fragrance.
The Aromas of the two coffees carried out more of the contrast, with Duncan still accentuating enzymatic aromas, a wildflower honey with heavy floral characteristics. Meanwhile, the Volcancito stayed primarily in the realm of sugar browning with warmer grains, though some ferment-y, wine-like, and herbal aromas did begin to appear, here. To be honest, I would have expected the Duncan to have more of these sugar browning aromas, owing to the presence of Typica. For a fully-washed Caturra, I was looking for more delicate floral aromas and poignant citrus. Breaking the Volcancito yielded nothing in this realm. In fact, it was a rather disappointing break. The Duncan, on the other hand, finally turned a sugar browning corner and broke with a flood of pecan pie aroma that was beyond delightful.
It was when I started slurping that these two coffees began to show their real similarity. The Duncan opened up with a broad maple flavor and nose, edged by almond and vanilla. This is what I would expect of a Caturra/Typica coffee, but it had a richness and depth that pushed my understanding of what I thought were two generally delicate varieties. The acidity of the Duncan was even more interesting, presenting a solid melon quality, which would bend in various, very pleasant directions. Sometimes it moved toward a soft lemon flavor, other times it had more of a cherry tartness. This was definitely interesting, but I often wonder if acidity isn’t one of those areas where we could experience a little more clarity if we slowed down in the primary caramelizing phase of roasts that takes place roughly between 300 and 400 degrees. But this would only serve to take something already excellent and make it absolutely extraordinary.
The Flavor of the Volcancito was comparable to the Fragrance and Aroma of the Duncan, with more fruit and floral character. It opened up with raspberry, blackberry, grape, and well-defined floral character. It was generally edged by a bitter chocolate, making for some a very interesting flavor experience. The most interesting thing about this part of Volcancito’s brew-cycle was by far the aftertaste. Delicate and reminiscent of Duncan’s floral and wildflower honey Aroma, the aftertaste lingered in the most pleasant way. My only critique would be that the mouthfeel had a slight chalkiness to it. It was subtle, but definitely present.
I loved both of these, even though I feel a slightly different balance might bring out more of the most impressive characteristics. brewed, they both made great v60s and clevers, but I was not impressed with either in the chemex. This was especially surprising considering the pronounced acidity of both. But even so, these are two coffees I cannot recommend enough.
Catimor variety study ahead of our Family Tree Cupping this week at Joe Bean.
The Curious Case of Catimor
This week, we will follow the Caturra family of the Bourbon branch on coffee’s family tree by looking at Catimor. Catimor is an especially intriguing variety because of its history and parentage, as well as its varied cup quality. Catimor is a forced hybrid of…
I led a cupping last Thursday. Here’s what that was like.
Our Family Tree series got off to a magnificent start Thursday, March 7th. Fifteen of our friends showed up to discover the connections between branches on the family tree of coffee. And we were once again reminded one of the most amazing aspects of cupping specialty coffees with friends:…
Reblogging another variety study I did for Joe Bean. Come to the cupping tomorrow at 7 pm.
Until recently, Mayaguez was treated as a sub-variety of Bourbon, due to its similar size, shape, and growth patterns. However, as coffee markets in Rwanda and Burundi have come into their own, Mayaguez has been increasingly looked upon as a unique variety. Lower yielding than…
This week’s coffee review comes from one of my personal favorite roasters. Square One Coffee is out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania where they have brought Specialty Coffee culture on a scale rarely seen in a town of that size. What’s more, they’ve reached beyond their own region to make inroads in Boston, a coffee city that boasts most of the industry’s biggest names. They’ve attracted and trained talented staff, source beautiful coffees, and infect others with their depth of passion. Having worked with them some while judging regional barista competitions, I will try really hard not to let my crush on this company bias my review. No guarantees.
The coffee is another Burundi, this one from the Teka washing station in central Burundi, near Gitega. Unlike the more well-known stations at Kayanza and Ngozi, Teka is more centrally-located on a higher plateau away from the border with Rwanda. Reaching elevations up to 2000m, Teka is ideally positioned among clean, high-altitude freshwater, making it one of the top five washing stations in Burundi. The Bourbon varieties that come through Teka received a cupping score of 88 on Sweet Marias, so the quality of the station is beyond question, as far as I am concerned.
On the Fragrance (Dry) I experienced a good amount of enzymatic properties, some of which I expect from good Burundi coffees, some of which were surprising. The florals had a jasmine-like, tea blossom quality, which is pretty familiar for these coffees. However, the berry-like enzymatic fragrance had an unexpected depth, not thin like blueberry or sugary like raspberry. It definitely reminded me of blackberry jam, which blended incredibly well with some of the sugar browning characteristics present in the fragrance, namely honey and milk chocolate. This seemed like a pretty unique experience, one that certainly made me eager for what was coming in the cup.
In the Aroma (Wet) the sugar browning characteristics took over. A heavy baker’s chocolate was dominant at first, crowding out most of the subtlety for the first minute or so of the Aroma. What happened next was very unexpected, as a citrus smell popped into the Aroma. A bright lemon-like smell, at first it interacted with the sugar browning to have a candy-like quality, really reminding me of a Lemonhead. However, by the end of the Aroma, just before the break, the lemon quality began to bend the sugar browning aromas in a very unpleasant way. Eventually, the Aroma had the tomato-like character that I have come to truly despise in some Kenyan coffees. This was totally unexpected, as the Fragrance had shown no hint of citrus or tomato, let alone enough to crowd out such deep sugar browning Aromas.
At the break, a rush like the smell of fresh cookies took over, drowning out any citrus in the Nose. Excellent flavors like warm spices and cinnamon were more prevalent at first, but quickly gave way to tart grape and such complex lemon-lime citrus I could hardly pull it all apart. Additionally, a warm grain quality began to accent the sweetness perfectly. It flowed so well, with such a juicy mouthfeel, the sweetness and acidity creating a very harmonious, balanced cup. The aftertaste was on the drier side and shorter than I would have liked, but by no means unpleasant. At this point, I was really enjoying this coffee.
However, things got shakier and shakier as the cup cooled. The citrus became more and more potent, and the spice flavors all faded. Eventually, like it had in the Aroma, the citrus began to bend everything else, creating a one-dimensional cool that was far less pleasant than the rest of the cup. This was disappointing, but certainly did not ruin what had been a wonderful experience.
This was a terrific coffee on the table, but I would say it held up a little better in the cup. It presents more floral character through a pour over, and it cools toward that cookie-like aspect, getting sweeter and more cinnamon-like over time. A wonderful dessert coffee, I can commend my friends at Square One for creating such a solid cup. But I can honestly say I would have balanced it differently, given the aggressive citrus I experienced on the table. And this is something I love about coffee: different perspectives, different styles, and potential for infinite delicious combinations.
Been working on this the last couple weeks. Cannot wait to roll it out.
As part of our upcoming “Coffee Has a Family Tree” cupping series, we’ll be sharing some info on the different coffee varieties we’re putting on the cupping table each week. Learn a little about the cultivation and history of each variety before having a chance to sample them every first…
I’ve been wanting to restart this blog for a while now, but I decided I needed something that could be a staple to keep me running week-to-week. Thus, I’m going to make reviews of coffees I’m tasting into a weekly “backbone” for my posts, while leaving some of the bigger issues for longer, less frequent posts.
Now seems like a good time to start, so here goes.
For my first review, I’ll be writing about a Burundi Cup of Excellence coffee I acquired at Blue Bottle Coffee in Chelsea, NYC. This is the first year for the Cup of Excellence competition in Burundi, so I was especially excited to come across this coffee roasted by Blue Bottle, whose work I tend to appreciate.
This lot is called Pierre, and comes from the Nkanda washing station in Tangara, Ngozi. As per Blue Bottle’s website, the COE coffees from Burundi are associated with washing stations instead of estates. I take this as a testament to the poverty of the country, assuming that most cherries are coming from free-range pickers. I could be wrong, here, but the website doesn’t give a reason for the practice, which could make for a useful addition.
As expected from most coffees from Burundi, the variety is listed as “Bourbon,” though it is my understanding that these are more like Rwandan Bourbon varieties, mutations that are just a hair’s breadth away from being considered varieties in their own right (i.e. Mayaguez). The processing is listed as “Wet Process,” which I assume means a wet fermentation and washing process, but a little more specificity would be helpful. The elevation, 1650m, appears to be pretty average for Burundi, where the average elevation is about 1700m, according to the numbers I found.
So much for the specs, here are my cupping notes:
In the Fragrance (Dry) I detected a good bit of lemon, which was crowding out some more subtle aromatics. The next most dominant was a slight coriander scent, just flowery enough to be noticed. I found this particularly odd, because so many Burundi’s I’ve had before were floral-dominant in the Fragrance. There was one small oddity in the fragrance, a slight rubbery smell that I tried to convince myself was on my hands or the cup, but alas, I concluded that it was in fact the coffee. Needless to say, this was a little troubling.
By the Aroma (Wet) any rubbery character was overwhelmed by the movement of the citrus aromas, and some sugar-browning aromas that blended in as a perfect compliment. The citrus from the Fragrance became considerably more piney and earthy, almost reminding me of a clean hop aroma. The citrus remained dominant throughout, eventually blending with a very graham-like grain aroma to smell something like a good lemon pie. At this point, $12 for 150g ($15 online) seemed like a great investment.
At the break, the citrus was still clearly dominant, and throughout the Nose it was the main note. However, the first few slurps revealed a softer character, more orange-like than lemon-like. As the earthy character became a little more pronounced, a stone fruit sweetness (very plum-like) came forward, rounding off the citrus beautifully. Combined with the buttery mouthfeel that wrapped the entire tongue, the overall sensation, if not particularly complex, was wonderful.
The Aftertaste was a long, full caramel with hints of almond and peach. The peach eventually presented fully when the cup cooled, a great ending to such an interesting cup.
Overall, this cup was less floral and complex than other coffees I’ve had from Burundi, but attained much greater clarity. There were none of the out-of-place savory flavors in the aftertaste that I’ve come to expect in coffee from Burundi. From the Hario, I did get a little more of the floral character in a very pleasing form. The sweetness, though clearest in the aftertaste, demonstrated a good spectrum and depth. All-in-all, this is one of the better African coffees I have had recently, and I’m not one to wantonly compliment African coffees, but more on that some other time.
I am newly obsessed with machine maintenance. It started when I watched my coworkers take apart and refurb an old Spazale. Then we bought a Mazzer Major that needed rewiring, cleaning, and painting, so I thought I’d give it a try. Then the friend with the Spazale had a couple Rancilio MD50 espresso grinders she let us pull apart and clean. All of this has been fun, but also very useful for showing me what I do not know about the machines I use.
My first attempt to rectify this situation (aside from tearing things apart and reassembling them) has been to ask someone who knows. And this cat knows. Jake Casella runs the coffee equipment and barista training programs at Spot Coffee. He’s an SCAA instructor and BGA member. Knowledgeable, experienced, and exceptionally friendly, I knew Jake would be just the man to answer a few machine tech questions.
How important is knowledge of machinery for a barista, compared with other skills/knowledge that baristas should possess?
I’m a bit of tech geek, so my answer is biased. That said, I still think it’s extremely important—and not as an end in itself, but as a foundation for all your other skills. I’ve seen baristas who have good coffee knowledge, good sensory skills, great customer service skills, totally flummoxed by the coffee they’re serving because they were unable to identify something going wrong on the equipment end—a basket causing channeling, temp or pressure settings messing up the extraction, and so on.
I’ve also bicycled through the snow at 5am to fix “equipment emergencies” that wound up being a machine accidentally unplugged or turned off. So I like baristas to know those basic things.
What is the baseline of knowledge that every barista should be expected to obtain when it comes to machine maintenance? Or, put another way, what should every barista know about the various machines with which they are working?
Basic operation and cleaning, including both daily and weekly/infrequent cleaning tasks. This prevents a lot of awful things from building up over time.
The name of the machine and the basic parts. That will drastically help communicate with a technician when something does go wrong.
What are the best resources for baristas who want to learn more about machine maintenance?
First and foremost, track down all the equipment manuals you can get your hands on. In addition to parts-breakdowns, wiring diagrams etc, many manufactures have made “technician guides” of one sort or another that are very helpful.
Attend some training classes if possible. They’re offered at SCAA & regional events, and some of the bigger manufacturers offer them as well. They might look a little pricey, but I’ve yet to see a class more expensive than 2 visits from an outside tech—so it’s a good investment.
Find a tech who likes to talk. Have them walk you through how the machines actually work, see if you can be a gopher for them on a tech-call, see if they have any old machines kicking around you can just take apart and put back together.
Know who to call, both repair services and the manufacturer’s techline.
Forums forums forums. Coffeegeek, Barista Exchange, and Home-Barista have been invaluable resources for me over the years, either searching the archives or posting questions.
If you’re getting really serious, look into plumbing/electrical courses at your local adult education venue of choice.
What kind of machine work do you think baristas have no business doing? When should we call someone like you instead of trying to fix something ourselves?
My general thought is, if you don’t own the machine, or aren’t a trained technician, you shouldn’t be doing any maintenance that involves tools. That said, mechanically handy baristas should be taught how to replace group screws/screens/gaskets and how to set the pump pressure.
Any time you get into electrical or plumbing issues, make real sure you know what you’re doing, or else call in a pro.
What is the most common bad habit of baristas when it comes to machine maintenance?
Not cleaning. (Clean that grinder, too).
What is the worst habit you’ve seen in baristas?
Whew, that’s a tough one, there’s so many to pick from. There’s still a lot of pre-grinders, tamp-tappers, milk screamers, milk re-steamers, wand-not-cleaners out there.
It’s not a habit, but the worst lack-of-knowledge I’ve seen is baristas not turning the machine off when the water lines were turned off, causing damage to the pump.
Probably the worst maintenance habits are just the lack of some big but out-of-sight things: burr replacement, water filtration replacement.
That said, usually when I go into a well-trained coffee shop I don’t see any major bad habits at all; I have to get pretty nitpicky. For example, I’ve been re-training a lot of baristas lately not to purge the groups excessively, or use group-water for cleaning, on Marzoccos and other dual-boiler machines. But compared to a lot of really god-awful shot-and-machine-destroying habits out there, focusing on group temperature stability is a pretty advanced/minor concern.
It seems like there’s a pretty big gap, skill-wise, most places fall into either “pretty darn good” or “no idea what they’re doing.” I think that’s just a direct result of whether or not the owners/managers care about quality; if you do care, we’re at a point now where the resources are available to do it right. Between the SCAA/BGA, the many roasters and private educators that offer training, and (product plug) books like Scott Rao’s, you can learn the basic good habits, and the bad habits to avoid, pretty easily.
Anything I missed? General thoughts or warnings?
I still push the “4 Ms” approach in basic barista training—the Coffee, the Grinder, the Espresso Machine, the Hand of the Barista—as a quick mental guide when things go wrong, or when things go incredibly right. If you pull a shot that’s randomly awful, or for which the stars align and the angels sing, you want to know what happened there. Knowing the equipment—the grinder & espresso machine—is absolutely vital. It doesn’t matter how awesome your beans are, how flawless your technique is, if those middle steps are screwing up somehow. Even if you can’t fix the problem, being able to at least have a theory of what’s going wrong can help you get a solution much more quickly.
As a last note to people getting into maintenance, two things:
1.) Know how to turn the water line off BEFORE you start messing with anything connected to it. This will save you many a flooded floor.
2.) Know how to actually cut the power to the machine, not just turn it off. I’ve had more than one “electrocution story” swapping session with other techs. There’s some big beefy voltage in a lot of this equipment; it’s surprisingly easy to start accidentally arc-welding screwdrivers to things in there. And getting seriously electrocuted is kind of like instant hangover, if you’re lucky. Pull the plug or kill the breaker when there’s any risk at all.
And finally, a contradictory warning/encouragement: specialty coffee equipment is crazy expensive and not exactly fool-proof to work on. So be careful. But! They’re also not nearly as complicated as you might think. Even the more complex espresso machines are really just hot water tanks, with a few different mechanical and electrial systems to tell them when to heat up, when to let water out. If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, if you don’t have to pause to remember which one the Phillips is, you’ll probably be okay.
A barista is the last hand on the coffee.
It goes through many hands.
Then it goes to my hands.
Then to my guest: my customer.
If it’s not perfect,
It’s not that if it’s not perfect,
it was ruined in my hands.
It’s that my hands,
and all the hands that…