Category Archives: Thoughts

So, Do I still Love ?

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Oh dear what a gap of 4 months. I’m sorry for taking so long to write about coffee and in all honesty, I don’t have an excuse. To come clean, It’s not like I’ve been working on some major project, or that I broke a leg or something similar, it’s just that I’ve been distracted somewhat. When I think about writing about a new experience or to sharing something on my blog,  I get distracted with something else, so, it’s just been a lack of dedication.

But of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on you and coffee. I’ve been busy, as those who follow me on twitter and Instagram know, on the social media scene, which has changed quite a bit. But nevertheless I’ve missed writing on my blog. After all, it’s the easiest place to share what I’ve been drinking, or what I’ve discovered, etc. So I promise in 2014 (2 months have flown away already) to share more on my blog.

Wish me luck and see you very soon.

From Coffee With Love

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I’m Blending….

I'm Blending: The Beans by Lameen
I’m Blending: The Beans a photo by Lameen on Flickr.

I’m blending, yipee ! But what exactly does that mean ? In summary, it means that I’ve got my experimental hat on again. Having changed my coffee bean roaster at my caffe, Escape Caffe, I’ve started sourcing beans from another roaster but this time I’m sourcing single estate coffees from different regions of the World. I’m experimenting because part of my character loves change and getting to understand things from the bottom right up. Have I lost you ? It means that I want to understand what makes a good espresso blend. So, I’ve been trying to build up on my basic knowledge of taste profiles.

In general, and I wish to emphasize, GENERAL, most coffee roasters have a formula for blending coffee for espresso preparation, which goes as follows:

A Brazilian for BODY,

a Central American for ACIDITY and an

Ethiopian for natural SWEETNESS.

One of your main goals in blending should always be to get a BALANCE, as you don’t want one coffee taste to dominate. In principle, very high quality or distinctive coffees (lots of black fruit juiciness, acidity and boldness/heaviness) are seldom used in blending for espresso. WHY ? Because they will dominate the blend. Think of it like making a soup/stew – if you cook – you don’t want to put lots of chillies in with subtle tastes like basil, as you will kill the basil taste with hot and fiery chilli. This is one reason why you won’t see Kenyan coffees in espresso blends. I can’t imagine blackberries tasting sweet if exposed to a harsh preparation process.

OK! what do we mean by BODY in the case of Brazilian arabica coffees ? We mean body as in the density of the liquid. IOf you taste/drink lots of good coffee, then you will know that some coffees taste light. Sure, they are both liquids, but orange juice does not have the same texture/body as apple juice.

Now, ACIDITY. I’ve spoken at this at great length before, so won’t go in to it too much, but in summary, it’s detected by the sharpness in taste when you drink coffee, resonate of citrus fruit. So, when you blend, although essential to round off the taste around your tongue, you don’t want it to dominate either, if not it could confuse your tongue with sourness. After all, orange juice and mlik (think of a cappuccino) don’t look nor taste nice together. Personally, I’m not in favour of medium to high acidity in espresso based drinks.

Finally, SWEETNESS. Very essential for coffee and to dispel the misconception that coffee is only sweet when you add sugar. However, by sweetness, we don’t mean sugary sweet, but more like natural sweetness, such as the type found predominantly in honey and sometimes elevated in dried fruit like dates, raisins and figs.

So, what are you looking for ? As the coffee roasters rule – and yes they do, as they control what you taste and more often than not, they roast the way they like coffee to taste – you are looking for a coffee that has a nut like character, with a hint of chocolate (and sometimes cocoa, because most people love the cocoa family) with natural sweetness wrapped around your tongue, well balanced and with medium acidity and a lingering finish. Wow ! what a mouthfull, quite literally.

For nuts, think almonds, hazelnuts and macadamia (if you are lucky) and more specifically BRASIL.

For hints of cocoa, toffee, subtle citrus fruitiness, think Central America, like COSTA RICA, GUATEMALA.

For honey like sweetness and sometimes hints of red berries think ETHIOPIA.

If you favour spices like vanilla (hard to get), cinnamon, etc then in general look to the East like INDONESIA, INDIA, PAPUA NEW GUINEA.

BUT, of course, coffee is a lot more complicated than this, so sometimes the basic rules above can be broken by sourcing coffee from a very high quality single estate farm, roasted by a very experienced cupping and roasting master.

I also don’t want to get into the wet-processed and naturally dried process of coffee as these too affect tastes and how you blend, but in general, a lot of top roasters seems to be ignoring naturally dried coffee when blending. Some also use just Central American coffees in their espresso blends. Personally, my ideal espresso would have hints of almonds, vanilla, caramel, buttery toffee, dried figs, medium to low acidity, balance, smoothness and lingering taste. Fussy ? Yes I am. I sometimes get this from drinking Square Mile Coffee Espresso blends and just this morning from Verve Coffee Roasters (my next post God willing).

 

So what did I experiment with ? First up I used a Brasilian for body, a Malawian for bursting chocolate and a Cup of Excellence Guatemalan for acidity, sweetness and for balance. The result, a bit mellow, easy to drink and favoured by most.

Next up, I tried just two coffees, the Brazilian and the Guatemalan COE. The result, bursting with energy, toffee, caramel and customers saying “Wow! what coffee is this, can you get more ?”

And so for my next experiment…….


Me & My Aeropress

Sometimes, I’m quick to pick up on things and sometimes, I’m not, like when the CD player came out in the 1980’s. Back then and well into the 1990s, I was really into music and even contemplated becoming a DJ (hard to believe for those who know me, but true – i even had a stage name) but I was an ardent vinyl collector and loved the vinyl sound, so, I refused to succumb and buy a CD player, but eventually I gave in. So, I confess being the victim of my own snobbishness, when I first read about the Aerobie AeroPress on coffeegeek.com years back. But on this occasion, I have 2 excuses – the labeling on the original aeropress package advertising it as an espresso maker and the not very favourable review of the aeropress on coffeegeek.com. Of course I was confused, after reading all that stuff about what espresso is and isn’t and then, out comes this plastic looking contraption trying to change the rules. Fast forward, and hey presto, the aeropress is big news the world of coffee over. Hmm ! should I give it another chance ? But, of course, if all the people I respect in coffee are going on and on about it, so I did.

First up, I’m happy that they don’t advertise the aeropress as an espresso maker, but they do have the other claim “the best coffee maker you’ll ever own” (not on the UK packaging, which has pics of James Hoffman and Gwilym Davies). That leads to my second point, “REALLY !!!” the best coffee maker you’ll ever own ?” – well ! that’s if you don’t own a La Marzocco, a Synesso, a Slayer – you get my point. BUT I do have to confess, using the aeropress in my way was a taste opener.

I was really excited when I got my first aeropress, but I have to confess, when I prepared coffee following the instructions in the leaflet, I thought “is that it?”. So, over the last few months, I’ve developed my own way of preparing it, which I find quite delicious, especially for my last cup of coffee of the day. So, how do I do it…

FIRST – Boil the kettle. After which, place the micro filter into the chamber & twist into place and place about 100ml of cold water and let it drip through into a container – I find a 600ml milk frothing jug the best.

SECOND – As soon as the water has boiled, pour up to “4” on the plunger. Let it rest for about 2-3 minutes. You don’t want to use boiling water, but just off the boil. You can check the temperature if you want, but between 85C to 90C is ideal.

THIRD – Measure 20g of coffee and pour into your grinder.

FOURTH – Discard the water that went through your micro filter in STEP 1 above.

FIFTH – Grind your coffee and place into the chamber. I grind slightly finer than for a French Press and not the recommended “espresso grind” on the instructions.

SIXTH – Pour your hottish water into the chamber in a circular motion so that the hot water touches all the freshly ground coffee. You will see a bloom coming to the top (see pic above). COUNT TO 10 SECONDS and press the plunger through the chamber with coffee and hot water gently BUT firmly.

SEVENTH – Enjoy, either with half a spoon of demerara/brown sugar or alone.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ? I didn’t stir the coffee with the paddle and I didn’t take more than 20 seconds to brew.

WHAT’S THE GENERAL TASTE PROFILE ? a light aroma and taste, clear with medium to low acidity detected on your tongue, natural sweetness, usually with soft citrus and light caramel taste – I’ve just finished one as I write this.

OK! I hear some coffee connoisseurs screaming “how can the brew method alter the acidity ?” Well ! It does, is the simple answer. To test this, I confess that I usually brew using Espresso Lab (Cape Town’s top roaster) beans, where they source top arabica beans (Serra do Bone is Intelligentsia Black Cat Organic) and they roast more to bring out the fruitiness in coffee, as opposed to dark. Fine, but when I went to Prufrock, Gwilym gave me Square Mile Coffee Roaster’s Tanzanian Blackburn Estate coffee and the Bolivian Colonia San Juan 8 Estrellas. On the latter, it was still a light taste, but with the Blackburn Estate (great for a morning cuppa as it was heavier) although it was bolder, it still had that refreshing lightish taste.

I’ve tried the invert process (basically, do it upside down, and place the filter at the end to press through, see below), favoured by Mark Prince of Coffeegeek, but I wasn’t impressed with the taste profile, I got, so I’m still stuck to my way.

BRAG OF THE POST: I was pleasantly surprised to be asked by Gwilym how I prepared my aeropress coffee and after summarizing the above method, I was pleased to learn that we share the same method, yipee.

One more confession from the aeropress is that I find it still brings out a reasonable taste from old beans (i.e. roasted longer than 4 weeks ago). I know this, because although there’s tons of coffee at my caffe (escape caffe), I find myself scouting around my home for coffee and I’ve got to have that aeropress at night, and finding something roasted over month ago, still works in the aeropress for me.

Enjoy !


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).


Espresso French Toast

This is for those who want to have their espresso and eat it – it might sound strange, and I must confess it does, but I’ve thinking for a while, “there must be something I can eat, apart form coffee cake, that I can use espresso as a key ingredient”. So here it is, merging my passion for coffee and cooking together for what I call a “tasty” experiment, I wish to introduce Espresso French Toast. Before taking you on this journey of sensual pleasure, what exactly is French Toast, for those of you not into cooking and baking. In short, French Toast is actually the posh word for bread dipped in mixed egg and fried until well done. It is usually topped with something sweet like strawberry jam, maple syrup or honey. I’m also guessing it was devised in a French kitchen many years ago.

So, to work then. The good thing is that this is a really simple recipe if you know how to use a frying pan, extract good espresso and fry eggs of course. So you need;

Fresh arabica coffee

Good espresso machine

Frying pan

One egg

Two bowls

Fork to mix the eggs

3 slices of small brioche (measuring 7cm by 6cm)

Two spoons of caster sugar

Sliced strawberries, mascarpone and honey/maple syrup (optional)

An appetite, but of course.

Luckily, I’ve managed to capture the whole experiment visually to make it easy for you to follow. First up, break one large, preferably organic egg into a bowl, mix and set aside. Extract one double espresso into a shallow bowl and put two spoons of caster sugar inside and mix to dissolve. It is crucial that you extract good espresso – as you can see from the pic below, the crema is ever present, and after all this is a blog about coffee and there is no compromising when it comes to coffee. I used my Andronicas Signature Blend arabica coffee, which has nut and chocolate like qualities with a vanilla twist – this is important as you’ll see later.

Get your slices of brioche and place very quickly into the espresso mixture as you don’t want the slices drenched in coffee.

Quickly take it out and place straight away into the egg mixture, making sure it is nicely coated in egg.

Place into a hot frying pan with a knob of butter and fry each side for about 2 minutes each.

Take out and place on a plate, top with something sweet like honey or jam, or if you are flashy like me and love sweet fattening things, top with a dollop of mascarpone, slices of strawberries and maple syrup.

So what does it taste like then ? Well ! you’ll be pleased to know that the coffee elements have not been drenched out because of egg and butter. It actually had a vanilla and chocolate taste, almost like a dessert. Note that if you are going to drench your bread into coffee, the coffee should be good, displaying as much of the good qualities of a well extracted espresso as possible, so that the lovely taste is captured in the bread. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised, if not, let’s face it, I won’t be blogging about it.

Don’t tell too many people about this recipe as I would love to serve it in my trendy cafe, if I ever get the opportunity to open one up before I die.

Enjoy !


World Barista Champion 2009

Just thought that you might want to know that the World Barista Championship (WBC) for 2009 was won by Gwilym Davies from the UK. That means for all those people who thought the UK was behind in making good coffee, they are wrong, because for the past 3 years all the World Barista champions have come from the British Isles, so head over to London for the best espresso. OK ! seriously London is where it’s at for the following reasons when it comes to the WBC – check this connection: The WBC champion for 2007 was Jim Hoffmann from the UK and the 2008 WBC champion was Stephen Morrissey from Ireland and they both set up the coffee roastery, Square Mile Coffee Roasters with Anette Moldvaer – 2009 WBC sensory judge. Now ! the 2009 WBC champion actually runs espresso carts in London and guess where he buys his coffees from, Yep ! Square Mile Coffee Roasters – wow ! what a connection.

I learnt about this connection from Square Miles blog, so check it out for more in-depth coffee stuff, http://www.squaremileblog.com One thing that’s new for the WBC is that the machine sponsors have changed – the espresso machines are no longer sponsored by La Marzocco but by Nuova Simonelli and the coffee grinders are no longer by Compak, but now by Mahl Konig. For more about the WBC, check out their website on http://www.worldbaristachampionship.com/index.html.


Spilling the Beans

Spilling the beans – that’s right – I want to “spill” the beans on some coffee bean secrets, known to the experts but not to us minions (i.e those who do not know) but of course until now.

First, don’t be deceived by size – size matters but not in the way you think – La Rosa Costa Rica beans are advertised as low in acidity and are tiny in relation to your normal coffee bean, BUT I was puzzled, when I grounded these beans using the same timer setting on my coffee grinder when more coffee came out.

Usually with normal beans, I have to grind two and half times, but with this bean, two times was more than enough. Still puzzled, I tried crushing the beans between my finger tips and found it a bit tough – it was dense all the way through, which means that there was no air – the beans were “full of beans”, tee hee..

Second, still on size, smaller beans like the La Rosa above actually have lower acidity and surprise, surprise, these beans were tagged as “low acidity”. Now in coffee, acidity is actually what you are looking for and these are typical of much prized Central American and Kenyan coffee beans. So, in summary, smaller beans usually have a lower acidity than bigger ones, but of course, there are exceptions.

Third, coffee beans even from the same farm don’t necessarily have to be the same size – WHAT !!! Yes ! I just found this out when I bought Los Luchadores Pacamara beans from El Salvador, roasted by Square Mile Coffee Roasters of London.

I was studying the beans like one does before they grind them and thought, “that’s odd, why are some beans bigger than others ? Have they mixed another set of beans with what I ordered – that’s it I’m calling them to sort this out…”. So I quizzed the roaster, Anette from Square Mile Coffee, and she explained to me that this is normal and one way to test this, is to actually painstakingly separate the larger beans from the smaller ones and take a tasting test – they will taste the same. As she is a WBC Judge, who am I to argue, but to learn.

Fourth, and perhaps not that exciting for some of you caffeine junkies, is that when making coffee that needs a longer contact with water, like filter coffee (4 minutes and more) or French Press (4 minutes), you should ideally get a stronger coffee so that you get the real taste, rather then a watered down one. I also have to point out for those of you who have not visited the main website – shame on you – that the longer the bean has contact with water the higher the caffeine content. What does this mean ? Making coffee using a cafetiere/French press or a filter system means more caffeine than for instance making espresso. I just wanted to mention this again, because whenever people see you drinking espresso, they always say “isn’t that really strong ?” But of course I am always glad to explain that it isn’t and they look at me like “really ! are you really into coffee ?” Only if they knew.

Beans, beans, beans – there’s so much more to know about you.