Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

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I’m Drinking Square Mile Coffees

Yes ! It’s finally here, after several months of waiting, Square Mile Coffee Roasters have now started roasting specials coffees for sale. OK ! a brief history as to why I’m excited by this particular coffee roasters – the 2007 and 2008 World Barista Champions, James Hoffmann and Stephen Morrissey respectively together with another lady – I think her name is Anette – teamed up and because of their love of coffee, I guess, decided to take this to the next level and opened up a coffee roaster in London. They do mail order all over the World, which suits me fine, because with the current currency crisis, it is now about the same price for me to order coffee from London, including postage and packaging as it is for me to buy my current 1.2 kg monthly consumption of coffee in Vienna. On coffee sizes, Square Mile sell a minimum of 350g sizes and on my first order, I was able to order my monthly supply in 3 bags, which took a very impressive 3 days to arrive.

They also roast twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, so try and place an order about one week before you want to drink it, so that when it arrives, it has “de-gassed” for a recommended one week before you start extracting it. For more about Square Mile Coffee Roasters, please visit their website on http://shop.squaremilecoffee.com/ or just click on my blogroll to the left.

Now to the coffee. I’m not going to go into too much detail but I will just give you a taster of my experience and in a move away from tradition, use some wonderful shots of the stuff to reflect my tasting experience. My first experience was actually at Flat White in December 2008 during my last visit to London, as Square Mile now supply the coffee for Flat White. I bought a 350g bag for me to take back to Vienna, which I think contained some Central American coffee (secret blend, which Square Mile were not disclosing when I asked naturally). Why Central America ? Well ! from my experience I find Central American coffees really blend with well poured milk based espresso drinks.

Still with blends, Square Mile naturally have their Winter Espresso blend, but not wanting to hide anything and I must confess, this is the first time I have seen a roaster disclose the composition of their blends, they show you right on the packet what’s in their blend.

 

Winter Espresso Blend

Winter Espresso Blend

Naturally, it’s nice, clean, sweet, dark and rich espresso, with complex tones for me, and during the last big snowfall, I was inspired to rush out and take this pic, naturally called Winter Espresso “Blue” – the blue is for the wonderful blue sky that reflected on the snow white of the cup and the snow.

Now, a coffee that features rather little in the Winter Espresso blend is the Muchoki Peaberry from Kenya, which had a tart cherry taste for me when brewed as an espresso. So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and recommend this coffee for filter or Cafetiere style coffee as the strength can be minimised by having a longer contact with water. In any case, to show off the lovely dark colours of this coffee, I took this pic in my new Bodum cup.

Now, off to the other part of the World, Central America, which by going through the coffees on sale at Square Mile, is their favourite pat of the World to get coffee. I’ll start with a mouthful, which I love saying to myself, El Molino de Santa Rita El Salvador. A “nutty” taste for a cappuccino. Still in Central America, we move to Costa Rica, for some the best coffee resides here with high acidity, a clean taste and with complex flavours. I tried two from Square Mile, the first, La Rosa, which unusually has low acidity and one I favoured for cafetiere style coffee after lunch at work.

However, in following with a family tradition, one which my daughter seems to have picked up when eating her favourite food, I’ve saved the best for last and it is…. El Portillo Cup of Excellence – wow !

I haven’t been this excited about a type of coffee for for a while. So, in order to get a really good feel for this coffee, I cleaned out my grinder, studied the beans, which look lovely close up.

 

El Portillo Beans

El Portillo Beans

Got out my La Marzocco Bottomless filter not to miss a moment

 

El Portillo Naked

El Portillo Naked

OK! I’m beginning to sound a little bit OTT here, but life is short and sometimes you’ve just got to be bothered and committed to going all out. I extracted it into my espresso love cup, newly bought for me by my darling wife, just to capture the love of this very special bean.

El Portillo Espresso Love

El Portillo Espresso Love

I liked it so much that as someone that tries to share lovely experiences, took it to work and shared it with colleagues. What was amazing, was that one of my colleagues, who doesn’t really drink speciality coffee, but tastes wine, described the coffee almost to a “T” as described by Square Mile on the package, toffee, caramel, heavy mouth feel and complex. It’s really versatile as a coffee and I mixed it with another Square Mile coffee, Los Luchadores Espresso Pacamara– El Salvador, which made a nice cappuccino and inspired me to pour this little flower.

El Portillo Cappuccino

El Portillo Cappuccino

For me, no doubt it is really special brewed in a cafetiere, which is what I’m doing with it now, after every lunch time. I noticed that it smells like toffee and tastes like caramel and the aroma just permeates my room so much so that any of my colleagues coming into the room notices the lovely aroma. I’ve just checked on Square Mile’s website, but this lovely bean is no more…. all good things must come to an end boo hoo, but I trust that the guys will find a suitable replacement. Buying coffee from Square Mile is highly recommended by moi.


Have a Date With….

Cappuccino Date

This picture is for those who want to celebrate their love….. of C_FF_E

OK ! get ready for tomorrow – flowers, all things red, perfume, etc – but of course, don’t forget the coffee.  Enjoy the picture.

From Coffee With Love no less, xxx.


My Bodum Pavina Glasses

From my pictures on my blog and on my flickr account, you should know by now that I like different types of glasses and cups to take my coffee pictures in. After all, with just a little dark brown liquid, sometimes with a dash of milk to take a picture off, you have to make the best of its surroundings and by this I usually focus on the container, the cup. So on my trip to Bodum’s first shop in Vienna, located on 2 Marc-Aurel Strasse, 1010 Vienna, in freezing -6 C temperature, I was shown Bodum’s Pavina glasses. I thought for about a few seconds how these double wall glasses would look like with espresso or cappuccino in them and being someone who usually knows what they want and tempted by very good customer services, I bought a set of 2 glasses – the 12oz version, just right for your classic cappuccino. The next day, I couldn’t contain myself and used the glasses straight away for my morning dose of cappuccino and of course poured a heart;

I just liked the way you can see how the frothed milk blends in with the espresso and you can see the foamy part just sitting on top. The added bonuses of this glass is that because it is double walled and mouth blown, you cannot feel the heat from the coffee when you hold the glass in your hand and it keeps the coffee hot for longer, plus of course it looks great, doesn’t it, especially when you pour latte art, with different shades of milk and espresso milk combinations ?

If you want to impress your friends and love cooking and baking, then you can make a hot dessert in these glasses provided that the oven temperature doesn’t go over 180C and alternatively you can make cold desserts in them. From the coffee side, the glass is just the right size for a double shot espresso Cappuccino or Caffe Latte. So, if you’ve got about €20 to spare during these tough economic times, then buy a set of two.


The Naked Portafilter

I just can’t go out like this and I’m ashamed to say that it is almost the last day of 2008 – my first full calendar year of blogging – and I have not posted a blog on my number one discovery of the year, the Naked or Bottomless Portafilter holder, You what ? You may say, but take a look below and don’t be shy to ask, if you are a novice of course, what is this ?

 

OK ! I’m going to make this quick and as exciting as possible because although this looks straight forward, it can be quite complicated explaining what this tool of tools is. Luckily for you, I’ve ploughed through a few articles, blogs and discussions to try and summarize what this little invention is all about. Traditionally, you have the normal portafilter holder, with two spouts (for making 2 espressos at once) or one spout (for making one espresso at a time). Anyway one day, someone wanted to know, what goes on if there are no spouts and you can see right through, hence the terminology, “naked” or if you go with the more simplistic terminology, bottomless. In this way, you can see how the coffee begins to come out through the little spore holes in the filter and approximately how many seconds the coffee beings to emerge at what bar/pressure level to make the exact quantity – Are you still with me ? I hope so, because I cannot make it more simple than that. In any case, the next step was to cut off the spouts, so that you have two types of portafilters like below.

The traditional one is below and the bottomless one is above. You will be glad to know that to make your portafilter “naked” or bottomless, you don’t have to get your chainsaw out or find a local mechanic who will really think you are crazy but who will nevertheless take your money – you can order one form the best, La Marzocco, of course. OK ! it might not be that cheap, mine cost about 60 Euros ($75 now), but it will be cheaper in the States and you can get one for about $60, made by another company like Rancillo.

From an academic view point, if we want to scare you off even more and bring in words that remind you of school, like the word “academic”, the bottomless filter is a good training tool. For example, if you can see what is happening from a “naked/exposed” view point, you can correct your mistake and improve your espresso shots. I can’t get away with this, but I’m going to have to go into “Lesson” mode for this tool, so that you really appreciate what I’m trying to share with you, so here goes. 

Assumptions:You are an espresso freak and you know the essentials about making an espresso using a really good grinder and good heavy brass espresso machine (upwards of $500). So you know that you buy relatively fresh beans, grind and then tamp them with 30 pounds of pressure, so that the 30 ml of crema top espresso coffee comes out in about 23-27 seconds. OK ! so you are a coffee geek or coffee snub, that’s settled.

Lesson 1: If you don’t tamp properly or use too little coffee, assuming you are using the correct grind, then some of the coffee will be under less pressure and your espresso cup will fill up more quickly, violating the 23-27 second pour rule for approximately 30ml of coffee. In short, if using the naked portafilter, you will see a blondish type cone pouring into your cup, which will be flowing with bad tasting coffee. Furthermore, the coffee will be spitting from the outside all over the cup and your coffee machine, making a right mess. It’s like the coffee is saying, if you can’t handle me right, then I’m going to spit on you. In any case, the spitting occurs, because the coffee has not been tamped well or is too little in a particluar area of the portafilter and hence the pressure pushes it out with a lot of force. I don’t have a picture of this for you, but trust me, it has happended to me, when I used less than the recommended 14-15 grammes of freshly ground coffee for a double espresso – I was in a rush to get the kids to school. Also, in this spitting scenario, if you attempt to take a picture, you might get coffee all over your lenses.

Lesson 2: If you tamp properly but the grind is too fine, your coffee will take ages to come out and will taste sour/burnt. In this case, using the naked portafilter, you will see that when you get to 18 seconds, drops of honey like espresso begin to pour out – it may look good, but it isn’t going to taste good, trust me and of course you are not going to get 30ml of espresso coffee into your cup between 23-27 seconds, but much less. Again this has happened to me when I got a new bag of coffee and wanted to test for the right grind. Seeing this scenario, I quickly loosened the settings on the grinder to avoid wasting anymore precious coffee.

Lesson 3: If you do everything right, this is what you should see (below)

Now, doesn’t that look lovely ? You can see a few colours here. The darker ones have a higher concentrate of well extracted coffee and you will notice that the coffee seems to be flowing right, without any gushing.

If you are feeling brave, hold a single shot espresso cup carefully over the naked portafilter, making sure you watch the extraction closely so that you don’t burn your hand with free flowing 93C degree coffee and you can also make a ristretto, with should display excellent crema as evident by the dark brown bits, which dominated this cup of ristretto (i.e half a cup of espresso).

Conclusion/Analysis: Using the naked portafilter helps you to (i) estimate very quickly if you have the right grind (ii) improve your tamping technique, especially in making it more even (iii) know very quickly if you used to much coffee or too fine a grind (thick honey drops) and (iv) look good, if you invite your friends to show them a perfect extraction, but practice beforehand.

What Else ?According to some experts, because the extracted coffee comes into less contact with metal, because it basically flows from the portafilter into your cup, you should get a more “purer” taste of coffee. If you notice, there will be very tiny bubbles in your cup.

In any case, I usually use mine when I get a new bag of coffee from a different roaster or a different type of coffee. When I got my naked portafilter, I used it for several weeks, because I just liked the way it flowed into the cup. Serious coffee shops like Origins Coffee Roastingin Cape Town have naked portafilters, like the one below, extracted on their Synesso Cyncra machine.

Also, my favourite coffee shop in London, Flat White have them, as evident by my request for a triple espresso, using a naked filter (see my post of 25 March 2008), but you will have to make a request for it.

My advice, go on experiment and enjoy, HAPPY NEW YEAR !


Light a Candle for…..

 

Light a candle for America… No ! Seriously, light a candle for COFFEE. These coffee candles are from America – whatever next you may ask ? but my sister sent me these from America, bought from a store called White Barn (New York), apparently famous for making lovely candles. As soon as she saw these, she thought “my bro would love these”, she bought me a whole bunch and sent them over to Austria. They’ve got lots of flavours like Caramel Java Latte, Double Mocha Espresso, Java and even Chai Latte & they smell really nice too.

So, if you are inviting people over for lunch or dinner and don’t want to waste your lovely coffee by grinding it to extract the aroma just to get the right ambience, then buy a bunch of these, light them up and hey presto, everyone get ready for coffee, after dinner of course. I haven’t seen these type of candles in Europe, but if I find anything similar, I’ll write about them too – why do we always miss out on this side of the Atlantic.

In any case, if you know of anyone popping over to America to take advantage of the relatively low dollar exchange rate, then ask them to look for these and impress your family and friends with this special find. It may also work in cafes, where you may want to light them up to erase some of the foody smell to preserve a real sweet cafe ambience – just a thought and if you use it, tell them to check out my blog and website too – spread the love of coffee.


How Can You Tell if Your Beans are too Fresh ?

This is like a follow up to my blog post of 7 March 2008 called “how can you tell if your beans are fresh“. In summary to that previous post, I gave some pointers on what coffee looks like when it is fresh and extracted. Now, it probably seems like a contradiction when I say”how can you tell if your coffee is too fresh ?” Very Fresh  Again, the short answer is that you cannot just tell by looking at it – see above.  You will have to wait until you get home and try and pull an espresso or use another brewing method. In any case, I recently fell victim to this scenario and really the warning bells should have been ringing when I asked the roaster at Alt Wien when the beans were roasted – his answer “a few hours ago” OK! I thought, I should really be happy about this but I recently read that very fresh beans need to “de-gas” before they are ready for drinking. In short, when you roast green beans you are changing the chemical and physical attributes of the coffee bean but the coffee bean needs time to adjust to its changed attribute after being exposed to very high temperatures. What happens is that gases that have attached themselves to the bean need to “come off” so that the bean can return to some sort of natural state – have I lost you ? Perhaps, because I think I have lost myself too. Really, I’m just trying to summarize the chemical stuff that happens to coffee beans after they have been roasted in as simple a way that I can. There’s also some problems with dark roasted coffee beans, where the oil on the bean can be “too oily” leaving oil sediments on your machine.  In short, the coffee beans basically need to “de-gas” or let off some steam literally. I hinted at this to the Alt Wien Roaster and he replied “it’s OK in a domestic machine but for a commercial machine, the beans need to de-gas for at least one week” so I’m thinking, a domestic machine -Yes ! I have one of those, but my machine has some commercial parts (E61 Group head and lots of real brass, etc). I trust him and I pay the price. Sure, the beans smelt really fresh but my first problem was in trying to get the right grind for pulling a shot of espresso in 23-25 seconds.  Then I was wondering as the coffee was coming out, why it was bubbly and making lots of hissing noise. So, the first sign is that the espresso shot will have many bubbles – some sort of chemical reaction (see below). Too Fresh Espresso   I also noticed that once extracted, the coffee was lightish in colour despite the right time for extraction;  Too Fresh  The final straw was of course the taste test – the coffee was sour around the middle part of your tongue. Now, as you know, really fresh coffee that has been taken care of should not taste bitter or sour, so that got nme thinking – what’s wrong ? I tried stuff like leaving the beans out all night in a big metallic bowl so that they could let off steam, but that didn’t work. I tried another brewing method, French Press, but still the taste was sour. Then I thought, based on stuff that I had read, to leave the beans in their bag for about a week. I was bordering on being mad, because to compensate for my ever increasing coffee appetite, I decided to buy a 500g bag for the first time. In trying to apply my general culinary skills to the situation, I thought, if the bean could talk, perhaps it would say “hey ! I’ve just been exposed to 450 F, let me cool down a bit before you get the best out of me”. It’s almost like trying to toast freshly baked bread – it’s going to burn a lot quicker. In any case, not being a chemist, I thought there’s some sort of proper chemical explanation for this. Anyway, I’m glad to report that after leaving the beans for a week in their original bag, well sealed, with no exposure to air, there was a big difference. Firstly, although the coffee may not have smelt as nice as earlier, it was now easier to find the right grind setting for a 23-25 second pull for an espresso and the colour was back to dark reddish crema – see below;    Fresh Espresso  Also, good for latte art and impressing your friends (OK ! I’m joking about the last).    Fresh Latte  So next time your coffee roaster tells you the coffee is really fresh, ask them how fresh. A few days can be good, say 3 days, but I have learnt that the mistake made by the roaster was putting the fresh beans into a sealed vacuum bag immediately after roasting as opposed to letting them de-gas by their own. If it is freshly roasted, it should be left alone and not bagged up.  I can even say now, as I am drinking this coffee (Organic Bolivian)that after about 10 days the coffee is even better, especially for espresso – the sweetish taste is back. Ciao