Still Crazy About Seattle

Still Crazy About Seattle

Despite the rain, and the blustery breezes. Despite the strep throat, and bronchitis. Despite the fact it would appear the city of my birth might see me catch my death, I love Seattle, still. Seattle remains a guiding star for coffee. From Vivace to Zoka, Trabant to Victrola, Tully’s to Caffe Vita, and — of course — the omnipresent Starbucks and hundreds of happy, independent retailers, coffee houses, espresso carts and hole-in-the-wall walk-ups, the city teems with caffeinated masses, most of ’em tanked up on some damn fine coffees served by folks who know their way round the business end of a portafilter. I’m impressed as I can be with places like Stumptown that hold daily cupping events so folks just walkin’ in off the street can sample a flight of coffees from all over the world, and compare and contrast flavors and aromas, body and balance, while elbow to elbow with the pros. I hope I can stay longer next time… provided the place doesn’t kill me,...

Rwanda’s Golden Cup — The Results Are In!

It’s Labor Day in these United States — a celebration of the working stiff, the last gasp of Summer — and to mark the event I’ll be… laboring on the garage. (sigh) I can’t help but take a moment, however, to mark the outstanding results of Rwanda’s Golden Cup competition and auction. In a few short years Rwanda has emerged from its national nightmare to become an increasingly prominent player in the specialty coffee trade, and perhaps nothing to-date has marked this more significantly than the results of the events of the past few days. The cupping jury has seen some phenomenal coffees, some scoring as high as 95 — even 98! — and the results of the auction itself are now in. The winning bidders? The usual suspects: Stumptown walks away with the top lot from the Muyongwe cooperative, at $25 per pound. Lots from Ngoma, Karaba and Kanzu fetched in the neighborhood of $15/lb. and winning bidders included Zoka, Counter Culture and Intelligentsia. Look for some of these stunning coffees at a winning roaster — perhaps even before the turn of the...

More Voices, More Views, More Coffee

Some updating to ye ol’ Blogroll is somewhat overdue, at least so far as the college of coffee blogs goes. There’s lots of interesting new voices out there — folks who are pushing the envelope on roasting, brewing, pulling shots and delivering an over-the-top customer experience — and at the same time making some of the old-guard “coffee men” raise their eyebrows, first in alarm, and then in appreciation for what they find in their cup. Stephen Morrissey is barista trainer at Bewleys Coffee Co in Dublin Ireland, and his site — Flying Thud — documents his adventures in coffee. Lots of espresso porn, of course, but he’s also a fan of the drip. His posts will make you pine for European coffee shops you’ve never been to. Barrett Jones is a Canadian national barista champ and until recently worked the bar at Vancouver’s most excellent Caffe Artigiano. His site — Dwell Time — offers a glimpse of the extraordinary Vancouver coffee scene. Stephen Leighton’s blog — Has Bean — offers the perspective of a coffee guy who sources and roasts some fairly stupendous coffees, which sadly I know by reputation, only. (The reputation is certainly deserved: UKBC winner James Hoffman poured his way to the top of competition with a Has Bean custom blend.) Stephen’s been known to drop by here from time to time to offer an insightful comment or two. And last but not least — Barismo — a Boston based group blog contributed to by Jaime, Ben, Ben and Silas. Their writing spans coffee roasting, cupping and delivering a top-tier coffee experience in the coffee...

Accounting for Taste: A Model Major Article

The current issue of Roast Magazine features an informative and very well acquainted guide to experiencing the flavors and aromas of coffee, covering matters anatomical, physiological and — for good measure — psychological, too: “Say you’re having a rotten dayâ€â€?everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and you need to cup one final batch of samples before you can leave for the day. Well, you might think twice about cupping those samples, because there’s a good chance your mood will alter the way you perceive the coffee. Your senses are all linked together with your brain, which also controls your thoughts and emotions. With all this going on at the same time, it is possible to allow mood to overlap with sensory evaluation, causing a misinterpretation of what you are really experiencing in that cup of coffee. In order to get a true idea of what you’re tasting, your mind needs to be clear of clutter and stress.” As for things olfactorial, don’t miss the article’s categorical companion piece, Dos and Don’ts for Supercharged Olfactory Skills. But don’t delay… I suspect this content may go away when the next issue of Roast hits the newsstand. (Not that it’s actually on newsstands… that’s me being...

Tasting: Green Mountain’s Special Reserve Colombian Dos Quebradas

Rating: [rating:4/5] I’ll admit some prejudice — not altogether unwarranted — against Colombian coffee. Let’s face it, we’ve *all* been told for years now how Colombian coffee is mountain-grown; that only the ripest beans are picked by Juan Valdez (and his faithful little burro). And even while the Colombian Coffee Federation was feeding us this hugely successful marketing campaign they were rounding up beans from all over and carting them to vast processing mills and creating a single, homogeneous flavor profile. And we consumers were most all of us buying our 100% Colombian coffee — the best coffee in the world, mind you — pre-ground in its little red vacuum-packed can and we were satisfied, perhaps… if a little underwhelmed. The campaign helped to create a market for single-origin coffee… still it failed to deliver on its promise. Today, Colombian coffee growers have some ground to cover — the very gap that their Federation created between our expectations of Colombian coffee, and our experience. And so, even while the latest incarnation of Juan Valdez smiles his mustachioed smile at us — Colombian coffee farmers are racing to discover the true flavors and identity of their beans, their growing regions and micro-climates. In Colombia, as elsewhere, the Cup of Excellence competition is proving a particularly effective vehicle for discovery. When you cup the field of winners of the Colombian First Harvest Cup of Excellence and your gut reaction is — okay… so what else ya got? — you just might be a coffee snob. Colombian coffees — even specialty-grade coffees — are rarely knock-your-socks-off kind of beans. The character of...

Tasting Two by Two

And the number shall be… three? There’s a tried and true technique called triangle cupping that’s used to identify which of three coffees is different. (For you Sesame Street fans, it’s a game of One of These Things Is Not Like The Others.) You take two samples of one coffee, and one of another; you randomize them so you don’t know which is which, and taste them with the goal of identifying the odd one out. Triangle cupping is an excellent tool for building sensory skills. You can start simple: identify the one Kenyan out of a flight that consists of that cup plus two cups of Colombian. And as your skills progress you can make finding the odd one out increasingly difficult: try identifying the odd Sulawesi in a field rounded out by Sumatrans; or the Kona peaberry in a triangle of coffees where the others are estate-run beans from the same farm. It’s surprising just how much you can boost your sensory ability with practice. Triangle cupping is also an excellent diagnostic for folks who roast coffee. Want to figure out which roast level brings out the very best in a given bean? Cup a triangle of two samples roasted at Agtron 47, and one at Agtron 46. Repeat at Agtron 45, 44, 43… Want to see if you’re maintaining the taste profile for your blend? Cup a triangle of Monday’s roast compared to Wednesday’s. A single cupping session may not tell you all you need to know… but cupped again and again, sooner or later the statistical weight of your choices will become clear. Triangle cupping...
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