| Tasting Coffees at Elysian Labs |
I had two tasting sessions at Elysian Labs recently; this one is where we busted out the Esmeralda and Counter Culture Karaba
With Black Friday just completed (did you buy your coffee stuff on sale?), everyone's gearing up for the biggest time in most consumer industries, and coffee is no exception. This one is going to be one of my longest articles ever, so strap yourself in for the read!
No Holiday Gift List this year :(
Around this time on the CoffeeGeek website, you'd be seeing the annual Holiday Gift List and Fund Raiser for CoffeeKids. I'm sad to say that we won't be doing this feature this year because of the rebuild that is currently going on to give you a brand new CoffeeGeek website in early 2008 (what, you didn't know we're doing a huge rebuild? read on!)
I will be doing some individual fund raising efforts for CoffeeKids this holiday season, including some special auctions for items to help raise money so look for those soon in a few articles on the front page. I'm very sad that we're not doing the HGL this year, but it came down to the fact that last year everyone involved in the silent auctions, the building and maintaining of the holiday gift list, and the tracking of donations and payments put in about 50 hours a week for the duration of the event. We simply didn't have the luxury of that time this year. We started to build this year's HGL, but soon realised it was eating too much into our build-time for the new website (something a few people are on the payroll for regardless of whether the work is done or not).
While the HGL is taking a season's hiatus, efforts to raise money for CoffeeKids will not. For the month of December, we'll be featuring a direct donation link to CoffeeKids right on the front page of CoffeeGeek, as well as a mention at the start of each article for the month, a sticky in the forums, and banner ads on the website. For every dollar you donate through these special paypal links (which go directly to CoffeeKids), CoffeeGeek will match those donation dollars, up to $1,000. So the more you donate, the more we donate.
We'll also donate 25% of all our ad revenue raised between December 1 and December 31 - so if you're an advertiser who is thinking about renewing your ads, or buying new ones, December is the time - a quarter of your fees will be donated directly to CoffeeKids.
And we'll also have a few silent auctions to roll out - I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do it yet, but I do have some grinders donated by the fine folks at Baratza, as well as some other surprises and goodies from other vendors to auction off. And I'm digging through our closets here to see what other goodies we can come up with.
It is a letdown, but I'm hoping we can turn this around by raising lots of dough for CoffeeKids. Next year, I promise the HGL will be back, better than ever.
Go see Andrea Illy talk!
Coming up very soon is an interesting discussion evening with Dr. Andrea Illy at The New York Academy of Sciences. In fact it's coming up on December 6th, 2007. If you're in the NYC area, contact them toote suite to see if you can get in on the seminar.
Andrea Illy is the current chairman of illycafe, having taken over the reigns from his dad, Dr. Ernesto Illy. He's also the main guy responsible for the near bible of scientific study into espresso: The Chemistry of Quality books (both editions). His seminar is on the Science of Coffee, and it's the inaugural event for this seasons' discussions at the NY Academy of Sciences.
CoffeeGeek plans to have coverage of the seminar for a future article, but if you're in the NY area, this is a unique opportunity to really delve into the science behind espresso.
Coffee Blogs of Note
Because this Coffee at the Moment article is so long, I'm cutting down the number of blogs I wanted to mention from four to one (I'll definitely list the missing ones next article!). But this one is so good and so relatively unknown, I have to post about it (and I hope by posting about it, the author will post more frequently to his blog - I'm talking to you Mike!)
The blog belongs to Canadian National Barista Champion, Mike Yung, and is called A Coffee Point of View.
The most recent entry (as of this writing) is a discussion about a cafe crawl that Mike and some of his fellow workers at Caffe Artigiano did in Vancouver, and it's full of insight and some very fun reading. One of my favourite posts he's made so far is called Catching Up, and it's a post he made just before the Canadian Nationals, and he talks about his prep, his reminisces of the WBC in Tokyo and more. I expect the blog to pick up pace as he gears up for his world championship run in Copenhagen in 2008.
A new month, and again some simply stellar, amazing, mind blowing culinary coffees have crossed my tasting table. Let's get right into them.
Esmeralda Especiale Auction Lot, Roast #2, Zoka Coffee Roasters, $120/.5lbs (estimated)
I don't think this coffee is even available, but Zoka sent out some of their second (and last) roasting of the Esmeralda Especiale coffee to me - a luscious half pound of the most talked about coffee of the year... and it included something else in the box - a Frieling 2 cup insulated all steel press pot to go with it!
What can I say about the Esmeralda that hasn't already been said. This time around, we had it as press, in a vac pot, and at the Elysian Lab on two occasions, off the Clover. It was easily one of the top two or three Clover-brewed coffees of all time for me, and that's saying something about the Esmeralda - because normally I struggle to "love" a Clover brew. We even organized a small public tasting of the last 185g of the coffee I had from Zoka's generous care package. It was everything the Esmeralda has to offer and then some - a nice Earl Gray nose and aroma off the roast and grinds; in the cup, super forward juices, really balanced out acidity, tropical flavours galore. We were able to introduce this coffee to a few people who've never had the chance, and isn't that what great coffee should be all about?
As a side note, I've always been a fan of Zoka Coffee Roasters, going back to the days when Dismas and Chris D. would be roasting on the small 5kilo antique (I think it was 5 kilos) they had at the back of their original location. It often seems as if Zoka, an early pioneer in pretty much everything "specialty coffee" for the last 10+ years is an afterthought these days by some, but certainly not for me. They source awesome coffees, and they roast them almost always perfectly for each bean selections' individual requirements. If you haven't given them a taste recently, check out their website - it's been overhauled not too long ago, and everything is up for easy orders.
Brasil Deterra "Opus" Coffee, 49th Parallel Roasters, $19.95 per lb.
You may have read about this coffee recently - it's the "low caffeine" coffee that Deterra issued big time press releases about. Let me get this first part out of the way - it's all so much fluffery! Here's some real facts: most true specialty coffee (the stuff I write about, for eg), usually contains 1.2% caffeine by volume (more on that below); sure, some arabica beans can have as much as 1.5% by volume depending on a) how crappy and low-grown the coffee is, b) how dark it is roasted (darker means more remaining caffeine, again, see below), and c) what subspecies of arabica it is. But the fact is, most of the super grade quality arabica coffees you see at the true specialty roasters are a) high grown, b) low yeild, c) roasted lighter, and d) a variety of other factors that lead to an average caffeine content of 1.2%. That means that 100 grams of coffee will have 1.2g of caffeine.
This Opus stuff claims to have 1g of caffeine per 100g of coffee. Or .2g less (by weight, or 20% less overall, something like that) less than normal high grade coffee.
Okay, with that out of the way, this is still an amazing coffee! See, caffeine is one of nature's most bitter substances - so much so that the FDA uses pure caffeine as its "bitter" component in its formalized "super taster" testing - and by being so bitter, caffeine is required to play off the fats, sweets, and salts in the coffee bean to provide balance. And it works well in the ratios for Opus because this coffee has major body and a nice even sweetness. The bitters balance near perfectly for my palate.
First thing I noticed in the taste was sweet almonds and dark (but not overly bitter) chocolate. As it cools in the cup, fruits come into play, and the chocolate mellows out to a more milk chocolate taste. It's very versatile too: not only was every brewing method I threw at it tasting great (I didn't do it as espresso though), but I'm still going through my bag, and I've also noticed that it holds well, staling very slowly.
If you brew a six cup press with this coffee, it will have about 400mg of caffeine for the entire volume. By comparison, most other quality arabicas will have around 500-525mg for the same volume; so there are some minor benefits here - basically you can drink 20% more coffee for the same "caffeine" hit. But forget all that - order some just for the taste!
Karaba Microlot, Rwanda Golden Cup Top Three, Counter Culture Coffee, $31.95 / 12oz.
A super-star coffee, what can I say. This just arrived a few days ago, and we were able to taste this during the Esmeralda function at Elysian Labs. Buttery strawberry (taste it and you'll see what I mean), with (and if you can believe it), a bit of that stuff that's used to wrap sushi... what is it called - Nori! Sweet Nori! The Counter Culture cupping notes say almond blossoms, but I disagree - I got (again) candied almond on the side tongue. Cooled down like a thoroughbred.
Just a spectacular and very limited offering coffee. Peter Guiliano, CCC's coffee buyer almost never scores any coffee higher than a 95, and even then that kind of score is rare. He scored this one 97 (!!!) Try it as a press pot and in a vacuum brewer if you have one, it shines in both brewing methods.
When I talk about coffees being culinary, this one's a poster child for that. It is pricy at $32, but a total "must try".
Colombia Estrella Del Sur, Batdorf and Bronson, $12 / 1lb
My "budget" pick this time around, but there's absolutely nothing budget about the taste. If I didn't know the price, I would have guessed this one was in the $20s range.
In fact, this coffee had a very similar profile to the Opus mentioned above. I cupped the two sorta blind myself (I ground both coffees into containers that had the names written underneath and spun the containers around on the counter while not looking, so I could mix up which one was which without knowing), and felt the taste range across the two were very similar, even though one was from Brasil, the other from Colombia.
In the cup, the taste note that stood out for me, especially as the coffee cooled was a vanilla taste that the Opus had less of. Along with the vanilla was everything from Batdorf's cupping notes on the coffee - almonds (seems to be a theme this month!), dried fruit tastes (think a nice muffin with dark fruits inside), and a definite floral nose that really completes the taste.
Just a great coffee, and in my opinion a complete steal at $12 a pound.
NB: if you would like your coffee mentioned in this column, feel free to contact me at coffeekid at gmaildotcom for shipping details. You should note that the purpose of this column's coffee section is to talk about stellar coffees I come across. The purpose here is not to promote all coffees, or be a coffee critic with good and bad reviews, so there's no guarantee your submitted coffee will be mentioned in this column.
Zassenhaus is back!
Long time aficionados of all things manual have been bemoaning the apparent loss of an icon in the coffee world - the disappearance of the mighty Zassenhaus manual coffee mills. Rumours swirled. What happened to this company founded in 1867 (same year Canada became a nation!). Were they bankrupt? Where they in receivership? Did they just not want to sell to North Americans any longer? Did someone buy them out? Where did they go?
Well, I've got some good news for anyone looking to get what is arguably the best hand mills available today. Zassenhaus is back, and gathering steam. I can't speak on anything about receivership, bankruptcies, bought out status, but I can give you a bit of a talk on quality, since I have some old tried and true Zass grinders, and now thanks to a local Vancouver business, some of the latest models.
Alistair Durie of Vancouver's Elysian Coffee (and Room) has long been a fan of these mills, and on a recent visit to Elysian's Lab, Durie happily showed me a surprise - three mills (out of an order of dozens) that he just brought in from Zass. Three different styles - the unusual (especially when you watch someone use it) knee mill is my personal favourite for looks; the other two are the more traditional mill styles, one with an open brass top, the other with and enclosed steel top.
One look at the burr set inside shows these grinders mean business. I have eleven different hand mills in my possession, from the obscenely expensive (and not worth it) Peuguot mill made with a ceramic body, to several turkish style mills, to an all clear plexiglass model I picked up in Milan last year, to the Javagrind mentioned in the previous article, and none of these mills, save for my old Zassenhaus box mill and my Zassenhaus turkish mill (I sure hope they start making that one again) come close to the burr quality that these new Zass mills have.
Construction on the mills is very, very tight. Everything fits together well; there's no clunky, ill fitting drawers, no wobble on the top plates where the hand crank goes. Construction and finish on the products is absolutely first rate. All three grinders feature an easy to use adjustment knob, and the spindle construction inside is beefy and solid. The only knock I can give these Zass models is that the knob on the drawer on the knee model wasn't glued into place - it came out easily. A dab of wood glue, and all was good.
| Deceptively small |
I always thought the knee mill was bigger. Here it is next to a stack of illy espresso cups.
Hand Grinder Basics
Here's some basics to know about the Zass grinders. When adjusting them, turning the adjusting nut (the ribbed thing on the central column, just below the crank) counter-clockwise makes the grind finer - clockwise makes it coarser. To start your adjustment, turn counter-clockwise (or anti-clockwise as my Euro friends like to say) until it's tight - then turn one full revolution back. That's probably the finest grind the grinder is capable of, and you'll feel a lot of burr on burr action. Adjust the nut further by turning counter-clockwise until you don't hear any metal contact. At this point, the grinder is probably at a slightly coarse moka grind. If you do another half turn after this point, you're at a drip coffee grind. Go one more half revolution counter-clockwise, and it's metal filter... and one more revolution - maybe two - and you're at a press grind.
The grinder's crank must always be turned clockwise - so you lefties out there (I'm one of them), get used to it. Turning counter-clockwise won't cut da beans. Cranking out an espresso grind, or even a moka grind is a long affair with these grinders. I'm still waiting for the day for a nicely engineered, geared hand grinder - one that, when you turn one full revolution on the hand crank, the burr set does 10, 15 revolutions. It can't be that hard, can it?
Using a hand grinder for doing drip is tolerable, albeit a fairly lengthy exercise (think 3, 4 minutes) if you want to brew a full 10 cups for your auto drip. And you'll be dumping coffee out of the grinds tray several times over. Using these for press pots, on the other hand, is just fine, taking about a 35 seconds to grind 21g of coffee for a 3 cup press.
Did I mention that all the Zassenhaus grinders) are solid hardwoods? None of this painted plywood, or pressboard stuff - they use mahoganies and beech wood. It makes a huge difference in a device that is subjected to a lot of vertical and horizontal forces involved in turning a hand crank. I've broken several hand grinder simply because where the mechanisms mount into wood, pressboard and plywood just aren't strong enough to maintain a tight fit. This isn't a problem with Zassenhaus grinders.
Using the Zassenhaus Mills
I've only used two of the three mills, so here's my comments on the two models.
| Zassenhaus Knee Mill |
Natural finish beech wood, it's smaller than you may think
Zassenhaus Mokka Knee Mill $109 (plus $10-$12 s/h) from Elysian Room, call to order or visit website for email.
My personal favourite, and there's so much to like about this model. It's taller and longer than the other models, but not as wide. The top assembly is closed, and it holds more whole bean than the other models. Underneath the spring loaded lid is a porcelain enclosure where the whole bean coffee is held.
There is pretty much zero side to side "play" in the vertical shaft that spins the conical burr. You can grab the hand crank and try to teeter it left and right, but the spindle won't budge - that's really good news. One of the biggest complaints about the Javagrind reviewed in the last Coffee at the Moment article is how much play there was, side to side when grinding. It results in a very uneven grind at most settings. This doesn't appear to be a problem with the Zass.
This is their knee grinder, named so because I think "thigh grinder" sounds a bit too macabre. Although, speaking as someone who has sports related knee injuries... nevermind, I digress. It does fit nicely between your lower, inner thighs, making cranking out the good stuff pretty easy.
The grind is pretty much on par with any $100-$150 conical burr grinder and above the quality of your typical Braun or Krups cheapo burr grinder. There are some produced fines but it's not a major problem. I did a sift test comparing the Zazz Knee mill to a $50 Krups grinder I have here, and there's no comparison - the amount of fines that passed through my metal sieve were at least double from the Krups.
Grinding times for a 3 cup press averaged about 30-35 seconds. For a finer grind for a 3 cup vac pot, it took about a minute.
Zassenhaus Mahogany Finish Open Hopper $109 (plus $10-$12 s/h) from Elysian Room, call to order or visit website for email.
Pretty much identical in output as the Knee Mill, maybe a tad slower. This is Durie's favourite because you can see all the bean action happening as you grind. It also "flows" the coffee better into the conical burrs when compared to the knee mill, which sometimes needs a little shake. The dark stained mahogany finish is well done, and the brass upper hopper and fittings are all a first rate finish. Since performance is on par with the knee mill, there's not much I can add here. It comes down to personal preference. All three models perform well, setting the standard for hand mills.
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| Adjustment Knob |
The adjusting knob is easy to use and provides good feedback. Stays in place once adjusted.
| Inside the Knee Mill |
Inside the knee mill version is a porcelain insert, and you can see the super-beefy turn bar and the machined, milled burrs. This ain't no toy.
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| Knee Mill side |
The side of the knee mill makes you think it's deceptively big in photos. It's small - in fact, I wish it were a bit bigger.
| Mahogany Mill |
Here's the open hopper mahogany finish mill from Zassenhaus. Very nice, understated looks.
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| Stained Beech Mill |
This one has a closed hopper (you open the top via that protruding pin) but is otherwise identical in function to the other mills.
| Box Mills side by side |
The two box mills, side by side. Look closely for the photographer in the reflection. I should tuck my shirt in.
Caffeine Exploration, Part One
One question I get quite often in email is "how much caffeine is in ... ", be it a type of bean or a brewing method.
The haughty taughty answer is "each different type of coffee has different levels of caffeine. Each different brewing method can extract wildly different levels of caffeine, so there's no accurate answer".
But that "answer" isn't very helpful, is it?
I can't tell you absolutes, but I can give you some background on what general numbers are known about the levels of caffeine in two major types of coffee (arabica and robusta), and what the process of extracting caffeine from ground coffee is like. With this information, you might have a better understanding of how much caffeine you're having in your morning cuppa.
I should note that most of these numbers, figures and estimations are based on the Illy company's lab tests on coffee and espresso, and published in books like Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality (2nd Edition) - written by the guy I talked about near the top of this article!. In some cases, I'm just remembering long stated figures and estimates.
Amount of caffeine in whole coffee
Caffeine content in the green coffee bean varies from 1% on up to as much as 3% of the dry weight. Typically, Arabicas have about 1.0% to 1.3% in green coffee, and Robustas have usually between 2% and 2.5%.
When coffee is roasted, caffeine is one of the more resistant things to "leave" the coffee (coffee beans lose as much as 30% of their weight when roasted). The roasting process burns off many dry elements in the bean, but one thing that hangs around is caffeine, so the percentages of caffeine in a roasted bean go up slightly. This doesn't mean any particular roasting style adds more caffeine to a bean - what it means is, as you roast darker and darker, more of the bean's mass is burned away, but most of the caffeine stays, leaving a higher final percentage of caffeine making up the bean's entire weight.
When coffees are roasted, arabica beans have, on average 1.2 to 1.3% of their weight in caffeine. Robusta is double that, with as much as 2.4% of its finishing weight. The darker the roast, the higher the caffeine percentage, but these numbers are for a typical "northern Italian" roast style, or dark brown, no surface oil. A 100g sample of arabica would have 1.2g (or 1200mg) of caffeine in it. That's a wallop!
To put this in perspective, have a look at a recent study by the Journal of Food Science that details the amount of caffeine in popular soft drinks - some have as much as 60mg in a 12 ounce can of pop. That means those of you sucking down on a Super Big Gulp of Pepsi One are getting around 200mg or more of caffeine!
Caffeine Extraction Rates
Remember me saying caffeine is one of the few things not affected much (or burned off) by the roasting process? It's a stubborn little thing. And here's another thing you should know about caffeine - while it is water soluble (that means it likes water and interacts with it nicely), it's still one of the more resistant things in the roasted and ground coffee bean. It's like a squatter tenant that stubbornly refuses to leave the condemned building.
There's two reasons for this. First, while caffeine is water soluble, the amount of "solubility" increases with temperature. So, the higher the brewing temperature, the more soluble caffeine is. Also the more high temperature water is in contact with caffeine, the more soluble it is.
Think about that for a second - the higher the temperature, the more caffeine comes out. And the longer higher-temperature water is in contact with caffeine-infused coffee grounds, the bigger the overall milligram dump of caffeine into your cup will be.
In very simple terms this means, the shorter the brewing time, the less caffeine extracted from the coffee, all other things being more or less equal (how many grams of coffee used, and the same brewing temperatures).
Typically, espresso percolation will extract between 70% and 80% of the caffeine stored in the ground coffee, depending on how long it is brewed for, and the brewing temperature. Drip coffee by comparison can yield as much as 92-97% of the stored caffeine in the ground coffee. That can mean a big difference in caffeine in the cup.
When you consider that coffee ground for espresso is much more fine than the coffee ground for drip, it shows even more so how caffeine is generally resistant to leaving the coffee. Espresso grind has a much more surface area of the shaved beans exposed to brewing water when compared to drip grind coffee - if caffeine extracted easily, both percolation methods would be near 100% no matter the water exposure time.
It gets even more complicated. In situations where you brew ristrettos or very rich coffees (say those crazies putting 50g of coffee into a Clover to brew a 16oz pot), the math is all over the place and no one really has any scientific proof of what's happening. My theory is pretty simple - if you increase the dose (ie, grams of coffee) but use the same volume of water to brew (ie the ristretto shot), you extract less mg per gram of coffee because less water flow is happening to the entire mass of ground coffee, and less extraction is happening per mg of ground coffee.
It's a theory, anyway. And in the next Coffee at the Moment Article, I'll give you some real details on what amounts of caffeine you might have in the drinks you enjoy.