Your Politics Don’t Mean Beans

It was inevitable, really, what Farm Coffee has done: THEY’RE ROASTING presidential candidates on Bill Hill, which is not nearly the same as grilling them. Ashlawn Farm Coffee has introduced an Obama Blend, a “sweet, balanced” combination of “dark and light roasted coffees from Kenya, Java and the Americas,” and American Hero Coffee, “a light-roasted, highly caffeinated” brew that’s “edgy, strong,” made from beans grown in Vietnam. The latter’s redolent, you might say, of Sen. John McCain. But what about a Hillary Brew? That, says Carol Dahlke, Ashlawn co-owner and roaster, is … uh … in development. In development. Hey… they aren’t trying to find a civet cat, are...

Starbucks’ Extreme Makeover Continues

Continuing its excruciatingly public extreme makeover, Starbucks does a full-court press (release) on… a new coffee blend. Oh, goody. Sure, while most every other coffee roaster in the land releases new roasts seasonally — you know, to align with new coffee crops and all that — Starbucks’ latest blend is different, apparently. Word is, it’s not… you know, burnt. More, Howie would have us believe this is a pivotal event in Starbucks’ history, even suggesting that it’s a peek into a future that isn’t steeped in an espresso + milk monoculture: “We’ve been so focused on espresso … that we haven’t done anything to reinvent brewed coffee,” Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said in an interview. Profoundly true. Not only has Starbucks done virtually nothing to reinvent brewed coffee — or even support it — their general disregard for drip coffee, press coffee and the like spilled over into the marketplace, where thousands upon thousands of competing independents likewise ignored the possibilities of unique origin coffees. Unless, of course, they could chuck it in a portafilter with decent results. It’s fair to say that only very recently, I’d say the last five or six years — or a time line roughly consistent with the rise of the Cup of Excellence auction program — that the indie retailers have promoted non-espresso coffee with particular enthusiasm. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And then Howie slips in this dubious bit… Mr. Schultz says he believes Starbucks has underplayed its expertise in selecting and roasting coffees, something its main competitors don’t specialize in. It’s left as an exercise for the reader whether Schultz...
Roasted ’til the Bitter End

Roasted ’til the Bitter End

Science Daily reports that chemists have identified those chemical compounds largely responsible for coffee’s bitterness. More, their findings suggest that most of the bitterness is introduced during coffee roasting. “Everybody thinks that caffeine is the main bitter compound in coffee, but that’s definitely not the case,” says study leader Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D., a professor of food chemistry and molecular sensory science at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Only 15 percent of java’s perceived bitterness is due to caffeine, he estimates, noting that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee both have similar bitterness qualities. “Roasting is the key factor driving bitter taste in coffee beans. So the stronger you roast the coffee, the more harsh it tends to get…” This isn’t news to anyone who’s roasted coffee that they know to be exceptional, and ended up with something that could grow hair on a wildebeest’s chest. (And yes, that includes me. Er… as the roaster, not the wildebeest.) The bit that leaves me scratching my head, however, is this: “We’ve known for some time that the chlorogenic acid lactones are present in coffee, but their role as a source of bitterness was not known until now,” Hofmann says. I have a number of books on coffee — books that have been popular references for years — that, I believe, speak at some length to the links between chlorogenic acids and bitterness. Maybe I’m missing something here. Or maybe there’s more to come still from the...
Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Rating: [rating:4.5/5] You may recall that I was pretty chuffed with Green Mountain’s 2006 eCafe Gold Competition auction lot — Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo. If you don’t recall (or don’t wanna click) here’s the particulars: Extremely fruited, with peach and blueberry aromas, and a little whiff of cocoa and cinnamon when wetted. Fruit plays large in the flavor, too… blueberry, strawberry, spiced peach and cardamom, with a dark chocolate understory. The finish, while not everything it was a year ago, it still sweet and resonant, and fades to a pleasant, dusky leather. Yeah, this is one of those coffees you think about dabbing behind your ears, too. You may also recall that Barry Jarret of Riley’s Coffee got some of the green, too, and I was keen to get my hands on his roast to compare them side by side. Well, I did. And I did. And to sum up, I could simply say, Barry Jarrett is a coffee roasting genius. Barry’s roast of the Shanta Golba is everything that Green Mountain’s offers, and more. The fruit tones in the aroma are more distinct, more pure, more alive. The acidity — while mild overall, as is the Green Mountain roast — is crisper in Barry’s roast. The flavors in the cup are rich, and exceptionally fruit-forward. Strawberry is a predominant note, backed up by peach and blueberry. And where the finish of the Green Mountain cup takes on dusky notes, Barry’s roast remains purely fruited. It’s as if Green Mountain’s jammy cup were made of dried fruit, and Barry’s, fresh: in the finish there’s nothing lost, nothing...
Bourbon Pointu: A Roaster’s Nightmare?

Bourbon Pointu: A Roaster’s Nightmare?

One more quick point (hah!) on Bourbon Pointu. It would appear that this coffee’s pointu (or, pointed) appellation is well earned. I’ve roasted any number of long-bean coffees, but this is something else, again. (Click the image1 to get a zoomified look.) Given that any long-bean coffee takes a certain amount of care in roasting to avoid tipping — scorching the exposed ends of the bean — I have to think that roasting Bourbon Pointu would be something of a nightmare. Still, I’d love to give it a try. 😉 Image source, Ueshima Coffee Co., Japan....
Waxing Nostalgic: The FreshRoast Coffee Roaster

Waxing Nostalgic: The FreshRoast Coffee Roaster

All this talk of home-roasters and roasting in one’s very own kitchen has got me waxing nostalgic. And so I dug around the roasting bench in the garage and excavated my very first coffee roaster — the FreshRoast — and after a bit of dusting and inspecting to make sure that all was in apparent working order, I started roasting coffee. The neurotic golden retriever — a creature who’s memory is clearly better than I’ve had any reason to believe — ran for cover. Fortunately (at least so far as the dog is concerned) while I did fill the house with the aroma of roasting coffee, I did not set off the smoke alarms. Honestly, when you’re roasting about 2 ounces of coffee at a time, you’d have to really throw yourself into it and put some serious dark on those beans to create a lot of smoke. My first batch, an Antigua that I’d noted as having lots of brown sugar and some lovely orange zest notes (I know this ’cause I attach my tasting notes to the bags of green beans,) despite a very promising fragrance just-ground, proved woody and dull and lifeless. I checked the date on the bag… and found none. That means that the coffee in question arrived before I’d got clever enough to date all of my incoming beans, which was sometime in 2004. So, no wonder. A second batch — a remaindered sample from the latest Ethiopia eCafe Gold auction — yielded lots and lots of chaff (natch, it’s an unwashed, dry-process coffee) and roasted incredibly uneven… some beans were entering second...
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