Sunday, June 22, 2008

Some Competition Results ...

Catherine gave the Cupping Champs a great shot, getting 6/8 in a lightning fast 1 minute and 11 seconds. Unfortunately, several countries got a perfect 8/8 and, so, Catherine didn't make the finals. There was the qualifiers, a semi-finals and a finals, so it was utterly ludicrous to see that Casper, the eventual champ, managed to get 8/8, 7/8 and then a perfect 8/8 to win. That's ... like ... 72 cups! The home town crowd must have been happy. From memory, Casper works at the Coffee Collective. Talented bunch.

Australia did a bit better at the Latte Art.

So with Con's win, I think that that makes Australia 3 for 3. I blagged Em's photo, so it was only fitting to take the one with her in it ;P Apparently Con was quite happy to win. Whoda thunk it? So any bets there will be a stampede to Church Street over the next few weeks. I hope people actually give him a chance to get back.

Back at home, Danes decided to bring back their competiton ... oddly enough, deciding to run it head-to-head with the WBC. Rivalry between my sometime co-workers Dave Seng and Jesse Hyde continued, with Jesse pipping Sengster at the post to come second, as he did at the Australian Barista Comp. opens. I think that both times Jess just grabbed a bag of Estate off the shelf, so go Estate! Not 100% sure what Dave did for coffee, but I think that it was also just a standard blend. Bella, maybe. Habib Maarbani took the cash home - very nice to see, seeing as he was announced as the winner of the Australian Latte Art comp, then when it was found out that the wrong score sheets were used Habib lost the re-run competition to Con. Watch out for Habib next year!

And then, of course, there was the WBC qualifying rounds. My heart was in my throat until they announced finalist number five ... from Australia ... Daaaaaaaaavid Makin! It's anyone's game tomorrow, but I have no doubt that Dave will give everyone a serious run for their money.

Live streaming ... and I've got my tax exam on Monday ... must ... concentrate ... on ... studying ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chasing Hearts and Dreams

Chasing hearts; in my cup right now:

Chasing dreams; tune in to, 7:20 pm Friday, our time, to see Dave's WBC qualifying round performance.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Coffee Supreme's Fair Trade Organic Blend


Going back a few years, Coffee Supreme seemed to be all the rage. These were the dudes that supplied Ray, the cafe that started it all for Mark D of the St Ali Empire. Now, for some reason, I barely hear about them. Well, business can't be all that bad - a few months ago they moved in to a bigger, badder and better factory with a bigger, badder and better roaster. It happens to be two minutes walk away from the Veneziano factory.


Of course, this put me in a bit of a quandry. I haven't ever featured any of the big V's blends just because I thought that it would be pretty cheesy to. By the same token, is it poor form to be reviewing the competitors down the street? Well, I figure that both of these are rather moot points, seeing as final year uni has forced me to wake up and smell the coffee, pun intended, and focus on actually doing something with that uni degree that I study between sips. Of course, this means that at some stage after I finish working at Veneziano, I'll be posting about some of what is actually the bulk of the coffee that I drink these days.


So I dropped by Supreme's factory and picked up a bag of their fair trade organic blend to keep me going whilst studying last week. I'm not opposed to buying fair trade coffee, nor am I for it - I'll make my decision based on taste. Ditto for organic. It so happens that the fair trade coffees that I have tasted over the past few years have hit more strikes than they have home runs. Still, Supreme have done a great job of working with a limited pool of green coffees. The ground coffee definitely smelled like it had some sort of natural processed coffee in it, but perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me - it never made it to the cup.

French press: Roast flavours predominate; too dark for my tastes. (I often find that stuff that tastes great as espresso doesn't shine in a french press or in traditional cuppings.)

Espresso: Dark crema, rich mouthfeel, malt/vegemite, moderate acidity and a very vague hint of some sort of dry spice.

Cappuccino: Cuts through milk with confidence; malty/vegemitey flavour and dry cocoa finish. Great.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

How should we score espresso in a standardised manner?

Unfortunately, we seem to be in a bit of a rut. Over the past month or so, I have had coffee from five or so of Victoria's finest roasters and I haven't really had anything worth mentioning. From speaking to various roasters, I gather that this is an industry-wide pheonomenon largely related to the green available in the country at the moment and that everyone is excited about new stock that should be arriving over the next month or so. (Despite which, I continue to read reviews and ads using lots of superlatives to describe the coffee that we currently have around - probably a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't.") So I write this post partly because the experience has made me focus on how we communicate about coffee and partly as a substitute for some posting up some proper reviews.

I have long enjoyed reading reviews of brewed coffee such as those on and sweet marias. I guess that no one will ever be 100% happy with every scoring method, but I find that the standard scoring system used by Tom, Jim and Bob, combined with their comments, is quite informative - I get a pretty good picture of what the coffee is going to taste like. If you are interested in the standard cupping review framework, you should grab a copy of Ted Lingle's "Coffee Cuppers' Handbook," from which the format might well have originated for all that I know ... in any case, it's a good read, but it is a reference manual rather than a coffee table book.

What's good for cupping or brewed coffee isn't necessarily good for espresso, and I have to say that the scoring system is a case in point. Let me give you a little example; say that we have an absolutely spectacular Kenyan SO (think Mamuto or Masai) ... something that scores low to mid nineties with high points for brightness and finish, but relatively low points for body. Then let's say that we have a brilliant El Salvadorean (think Santa Elena or Matalapa) ... something that scores in the mid to high eighties, with lower scores for brightness and finish, but higher scores for body than the Kenyan. I would expect that if you brewed the two as espresso, most people would prefer the El Salvadorean coffee, but as a brewed coffee, little could stand in the way of the Kenyan powerhouse. So I think that it's time that we ditched the idea that you can really use one scoring system for both espresso and brewed coffee. What are your thoughts?

The next problem becomes one of searching for criteria against which to score espresso.

The most well-developed, widespread and famous espresso-specific scoring system that springs to mind is the WBC scoring system. That system has proved to be pretty flexible, in that it doesn't prize one particular characteristic over the other, but instead allows the judge to judge the espresso against the competitor's description. This flexibility is a double-edged sword; its open-endedness makes it suitable for the WBC, but renders it pretty useless as a descriptive score system. If you want to describe espresso, you need something else.

I had a quick look around to see if there was some brilliant, well-established system that I had missed out on. Often, these are all solved problems and it looks like there wasn't such a system, but Mark Prince et. al. had a good go at tackling the problem in battle north america vs italy. It would be great to hear any comments that people have about Mark's scoring methodology. It is pretty close to the standard brewed coffee evaluation methodology, but transported to the espresso context.

Personally, I thought that the attempt in battle north america was quite a good one, both as a scoring system in itself and as a starting point for a discussion. Here are some things that I'd like to consider:

*Acidity, Sweetness and Body "Balance" - Changing these scores to "balance" scores rather than intensity scores is clever, as it helps to get around the problem of a very acidic coffee scoring highly for it. However, it makes the scores less descriptive. For this reason, I think that it might be worthwhile having some sort of an intensity ranking as well.

*Overall flavour - Perhaps this falls under aroma, or perhaps this is best dealt with by giving comments, but where do you reflect a score for a particular flavour? An example; let's say that we have a blend where some clever roaster has created a very simple blend by combining an espresso-suitable Kenyan with something with a bit of body to make a well-rounded cup. Clearly, you can take account of the acidity level through the "acidity balance" category, but what about the distinctive Kenyan berry quality? Is that factored into overall impression? Why not have some category for flavour balance? Or do people think that this would place "chocolate bar" blends at a disadvantage?

*Barista score - Is this something more appropriately taken into account in the comments or as a separate score? Or is it best taken into account in the overall score? If so, how do you come up with the right weighting of espresso taste scores vs ease of extraction scores?

*Milk score - Again, should this be part of the espresso score, or should it be a separate score? If the latter, what is the appropriate weighting?

I look forward to all of your comments, as this discussion could result in a very productive outcome for all of us.

(Please note; this post has been cross-posted to a number of other places, including the forum that shall not be linked to or mentioned by name - happy, Alistair?)