Craft Coffee

A number of years back I got into craft beers. I dove dip into the community for a little while. I never tried my hand at brewing but I tried a lot of different beers. I went away for a couple of years and gave up beer completely. I gave up grains/wheat/gluten completely. Well, I returned a couple months ago. While I am still Paleo and never eat wheat, I do have a few craft beers every weekend.

The return has been great but what I found amazing was how much growth the craft beer industry went through over those couple of years. Smaller breweries are barely small now. The distribution seems to have increased dramatically.

What does this have to do with coffee?

I see the coffee community at about the same place I feel like the craft beer community was a few years back. It should be interesting to see where coffee is a few years from now. I'm looking forward to it.

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Led Astray

I have been roasting on a much more consistent basis for the past couple of months. Why did I go through a period of months where I roasted very little? I got spread too thin with trying to keep up with the “coffee world”. I was too interested in what new devices were popping up on Kickstarter. I was pre-occupied with trying coffees from tons of different roasters (although this really helped me improve my palette for tasting coffees). And, I cared too much about what new things were happening in an industry that quite honestly is growing too fast to keep up with.

You see, I got away from reading stuff from the home roasting community and got caught up in the specialty coffee industry as a whole. There is a big difference. Home roasters are coffee geeks. They want to drink good coffee but they also want to tinker with their roasting and brewing methods. They are always in search for the perfect cup...knowing they will never find it. They are amateurs who do it for the fun of it.

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a big fan of Sweet Maria's. The amount of content and knowledge they give away on their site has no equal. The more of their content I consume the more I realize they are one of the "good guys". They experiment. They share. They aren't scared to fail and they aren't full of shit like so many in the specialty coffee industry.

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Do Inconsistent Roasts Matter

Since we moved in March I have been able to roast in our garage which is an overall much better experience than trying to do it in a kitchen. I have had some really good success with a couple of Costa Rica Helsars from Sweet Maria’s. The one thing I did have to account for, although only slightly, was the change in the ambient temperature. The garage is much hotter (or colder) than the house. This has shown to change my roast times a bit. But, since I tend to roast more on sight and sound than on specific “recipes” it isn’t a huge problem. I continue to use the FreshRoast SR500 and I am definitely looking forward to an “upgrade” to something that can do larger batches.

I have been going with 100g roasts (green) at a time that come out at around 83-85 grams after roasting. I try to do four batches consecutively which gives me about 340g or 3/4lb of roasted coffee. This can usually carry me for about 7-10 days which works out nicely when trying to keep the coffee I drink fresh. The downside that it takes me over an hour to do the four roasts. I enjoy the roasting, of course. But doing four roasts straight inevitably leads to inconsistencies. Even if I roasted all day long and tracked data meticulously I still couldn’t eliminate these inconsistencies. For example, using the roaster 4 straight times without letting it cool off has an impact on each subsequent roast. None are ever the same for me. This is why I have to go off sight and sound.

Do these inconstancies matter?

Let’s say, for instance, MadCap coffee roasts a batch of XYZ coffee this week and ships out their orders. Next week they roast the same XYZ coffee and ship out more orders. Chemically it is highly likely these orders have some minute differences. My question is, can anyone taste the difference? I doubt it. I am sure some of the coffee elite would say they could. MadCap could also argue that their expensive roaster and roasting software eliminates inconsistencies. For the most part, however, the difference would be so negligible that no customers could realistically tell the difference.

Back to my roasts. There is zero doubt that the roasting I do on my little SR500 is inconsistent. There are too many variables to control and the most important, temperature, is the hardest with the SR500. As long as I get my batches to about the same level I can’t tell the difference after combining them. For me, the result is either good or bad. In fact I have yet to have a roast that was just “ok”. I either liked it a lot or I hated it. When I hate it I just use it for my bulletproof coffee.

My conclusion is that unless you totally screw up a batch, inconsistent roasts do not matter. My guess as to why? Starting with good beans in the first place. Most of Sweet Maria’s beans have a recommended roasting range. For example it may be City+ to Full City. Now that I have quite a number of roasts under my belt it is pretty easy for me to hit such a range. The fact I believe in the coffee Sweet Maria’s sells gives me added confidence.

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I Bought A Coffee Plant

No, I do not actually expect to harvest coffee beans from this guy. But, when coffee plants thrive they can make great houseplants. Their shiny leaves are extremely nice to have around. I called my local nursery and they do not sell coffee plants. That wasn't a suprise. I was suprised, however, to find one on Amazon. I have had it for a few weeks and it is adding new leaves every week.

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Pouring Money Into Coffee

Smaller coffee companies (small in comparison to Starbucks) are getting some big funding and making some big growth. Supersonic could be confused with a tech start-up in the way it has built it’s team. It is also an example of where I hope high end coffee is headed. Cool, fun and beautifully designed.

But, what about taste? I have tried a lot of coffees. One thing that I have noticed is that it seems to be a highly replicable process to make really solid coffee if it is sourced and roasted by people who care. Although distribution can be tough, it is easier than ever to get your product and brand out there. People are making full careers in the coffee industry. They enjoy what they do and look at it as a career. Call me crazy but if you assemble a team like Supersonic has done then you can’t help but source, roast and sell great specialty coffee.

Enter the money. Venture capitalists know good businesses and they are not scared to plow money into specific industries. A large part of the success of a lot of tech companies can be traced to funding by VC's. These VC's see something in the coffee industry that they find very similar and they obviously believe it is a great opportunity. The investment in Blue Bottle by a ton of VC's is an obvious example.

I am just a coffee fan and occasional home roaster. I am certainly not all that tuned into the coffee industry. But, I do think where it is headed can only be a good thing. I am sure there are a lot of people who wish companies like Peet’s and Blue Bottle had stayed small. What they need to understand is their growth is what will bring investor money into the industry even more. Hopefully, giving more roasters a chance to make it out of a garage and into a space where they can roast and sell their great coffees.

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I Gave Nespresso A Chance

When I wrote about some of the world’s top restaurants using Nespresso machines I mentioned I had yet to try one. Well, now I have. In fact, I have lived with 1 for a few weeks now and I am not kicking it off the coffee bar. In fact, it’s a pretty good looking machine. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

I have had many espressos at coffee shops and restaurants. I may have even had a Nespresso shot unknowingly in the past. Some of these drinks were really great and others were not even close to being worth their hiked up price. After giving the Nespresso quite a workout I can say that it produces an espresso somewhere in the middle. It is no where near a professionally pulled shot by a trained barista. But, for the cost (<$1 each) and the convenience I’d say it sure isn’t bad. It is as good as than anything I ever pulled from our $500 “home espresso” machine[1] and much more convenient than my moka pot.

The downside, of course, is the actual coffee. It does pain me a bit each time I use a Nespresso pod that the coffee inside is not of the best quality. I know that is snobbish of me but hey, I am “pulling” a damn shot from a Nespresso for God sakes. The automatically makes me a black sheep in the “specialty coffee community”. I was surprised to learn that many of the Nespresso capsules include Robusta coffee which is cheaper and less desirable than Arabica. This is obviously to keep costs down and since each espresso is less than $1 I can accept it a little easier. Not all the pods include Robusta but plenty seem to do so.

Another of the arguments against the Keurig Machine and their K-cups is the sustainability, or lack thereof. Unlike K-cups, the Nespresso capsules can be recycled. There are several options and one that I may do is a free program called Terra Cycle that allows you to print a free UPS label and fill a box, of any size. You just drop it off and they handle it for you. That makes me fill better about these pods.

By far the best thing about the Nespresso is the milk frother. Our’s came with theAeroccino Plus. If you ever make latte’s at home then you can up your game big time just by getting the Aeroccino. It is by far our favorite part about the Nespresso. Interestingly it isn’t actually part of the Nespresso.

Does the Nespresso replace an espresso pulled by a great barista? No. It probably doesn’t even beat an espresso pulled by a not so good barista using a great machine and decent coffee. It does, however, beat most espressos I have had from Starbucks All in all I am pretty impressed by the Nespresso and I can see why so many Michelin rated restaurants have chosen to use them.

  1. Most coffee snobs will tell you that you can’t really trust a machine that ONLY cost $500  ↩

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Brewseful App Revew

There are quite a number of coffee brewing apps for the iPhone and I have played around with plenty of them. My new favorite and the one I am currently using and loving is Brewseful.

The app is beautifully designed. Like any brewing app it has a timer but the way it handles the the “in-timer” reminders is very unique and the drag and drop feature of these timer bars appeal to those of us who are fussy with our brewing techniques and like to tinker a lot. The app also allows you to adjust your coffee/water ratios and grind size within each brew method.

I do see a small usability issue with this app. In order to adjust your water volume and ratios you have to slide down from the top which should be easy for most users to figure out except you can also tap the icon and a one line description of the currently selected brew method shows up. This could cause some users to not think there is more to the menu. Of course, if users would just watch the short demo video they would easily see how to use the menu.

There are two things I hope to see in a future update. Sharing and syncing. Some of the apps I have used allow a simple way to share your brew methods on social media or via email. I haven’t used the future much mainly because I didn’t love the way the shared methods were presented. I would love to see a sharing feature similar to the way DayOne allows you to publish and share certain things. This may be beyond the scope of what the developer can pull off given the fact that Brewseful is a free app with a limited audience. But, I can wish right? Syncing or some sort of export/backup would be the other thing I’d like to see. I don’t feel comfortable storing all my brew methods in an app that doesn’t sync or allow for exporting.

I definitely recommend checking out Brewseful while it is free. You won’t be disappointed.

In case you are interested below are three other coffee brewing apps I like. I have tried many others but these three, along with Brewseful are the best I have found.


Bloom Coffee Timer

Brew Control

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Blending Home Roasts

Coffee blending is like art class in school - you see what materials are available in the supply closet and then do your best with what you have.

In a recent post Michael Smith gives permission to play around with blending home roasts. It’s not that I needed permission but sometimes I feel like I am breaking some unwritten rules of coffee by trying something that isn’t necessarily “approved” by the coffee professional elite.

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