Friday, October 26, 2007

Eureka! Australian Coffee


It's kind of funny. I gather that many of the Australian farms are starting to harvest now, or will be starting in a few weeks ... yet now seems to be the time that Australian coffee is cropping up everywhere. If this means that it's taking us the best part of a year to get coffee harvested and processed in our own country, I have to say that that's kind of pathetic. But you can't argue with the results. Read on!

Archimedes Was A Coffee Drinker. Apparently.

There's a little espresso bar and roastery on St George's Road called "Grower's Espresso." Unfortunately, I'm seldom, if ever in that neck of the woods, so it has been a while since I last tasted any of Mark and Sam's Eureka Coffee. Lucky for me that, like all serious coffee dudes, Mark likes to keep track of coffee happenings all around Melbourne, so a few weeks ago he stopped by my work on a coffee crawl and dropped some of his stuff off for me.

Eureka take the whole bean-to-cup thing literally; they roast a single origin grown on their family farm in Byron Bay. I don't know much more about it than that, but if you're interested you should check out their webpage as linked above.

The coffee itself seemed to have a split personality. It was not difficult to pour and always presented a relatively balanced shot. Whenever I ground the coffee, my grinder was filled with a rather special rose blossom type scent. Enter Jekyll and Hyde: half of the shots were balanced and eminently drinkable, but not especially memorable. Remarkably, the rose blossom scent translated directly into the cup in the other half of the shots. In fact, the whole experience had me perplexed enough that to make sure that I wasn't just spitting out exceptionally wanky tasting notes I actually dug down into the pantry and pulled out a bottle of rosewater to make sure it was actually the same scent. Perhaps this is a coffee that warrants some serious experimentation in terms of dose and temperature. One final note; I found that this coffee benefited greatly from being allowed to sit in a sealed bag for a week after roasting - at two or three days after roasting it displayed the classic symptoms of excessive acidity and ephemeral crema.

On your Marks ...

From Australian coffee from one Mark to Australian coffee from another Mark. Bin 549 is kicking butt and taking names on the Clover at BBB. Various people, including St Ali's Mark, have described it as having a "coffee cherry" flavour. Not having eaten a coffee cherry, I wouldn't know - I'll have to check out the Nez du Cafe kit again. I thought that it started off tasting of liquorice, then some sort of interesting flavour that I'm content to describe as "coffee cherry" emerged. Top stuff. I haven't tried it as espresso yet, but several people have recommended it.

I'll be keeping an eye on the new harvest Australian coffees to come ...

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Give The People What They Want: October Espresso Gear

OK, so I admit to being a tragic gear-head. That means that I always prick up my ears in October, what with many manufacturers debuting new stuff at the HOST convention in Milan. I'm sure that we'll get a deluge of reports, but I thought that I might get everyone in the mood with a quick overview of some relatively new stuff ...


Forget BHP shares, I wish that I had bought shares in words like "brew temperature" and "thermostability" - every man and his dog "knows" that you can only get a great espresso on a machine that can give you a rock-solid straight-line temperature profile that can be adjusted to 0.1 of a degree F. If you look around any manufacturer's or vendor's webpage you'll see that they all seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. Don't get me wrong; I change the temperature all the time on the FB80, but it does seem to me that people often lose sight of the basic goal - to get a coffee that tastes great. (Of course, if you put that claim to anyone the response is that it tastes the "best," the uninformed consumer gets a cup of whatever trade-show swill is on offer and the world keeps spinning ...)

From my perspective, the interesting thing is that the HX manufacturers seem to be pushing it a bit. After all, let's not forget that the original Faema E61 enabled people to run different and relatively consistent temperatures on different groups loooooong before Synesso did. The Brasilia Excelsior seems to be the machine that the Rossi group are pushing at the moment. It has an adjustable thermosyphon on each head. Last year there was a Brasilia machine with brew temp individually adjustable on each group head through a digital control panel floating around the roastery. I couldn't find it on the Brasilia webpage. The Elektra Kappa offers both adjustable brew temperature and, apparently, adjustable brew pressure through its front panel. Call me crazy, though, but I kind of don't see the point of having both steam wands on one side of the machine ;P Very interesting developments - but will the cool kids pay attention?

Well, if there's one thing that I love it's actually trying out new equipment. On Monday, Syd was kind enough to take some photos for us at Veneziano, after which we grabbed a bag of the same coffee that we had been drinking on the FB80, pulled by David Seng, and swung around to EES to run it through the GS3. Ben had only recently received the machine and was very accommodating, allowing us to basically pull shots on it for an hour to work out how it ticks. In a nutshell, we got the machine pulling some great shots. The ones that we finished up with had a bit less body than the FB80 shots, but had more complex flavours. Surprisingly, the GS3 seemed to produce more crema than the FB80. Fooling around with the various settings did produce notable changes ... exactly what you'd hope for.

So what's the dirt on the GS3? Chris Tacy famously put it that the GS3 takes the machine out of the equation, making it the barista's fault if anything went wrong. We found that to be true, except for two narrow circumstances that happened to represent the first part of our use. First, the machine seems not to like having the steam boiler temperature (and therefore the steam pressure) adjusted. The first thing that we did was to drop the steam pressure from 1.9 bar to 1.1 bar, which resulted in the subsequent shots tasting sour and the brew PID going out of whack. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that the brew water is preheated by the HX in the steam boiler. Setting the steam boiler back to 1.9 bar fixed the problem. Surprisingly, at that steam pressure steaming was still slow and restrained relative to the FB80. The second scenario in which we had to take the machine's needs into account was after refilling the reservoir, which also caused a temperature drop. After a few minutes, everything was back to normal. I didn't look at the PID, but perhaps the problem was that the elements switch off whilst re-filling. Other than that, there were a few niggling issues. This machine had the old water reservoir and guide holes for the drip tray that LM is replacing. Even after having worked on a Synesso I still find that style of steam wand a bit awkward, although the results were good. Besides, you buy an espresso machine to make espresso - most of them will steam acceptably.

Anyhoo, all up, I liked it a lot.

Photo courtesy of Syd:


Proponents of grinder manufacturer Compak often say that their virtue is that they listen, whereas current king Mazzer sits aloof in its castle. As far as I can tell, Compak's big act of "listening" to pro baristi has been making a K10 without an auto-fill function and without the stupid tamper moulded on to the front. In other words, they made their star grinder more like the existing Mazzer Robur. (Not to knock Compak's product generally - the K10 is cheaper than the Robur and has been getting rave reviews.)

I guess that you do have to give something to the critics, though. If Mazzer really were a company that listened to its customers, surely we would have some sort of doserless Robur with a very accurate grind timer and built-in cooling fans.

... it just remains to be seen how it will perform. That said, I'd love one for home - it would be a great match for a GS/3.

Of course, I'm sure that Compak will also be showing off some new products at HOST. They seem to have dropped the A6 from their range and replaced it with the beefier A8. I suspect that they decided that the A6, being the same thing with 64mm flat burrs, was just too small and slow. Presumably we'll see an A10 version of the conical at some stage. The ability to select from grind on demand or grind one dose ahead seems pretty innovative. That said, they will have to do a better job of it than the single dose grind ahead grinder that I have used.


I'll never forget Andrew pulling beautiful shots just by tamping with the palm of his hand. Coming from that perspective, it's sometimes difficult to take the hard work that tamper manufacturers put in seriously. Perhaps it's the backyard inventor nature of most tamper manufacturers that makes them prone to endlessly tweak their gear. I, for one, am very grateful that they all seem to seek feedback and, better still, act on it.

At the moment, I'm viewing new tampers as a race between the british dominions, with Mark Prince from Canada and Australian Greg Pullman both working on new designs. Greg's tamper is an attempt to make an ergonomic and durable design for commercial use. The prototypes that I have seen so far have definitely been a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, coffeegeek Mark Prince has been working on his "precision" tamper, to be made by Reg Barber, for quite some time. Both Mark and Greg are keeping their products very hush-hush, but emails with both of them confirm that rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated ;P

Meanwhile, relative Australian unknown Steve Bailey has pipped them both to the post by very slightly tweaking his already very good tampers. Months ago, Steve whipped up a tamper for me with a third spacer ring for additional height. He of the large hands - Simon James - liked it so much that my tamper took several months break from my hot little hands to accompany him on the barista comp trail. Drop the laser-etched bottom, add a spacer ring, drop the price slightly and you have the new coffeelab tamper, photo courtesy of Syd:

... well, all up I'd probably suffer a robur electronic, a gs3 and a coffeelab on my bench, but I'm still very interested to find out if there's anything of note at HOST ...


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

El Salvador San Emilio and A Tale Of Two Doses

Two posts in two days? No, it's not so much because Mark wants it as much as that I'm in the mood to write. I have just had an exceptionally draining exam for an exceptionally uninspiring subject and, in contrast, have some rather interesting sample roasts at my disposal ...


I have a bit of an interest in pulp natural coffees as a base for espresso blends. Last year's foray into the Costa Rican Santa Elena started badly, but once I got the roast under control it provided a reliably consistent high-body component that transformed a cappuccino into chocolate in a cup. In fact, I actually appreciated the very single-note syrupy body more than something like a Kuda Mas Mandheling.

Tasting Notes

This coffee appeared to be roasted to around second crack or just before - I don't know, I didn't roast it! These notes refer to four to six days after roasting.

Cupping: A balanced, unobjectionable, classic cup. Rather low in acidity. Good body and perhaps hints of nut, but nothing that would leap out at you. The sort of thing that I imagine would be a bit of a hit in a 1950's American diner as their breakfast drip coffee, with customers going for a second cup as they read their newspaper and relate the salient events to their illiterate, non-voting, foot-bound wives.


(a) Regular dose - overfill, rap three times on the portafilter fork, strike off level and tamp.

Again, a balanced and unremarkable shot. A bit of nuttiness, a bit of caramel and a bit of acidity. Vague hints of some sort of fruitiness matching the acidity - raspberry, wine, balsamic; something of that sort. A great base for an espresso blend (I mixed it with some Blue Horse earlier on) and quite enjoyable by itself.

(b) Low dose - overfill, strike off level, tamp.

I enjoyed this espresso more than the regular dose. I refuse to make a blanket commitment to one sort of dose or the other; over the past few months I have probably stuck with my regular dose 70% of the time and the low dose 30% of the time. I am yet to come up with any sort of guide as to when each sort of dose is appropriate.

This espresso had more pronounced fruitiness, but, somewhat perplexingly, I didn't feel that there was really any tradeoff. Neither did the body seem lower, nor was the acidity unpleasantly increased.


(a) Regular dose

I thought that the regular dose performed better in milk. In fact, like the other pulped naturals that I have tried, the strong point of the San Emilio seemed to be milk. It asserted itself well as a complete, balanced cup, tasting slightly of nuts. In fact, it was oddly reminiscent of the cupping experience. The surprise was the aftertaste, which was clean and long-lasting.

(b) Lower dose

Although the flavour was broadly similar to the regular dose, the aftertaste was completely different - fleeting and unremarkable, bordering on bitter.

The Wrap-up

So far, this has not proven to be the chocolate-bomb that the Santa Elena was last year. But it's early days yet. I'm sure that experimenting with the roast profile will deliver another milk bomb. Once the sample roaster is back online!


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Harrar Blue Horse and Neighsaying

The background ...

George Howell, one of the fathers of specialty coffee in America, has an interesting philosophy. For those of you who don't want to read the linked write-up by perennial Pour Quality reference favourite Jim Schulman, in a nutshell George's philosophy is that coffee ought to be a clean cup that reflects the terroir of the region in which it is grown, rather than the processing method. This means that George is definitely not a fan of dry processed coffee, as Jim explains:

"I've been advocating the dry processed Yrgacheffes (sic) in my reviews; and although I'll never know a fraction as much about coffee as George does, he invited me to set me straight. Yrgacheffe has always been wet processed for export, and to George, this excursion into dry is just another garden path that will ruin farmers. He never even orders dry process coffee from areas where it is traditional, since he thinks this tradition needs to be scrapped. According to him, producing truly high grade dry processed coffee is a losing gamble for farmers. Virtually all dry processed lots are spoiled when runaway fermentation occurs in beans whose skins crack; and if one sorted these out, the labor would be higher, and the yields lower, than with wet processing."

I simply don't have enough experience to make a blanket statement either way, but I do wonder if the difference between the two points of view reflects the different ways in which Jim and George consume coffee. In a nutshell, Jim seems to be more of an espresso guy, whereas if you take a look at the coffee offerings from Terroir, you will see that George's focus is more on brewed coffee. (By which I mean methods other than espresso.)

The coffee ...

This particular lot of Harrar is from the prolific "MAO" exporter, but is a special preparation. From what I can gather, this preparation usually goes to Japanese buyers and has not made it to Australia before. I presume that this is still a dry process lot, but you would be hard pressed to tell that it wasn't wet processed by looking at it - the screen size appears to be quite even and there isn't much chaff on it.

My particular interest in this coffee relates to my previous experience with Harrar, which has always been an exercise in frustration. Incredible cups were peppered with cups that just tasted tainted by excessive ferment to me. Over the past few years I have even had instances where I have thrown out a whole bag. In other words, I have been able to appreciate George Howell's take on dry processed coffees. As I have mentioned before, this frustration was compounded by the fact that descriptions of Harrar almost invariably seem to use the word "blueberry." Whilst I have certainly tasted blueberry on occasion, I can't help but feel that this particular descriptor is used where it really doesn't apply. All of this led to the question - 'what do you do if you want to get an awesome cup of Harrar?'

I have now had Blue Horse on three or so occasions, from different roasters, roasted to different levels and extracted on different machines. I am yet to have a cup that tastes ruined by excessive ferment flavours, which is great news. The cups do have that classic Harrar profile; last week I threw an espresso roast into a (sighted) cupping and although the roast level was not calculated to maximise the aromatics in brewed coffee, it was unmistakeable. As for the flavour itself, I'm happy to concede that you could say blueberry, although personally I like to think of it as "purple." Maybe even cantaloupe.

Two random points to ponder ...

(a) Is "blue" coffee producer parlance for "clean"? Blue Batak is reputed to be a cleaner Mandheling and "Brazil Blue Washed" keeps on cropping up ...

(b) So if Blue Horse is consistent ... and regular Harrar is not ... is it possible that they're throwing the crap from the Blue Horse lots into the regular Harrar lots? This highlights a classic coffee farmer's dilemma and draws attention to something that coffee buyers ought to consider.

# Update #

(a) OK, after sitting down with some blueberry yoghurt, dried wild blueberries and espresso I concede that this thing does indeed taste of blueberry.

(b) A quick excerpt from Tom's entry on Harrar Lot Number 14659 at Sweet Maria's:

"I honestly thought we would stock no Harar this year. It's not a rare coffee, there are tons of lots available from the usual coffee brokers. But the samples have been dismal for the new '07 crop; musty, dirty, moldy, fungusy, or just plain flat. ... I was surprised to cup a small lot of Harar at random and find it was not only free from those defective "dirt and rot" flavors, but was a really nice cup."


Monday, October 08, 2007

Espresso Wow


In the comments to my last post, I bemoaned the fact that I haven't written up coffee reviews recently. My grinder at home usually features a mix of coffee from work, coffee that I have roasted for myself at work and then coffee from a few of the roasters around Melbourne that I like. I have avoided reviewing coffee from work on my blog - you can find out about that on the Veneziano Coffee webpage. Recently, the sample roaster at work has been down, after five years of faithful service, so I haven't had much of a chance to roast stuff for myself. So you'll have to forgive me for dredging up memories of a coffee that I had several weeks ago for today's instalment.


Espresso Wow is Andy Freeman's first foray into blending for CoffeeSnobs Brown, which itself is his first attempt at commercial roasting. However, both of these ventures draw upon considerable experience of home roasting. Andy's description of the coffee is as follows:

"This blend has been years in the making, 1000’s of roasts and samples and this is easily the best all round espresso blend for my taste.

Great as a double espresso with a creamy viscous body, a complete palate that oozes flavour throughout your mouth and an aftertaste that lingers nicely for a good length of time. This flavour profile works just as well in milk based drinks and the strong crema should make a great canvas for latte art."

Unfortunately Andy's roastery was broken into recently. Nonetheless, he managed to roast some of this up and bring it along to the green bean pickup a few weeks ago.

The Cup

As a result of the break-in, Andy and I were actually unsure how old the blend was. Pours at work as soon as we ripped open the bag were relatively bubbly, but, surprisingly, the resultant espresso had quite a heavy mouthfeel and was low in acidity. The flavour was rich and chocolatey, with a rather large salvo of aromatics. I can't remember them exactly, but I think that I said canteloupe (Andy raised his eyebrows) and blueberry (yes, I concede blueberry ;P).

Straight out of the bag, the blend wasn't as impressive in milk, but there was a dramatic improvement after it sat in my hopper at home for a day or two. I left the bag open and noticed a bit of a decline after a week or so. So if you are planning to have Espresso Wow sit around for any length of time, I would recommend splitting it into a few lots and putting them in airtight containers.

I used my standard dose for this, which is to say that I ground more than I needed, rapped three times to settle and struck off. I didn't try my down-dosing technique and would be very interested to see what sort of results that might produce.


The thing that I like about this blend is that it is very Andy. There are a number of trends taking place in coffee blends in general. First up, I think that we can thank the various Cup of Excellence programs and Klaus' WBC blend for setting in motion a trend to have espresso that is light in body, sweet, acidic and aromatic. This runs counter to the trend that I had noticed in Australia of heavier bodied blends that are low in acidity, often pulled quite short to accentuate this even further. Next, I get the impression that many commercial roasters are going lighter in a bid to preserve aroma and increase shelf life. One theory that I have heard (from Mr Schulman, I think) is that roasting lighter starts you off with more aromatics, so you end up with more after you let the coffee sit around to age.

As I said, Andy's blend is the opposite of these trends. By going for heavier body and lower acidity, there is no need for you to wait for a lighter roast to age for a longer period of time to develop these qualities. I suspect that this means that Andy relies on freshness to get that fistful of aromatics into the cup.


Andy's espresso strikes me as a very good expression of his particular style, which makes it well and truly worthwhile trying out. It is a particularly good blend for home roasters to try out because it seems to perform very well after a short resting period, which I imagine would be quite useful. Personally, I like this style of espresso, but I basically appreciate any style of espresso that is done well.


Monday, October 01, 2007

The Search For A Decent Teapot

Sometimes you have to laugh.

The tea industry has long been beating the coffee industry on the packaging front. Whilst we're all sitting back complaining about baggy coffee and marvelling at the foil packaging now being used for some Daterra and Mountain Top coffees, tea drinkers are sitting back and laughing - they abandoned jute sacks years ago.

But when it comes to brewing methods, coffee has it all over tea. To make a decent cup of coffee, you have to grind the coffee minutes before using it and come up with some way to efficiently separate the ground coffee from the brewed coffee when all is said and done. Whilst this is always a somewhat messy affair, the number of elegant solutions to the problem is simply mind-boggling. If you discount the mess caused by grinding, you can clean up after espresso, aeropress and drip in a matter of seconds.

Tea drinkers have definitely had it too easy. Whilst I appreciate that there is certainly a whole layer of art and science to brewing tea that will mirror anything that we'll find in espresso, the fact remains that you can steep tea quite effectively in a jar and strain it with a small sieve. I know because I have been doing it that way for years. Why? Because although it's a stupid way of doing it, it beats the hell out of the crappy teapots that have gone through my household. Let's examine the reasons why:
  • I don't want to brew a litre of tea. Is it just me, or does every teapot seem to need you to brew enough tea for two or three people. Where's the teapot for the thirsty bachelor?

  • I do want my tea to steep. What's the deal with these mesh filters that barely reach down into the teapot? I would have thought that it was perfectly bloody obvious that the tea needs to actually be able to be submerged in the water.

  • I want to control how long the tea steeps for, and I want an easy clean up. This one goes out to the teapots that I have used that don't have any sort of filter. If these abominations must force you to brew enough tea to be illegal under the current water restrictions, at least they could do it so that you can drink the whole pot without the leaves steeping for too long. And life is definitely too short to be spent scraping tea leaves out of some crappily designed teapot. (Although admittedly life is long enough to vent one's anger about said cleaning process online ;P)

  • I want the tea to end up in my cup. Seriously. This one just isn't difficult. Even a $0.005 cardboard milk container has a useable spout on it. Whilst designing a decent spout is a pretty trivial exercise, two rather elegant solutions spring to mind. First, check out the elegant Eva Solo pour system. Second, those silver spouts on some wine decanters are used specifically because they cut through the steam of liquid to stop drops. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I can go across the street and buy a $5 plastic measuring jug that won't drip. There's simply no excuse.

  • I want to avoid battle-scars on my table. Hasn't anyone thought of putting rubber feet on a teapot? Or a dual-walled bottom? OK, so having a light coloured wooden table wasn't ever going to be a clever idea. In my defence, it was bequeathed to me - I didn't choose it. But am I really going to have to look around for a saucer or a place mat every time I brew tea? Call me lazy, but for $0.02, teapot manufacturers could fix the problem.

  • I want to be able to see the colour of the liquor. This point isn't terrifically important, but I would prefer a teapot to be white on the inside, or transparent, so that I could actually judge the strength of the resultant brew.

  • I would like the tea to maintain some heat. What genius came up with the idea of an aluminium teapot?
Presumably all tea pot manufacturers are not as clueless as those that have made the various teapots that I have used. So give me a clue, faithful blog readers! Where do I get a decent teapot from in Melbourne? (BBB seems to have some that are pretty good; I might ask them.) Do I have to design one myself? If so, here's the L-spec teapot:
  • 400mL (enough for a large cup or a little bit more)
  • Non-drip spout
  • Large mesh filter that nearly touches the bottom of the pot
  • Space for storing said filter after removal
  • Dual-walled (both for insulation and so that you can plop it right on the table)
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Transparent or white on the inside
That's it. It's just not that hard.

(Oh, and for any moronic manufacturer that would like to rip off those specifications, please don't let your stupidity make you omit obvious things. I'd like the teapot to have a handle!)