Sunday, March 8, 2015

20 Great Short Films on 20 Ways to Brew Great Coffee

This one was fun to put together - 20 passionate coffee lovers showcasing 20 different ways to brew great coffee.  Thanks to all the filmmakers for making these beautiful videos.

(Be patient and let the previews load - may take 30 seconds or so.)

The Aeropress, with Huw from Market Lane Coffee on Vimeo.

Escape the rush: Coffee with the Bayreuther Kanne from Coffee Circle on Vimeo.

Intelligentsia Chemex Brewing Guide from Intelligentsia Coffee on Vimeo.

Clever Coffee Brew Guide : MistoBox Series from MistoBox on Vimeo.

5x5 Chorreando Café from Franklin Garcia on Vimeo.

American Cowboy Coffee from Julie Niles-Fry on Vimeo.

The perfect Shot of Espresso (2012) from Coffee Circle on Vimeo.

Coffee in Ethiopia from Michael Galam on Vimeo.

Eva Solo Brewing guide for Has Bean Coffee from Stephen Leighton on Vimeo.

The French Press, with Abbie from Kinfolk ( on Vimeo.

Making Espresso with the Handpresso Wild Hybrid (time lapse) from Florian Sänger on Vimeo.

Brew Guide: Hario Woodneck from Josh Wismans on Vimeo.

Turkish Coffee from Jens-Chr. Strandos on Vimeo.

How to Make Japanese Iced Coffee from Counter Culture Coffee on Vimeo.

Kone Brewing System Bundle Set from Able Brewing Equipment on Vimeo.

Brewtorials: Making Coffee with a Moka Pot / Stovetop Espresso Maker from iateacat on Vimeo.

Technivorm Brewing Guide from Clive Coffee on Vimeo.

Brewing coffee with a vacuum pot from Marco Arment on Vimeo.

Vietnamese Coffee from Exposure Media Productions on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coffee and Climate Change

Good morning, and happy fall to you all.

Earlier today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, a meta review of 30,000 climate change studies that offers an comprehensive and extremely credible view of what lies ahead in our planet’s response (or lack thereof) to this problem.  You should certainly read today’s New York Times article on this work, and if your time permits, also the IPCC’s policymakersummary.

We have an election on Tuesday, and I hope you will take the views of your candidates on these very important issues into account when you make your choices at the ballot box.  We are running out of time in continuing to elect people to office who conclude that global warming is a liberal hoax.

As I try to make sense of why we appear to make so damn little progress in confronting climate change, I keep hearing that conservative politicians won’t really wake up and smell the coffee (as it were) until the effects of global warming become real to them.  Apparently extreme draught, bizarre storm activity, disappearing glaciers and failing global agriculture isn’t that convincing.

A small but meaningful example of the reality of climate change is in the world of coffee (and the 25 million coffee farmer families around the world who support our habit).  Here’s a quote from the spring 2014 findings of the IPCC:

"The overall predictions are for a reduction in area suitable for coffee production by 2050 in all countries studied.”

And another quote:  “In many cases, the area suitable for production would decrease considerably with increases of temperature of only 2.0-2.5C."

Here’s a great video on the manifestation of this problem in Ethiopia from Kew Gardens, a global plant research institution based in the UK (their full research report is linked at the end of the post. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Understanding Coffee Growing Regions

This article will be the first in a series that will provide you with a foundation education in the geographic sources of coffee – with the goal of helping each of you know more about what you drink each day and what you can gain by exploring new coffees and flavors.  The world of coffee today is every bit as vast as that of wine, cheese or craft beer, but with vastness can come confusion.  I’d like to help with that.

I wrote something like this when we started Freeport Coffee Roasting in 2008, but the coffee market has changed since then.  As with many things, the mass market side of coffee has gotten much worse – and the rise of craft roasting and local cafes has greatly improved.  Read on.


In one of my first posts on this subject, I wrote of going to our local supermarket and counting an astonishing 288 different types of whole bean coffee.  I observed then that the majority of these were blends (Sunrise Blend, Darkness Blend, Daybreak Blend, etc.) with little information on the coffees that comprise these, and a goal of these roasters of getting you hooked on a marketing identity rather than a coffee origin.  The few coffees available then that did come from specific countries were limited to Colombia, Sumatra and maybe Kenya – none with an indication of a farm, cooperative, region within each country, or other source information.

Today, my opinion is that this situation has gotten far worse.  The options are fewer, and the mix is slanted much more in the direction of blends rather than coffees from individual growing countries.  The worst example of this (and a great irony, given its beginnings) is the large international café chain that replaced brewed origin-specific coffee of any kind with a single branded blend in 2008.  

Its no small wonder the regions are a mystery, because not many people have been exposed to them. You see, blends are there for some interesting reasons. In theory, coffees are blended together to achieve a specific purpose. For example, our popular Misty Morning Espresso has coffees in it that give espresso its wonderful crema and others that add a balance flavors into the mix.

But, for most large coffee companies, it’s all about marketing and saving money.  They think that “Breakfast Blend” will stick with someone more than “Guatemala Atitlan San Pedro La Laguna,” and from a purely marketing standpoint, they are right – get the brand established in the consumer’s head, and they’ll keep buying it (though forsaking experimentation and variety). And, a dirty little secret of the big coffee companies is that large commercial blends are primarily “filler” coffees that have bland taste and some amount of body – with the taste of the blend determined by roasting style and the addition of small amounts of better coffees with unique flavors.

Small Roasters and Single Origin Coffee:

On the other side of the coin is the great proliferation of smaller roasters who dedicate themselves almost exclusively to single source coffees – with local examples here including Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee (and his excellent Speckled Ax café), Tandem Coffee (now with two great cafes in Portland), Bard and our coffee.  Each of these and the many others like them across the country source coffees from small growing cooperatives and farms within specific regions of growing countries – and this support motivates farmers to grow better and better coffee.

So my message here is that if your daily coffee habits involve blended coffee purchased at the grocery store, I think you’ll be wonderfully surprised at the world of options that awaits you.

Let’s look at where coffee is grown – and how this relates to the flavor in your cup:

Central America:

“Centrals” are grown in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, and good coffees from this region have a sparkling “acidity” (coffeespeak for a citrus-like effervescence in the cup), medium body and light floral and fruit notes that make these easy, accessible coffees to drink all day. In buying these coffees, look for those grown at higher elevations, and try to zero in on a specific region or cooperative, rather than something labeled “Guatemala,” for example – as many of these countries also produce a lot of bland, commodity coffees grown at lower altitudes.
Be wary of Mexican organics, and be even more diligent in your research about where these are grown (elevation counts). The Mexican coffee industry has pushed hard to increase the production of certified organic coffees to support the demand of large chains in the US (as in the famous hamburger chain now trying to become a coffee expert), and their goals are much more around getting the higher price commanded by these than about quality.

South America:

In ranking the world coffee producers, Brazil and Colombia have consistently been numbers one and two respectively – with Colombia only recently eclipsed by the surging Robusta production of Vietnam. As coffee grew in popularity around the world, the favorable climates of Brazil and Colombia allowed these countries to propagate huge coffee plantations and the processing and exporting infrastructure to support them. And so most of us grew up watching our parents drink the bland, homogenous coffees they cranked out onto the world commodity markets – sold in tin cans by the large coffee companies and used for instant coffees such as the world leader NesCafe.

All of this isn’t to say that all coffee from South America is bad – but if you stay mired in the generic Colombia and Brazil coffees, you won’t taste the best the region has to offer.
One of the most important contributions to modern specialty coffee are the dry processed coffees of Brazil, which are used as the base of many espresso blends to add body and contribute the distinctive crema of a well-poured shot. These beautiful coffees also work well brewed by themselves, with deep body and rich, even flavors.

With good Colombian coffees, you won’t find exotic flavors, but you’ll experience mainstream-type tastes at a very high level of quality. If your trying to convert someone who has been drinking supermarket coffees and want to give them the entrée into better tasting coffees, this is a good place to start.

The other big player in South America is Peru, and here you need to be careful. As with Mexico, the industry has pushed into organics with a vengeance, and lower priced single origin organics and organic blends from Peru are like the Cascadian Farms of organic coffee; technically organic, but with little to show for it in quality. But at the other end of the spectrum, good Perus are wonderfully sweet, easy drinking coffees.


Coffee is grown in a very large region extending from western India through parts of China and down to Australia, but here we’ll talk about origins in the Indonesian archipelago, as these are best known to US coffee consumers. India generates a lot of beautiful coffees, but they don’t get much attention in the US.  China is an up and coming producer, but without a lot of volume yet. Vietnam has a massive industry built around commodity Robusta coffee and the other growing countries in the area aren’t that distinctive as specialty grades.

Indonesian coffees fall into two groups – those from Sumatra the largest island in the chain, Sulawesi (just south of the Philippines) and Timor (north of Australia); and another set from Java and Papua New Guinea.

The first group presents rich, syrupy coffees with intense body. These are often roasted dark and they work well in French Roast blends and espressos. There is a lot of pooling here, so you won’t find estate coffees to the extent you might in Africa or Central America, and quality can be quite variable. Unlike the grading scheme used in most of the world, which puts a lot of weight on appearance a lack of physical defects, these coffees are considered more on their taste profiles. The rugged character of the coffees comes through in the cup, and it is these qualities that make them a favorite of those who like big, bold tastes.

The other island coffees of this region have more in common with Central American coffees. They are wet processed (meaning the fruit is stripped from the cherries just after harvesting) and they have a nice acidity and floral/fruit tones.

East Africa:

Look back into the history of coffee, and you’ll find a polite dispute between Yemen and Ethiopia over which country was the true birthplace of coffee. I’ll save the happy goats story for another article – but its easy to find online if you are interested.

But there isn’t much dispute over the fact that this region is where coffee all began – and these origins have the longest standing, richest coffee heritage in the world.

Coffee is grown in a band running from Yemen, through Ethiopia and down to Tanzania and Zambia. The small country of Rwanda is now emerging as a coffee producer, and we’ll be seeing more good coffees coming from Burundi in the years to come.

Writing about coffees from this region makes me smile, because here you’ll find some absolutely mind-blowing coffees. I kid you not, the surprises to be found in the coffees of this part of the world can be so distinctive and startling in the flavors that come out of the cup that you’ll wonder how such a thing is possible.

Among the coffees of East Africa, you’ll find a depth of flavor and complexity unlike any other region of the world. These aren’t necessarily for everyone, but for those who like to get a little out there in their tastes for food and beverage, you know who you are and I encourage you to take the leap and experiment.

As with any coffees, there are some stinkers out there too – and many would exploit the good name of some of these countries for marketing purposes. Unpredictability is a hallmark of these coffees, so we recommend finding a way to try before you buy.

Coffee and Global Warming:

In my next post, I’ll explain how climate change is impacting the coffee growers of today – and how it may impact the coffee of tomorrow.  This is important stuff for you to know.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Blendization of Premium Coffee

When I started roasting coffee about six years ago, one of the things that drew me to this passion was the wonder of single origin coffees.  I began my exploration, as most coffee lovers do, by learning about the main growing regions of the world (Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia), and then, through experimenting with the broad range of coffees offered by the homeroasting suppliers, I dug deeper to learn about coffees from individual countries and the regions within each of these. And there I found an endless journey through flavors and aromas and stories and processing methods that is what motivates my love of coffee today.

To give you a sense of how massive this universe of coffees can be, have a look at today’s offering list from one of the importers I use – featuring 339 different coffees.  Click on the little symbols next to some of these to learn more about where these were grown and their flavor profiles.

When these coffees make their way to roasters, they have one of two destinies.  Some will be used for blends (such as our Indo Limbo French Roast or Espresso Nirvana), while others will be sold as unblended “single origin” coffees.  Our current offerings from Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Sumatra are examples of these.

In looking around at where coffee is sold, you’ll see that most of what is out there for mass consumption (grocery stores, café chains, donut shops, restaurants, gas stations, etc.) are blends.  These are coffee products where the maker wants you to get used to a brand identity (Sunrise Blend, Dark Magic, Winter Warmer) and be confident that you will always be getting the same product wherever or whenever you buy it. (You are not, by the way, getting the same product.  Blends are one of the dirty little secrets of the coffee world, with large-scale roasters gaming the international markets to find low cost “blender” coffees, then enhancing these with better coffees and roasting styles that give these products their identities.)

Single origin coffees are the realm of smaller roasters.  We buy these great coffees in relatively small quantities, roast and sell them until they are gone, and then move on to another set of offerings.  We take chances to do this.  In a world of blends, the typical consumer doesn’t know much about growing regions, much less about the differences between Ethiopian coffees from the Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe growing regions.

In large grocery chains, you’ll encounter just a few coffees designated by a country of origin (typically Sumatra, Columbia and Brazil), but rarely if ever will you see information about regions within a country or specific farms.  Single origin coffees are more easily found in health food stores, independent cafés, farmers markets or roaster websites. 

I think single origin coffees are a good thing.  They promote knowledge of the sources of coffee, enhance the range of flavors available to the consumer and encourage farmers to grow better coffee.  I wish we as an industry had more ways to sell them, and that more roasters and retailers would make the extra effort to offer them.

Unfortunately, I fear that trends are moving in the opposite direction.  When we travel – and when I go to any store that sells coffee – I look at menus and retail offerings to see what is available.  In doing this, I have always appreciated the commitment of small cafés and roasters to single origin coffees.  These require more consumer education and more dialog with customers about the nuances of specific coffees and how they are different than what someone may have drank the day before.  But this year, for the first time, I have seen significant numbers of small coffee businesses moving away from single origin coffees and into menus comprised of only blends. 

My guess is that these changes are the result of business decisions about what works and what doesn’t work for each of these companies.  Many coffee drinkers care mainly about getting a good, consistent cup at whatever roast level they prefer supplied in a way that is convenient to where they live or work.  To understand and appreciate single origin coffees requires more commitment on the part of all concerned – roasters and retailers need to spend more time on education, and consumers need to spend more time savoring their coffee so that they see a reason to seek out these special beans.

We will keep offering both families of coffee, as our customers break down pretty evenly into blend lovers (Espresso Nirvana, Road Trip! and Indo Limbo French Roast) and those who surf our single origin offerings from Brazil, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra and others.

To each, his or her own.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Robusta Experiment

A few weeks ago, you all received a cryptic note from me, inviting you to try a mysterious potion called “Espresso Experimento”.  Some of you then put your faith in me, sight unseen (or more properly, taste untasted), knowing that this was a worthwhile experiment.  For most of these testers, I then followed up, wondering about their experience and what they thought of the taste of this recipe.

The truth shall now be revealed.

Of the two botanical species of coffee cultivated commercially in the world, Coffea Arabica is the one we know best, and all coffee graded and sold as “specialty coffee” in the US must be Arabica.  These coffees are typically grown at high elevations, they are picked and sorted with care, and they are often sold as they are, without being blended with lower grade coffee.

The other species is Arabica’s evil twin, Coffea Robusta, a cheaper, lower-grown variant most commonly used in low-grade blends and instant coffees. Large corporations and plantation farmers love the stuff, as Robusta plants have a much higher yield, and it can be farmed at lower elevations using mechanical picking and processing methods.  It also has significantly higher (40% or more) caffeine than Arabica, so when you encounter “TurboCoffee” at the gas station, that’s what its made of.

I confess, Espresso Experimento was composed of 15% Robusta.  I hang my head in shame.

Not really.  In Italy, where espresso is the go-to form of coffee, most blends use Robusta to promote dark, thick crema.  When Robusta is run by itself through an espresso machine, what emerges is an oozing, beautiful foam that resembles shaving cream.  It is exquisite to look at.

And to me, in its raw form, it tastes like a dank, bitter form of cough syrup. 

But this was an experiment I have wanted to try for a long time.  There are better forms of Robusta to be had (as these were), and as a big fan of espresso, I needed to understand how this species works in an espresso blend – and whether it was worthwhile to consider it as a prospect for the future. 

The verdict?  I liked the impact on the crema a lot, as it gave the shots noticeable body and thickness.  I liked that it reminded me of Italian espressos and the experience of ordering a quick shot standing at a streetside coffee bar.  I liked it in milk, as it added a certain amount of punch, especially in lattes.  I didn’t care for it as a straight shot, as it added a bitterness and astringency that was more reminiscent of a darker roasted espresso. 

And having satisfied this curiosity, I won’t use it again.  I promise. 

One last thing.  I have the sense that most people walk around with the impression that espresso is an over-roasted, thick, bitter brew that has a place in milk alone, and that, when consumed as a shot, it generates a face-puckering grimace similar to that of very cheap tequila.  Please, give good espresso a chance.  Stop by The Royal Bean, or come over to our house, and let us make you a shot of a medium-roasted espresso designed to satisfy rather than punish you.  It is such a nice a experience.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The New World of Pourover Brewing

When I went to the Coffee Fest trade show in New York a few weeks ago, one of the classes I attended was on pourover brewing techniques.  The class was led by the 2011 World Brewers Cup champion Andy Sprenger of Ceremony Coffee Roasters. 

Way back when (probably in high school, actually), my first experiences in making my own coffee made use of a funky yellow plastic Melitta filtercone, along with preground coffee from the grocery store and tap water poured from a teakettle heated on an electric stove.  I measured my coffee using one of those annoying plastic scoops that came with all coffee back then as a “free gift”.

I knew that times had changed, as I was starting to see pourover bars in more cafes, and The Royal Bean has been working with the Clever drippers since shortly after they opened four years ago. 

But, as Andy’s presentation showed, we have now advanced to a new era for this seemingly simple technique.  The simplicity of the Melitta method (which they claim to have invented, though those around the world who brew in chorreadores might take exception to that) has now given way to an astonishing array of new variations on the theme.  Materials essentially remain the same, glass, plastic and ceramic), but now new shapes for the funnels, vane patterns, hole variations and depth are leading to a cascade of exciting new possibilities.  All the rage now are brewers from Hario, Bee House and Bonmac, but the classic Chemex brewer (who used to wrap these in macramé back in the day?) is making a comeback, often in conjunction with the gorgeous Coava Kone filter. 

Then, of course is the matter of water.  Water, you see, is not just water.  It must be targeted accurately and precisely to exact regions of the bed of ground coffee to ensure the optimum cup.  And (you guessed it), old school kettles just won’t do.  Check these out from Hario, Bonavita and (if you won Megabucks last week) Takahiro. 

And the brewing water must pass through household air, which contains all kinds of toxins and adulterants, so we must control this!  The solution is a set of mid-air filters (one before the water hits the coffee and one between the filter and the cup).  These tri-phase neuro-osmosis filters ensure that the EPA will bless the air quality of your cup. 

Not really. 

Andy also gave us an interesting demonstration of how the taste of paper filters affects the flavor of your coffee.  He made two batches of what was essentially “paper filter tea”, one using standard white filters, the other unbleached filters (those made of bamboo and hemp were not included).  Each person in the room was given two blinded samples and asked to compare the tastes.  Sadly, both tasted A LOT like paper, but the stronger taste definitely came from the unbleached variation. The lesson here is to rinse your filters in hot water before you brew.

So, I came back from the show with a Bonavita kettle and a Bee House brewer, and shown at left is the rig that is now needed for me to perform the simple act of making my first cup of coffee in the morning.  I weigh the dose of coffee, then grind it to precision.  The kettle (with filtered water), boils, then rests for thirty seconds.  I place the cup with the Bee House (and the properly rinsed filter) on the scale, then start the stopwatch.  I prewet the bed of coffee for thirty seconds, then pour water in a swirling patter outward from the center, striving to maintain the crust and achieve a brew time of exactly three minutes. 

What a geek, huh?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blonde Coffee?

So I was thinking about the new product introduction, "Blonde" coffee, from our favorite national chain, and something just didn't fit.  So I went off to my online dictionary to find out exactly what the word meant.

I found two definitions that seem like they could be applied to coffee: 1. Of a flaxen or golden color; and, 2. Light-colored through bleaching.

I will admit that I haven’t been down to their store in our town to buy a bag and see what’s inside, but in my experience, the only time coffee is “of a flaxen or golden color” is when it is not very far into the roast, as in not ready to drink.

But they are a lot bigger than me, so maybe they know something I don’t.

Then there is the possibility of bleaching, I suppose.  But gosh, who would do that to coffee?

So since the dictionary doesn’t lie, and since all advertising is true, I figured that somehow the wizards over there must be doing something to turn the coffee a flaxen or golden color.  So here is my artist’s rendering of what the stuff must look like.

Nah.  No one would buy yellow coffee, would they?