31 March, 2010

Guatemala: San Pedro La Laguna (Rstd by Verve Roasters, Santa Cruz, CA)

Region: Atitlan
Variety: Bourbon & Caturra
Roast: City-
Style: Drum (Probat)

Lots of lemon, bright acidity...ok body but lacking compared to my expectations. Subtle caramel sweetness as it cooled. Missing the warm chocolate I like in a Guat and the lemon bordered on sour as the cup cooled. I think it would have benefited by a city+ or even full city roast.

I haven't cupped many coffees from Atitlan, but with the elevations and amount of rainfall I've heard of some stellar coffees coming from this region. Granted, this was probably from a harvest that was starting to go past crop...and it was probably from the Federacion de Pueblos Mayas...a quality cooperative in San Pedro. Not that quality isn't available from coops (that another post!!) but I do believe that generally consistency is tougher to achieve. I didn't get anything dusty or baggy, but maybe the body would have come through and provided some balance (even at this light roast) had it been a few months ago. The acidity however, wasn't muted at all despite any aging. Overall I enjoyed it, but I think we have some better local choices.

29 March, 2010

Out Running

Well, I came out of the gates hoping to un-load a bit of what has been bouncing around in my head since I started in coffee a few years back. I'm hoping I didn't offend anyone reading, as that would never be my intent. I was merely hoping to make some sense of things I've witnessed and conversations I've shared across the coffee landscape. I constantly feel lucky to be able to work with a product that's ever changing and applies to so many people's lives. I feel fortunate to be, what I think I would consider, on the cutting edge of quality in coffee and roasting. I'm able to talk to a lot of different people that are a lot smarter than me but that always have time to talk about coffee and discuss the finer points of this heady brew we all so enjoy. Mostly I just enjoy waking up and knowing that I get to enjoy good coffee every day; I'm not really sure what I would do if I couldn't have coffee, good coffee, every day of my life.
That first smell of ground coffee or of hot water just passing over grounds and wetting them are like the first real day of summer to me. Like going out and firing up the grill to enjoy a barbeque and cracking open some local beers. I like trying coffee from different roasters to see what their take on a particular coffee or origin is. Do they prefer to exemplify the Black Currant notes or mute that in favor a richer body? Can you coax out a nice Lemon/Citrus component within a Central American. Is it possible for a Sumatran to be both Citric, Pipe Tobacco-y and also rich in Body? I say yes but how well can it be found and can it with any consistency? All the joys of an ever changing product and market place. Mostly I just love coffee and the people the love coffee too. It's good to know there's groups of these types of people in my back yard, in your back yard, in other parts of the country and to know that we can all get together somewhere like this, or at our favorite cafe and discuss the finer points of coffee.

23 March, 2010

New Dawn, New Day

Sometimes it's wild to me to think about this crazy industry we're all involved in. A few years ago I was working in a bar, partying hard and serving food. Then I decided to try and up my professionalism and make some more coin and got a job running a warehouse in Texas. It was valuable life experience but certainly not everything I had hoped it would be. Now I find myself working in coffee, surrounded by a bunch of people that for the most part don't always seem to fit together.
Sometimes I find myself wondering if I fit in; I'm pretty sure I was never more aware of that then when I was at the GLRBC two weekends ago. I don't think I would ever consider myself to be progressive or "hip" but then again I'm not even really sure what those words mean, at least as far as fashion and life goes. As I looked around at the sea of baristi, I found myself thinking that the competition seemed more about "cool" then coffee. That was a bit of a bummer to be honest, we work hard to find great coffees; we try and be down to earth and connected to the coffee and the competition is more about Flannel Shirts, Emo Jeans and Suit Vests. Is that really what a farmer in El Salvador wants their coffee represented by? Maybe? But then again maybe not?
This is a weird industry, so many moving pieces that are all supposed to fit together into a whole. So often it feels like there are just a bunch of fragments that randomly aligned and then break apart again for no apparent reason. It's strange. It's strange especially from the perspective that in most normal industries the best product is usually clearly evident to everyone, aside from the few in the minority that want to be "progressive", but normally the best product wins. In coffee I don't think that's always true. The best coffee may not get the best price at origin, may not sell the most in a cafe, may not win a blind cupping with random people on the streets. Nowadays maybe that's becoming less true but around here (Madison), that is still often the case. Cafe owners that think an Espresso Roast brewed coffee, served over-extracted and watered down is the best coffee or Joe-Six-Pack who believes their cafe owner who serves that coffee. Pretty much every day I try and figure out how to make sense of this, because frankly, my livelihood depends on it and so do a number of other peoples'. It's funny to me, only because if I don't laugh I'd probably have to go and put myself through our drum roaster and call it a day. Maybe then Espresso Roast Cafe owner or Joe-Six-Pack would like what I'm trying to sell. It's anyone's guess really.

19 March, 2010

Coffee Tasting

Coffee arrived today...I'll try to post some thoughts on it over the weekend!

16 March, 2010

GLRBC...an acronym for ego, waste & irrelavance

**warning, this is an opinionated post and a bit uncharacteristic: so you have been warned**

The GLRBC was this past weekend and I really didn't want to say anything about it...but I can't not.

I beg anyone to show hard evidence that a barista competition does any good whatsoever for the coffee culture at large. It actually sickens me to a degree. I have met competitors and for the most part have enjoyed my conversations with them, so this outpouring is not on the people involved personally, but on what the 'circuit' has created at large within this subculture, and what it is doing to shape, mold and define the world we are a part of. What are the tenets of being a barista? For a few years now I have been threatening myself to write a barista manifesto of sorts..and have actually even written a few pages...but it has taken more form in thought than on paper.

I can respect the barista who comes out and says 'I want to be recognized by my peers and receive notoriety for something I am passionate about', and so enter a competitive match. My complaint is not with this persons motivations, it is how the industry has allowed the competitive barista circuit to become such an important qualifier for an accomplished barista and the real byproducts of these competitions...ego, waste and irrelevance. Hopefully I'm giving the competitions too much credit and weight, but then I fear my perception isn't that far from reality...

The inspiration for competitive portafilter wielding was probably a drive to bring the skill and art of the barista to a greater audience and celebrate, if not market, the true skill and dedication that many baristas posses. And I suppose that to a degree this has been successful. I see articles in national and local papers during regional competitions bringing to light the skill and art involved...but a serious byproduct of these competitions is a puffed up version of a position that (in my opinion) is characterized by humility, curiosity, excellence and art. There may be a hint of these characteristics evident during the 15 mins of performance...but that is what it is, a performance that, when finished, quickly segue-ways to the boxer having just knocked out his opponent and is prancing about the ring.

My number one objection to the competitions is waste. I can't reconcile that inside of 15 minutes a barista can tell the story of the hard working farmer who dedicates their lives to coaxing a specific quality from a stubborn shrub, making just enough to support his family and community; a roaster who sampled, cupped and scrutinized the roasting and blending until the perfect balance was realized; all this effort poured down the drain during countless practice sessions, timing practice, exhibitions and so on...all for the presentation of ones skill resulting in a feel good, ego stroking blah blah. I can't believe that these events inspire the interest, much less the actual financial support of our industry by consumers to justify the reckless wasting of our resources. It is abusive. It is at odds with the core values of the specialty coffee industry. Too many grinds are spilled for my taste.

Has it challenged baristas to be better, to further push the envelope of quality and understanding of espresso extraction? Has it inspired manufacturers to pay more attention to the variables and the baristas control over them via their tools? I don't think so. I might be wrong on this, but I think the major advancements and the major discoveries have happened and will continue to happen as a result of dorks like you and me messing around with it all. Trying theories out...testing and tasting...spending too much time thinking about water.

As a result I can't come to any other conclusion than to say that barista competitions are (or at least have become) irrelevant. Maybe they are fun, maybe they are a good show and provide some cool entertainment...but I think the industry needs to blog, tweet, flikr, and spend its resources on greater pursuits.

And now I just realized I'm a hypocrite for writing anything about it at all.


12 March, 2010

Go Coffee Go

I just signed up for this site...my Dad recommended it to me.

I kind of like the music player that plays during your browsing...! Apparently they are out of San Fransisco...


11 March, 2010

Yemen? What's that?

What do you think about the fact that Yemen is featured by both Lighthouse and Blue Bottle? Hasn't that been a non-contender for a while?

This got me thinking about coffees from Yemen. I've literally only had one conversation about the coffees of Yemen that I can even remember....and it wasn't that favorable. I've read a decent amount about it and I know Ukers book speaks well of it. The major draw back (and don't read to much into this...I like Natural coffees) is that it is naturally processed...and a risky coffee that comes at a high price. The choice to carry it may lie more in the personality of the roaster than in anything else. Maybe this season's crop is really great...it seems that Blue Bottle kind of infers that the last few years hasn't been as good as what they have found in the current offering. Lighthouse, on the other hand, has always carried it. I'm pretty sure he carries a standard set of origins and rarely differs in his selection.

I wouldn't classify Yemen as a non-contender...more of a coffee that can be so weird that many just don't spend the time to get to know it. It can be a wildly fruity and savory coffee, some say meaty...an odd characteristic for a coffee, one that could turn alot of people off...especially in the pop-fad light, sweet and clean coffees we are appreciating (and talking about) so much. I wish I could talk about Yemen with some personal experience, but aside from cupping maybe two samples in the past 6 years (one that I roasted way too dark on a little 5# roaster) my last drinking was Starbucks Sanani....circa 1998. It would be very interesting to taste a Yemen at a light roast. Probably overwhelming and definitely unlike any other tasting...but maybe most put a little darker (full city) profile on it to tame it.

The other side of this that really intrigues me is that arguably Yemen is a true example of how coffee was designed to taste. This is where coffee naturally occurred and the dry processing of the coffee is how it was prepped since before history. This coffee is barely even cultivated...it grows wild and is picked and processed on small patios much like, if not exactly like it was more than a thousand years previous. Maybe it is just me, but I'm drawn to understand how something tasted before we (humans) got to thinking too much about it. This isn't to say that technology and understanding hasn't made coffees better, it has. But there is something nostalgic about tasting something in its most purist and unaltered form...before taking it to the other side of the world, or hybridizing, or processing with water...coffee is it was first experienced.

So maybe Yemen is showing up on the menus of roasters that feel nostalgic about coffee and want to experience something a bit more unadulterated. I can appreciate this...too much human involvement and we typically mess it all up in the end.

Join me in the debate that naturals are the 'true specialty coffee'!

(ok...that last line was a joke!)

02 March, 2010


My appreciation for the coffees of Guatemala has grown immensely over the past 4 years. I have had the luxury of cupping some amazing coffees...mostly from Huehuetenango and Antigua. I'm inspired to do a cupping spree of Guats...and I recently have purchased a couple of Guats from two different area roasters. I'm not going to 'score' these coffees, but would like to publish cupping notes. And hopefully others will try them as well and share their thoughts. I think Guatemala is an extremely important origin on a roasters menu, not just because it's usually a prime component of their espresso blend, but because it is usually a good representative coffee for a roasters profile, their quality/philosophy in sourcing and a good overall 'control' coffee.

My perspective on tasting has shifted a bit in the past 6 months since not working for a roaster. I have almost exclusively been employed by a roaster over the past 15 years. I have found that this has limited(via my own laziness) my tasting of available origins... I'm not necessarily looking at that as a bad thing, but now that I make a pretty willful choice about who sourced & roasted (hopefully the same person) my coffee I'm excited by the myriad of options I actually have. I intend on ordering some coffees from Europe as well, and I have been told that transport can affect quality...I'll bear that in mind, but I'd like to get a taste for what the world has to offer as they translate what is being produced by Guatemalan coffee farmers on small estates and cooperatives.

Here is what I would like to taste (if I can get it mailed to me!) in no particular order:

Verve, Blue Bottle, Counter Culture, Lighthouse, Anodyne, Brown, La Boheme, Square Mile, Ancora, Terroir, Kickapoo, Metropolis, Stumptown, Herkimer, Peace...