Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ugh. Bad Coffee. And On My Birthday.

I am not immune from getting crap coffee. Over the past few weeks, bad coffee has made its way to me from a number of sources. Lest anyone think that I have lowered my standards, I thought that I should share some of my disappointments:

Coffee Number One

Espresso: This coffee ticked a number of boxes to achieve an astounding level of complexity. Unfortunately, those boxes were sour, bitter, rubber, dirt and an astringent finish. No amount of barista-fu could remedy this one.

I think that this coffee must have been a blend of roasts that had a variety of problems.

Coffee Number Two

Aroma: Incredibly strong aroma of raspberry, tending towards vinegar.

Drip/Siphon: Slightly dry, bitter and with a small amount of raspberry. Not incredibly bad, actually.

Espresso/Cappuccino: Vinegar. Ferment. Garbage water. Aftertaste as though someone had sprayed floral toilet deoderiser in one's mouth.

The aroma made promises and the espresso delivered. Unfortunately, I was not clever enough to remember what that promise was.

I think that this was simply a batch of defective coffee.

Coffee Number Three

Espresso: Thin. Carbon. Hardly surprising, given that oil came to the surface a day after roasting.

I think that this one was burnt.

Coffee Number Four

Bin: The only thing that this coffee was suitable for, just from its appearance.

I know that this one was roasted badly by some hack using a newly purchased popcorn popper. I know because I was that hack.

Names withheld to protect the not-so-innocent.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Vic Coffee Cupping 09 - Spoons at Dawn

It was an unlikely spot for a coffee tasting competition. But I guess that makes sense; coffee tasting is a pretty unlikely activity for a competition.

Rather than explain how it works, I'll show you. Check out Casper from Coffee Collective kicking arse, taking names and picking the odd one out of three at this year's world championships:

The show was really a great venue. There were plenty of onlookers and passers by ready to be brainwashed, surprisingly decent facilities and an aroma in the air that really brought out the horse notes of the Ethiopian Harrar Horse.

Anyhoo, long story short; I qualified for the finals in first position, but managed to scrub out and come third. Toshi from St Ali edged me out on second and Tom from Grinders took a well-deserved first with 8/8. Tom mentioned that he didn't have an espresso machine at home, so it was nice to see that he won the machine that Diamond-C put up for first prize.

For my part, it was a glass half-empty vs. half-full moment. On the one hand, this was my third podium finish without winning. On the other hand, this was my third podium finish. I guess that at least I'm nothing if not consistent. I walked off with some nice swag; green coffee from ARC, a barista cleaning kit from Cafetto and a nice chunk of perspex.

Ross from Jasper, Bruno from C4 and the rest of the roaster's guild did a great job of setting up the whole area to bludgeon people over the head with the message that fresh = best, as far as coffee is concerned, with roasting demonstrations and domestic coffee workshops happening towards the entrance to the main stage. Latte art champ Con Haralambopoulos gave people a little one on one instruction on the domestic espresso machine, not realising that barista champ David Makin had slipped fliers for his training services in front of the machine. To his credit, though, Dave also spent some serious time behind the espresso machines.

Credit is due to a number of people who volunteered, but I doubt that I will remember all. A special thanks is due to Andy from CS for managing the logistics of the whole thing. Hopefully it was somewhat easier this time around, given that AASCA bought four new brewers and a billion airpots.

Hopefully next year will be bigger and better. One of the dudes from the show dropped by and mentioned that they were keen to have the coffee stuff as a regular feature, which is great because Sydney have long since had a very credible coffee roasting competition.

If you have any suggestions for next year, please feel free to leave them in the comments field and I'll pass them on to the powers that be (aka Ross). Personally, I think that next year's tasting comp needs monster trucks, alcohol, scantily clad women and bacon.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't Turn Your Nose Up At This One: CoffeeSnobs' Colombian Volcan Galeras


I gather that Colombia's coffees gained a reputation for excellence through the Juan Valdez campaign, against a backdrop of filter coffee drinkers looking for something consistent and clean. As a result, Colombian coffees are sometimes thought of as bland. Kenneth Davids writes:

At their best, the classic coffees of Latin-American manifest bright, lively acidity and a clean, straightforward cup. They provide what for a North American is a normative good coffee experience.
Of course, and as Davids goes on to mention, there are plenty of Colombian coffees that break the mould. Those that I have tasted build on the base of a solid washed coffee by adding a little something extra. For example, last year one of my favourite coffees from Veneziano was actually a supposedly generic 'Colombian Popayan Supremo' that was very sweet in the cup. This year, buyers of BBB's Colombian Bachue might be forgiven for thinking that it was from Africa.

I can't help but wonder if professional roasters consider selecting that ultimate Colombian coffee from a batch of generic samples to be a rite of passage.


CoffeeSnobs is a unique mix of online forum, green coffee buying cooperative, marketplace and coffee roastery. In order to order from CS, you must sign up as a member. Many new sign ups to CS decide to try their hand at roasting their own coffee at home. For them, the legendary sampler pack is a must buy; a once-per member offer of four 500g samples of green coffee for $20. (CS usually sells its green coffee in multiples of 2.5kg ... and I'm sure that packaging the tonne or whatever of coffee that it distribute every month is still a huge task.) Recently, Andy decided to introduce a roasted sample pack of 4 x 250g of coffee for $30. This time around, the Volcan Galeras was the pick of the pack.

I can't say that I know much about this particular Colombian, nor was I able to google up much, beyond finding out that Volcan Galeras is in the department of
NariƱo, a prolific coffee producer.

Espresso: Voluminous crema, lots of body and low acidity - in that regard, it was reminiscent of the last lot of CS coffee that I blogged about. Incredible marzipan flavour. (It's been a while.) Intolerant of shots that were run too fast; marzipan turned to metallic and bitter flavours.

Cappuccino: Fine, but marzipan fades into the background. Bitter and metallic flavours in fast shots seemed to concentrate in the crema.

Brewed (filter/siphon): Oddly, marzipan did not come through strongly. Potential for bitterness.

In summary, this coffee is like a lemon zester; it does that thing very well. That thing is espresso. You will find your cappuccino fine, but you won't remeber it in a week's time. As for all CS offerings, this coffee will be of particular interest to those who have bought it to roast at home.

If you buy this as part of a sampler pack, as I did, a good tip would be to plan to use it all at once, rather than changing the grind setting whilst swapping between different beans, as I did. This coffee will punish you for being overly sloppy. Get it right and Volcan Galeras has explosive potential.

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