Roasting: extremely complicated or not?

Ask anyone in the coffee industry and they will usually say that roasting is an intricate, difficult, and complicated process that takes years and years to learn. I assumed the same thing until talking to Collin, a barista and manager at Coffee House North West (Sterling Coffee Roasters) in NW Portland. He said, after hesitating to answer “I’m not gonna say it’s not intricate, cause in one way it is, but I will say this coffee roasting is simply: turning green coffee to brown coffee… reducing the moisture in the coffee, and caramelizing the sugars.” He said “I’ll put it this way, if I put you in front of a roaster, you could be roasting great coffee in 30 minutes.” Often times barista’s and roaster’s try to make roasting this artsy abstract process and claim they are the ones making a coffee delicious, when really, roasting is simply drawing out flavors in coffee that are pleasant, and reducing the ones that aren’t.
Sometimes people will say things like “I was able to draw out the citrus in this coffee,” when really, that coffee was already intrinsically citrusy and he was just simply drawing out that innate flavor profile. It’s as simple as taking a certain coffee and drawing out intrinsic qualities to produce an amazing product. Let’s skip the hoopla.

Seattle Coffee Tour: a Success

This weekend was packed full of coffee and fun. I’m rather surprised that there is not not as many innovative, young coffee shops as here in Seattle as there are in Portland. The few I was able to check out really blew me away and were amazing. There is however no getting around the fact that the origin of specialty coffee started in this city and that’s something to be respected and admired. Here’s a final overview of all the wonderful coffee I was able to find. Thanks Seattle! Until next time…

(Out of 10)

Milstead & Co.-9

Victrola-8

Cafe De Arte-4

Stumptown 12th Ave-9

Vivace-6

Metronome (Tacoma, Wa) -8

All Day Ethiopian Coffee!

I have tried 3 Ethiopian coffee’s today so far (extremely caffeinated right now!). All of them were from the Sidamo region in Eastern Ethiopia,  Here’s a quick evaluation:

Guji | Natural Process | Beehive Pour Over | Roaster: Cellar Door

-This coffee was delicious. It had pleasant notes of jasmine, chocolate, honey, and I’m not kidding… wasabi. I tasted a bit of a smokey linger that reminded me of wasabi. Great cup in the morning.

Chilcho | Natural Process | Chemex | Roaster: Water Avenue

-Man Oh Man, if you have a chance to try this coffee, be prepared for an explosion of baked blueberry pie. I tasted a bit of higher range citrusy notes up front, blueberry prevalent throughout, juicy mouthfeel, beautiful roast profile, perfection. Dry process is risky but amazing when done right! Did this one at home with 28g to 450g ratio and about a 4 minute total brew time.

Yukro Gera | Wet-Process |  Aeropress | Roaster: Heart

-This coffee has been delicious time and time again. I’ve had it by several different roasters including Sightglass and Stumptown and really appreciate Heart’s approach on more of a tea-like roast profile. It’s characterized by notes of lemonade, bergamot and  strawberry with some sweetness and absolutly NO BITTERNESS. It had a wild juicy mouthfeel with citrus popping through like a nice glass of lemonade. Really enjoyed this coffee. Especially since it was prepared by national aeropress champions.

Guji – Cellar Door

Cellar Door

Chemex – Home Brew

    

30 sec pre inf. – 4:00 Brew time

 

 

 

 

 

Chilcho – Water Ave (So good!)

What sorts of things make a coffee shop experience memorable?

ImageFrom the first thing you see as your walking toward the building (maybe your taking in the shop’s artistic sign and logo), all the way to your steps out the door. What composes a holistically pleasant café experience? There are certain categories that all people recognize as a consumer of this delicious beverage. Things tend to get subjective really quick so we’ll start off with some constants:

 

-Coffee

-Aesthetics

-Service

-Feel/vibe

-Music Choice

 

These are generally all things that we experience in some way or another at a coffee shop. They may take on different shapes for you personally, but here’s the gist of each one:

 

Coffee: The quality of the coffee is listed first because it is most essential. Let’s face it, if the shop isn’t known for it’s coffee, just it’s awesome space with a cool vibe and indie music that happens to serve a cup of black stuff that tastes like dirt water, why bother. Coffee must be the main attraction at a “coffee” shop for it to be a good experience. “But they serve caramel mocha cinnamon latte swirl with a scoop of sugar and extra whip cream!!!” some might reply. Let’s just say if I wanted cavities, I’d go to a candy store.

 

Aesthetics: Before you even enter a coffee shop, you may have heard about their particular coffee, or a drink they are known for. So in that sense, coffee is technically the first part of your mental experience. However, until you actually lay your own eyes on the shop, you haven’t yet begun. Walking down the road (notice weather) to the shop is where it truly begins, your looking down at your feet cause you’re that cool, and then you look up and see it. A beautiful sign with letters inscribed upon it. It might be wood (dark, medium, light), it might be metal, plastic, colorful, black and white, crazy, subtle, barely visible, huge and in your face etc. Then you walk inside the doors (Notice temperature and aroma) and look for the counter to order. But as you make your way to order your beverage this is where most of the obvious and impacting aesthetic observances lie. You notice the size of the shop (lengthy or wide), the most abundant material (Wood, hardware, plastic, tile), if wood than what’s the most dominant colors (Light wood, red wood). Than you notice seating arrangements (allot? A little? Outside seating? Bar seating?). And than you notice the types of seating arrangements (all identical, various, boring, atypical) than you make it to your destination, the counter.

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Service: The next obvious thing that occurs is your conversation with the barista. The length of the line behind you will dramatically affect this because conversation will be extensively shorter if they have to help more customers behind you. The first words might be, “How are you doing today?” or  “What can I get you?” or “How can I help you?” They might ask you with a smile, or it might seem obvious that they ask this question hundreds of times a week. This interaction is in my opinion the second most important aspect of the experience. Things that really add to this portion are their willingness to talk and engage you as a person (even things beyond coffee like your day), their knowledge and passion of coffee in answering your coffee questions, and their ability to describe different coffees as you inquire. Another thing that is beneficial and that will differ from shop to shop is their willingness to invite you into the barista world. They might let you smell the ground coffee that is about to become your beverage, or they may even stand really close the counter allowing you to see them pour a rosetta on your Cappuccino (Intelligentsia does this effectively). Giving you a cup of water or sparkling water with your espresso is definitely a plus. Enjoying your beverage will slightly differ based on this aspect of your experience. After this, you make your way to your seat.

 

Feel/Vibe: This part of the experience can happen as you walk in and order but mostly happens as you sit in your seat and break open your favorite book, or start on homework. The way you feel in this moment is what I call the Vibe of the shop. Are you stressed? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Or are you content? Happy? Pleased? Things that largely are responsible for these emotions can be the volume of the music, the volume of chatter, the temperature of the room, and simply that particular coffee shop’s aura. Each coffee shop has a different feel that has to come about naturally. No matter how many vintage lights you hang, or decorations you put up, or the type of music you play, the aura of the shop is defined independently, naturally.

 

Music Choice: Although this cannot directly change the mood of the shop, the choice of music can alter your experience. It’s a difficult thing for the owners to choose music that everyone likes. The default is then to choose music that fits that particular shop and aids in a good vibe. For me, indie music seems to do this best. It’s usually less upfront and in your face, you can read to it or enjoy conversation over it, and you don’t necessarily have to follow along with the lyrics as it is usually more dissonant and less vocal driven. Music effects the way you feel especially when you hear a song you know because it hits you on a deeper emotional level as you sip on your delicious and balanced cup of joe.

 

 There are other things that add to this experience, but these are the main things that stand out. Enjoy your next coffee shop and make it a memorable experience. Cheers!