Blog : Coffee

Tasting or Drinking?

Tasting or Drinking?

This blog post has been written by Ben Ratner, co-owner of LiB’s Marketplace in Salem, Ohio. Ben has extensive experience in food and wine, and has been working in the coffee profession since opening Lib’s with is wife Lindsay. We are proud to partner with LiB’s in bringing you this outstanding class, taught by Ben himself to help us all expand our enjoyment of our food and drink. Without further ado:

When you enjoy coffee are you drinking it or tasting it? The difference is subtle but measurable. Most people looking for a quick pick-me up may fall into the “just drinking” category while those looking to experience something more; a connection with their coffee, land more on the tasting side of things.

In specially coffee we are always striving for that something extra. It could be learning more background or production info, that season’s particular weather, anything to allow us to feel more connected to the cup and the lives of those that made it possible to get from a farm to your belly.

Perhaps sometimes we lose the most important factor in coffee. Behind the specifics in climate, growing region, processing methods, bean elevation, the name of the farmers first born and so on…the most important thing being; is it delicious and tasty?

After we have qualified a coffee as delicious, does it stop there? Of course not! We need to know why that cup stands out, and as coffee professionals we need to be able to explain to a guest of our café, or orderer on our online shop, and in some ways insure the type of experience they will have after making a purchase. Similarly, it’s a coffee professional’s job to be able to pick out flaws on the production side before adding a specific bean to the offering list so they know if it will properly represent the shop that will be presenting it to the consumer.

Here is where sensory evaluation comes into play. Your palate is like a muscle, and it takes practice to teach our brain and sensory systems to work together to pick out regional notes and flaws a like.

This is where Branchstreet Coffee Roasters, LiB’s Market and you come into the picture! We are partnering up for an awesome intro into sensory perception workshop to take place at Branchstreet on May 21, at 3:00pm. We will discuss how to start making connections between your sensory systems that will get you on the path to being a better perceiver in general which will lead to having a more enriched experience in life not just coffee tasting because these skills will make it possible to feel that much more connected to the things we consume.

As humans on this journey called life, our memories and experiences will last a lifetime. Join us to make some memories and get the ball rolling on becoming a better taster. Those wishing to get started and those looking for a  refresher or if you just want to be sure you’re fully enjoying the things you consume and squeezing every last drop from life! Join us.

Water and Chemistry

Water and Chemistry

This article was originally written by Matt Campbell for the membership of Coffee Props.  Please visit www.coffeeprops.com to join the conversation and be a part of the community!

So much focus has been put on the coffee itself, and rightfully so. The grind size, consistency of grind, freshness and quality of the bean, roast quality and method of brewing are all important factors when considering the end result of your brew. Traditionally when we would talk about water we would be discussing water to coffee ratio, temperature of brew water, speed and type of infusion method, and filtration. While these factors are all important, recent studies have broadened our understanding of our water.

 

What can be so complicated? Water is H2O, right? Well, yes; and no, not always. Without getting too deep into the physics and chemistry of it all, water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and the liquid we all know and love is capable of dissolving all sorts of other molecules. The makeup of water depends on a multitude of factors and conditions, and it is a complex array of chemistry and physics. Each water sample can react differently with its surrounding environment, and it is no different when we heat it and pour it over a bed of coffee.

 

It has been shown that magnesium (Mg +2) and calcium (Ca +2) are important to extracting flavor from coffee. These two atoms readily dissolve in water to create ions. These ions have a charge, which reacts chemically with flavor in the coffee to extract it into solution. Adding the sum of these two minerals together to calculate their abundance in parts-per-million (PPM) will give us an idea of general hardness, or GH.

 

On the opposing side of these ions are carbonate ions (HCO3 -1), which is more commonly referred to as the alkalinity or buffering agent (KH). This also contributes to coffee flavor, but it must be kept in check to prevent undesirable changes.

 

Although there are other minerals and ions in solution, the three mentioned above are the most important factors that impact flavor. These ions must be kept at the right level of hardness, but they must also be in proper quantities relative to each other. The preferred ration seems to be 2:1 in favor of the general hardness when the GH is around 100 ppm.

 

Believe it or not, that was actually a pretty dumbed down version of the whole story. Although these are just the basic facts, there is a whole textbook of information called, “Water for Coffee.” If you are they type that needs to know more, there is no more relevant and thorough information available. It isn’t exactly an easy read, but it is articulate and complete.

 

All this fantastic information has been made available recently, but now what can we do with it? Sure, we can purchase titration test kits and expensive filtration solutions to make the perfect water for coffee, but for the average household this is not a feasible option. Is all lost?

 

Not quite. The chemistry may be complicated to understand, but some very smart people have broken it down for us. Matthew Perger, WBC all-star and coffee guru has been dropping knowledge for us, so I will yield the floor to his recipe for perfect water:

 

Water Recipe:

 

Based on instructions from Matthew Perger, and the book Water for Coffee

Ingredients: Sodium Bicarbonate (aka baking soda); magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt); distilled water

NOTES:

  • Distilled water, spring water, and purified water are not the same. It must be labeled distilled for this to work.
  • The Epsom salts must be unscented, and read magnesium sulfate. MgSO4

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

 

To make concentrate:

  1. Add 8.6g baking soda, and 25g Epsom salt to 500g distilled water. This is your concentrate.
  2. Shake this concentrate until it is all dissolved.

 

To make perfect coffee water:

  1. Place 500g of distilled water into a clean glass container.
  2. Carefully mix 2.5g of CONCENTRATE into the distilled water.
Fair Trade?

Fair Trade?

This blog post was originally written by Matt Campbell for Coffee Props.  Coffee props is a community of coffee lovers, with a focus on bringing clean water to third world countries. Check them out at http://www.coffeeprops.com for more!

Fair Trade?

 

If you’re a frequent consumer of specialty coffee, chances are you have come across several certifications and registration programs. Some may include Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, Rainforest Certified, and others. What exactly do these mean, and how concerned should you be about the presence or lack of certification?

 

Certifications are great, and they provide some clarity to an otherwise muddled chain of custody on the commodity market. Where an item came from, how it was produced, and weather or not it was sourced ethically should be of concern to a consumer. We value transparency, and increasingly, we have become more aware of our footprint and its impact.

 

In our modern world, we live with a strange paradox. We are sourcing our products and goods on a worldwide scale from people we will never see or meet, while becoming more connected via technology and social media. Suddenly we are able to see the results of our consumer culture on the countries producing our goods. Knowing that our choices have an impact on other people creates a sense of moral and ethical responsibility.

 

The certifications were created to give the consumer the assurance that they were buying a product that was created with their values in mind, and that badge on the box or bag assured them that this product was up to their standards of ethics. It is comforting for the consumer to know that they made a good choice.

 

Right? Maybe.

 

As with any system, all of these certification programs have flaws. What starts as an honest attempt at transparency can become a bit muddied, and it is important to understand the context of these flaws so we can purchase wisely instead of blindly.

 

To use an example, let us examine the USDA Organic label. The US Department of Agriculture developed guidelines and regulations to define what Organic means, and how it can be confirmed with inspections and certifications. The consumer knows that products labeled with the USDA logo are certified, and buying that product means that it has met those guidelines. We often only think of this from the consumer point of view, and not that of the producer.

 

When a producer grows or creates a product according to USDA Organic standards, they cannot just slap the logo on that product. They must apply with the USDA to be inspected and show a tremendous amount of paperwork including, records, testing, procedures, and policies in order to even be considered for the Organic label. Oh, and there is a tiny fee involved. These fees START at $750 USD per farm. The fee can range because the USDA does not always inspect these farms themselves. Oftentimes they will need to pay one of the USDA “approved” agents to come and inspect. These private agents set their own fees. Travel time, room and board may add additional expenses.

 

Consider a coffee farm in Ethiopia, a country known for beautiful and unique coffee. Many of the farmers are small operations; sometimes each farmer controls only a few acres of land. To market their product as USDA Organic would likely prove to be impossible because of costs involved; even if they follow the strict guidelines set by the USDA. In fact, many of these farms are in remote areas that have no choice but to grow in organic conditions. It does not make their coffee any less “pure,” but we will never see the label on their beans.

 

Even as a cooperative organization (co-op), each individual farmer would need to be inspected and certified in order for the co-op as a whole to be certified. This is frequently cost prohibitive, as well as logistically difficult. It creates a catch-22 of sorts among these third-world farmers, while it rewards the larger, richer and more powerful farms and keeps the smaller rural farmer out of reach.

 

This actually creates a nice segue into another certification, Fair Trade. As consumers, we care about the quality of our product, we often also want our producers to be cared for as well. No sweat shops for us! With the advent of Fair Trade, we felt good. Those poor people were getting a fair price for their product, and we knew that their standard of living was being raised as well.

 

In order to be labeled Fair Trade, a coffee must sold through a co-op. Co-ops are organizations that have leadership, and overhead. The leadership decides how the profits from the season’s sales are divided up among the farmers, and how much the leadership pays itself. You know, for leading. Another sad side effect is the loss of amazing coffee. If a farmer has an outstanding crop, it likely will be blended and sold off with all of the other coffee from that co-op.   The quality of that one farm will be completely lost, and bring everything down to an equal level. Not so fair.

 

Although there are too many organizations and certifications to list, the one thing they have in common is the desire to market a better product. For all their flaws, they do have some redeeming qualities. As a consumer, be aware of where your coffee and products come from and make your own decision. Try to use the certifications for what they are: a tool. There is plenty of bad Fair Trade Organic coffee out there, and even more excellent coffee that hasn’t been certified by any institution. Talk with your roaster and baristas about the coffee, chances are they will know about the origins and the story behind that particular offering.

 

So what’s the point? I suppose it is to encourage you to be an intelligent consumer. Know about the product, and buy it based on the merits of the product itself. Sure, having the certifications is great, but is the product the best available for you? Perhaps there is a tremendously flavorful coffee right next to the bag with all the fancy stickers; and perhaps you will reward a small farmer for his hard work and dedication, regardless of their certifications.

Coffee Rating

Coffee Rating

This blog post was originally written by Matt Campbell for Coffee Props.  Coffee props is a community of coffee lovers, with a focus on bringing clean water to third world countries. Check them out at http://www.coffeeprops.com for more!

How does your coffee rate?

 

Coffee is everywhere. It is ingrained in our culture, and our daily lives. From fast-food drive-through to your kitchen, chances are that you aren’t far from it. As part of Coffee Props, our main focus is on that small percentage of coffee that is considered “Specialty Coffee.”

 

Specialty coffee is defined as the best of the best in the coffee world. That doesn’t mean much without a way of quantifying, or grading coffee. Thankfully, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has stepped in to help create a standard so that the coffee industry can define Specialty Coffee exactly.

 

Let’s get nerdy.

 

The SCAA developed a system called “Q-Grading.” This is a series of metrics that will help the industry to grade different coffee against each other, to discover what makes the cut to be considered Specialty Coffee. Q-grading combines both objective and real measurements with subjective sensory traits. There is a very rigorous training program for those who wish to become Q-graders, and it is an ongoing training once that certificate has been earned. Graders must ‘recalibrate’ to each other frequently, to make sure that they are all in agreement on the results of a coffee even while they are in different countries.

 

This program is actually so well managed, that Q-graders are able to get results +/- 1 point of each other. This is over a system of 1-100, so the margin of error from one q-grader to another is 1%. That is a tremendous feat.

 

So what does Q-grading do for the coffee industry?

 

Coffee isn’t grown in most regions that are consuming the beverage, so it is important that a system is in place to buy, import and roast coffee from around the world. If a buyer in Brazil is grading a coffee, they can relay that information to an end user in the US, and they can decide if they should purchase that coffee, or look for another. When the coffee is received stateside, we can feel confident that we have made an educated purchase.

 

Great, Q-grading is for buyers, and roasters. What can it do for YOU?

 

Q-grading does not end with industry professionals. There are resources for roasters to submit their roasted samples to a company, who will blindly taste the coffee and give it a grade. These are called sensory evaluations, and they are a great way to convey to consumers what they can expect prior to buying a product. The largest and most respected resource is Coffee Review. Coffee Review regularly does grading for roasters around the world, and they publish the results for their consumer base. This assures buyers that they are getting a high quality product, and it can even help you find some great coffee that you may not otherwise have known about.

 

By the Numbers

 

Can we get a frame of reference for these numbers? Any coffee that is rated by 80 or above defines Specialty Coffee. This rating is assigned at the point of purchase, by Q-graders. This doesn’t mean that your roaster will take a 90 point green coffee and roast a 90 point final product. In fact, it is quite possible that they won’t even come close. Many factors in the roasting process can affect the final product, and this could cause a much lower grade. It is also possible that a lower-graded green coffee can be treated perfectly by the roaster and surprise us all with a great grade.

 

It is a huge accomplishment to have a coffee achieve a 90+ rating, and you can see some examples of that by checking out some of the ratings on coffeereview.com.

 

(shameless plug)

At Branch Street Coffee Roasters, we recently decided to send our first sample of coffee to be professionally graded. We did this to gauge our roasting, and to ensure that our product was standing up to the quality that we are consistently trying to achieve. We were more than satisfied with the results, and it has given us a metric to strive for with all of our coffee. We can promote that coffee to our clientele, and they now have an expectation by seeing that number. It also encourages us to keep striving for the high ratings, and continue sending samples to ensure that we are always earning that mark.

By the Numbers

By the Numbers

Home Coffee Brewing: By the Numbers

 

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that will teach you how to confidently brew exceptional coffee at home.

 

If you have been following the last few blog posts, you should be well on your way to brewing great coffee in your kitchen or office. You may have already improved your quality significantly, so lets delve deeper and see what else we can do to get the most out of our brew.

 

There are numbers involved in every part of life, and coffee should be no exception. With coffee brewing we are always thinking about things like water to coffee ratio, temperature of water, and contact time. All of these add up to a great experience, or a tasteless disappointment. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and make the numbers work for us.

 

There are lots of instructions out there intended as guides to help you measure out the coffee for your brewer. These are usually measured in tablespoons per cup of water, and are relatively accurate for most coffee drinkers. If you have made it this far into the blog, you are not like most coffee drinkers, so you will want a scale that can measure in grams, or 1/10th grams. Why? I’m so glad you asked.

 

Different beans and different roasts have different densities. One tablespoon of a light roast can weigh 10 grams, while one tablespoon of a French roast will weigh as little as 7. That is a 30% difference! The only way to account for the many (many) variables that make up a coffee’s weight is to use a digital scale. Use a scale, and watch your quality improve instantly.

 

Water is a little bit different. Although water changes from one location to another (mineral density, contaminants, etc.) it is relatively the same across the board. 1ml of water = 1 gram. Once you figure out how many grams of coffee you want to brew, you can measure the water in grams and be almost perfectly accurate.

 

Brewing in an automatic home machine:

 

So what do we use? We have found that with out water, we need about 25 grams for 12oz of water. This is about 11-12 grams for every 6 ounces you want to make. This number can change depending on your water selection (but you already know to use mineral water, right?)

**(Many coffee brewing machines consider 4 fl oz to be a cup. We recommend you measure how much water it takes to get to the “10 cup” mark on your coffee pot to make sure it is 60 fl oz instead of 40 fl oz. Adjust from there to make up for any discrepancy.)**

 

Water temperature is another big factor in the brewing process. Many home coffee makers do not get the water hot enough to properly extract all of the flavor out of the coffee. We use water that is dispensed from a heater at 205º. The easiest way to assure that you are getting the full flavor you deserve is to check your water temperature. If it does not come out within a few degrees of the 205 mark, then it is time to either adjust (if your coffee maker allows) or search out a new brewing method. Many home baristas will boil water in a special pouring kettle and begin the brew a few moments off the boil to ensure they are in the proper temp zone.

 

The final hurdle for this post is the amount of time that the coffee and water are in contact with each other. The longer the water interacts with the coffee the more particles are extracted, both good and bad. If the contact time is too long the coffee can extract lots of bitter tastes and ‘tannins’ that contribute to a poor quality cup. To short of a contact time, and the cup can be unbalanced or too sharp. Most people recommend between 3-4 minutes of contact time for a 12 fl oz cup of coffee. Although this is usually reserved for manual pour-over style brews, you can at least get an idea of how the contact time may be affecting your automatic brewer.

 

Up next:

Home Coffee Brewing: Pour Over Methods

The Grind

The Grind

Home Coffee Brewing: The Grind

 

This is the third in a series of blog posts that will teach you how to confidently brew exceptional coffee at home.

 

So far we have discussed the importance of the two main ingredients in coffee; the beans themselves, and the water that brews them. How the beans are ground is just as important to coffee brewing as the water and coffee selection. Slight variations in the grind setting can have dramatically different results in the final product. Let’s get down to the details, and help to really fine-tune the process.

 

To grind, or not to grind?

 

When buying your beans, you have the choice of buying pre-ground or whole bean. At a micro roaster all of the beans are likely whole bean, and your barista will grind them for you at the time of sale if you need. Is there a difference in quality one-way or the other? You bet.

 

Why grind at home? A few days after the coffee is roasted, it begins to lose flavor. When the beans are ground the surface area of the beans is increased exponentially, allowing more of that flavor and aroma dissipate and escape! Most reputable coffee shops will only grind their beans moments before they start the brewing process to retain that flavor you have come to expect. Grinding your beans at home will dramatically increase the freshness and flavor profile of the coffee you have brought home to enjoy. There are many types of grinders out there, so which one is best?

 

At the entry level, you can find cheap blade grinders which use a propeller like action to chop up the coffee. They are entry level grinders that allow you to grind only what you need for the coffee you are making at the time, but they fall short on another important quality; consistency.  These grinders have a major fault when it comes to grind uniformity.  They create lots of boulders (huge chunks) and fines (powder) at the same time.  Although we used to carry them on our shelves, we have replaced them with a line of manual and electric burr grinders.

 

A burr grinder will allow for more control over the coarseness of grind, and provide for a much more consistent result. Most burr grinders will have a ‘hopper’ or chamber where the whole beans will be stored and fed into the grinder as needed. Quality and consistency are the benchmarks that should be expected from most burr grinders. There is a wide price range in this category that varies depending on features and manufacturer reputation. If there is room in your budget, and you are looking for a drastic improvement in your home brewing, burr grinders are the way to go.

 

When it comes to choosing the proper grind for your coffee, everything will depend on your brewing method. There are as many ways to brew coffee as there are countries enjoying that coffee, and each one comes with its own unique style and grind. From the French Press with its course grind, to the Turkish coffee and its (almost) powder-like grind, there are limitless options and methods to prepare the beans for brewing. You should ask your barista about how to best grind the coffee for your particular method, and then experiment a little bit until you find that ‘sweet spot.’

 

So our best advice to you is to spend a few extra dollars and get a grinder. You will notice an immediate improvement in your brewing quality, and get more enjoyment out of those specialty beans you are buying. Grinding fresh is one of the most simple things you can do to step up the home coffee quality.

 

Up next:

Home Coffee Brewing: By the Numbers