Category Archives: Bean Talk – Coffees

Salt Caramel Espresso ?

This year – yes, disgracefully so – it’s my first blog of 2013 – I’m into feeling, which means that if I feel like doing something related to pushing my taste buds further, then I’m going to do it.

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So, here we are. Salted Caramel Espresso ??? Did I arrive at this because I found this wonderfully unusual coffee, roasted by a supremo and brewed it in an unusual way ? NO! Simply, I manipulated one of the major elements of the espresso brewing process. BUT, first up, a little about the raw ingredient – the coffee itself – Shakisso from the Sidamo Region of Ethiopia, from the 2011-2012 season, grown at 1800m above sea level, organically grown and sun-dried on raised beds, shipped in grain pro bags (???). Who was the roaster ? Espresso Lab, Cape Town and how did the roaster describe the taste ? floral, silky body, soft chocolate, honey, jasmine, stone fruit, sweet lemonade and tangerine – quite a mouthful and quite a wide range of tastes. Now! that might seem delectable to some readers, but the main reason I bought the coffee was because I trusted the roaster and not because of the taste profile, because based on past experience, if you don’t have a very developed palate and extra-ordinary attention to detail in preparing coffee, using the best – yep! the best tools, then there’s no way you are going to experience some of those wonderful taste profiles described by this or any other skilled roaster.

Where am I going with this ? Well! What do I feel like tasting when I buy coffee – something special all the time. I never buy coffee for the sake of buying coffee. I buy coffee from trusted roasters and I don’t mean Illy or Lavazza. I mean people who spend time roasting with passion. BUT, I do have some taste preference when it comes to coffee – I love caramel, cocoa, dark chocolate, hints of milk chocolate, toffee, butter toffee (typical of Square Mile Coffee) , silky smooth wrap around yout tongue, vanilla, maple syrup, honey, pecan, praline, roasted cashew (organic Ugandan I once had), grapefruit acidity and probably more that I haven’t developed yet and of course SALTED CARAMEL.

So what did I manipulate ? Just the water. I added a few drops (say quarter of a teaspoon) of Himalayan Pink Salt into the water tank before I brewed my espresso – that’s it and wow, what a delight for my taste buds.

If you like something and people always tell you, don’t do it, it’s not right, at least give a shot once and you may not regret it and if you do, at least you experience something different, right ?

Good luck.


Coffee Tasting in London – October 2012

Seems natural to me…. Give me 2 days of work and I’m off to London to meet family, friends and COFFEE of course. The highlight of this trip was therefore my 3 hour coffee tasting marathon at the laboratory of coffee itself, Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane.

We were hosted by Jeremy – don’t ask me where he’s from, because I’m still trying to figure out his accent – down at the dungeon or their BRAT or Barista Resource And Training centre. On show, were bags of coffee from non-other than Square Mile Coffee Roasters and two other specialists (I forget their names). There were literally bags of information (excuse the pun), but in summary, here’s a list of the extra stuff I learnt;

ONE. pH balance in water makes a big difference – In short if it’s around 7 then the water is quite pure and if its below 7, its acidic (the bad stuff not the coffee related acidity of course) and if it is heading towards 10 it’s alkaline based. This is very important for when you are tasting coffee because, as we all know a cup of coffee is basically 90% of water, so bad water equals bad coffee, no matter what type of coffee it is or machine or barista, etc. The real eye opener however was that London’s tap water was closer to 7 than some of the bottled stuff they sell off at a premium.

TWO. Coffee roasted in small batches like on a sample roaster will rarely give you a full profile of the coffee, as opposed to roasting a batch on a 12kg roaster for example.

THREE. Aida Batle’s Kilimanjaro Washed (El Salvador), roasted by Square Mile is a killer – fantastic coffee but some of you already knew that. I bought a bag to take home of course.

FOUR. The more coffee you taste the more you can develop your taste buds – naturally, so taste away.

FIVE. A taste wheel really helps novices like me to describe coffee like grassy, earthy, etc. It helps you to focus on what you are really tasting and helps to accurately describe all those sensations on your tongue.

SIX. I learnt the purpose of blooming your coffee when preparing it on a Hario V60. In short, C02 (or carbon dioxide) doesn’t like water getting through. So, when preparing a V60, you pour a bit of water (say 50ml) to wet the grounds and you see it bloom with all these colourful bubbles – by doing this, you are making it easier for water to pass through when you finally complete your pour. The cup we had tasted of dry strawberries – now that’s unusual.

I’ve been to few coffee tasting session and even ran one at my caffe in Cape Town (Escape Caffe) BUT a 3 hour session at Prufrock takes the prize. Highly recommended and great value for money, but don’t get intimidated by Jeremy – if he goes to fast and gets too technical, stop him and ask him lots of questions.

So, where else did I go…

To the City and the East End.

Espresso at Association Coffee, 10-12 Creechurch Lane, London EC3A

Nice spot, owned by Sam (a man) with head barista, David Robson, formerly of Prufrock, Association have a strong focus on both espresso and third wave style coffee with all the gadgets to play with – so, don’t expect to have a slap up meal or heavy laden sandwiches and sweets. This is a city spot to grab a great cup of coffee and “real” snack to bite on. Although located in the city, Creechurch Lane, has a quiet feel about it, and Association seem to have captured this serenity with their decor, warm lights and wooden floors – a real great spot to hold “real” coffee meetings.

Curators Coffee @ 9a Cullum Street, EC3M

Just around the corner literally (say 3 minutes walk) is Catherine Seay’s new spot, Curators Coffee. For those who don’t know, Catherine is the former head barista at Kaffeine. She ceremoniously left Kaffeine last year and most people thought she’d never go back into coffee, including her, but she said, like one of those specialist “I didn’t want to go back to cofee, but I was dragged back in”. Well! we are happier for it. She really welcomed me to her place, prepared a piccolo for me and rushed back to serve customers in a personal style that ensures you want to return. I asked her about her choice of colours on her La Marzocco Strada and she said Turquiose gives it a difference – I must say, it blends in really well with the decor and adds colour to your life, especially when it’s grey in good ole’ London.

Grind Coffee Bar, Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford – really East London

And the prize for probably the best place to drink coffee inside a mall, goes to Grind Coffee Bar, located next to Waitrose in Westfield – Stratford City, right next to the London Olympic Stadium. I was really impressed with their set up and boy, were they really busy. So much so, that even at 2pm, they were sold out of non-meat sarnies and 2 hours later, the only food they had were pastries – I missed out on their tasty looking lemon polenta cake, but settled for a croissant instead. In any case, I had heard so much about Grind, that I made sure that during this trip, it was on my list. With my brother staying not too far and with the latest James Bond Movie, Skyfall, on at the mall, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Highly recommended for anyone going to the Westfield shopping centre (they have 2 other locations at Putney and Battersea – see their website, www.grindcoffeebar.co.uk

Workshop Coffee, Marylebone, 75 Wigmore Street, W1U

BUT, of course I can’t leave London without visiting some old faves. My first cup of my trip was a short black (short Americano) at Flat White on Berwick Street and my second and last literally was at Workshop Coffee, on Wigmore Street, where I had my best espresso milk-based coffee of my trip, a flat white – the silky caramel wrapping around your tongue right at the end. As usual the staff were friendly and my brother, friend and I were really relaxed, just sitting enjoying our coffees. This was the only place on this trip that I went to twice, so well done on those flatties.

Goodbye London, Londra, Londre…


I’m Drinking… Verve Coffees

Lucky me, I must say. I first heard about Verve Coffee Roasters in early 2010 when I was researching ideas for the logo for my cafe, skimping through countless logo and typeset books. when I came across the one for Verve, it stopped me in my tracks. IOt was obvious that this company had taken their logo and branding very seriously, employing the services of a top firm to do so. As soon as I got home, I searched for them on the internet, reviewed the concept behind the logo and was also impressed that their commitment to their branding was backed up by their serious commitment to speciality coffee. So, you can imagine how excited I was when following them on twitter and reading abot their new coffees, I hinted it would be good to taste their coffees one of these days – and in came the reply, “sure! send us you address and we’ll send you some”. I tried to contain my excitement, having beforehand  tried to buy some of their coffees on-line, but shied away at the astronomical postage costs from Los Angeles all the way to Cape Town –  so I replied “that would be great, but I live in Cape Town, South Africa”. Jon from Verve didn’t seem to mind and voila, roasted on 29 September 2011, my coffees arrived by mid-October – well in the zone, as I prefer drinking coffee not before 7-10 days after the roast date. And my, what a package it was:

3kg of their single estate espresso from Costa Rica, 250g bags each of Kenyan and Ethiopian coffees, a wonderful coffee mug and some brewing tips – talk about spoilt for choice and very lucky me. I was so excited that everyone in my family now admires Verve Coffee Roasters (kids and wife). So, what was the drinking experience like:

For the Single Estate Espresso, it was as they said it was on the packet “Sparkling”, which is what you would expect from a high-prized coffee from Costa Rica Helsar: C. Alpizar, from Los Naranjos Region roasted medium – high in acidity with honey like colours, making a volcano with your taste buds. I tested them out as single shots (one of my fave pics below)

And sure, it was sparkling – enough to wake both you and your taste buds up in the morning. I however, preferred this coffee when mixed with well frothed milk for a cappuccino or macchiatone (Italian version of a Cortado) – for this method, I got “soft” caramel, with hints of milk chocolate.

However, the real prize in the package were the Ethiopian (my favourite of the bunch) and the Kenyan coffees, which I thought  were “exceptional”. For the Kenyan, Ndimaini, being your typical bold and berry-ful coffee, I extracted it using the French Press and Hario V60 methods and this coffee made me fall in love again with the V60 method. It was like the Kenyan coffee was roasted only for a pour-over – very delightful to drink, complex flavours, full in your mouth with dark berries and a mild hint of dark chocolate. I should add that I adhered to Verve’s coffee tips (a bit simlar to mine, 20g of freshly ground coarse coffee with about 200ml of off-the-boil hot water) when brewing their non-espresso coffees. Not only was this another discovery, but it made me think, “these guys really know their coffee and how to get the best out of it” so they must have spent a lot of time on their brewing methods vis-a-vis the roast profile of each coffee.

OK! the Ethiopian, Biloya. Naturally, I used the aeropress method for this – why ? Usually, when I sense a coffee is really special, aroma, look and feel, I think it should be treated gently, which is how I relate to the aeropress – the most gentle way of getting the best out of your coffee. Again, I followed Verve Coffee guidelines and the taste profile was as they described (which I tweeted about), raspberry and wrap around your outer tongue, citrus.

However, following my tweet about my experience, I got some feedback from DearCoffeeILove You (aka DCILY) about Verve Coffee. After a brief interaction on twitter, he (sorry, I don’t know his real name) pointed me to his post about his aeropress method, which you can read in detail here. In summary, his method got him into the top 4 of the World Aeropress Championships in October 2011 (Yes! there is such a competition) and involves reducing the dosage to 16g with 92C 215 water, using a slightly finer grind than what I use, and with more steeping time (1 minute to 1.5 minutes). So, off I went and immediately tried his method, bringing out my scales, measuring jug, etc and wow! my efforts were not wasted  – the taste profile changed dramatically – It reminded me of my fig and orange honey cake – so we are talking about dried sweet fruits, with honey completed with a citrus linger.

Since then, I have been using this method for extracting coffee, the aeropress way. A bit of a digression, BUT I had to share this wonderful revelation.

Back to Verve – I just found out that they are now 4 years old and that they have just opened (23 November 2011) their third store in LA and from the pics, it looks amazing. So happy for the residents and future customers of their 1540 Pacific Avenue store. Read more about them on their website HERE.

Thanks a lot Verve Coffee Roasters and keep up the good work.

 


1 more thing about Serra do Bone @ Home

Serra do Bone Naked by Lameen
Serra do Bone Naked a photo by Lameen on Flickr.

I could easily have updated my last post but decided not to. In any case, JUST ONE MORE THING ABOUT Serra do Bone @ Home, which really applies to making coffee at home. I have to confess, all those years that I was making coffee at home I never measured the weight of my coffee before putting it through the grinder and extracting espresso. There are many reasons for this, which in a nutshell can be described as, that I just assumed that as long as I ground enough to fill the double basket and as long as I got about 25ml espresso in 22-25 seconds and there were nice tasting notes at the end, Voila ! it was right. Well ! WRONG – well ! that’s a bit harsh – not exactly true is closer to the final judgement. WHY ? Here we go…

1. Too much coffee doesn’t mean a better taste: We often assume that the more coffee you get into the porta filter the stronger the coffee and hence the taste. This isn’t true. Sure you may get more coffee and perhaps more caffeine, BUT not a better taste, because we now know that the coffee can taste better with lower weights, especially milk-based espresso, i.e. cappuccinos.

2. How much coffee should we use ? There’s a sort of standard agreement that espresso is made using 7 grammes of coffee, and so a double shot, should be 14 grammes, right ? Well ! not exactly. There are many parameters that affect the taste and now, some say between 18-22 grammes. So, initially I thought that at escape caffe, we would go for 20-22 grammes of coffee, so that all that milk would not drown out the taste of the coffee. However, after about a few weeks and consulting with my roaster, we realized that by reducing the weight to just under 20 grammes, we could get a better taste profile.

3. What’s the right grind ? Higher weights of coffee can mask/hide the right grind for the coffee you are using, HOW ? If you use a lot of coffee, you have to grind coarser to make sure it goes through the portafilter, because remember, that the finer the grind, the harder it would be to get through the portafilter when extracting espresso. Still with me ? BUT, if we use less coffee, we don’t have to grind so coarse. I noticed that when we were grinding the coffee, we had lots of clumps of coffee, which meant we were grinding lots and the heat of the grinder (which are programmed) was making the coffee clump together. So when we reduced the weight of the coffee to about 19 grammes, we didn’t see so much “clumping”.

All the above arguements have been discussed at great length on twitter by experts such as James Hoffman (aka Jim Seven blog), Mark Prince (aka Coffeegeek) and Intelligentsia from which I have learnt a lot about weight profiles. So, you’ll see that people weigh the beans before grinding, weigh the actual extraction liquid, across different temperatures and times and then get a ratio. In summary, you can get different taste profiles depending on the weight, time and temperature – Complicated ? Well ! yes it is, but who said that “real” espresso was easy.

One final thing is pre-infusion – a big word, but it really means that you run water through the group head before extracting your espresso – without portafilter of course. What does this do ? Well for my home espresso machine, which doesn’t have a PID (temperature control mechanism), it will lower the temperature and should make it ready for extraction – that’s the theory at least, but it’s been working for me at home, so complaints there.

OK ! so finally, when I made serra do bone at home, what did I do ? Apart from following the rules, I kinda measured the beans before extraction (I use my eyes because of experience at the caffe), pre-infuse for 5 seconds to lower the temperature to below 94C and extract in about 23 seconds and there’s definitely a difference in taste.

The first thing is more body in the coffee, but strangely enough a good taste profile, even though the beans were roasted over 22 days ago (we don’t serve coffee using beans roasted over 21 days ago, so I bring old beans home).


My Best Coffee of 2010

I know it’s late BUT I’ve got to let you know about my best coffee of 2010 because it will just be unforgivable if I didn’t. So what was it ? It was, CAPAO CHAPADA DIAMANTINA or Capao for short. It hails from Brazil, was roasted by Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London. It’s primary taste notes were described as toffee, cocoa, hazelnut with a slight vanilla finish. There, they got me – whilst it’s almost normal to find taste profiles along the lines of toffee, caramel, hazelnut, almond, cocoa, chocolate, it’s very rare to find vanilla. Trust me, I’ve tried. Square Mile even went the extra mile to tempt me “it’s like snickers in a cup”. Snickers being the chocolate bar with a peanut nougat base, topped with peanuts and caramel and wrapped in milk chocolate. Now ! tell me that isn’t tempting.

However, I’m not that shallow to fall for looks alone or in this case, taste profiles. So what did it really taste like and why did I really like it that I gave it the high accolade of “COFFEE OF THE YEAR”.

So, what did it taste like as an espresso….

Oh my God !

And as a Cappuccino….

This isn’t real

and as Americano…… This can’t be happening to me

and finally, in a French Press…. OK ! you’ve got to be kidding right.

You know what they say “somethings are better left unsaid” OR “few words have the impact of thousands “. OK ! the last one is slightly made up, but you can quote me on that.

In summary, let’s just say this coffee was inspirational. Even my barista at Escape Caffe, poured his best latte art so far.

Capao Heart Close

As a cappuccino, it was the best experience – creamy and buttery (the latter a square mile signature), toffee like, cocoa all over my mouth, finishing off with vanilla.

As an espresso, nice body (and looks too) with toffee and hazelnut to the fore, just wrapping around your tongue and delghting your stomach.

As an Americano, there was almost full body crema and similar tastes experienced in the espresso were enhanced with toffee and caramel dominating.

The final taste test was in a French Press, but before that one proviso for those less gifted. Usually, coffee that is made with such vigour using the espresso machine, just doesn’t cut it when extracted using more subtle methods like the French Press, but not in this case. The taste was still amazing “vanilla and cocoa with a hint of berry in the finish and lingering way past 30 minutes”.

So, in summary again, this coffee was not only great, or should I say fantastic in taste, but very versatile across many ways of drinking it.

So sad to see it go, but I pray it comes back in 2011. Well done Square Mile for getting it and roasting it just perfectly for me.


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