Blog : specialty roaster

Peru Origin Trip

Peru Origin Trip

Peru

 

At the end of August 2017, we will be heading to South America, to visit several small coffee farms. This will be our first origin trip, and our first attempt to bring home something that is truly unique. In the next few weeks, we hope to secure outstanding single-farm coffee, trading directly with the producers who own the farms. This is true sourcing.

 

In a previous blog post, we touched on one form of trading called “Fair Trade” and the controversy that surrounds the certification. Since its inception, the Fair Trade label has become weighed down under layers of bureaucracy and the money from the roaster didn’t always make it directly into the hands of the farmer. It is filtered through different hands until only a fraction of the purchase price makes it to the producer.

 

Due to the shortcomings of the Fair Trade system, many roasters decided to circumvent the import process, and source their own coffee by paying the farmers directly. They hired importers to come with them on the trips, they paid the farmers and the importer separately. The coffee skips past several links on the chain and both producer and roaster win in the end.

 

Producers of specialty coffee are extremely talented and hard-working farmers, who understand the growing conditions, and the harvest processes that will produce exceptional, one of a kind coffee. Often these producers are humble families of meager means, and their hard work shows in the quality of their product. These farms are usually small plots of land, and their yield is typically dozens of bags of coffee (not the hundreds of bags that some larger farms produce).

 

Direct Trade has been the buzzword for many years now, but just like Fair Trade, the waters have become muddied. Since no central governing body has oversight over the label Direct Trade, anyone can call any coffee by that name. People claim that they “source” coffee or that a coffee is “Direct Trade” all the time, and unfortunately sometimes they never even left the country.

 

So how do we differentiate ourselves from all of the “grey area” labels that exist, and let the people buying our coffee know that we have gone the extra mile (thousands of miles, actually)? We are creating a special label that will let you know with certainty that the coffee you are holding is from one of the farms that we have visited, and purchased the coffee from directly. We are dedicated to making sure that there is transparency in our products, and we will go the extra step to continue to bring amazing coffee to you, and we will work hard to tell the stories of the farmer while respecting the process along the way.

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.

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

 

 

Home Coffee Brewing:  The Water

Home Coffee Brewing: The Water

Home Coffee Brewing: The Water

 

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

 

We have already touched on the importance of using fresh delicious coffee for your home brewing, and now we will cover the next most important ingredient: the water.

 

In properly brewed drip coffee, water makes up more than 98% of your drink. If you are not using great water, you are already limiting your ability to enjoy excellent coffee at home. Depending on your source of water there can be many contaminants that impart flavor, odor, or other undesirable characteristics directly into your cup.

 

Water is one of the most important considerations to professional coffee shops, and most will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to test their water and develop a filtration plan that will adjust the water to perfect the coffee. Baristas and espresso technicians are continually tasting, testing, and evaluating the quality of their water to know when the filters may be in need of a replacement.

 

There are dozens of ways to filter water and every process has its drawbacks. The best place to start to evaluate your needs would be to get a water report from your local water utility. They are required to file public reports of water content and contaminants, so this may give you a good starting point of what your water may be like. If you are on well water, there are usually test kits at local hardware stores.

 

Although reverse osmosis (RO) is all the rage in home filtration systems now, this process strips the water of all contaminants, even the minerals that give water its clean and crisp taste. These minerals also help during the extraction process and allow the water to remove the delicious coffee flavors and aromas. RO is almost too pure of a filtration system, and we do not recommend it.

 

Another option is the activated charcoal in common kitchen appliances (Britta or Pur). These do help to remove the odors and flavors that we don’t like in our coffee, like chlorine or sulfur. Using these will absolutely improve your brewing, but they can be hard to remember to change the filters on time, and the filters can become overly saturated with the contaminants and become less effective.

 

The best system we have found is a triple filtration system. They consist of two charcoal block filters, and one descaling filter. These systems keep the good minerals to ensure proper extraction and flavor, and they remove a surprising amount of the negative components. This is not very practical for most people, however. These systems are somewhat expensive and they take up a good amount of under-counter space.

 

The most practical option for most people is to buy their water from the supermarket. For between $0.99 – $1.25, you can buy fresh and delicious water and keep it dedicated for your coffee. Using name brand waters may improve flavor further because the big companies tend to have a tight control on their mineral content.

**If going this route make sure you buy the spring water, not distilled water! Distilled water has the same flaws as RO!**

 

Now let’s bring it all together. Although it is not often thought about, water is just as important to the coffee brewing process as the coffee itself. There are tests to find out what your water content is, and there are filtration solutions that can be tailor fit to your results. This could be a good option for the consumer who wants to get perfection from their home brewing methods, but they can be expensive and time consuming.

 

For most of us that just want a few simple tips and tricks to improve the taste of the morning coffee, we recommend trying and tasting the differences. Most people will find that just using a bottle of spring water from the grocery store will have a significant impact on their coffee.

 

The coffee world is full of opinions, but the only one that matters is yours. We write these guidelines to help you avoid the pitfalls we have discovered through years of experience. You should feel encouraged to explore and experiment for yourself to find a combination that works!

 

Up next:

Home Coffee Brewing: The Grind

Home Coffee Brewing: The Coffee

Home Coffee Brewing: The Coffee

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

Although there are only two main ingredients in making coffee, there are dozens of variables that can have an effect on the final cup.  Over the next few posts, we will dive into some of the factors that can be adjusted to help you brew some great coffee in your own home.

The first thing we have to consider is the coffee beans you are using to brew your cup.  As with most things in life, there are endless choices when it comes to selecting your coffee.  Coffee ranges from pre-ground commercial mass production, to rare small batch specialty lots.

If you want a coffee that is full of flavor but is a huge step up from your generic big-box variety, then you will probably be looking for what the coffee industry calls “Specialty Coffee.”  This is a term that is used to describe coffee that is a cut above the rest.  You wont find this term on any of your typical well known brands on the supermarket shelves.  There is a whole world within the coffee industry that only deals with “Specialty Coffee.”

What is specialty coffee?  90% of the coffee beans grown and consumed are considered ‘commercial grade.’  This means that they are just average, and targeted to the consumer that only wants caffeine in a cup.  That other 10% of coffee is something special.  It is carefully selected from the entire crop and put aside for purchase by a more selective consumer.  This is the quality of coffee that Branch Street uses, and we know that it makes for a better end product.

If you want a more enjoyable coffee get rid of your commercial coffee grounds.  So where should you be getting that specialty coffee from?  Seek out a knowledgable and local coffee roaster.  Buying fresh roasted specialty coffee will be the most important upgrade in quality you can make.

Roasting is the process of changing the green, or natural coffee bean, into the brown and delicious drink we all love.  Anyone can roast coffee, but it takes someone with special knowledge and training to do it well.  There are many factors along the way that can either make a coffee amazing and full of flavor, or flat and unimpressive.  Even worse, it could taste baked or burned.  No one wants a boring cup of coffee, or a mouth full of ash.

Roasting coffee is a lot like cooking.  Two cooks with the same ingredients can have to completely different products, and experience can make all the difference.

Not only does it have to be expertly roasted to ensure the flavor and unique characteristics are preserved and accentuated, but it needs to be fresh to really impress.

Once a coffee is roasted, it begins a process called ‘degassing.’  Degassing is the bean releasing carbon dioxide, and opening up flavors within the bean.  Most coffees are best when they have rested for a day or two after roasting.   If they are not protected from oxygen and temperature changes, it will quickly go stale and lose all of that incredible flavor we worked so hard to find.  Look for a “Roasted On” date on the bag.  If you can’t find one, you have no idea how long that bag has been sitting on the shelf.

If you make the decision to buy from a local roaster you are taking the first step to ensure that you are going to be brewing high quality, fresh coffee at home.

Ask to taste the coffee you will be buying.  A reputable roaster will be more than happy to brew a cup for you, and let you drink it how you see fit.  Add your own milk add sugar if that is how you normally enjoy your coffee.  Make it how you would drink it at home, and see if you want to commit to a whole bag.

Talk to your barista about the coffee.  Your barista should be knowledgeable about all of the coffee they are serving, and they should be able to guide you to a coffee you will love.  Tell them the flavor traits you love, and let them find a coffee that will fit your needs.  Your local roaster should have a wide variety to help you find your way.

At Branch Street Coffee Roasters we are committed to the whole process, from bean to bag.  All of our coffee is roasted as we need it, and packaged in sealed bags with one-way valves (to allow CO2 to escape, and keep oxygen out).  The beans are kept in a temperature-controlled room out of the sun until it is sold to you.  We do not sell or serve any coffee that is past our date standards, so you can be confident that you are bringing home exceptional, fresh coffee.  Come by and taste the coffee before you decide if it is one you will love.

Up next:

Home Coffee Brewing: The Water