Sunday, November 30, 2008

November Grab Bab: Midali Espresso, Cafenatics Opening, BBB Insider

Cafe Reviews And This Blog

My avid readers will note that this blog is all about coffee, but seldom contains cafe reviews. There are two main reasons for this. First, I have a greater interest in exploring coffee than in exploring cafes - to some extent, I view the latter as a way to do the former. In this regard, I think that it's a bit of a misnomer that in Australia cafe reviews invariably use the word coffee to describe their subject matter: eg. one, two, three cf. overseas. Before Steve Agi and co hasten to break my legs, I should point out that this has nothing to do with the usefulness or lack thereof of those sites; just pointing out that cafe and coffee are not synonymous. Second, I prefer to leave it to others, given that any sort of online review seems to have a relatively strong impact on cafe owners, regardless of what they may say.

Breaking With Tradition

On Friday I decided to take a trip to Carlisle St to replenish my dwindling stock of filter papers at Coffee Company. Carlisle St has long been regarded as one of Melbourne's coffee hot spots, so I decided to celebrate completing my final exam by gorging myself on espresso from four of the spots that are commonly mentioned as having a decent reputation. In some respects, it was a nice wake-up call. Enthusiastic coffee dudes world over state as a matter of pride that they make better coffee at home than they can get at most cafes. My experience has usually been that the bulk of cafes that I go to produce coffee on par with, or better than, what I produce at home. Of course, I'm pretty selective in the cafes that I go to. I don't want to single out any cafes in particular, but I have to say that I wasn't overwhelmed with the quality of what I was served.

I do think that it's legit to point out cafes that are doing a good job, so check out Midali Espresso. I had an espresso that was reasonably short, had a lot of body and was very sweet. Sweetness is always the hardest thing to get into the cup, so big props to them. I have no doubt that this will be a fantastic base for their milk drinks, as a few cognoscenti have confirmed. My pick of Carlisle Street.


A big thankyou to Cafenatics for hosting a barista jam by way of launching their fifth store, at QV. Cafenatics head honcho Joseph brings a great laid-back sense of humor to the Melbourne coffee scene and it was nice of Cafenatics to host an event where the usual suspects got a chance to chill out and enjoy some coffee together. There were cameras-a-plenty, so I didn't bother to take photos of the latte art smackdown - I'm sure that Simon or Amy will oblige in good time. Save to say that Toshi's triple rosetta beat my pacman eating little white dot to take the trophy.

A few photos:

Joseph pours, surrounded by smackdown participants.

We decide that it's better to have a FB80 on the bench than a cash register.

Simon asks Joseph if he can borrow his vase for a barista competition.

I finish up the day up one Reg Barber tamper - thanks!


Just a quick note, for readers who would otherwise be disappointed in this post. Saturday saw an extraordinary cupping lineup at BBB, with Rwanda CoE #13 (think the number is right) stealing the show, for me. Many of the new Rwandan coffee farms have been set up with the Bourbon varietal, which is particularly well suited to espresso. CoE #13 did not disappoint in this regard; it was heavy in body and very sweet. With the $AUD tanking against the $USD, which I understand to be the default currency of the global coffee market, I expect that this one will not come cheap. But boy do I expect that it will be worth it!

I get the impression that coffee that makes phenomenal espresso doesn't cup up as extraordinary; it's necessary to do some work to figure out how the flavours in cupping will translate to the espresso cup. Hence, the Esmeralda and the washed and natural Sidamos were probably more exciting on the cupping table. I'm pleased to say that BBB's Esmeralda seems to be closer to the 2007 Paradise roast that I had than the 2008 Terroir roast, although the mandarin flavour of yore emerged closer to orange. The sample roast might have been a tad dark, illustrating the importance of sample roasting and cupping to any commercial roastery; no doubt MD will be on top of this tricky bean for production roasts. The Sidamos were an interesting lot; from memory both were from Dale, the difference being that one was natural and one was washed. I liked the washed Dale, which, I seem to remember, was pretty sweet and tasted of peach. Dale + Esmeralda for drip, anyone? The natural Dale superimposed your standard natural blueberry on top of it, with a touch of quinine. I imagine that people will be interested to try the natural and washed head to head.

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about BBB's offerings and I continue to be astounded that (a) they offer their cuppings for free and (b) relatively few people turn up.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Golden Beaches, Beans

As I alluded to last entry, I headed up to Port Macquarie for the Equal Golden Bean coffee roasters' competition and conference over the weekend, run by CafeBiz. Day one comprised a number of workshops run by various industry types and the actual competition took place on the second day.

Day One

Unfortunately, disaster struck a number of the initially scheduled speakers. My condolences and well wishes, as appropriate, go out to Toby Smith, Phil Di Bella and Scottie Bennett, whose sessions I was looking forward to. Fortunately, a number of other speakers were able to take their places and day one ran smoothly.

Session One - Visiting Origins - Ross Bright - Spinelli Coffee, Singapore

My flight arrived at around 10, so I missed Ross' session, finding out to my chagrin that it was very well researched and contained a bunch of great video footage. It was great to have a bit of a chat with Ross and Ibrahim from Bero Coffee during the weekend. There's certainly a tremendous amount of stuff happening origin-side to learn about. We agreed that developing greater understanding of what happens to coffee at both extremes of the supply chain amongst both industry consumers (ie. roasters, baristi) and industry suppliers (ie. farmers, buyers, brokers) is key to increasing the quality of specialty coffee available in the market. This is especially true for espresso, for which green coffee with different attributes to coffee bound for filter use may be desirable. Ross hopes to make some interesting origin-side video footage available to the public at some stage or other.

Session Two - Agtron Roasting - Mick Kielty - Michel's Espresso

I came in half-way through Mick's session, to a room full of engrossed roasters. Mick had brought in an Agtron abridged spectrophotometer and explained how it could be used to maintain coffee quality in a commercial roastery. I gather that the Agtron gives a reading that basically tells you what colour the coffee is, but it's actually a measure of the absorbance of some organic compounds in the coffee - Mick mentioned quinones - that correlates with the progression of the roast. When asked how much an Agtron costs, Mick said that he wasn't sure. The crowd chimed in that they thought they were around $20K, to which Mick replied "Oh, I probably shouldn't have just chucked it in the boot without a box, then."

Session Three - Global Trends in Specialty Coffee - Oliver Broster - Bero Coffee Japan and Singapore

Oliver is the MD of two subsidiaries of the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe. In 2007, NKG handled 7% of global coffee exports and 15% of global coffee imports. NKG does not operate in Australia, but supplies quite a lot of coffee in Singapore and Japan.

Oliver explained that there are a lot of difficulties in gathering information on the coffee trade, but nonetheless was able to deliver some very interesting statistics, courtesy of NKG's dedicated statistical unit. There were a number of interesting statistics, from memory, I think that Australia consumes about 0.7% of the 2008 coffee production. For reference, Nestle Japan will consume about 1.2%! The various coffee certifications represent an extremely small proportion of all coffee traded, but demand has been increasing quite a lot over the past few years. If you want more info - go to the conference!

Session Four - Installing and Maintaining Your Roaster - Greg Clubb (did I spell that right?) - Appliance Maintenance Company

Greg stepped up at the last minute to run a session instead of Scott Bennett. Greg covered a number of technicalities involved in installing and maintaining a coffee roaster, which turned out to be of great interest to the many roasters around. Topics included how to obtain the correct certification for your roaster - without which your insurance won't pay up if something goes wrong, overlooked maintenance areas and correct ventilation of roasters and afterburners. In conversation afterwards, many of the roasters attending the session mentioned that they had learned something that they were going to put into practice as soon as they get back.

Session Five - The Re-emergence of Brewed Coffee - Chris - Toby's Estate, Melbourne

With Toby unable to deliver his session, Chris jumped on the first plane in the morning, delivered his session and jumped on the next plane back! I was looking forward to hearing from Toby, but it was nice to meet our local TE dude all the same. Regular readers will recall that in my last entry on filter coffee, I queried why on earth Toby's were running this session, given that they seem to like the sort of gloopy, thick and rich ristretto shots that are about as far from a thin and delicate brewed cup as you can possibly get. I put that question to Chris and he answered that the roasters really love their filter coffee precisely because it does allow the origins to stand out in a way similar to cupping, but that their baristi will require some convincing! No doubt, customers will, too. At the moment, the only successful way that I have seen of getting cafe goers to pay for brewed coffee is to brew it through some sort of gimmicky gadget like a Clover or a Siphon. There is most definitely still a perception that all filter coffee is garbage and I very much hope that roasters work on that.

Session Six - Coffee Machine Maintenance and Cleaning - Chris Short - Cafetto

Cafetto has always been a great supporter of the coffee industry and the session delivered at the Golden Bean was no exception. Chris covered a number of topics, such as what actually builds up where in your espresso machine, the necessity for descaling and the results of a soon-to-be-released study on the effect of regular espresso machine cleaning in the cup. I had never really thought about the role of scale in backflushing the group as opposed to maintaining the boiler, but I couldn't see why it wouldn't decrease the effectiveness of espresso machine detergent in the same way that it interacts with other surfactants. Chris answered that it is probably a good idea to do an occasional backflush with a descaler; all espresso machine detergents must be alkaline, so they will not remove scale from the group.

Session Seven - Judges' Calibration - Justin Metcalf

Not much to say; just a calibration session run by Head Judge extraordinaire Justin Metcalf, of WBC fame. A definite highlight for me was the opportunity to taste the kape barako liberica coffee, brought in from Singapore by Ross. Even in milk, courtesy of Makin, it was garbage:

Day Two

The Competition

Not much to tell; a bit of a blurr, really. Heaps of time on the machines with Zoe and Makin. Tasted some coffee. That's about all I remember!

Awards Night

Well, you can see the results on the golden bean web page. As you can see, there were a gagillion medals to give away and I must admit that sitting next to Andy, who got up every few minutes to claim a total of four medals, made me think of entering something next year ;P Unfortunately, I don't think that I tasted any of the gold medal winners, so I guess I'm going to have to order some coffee! Massive props to Kamran at Fiori Coffee for being the overall winner. If you check out the pdfs, Fiori got a bronze medal for their espresso and a silver for their milk-based - wonder if some of the other silver medal winners simply didn't enter in both categories?

Sean also took the opportunity to present the Sugar Australia Cafe of the Year Awards. The overall winner was Alen's Espresso in Brisbane. A shout-out goes to my former boss Andrew Lew, as The Maling Room won the Victorian category.

You'll note the not-so-subtle positioning of sponsor ECA's banner. ECA are running a great little ad campaign for their Domobar Super machine, in which they basically get endorsements from some of Australia's top coffee dudes (check out their how-to-videos with Scottie C). I ribbed Charles a bit for being so Sydney-centric and not including any Melburnians; hopefully some will get a go on the new ad for the Giotto. Speaking of which, you've gotta admit that it's a pretty cool looking piece of kit:

Given that the Giotto is one of the few domestic machines with separate side panels like that, as opposed to having a wrap-around shell, I wonder why we haven't seen anyone with one knock up some cool mirage-style painted glass panels?

Anyhoo, looking forward to trying out some of the winners and next year's Golden Bean.

A big thankyou to Sean and Justeen for their hospitality, too.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

November = Events

Don't ask me, why, but there seems to be a bit on this November.

Barista Comp Wrapup

The Victorian Barista and Latte Art Championships were held over the weekend. I did the judging calibration purely out of interest, but intended to study rather than judge. Turned out that there was a bit of a shortage of judges, so I sidelined studying to get the opens judged and happening. The obvious changes this year were the new machines and the new faces - who, without exception, displayed a very good level of technical competence. It would be impossible to remember or list all of the home runs that the competitors hit, so I'll just mention one - Simon James absolutely nailing the description of his espresso. It was nice to see Nim step up to judge, adding another experienced palate to the Victorian pool of judges.

Talor judged by HJ Ross, Myself, Mel, Tom and Jeff.

As usual, Syd has put up his amazing photos of the events. Emily Oak's idea to fly him up to Atlanta to be the official WBC photographer is brilliant.

I was furiously footnoting an essay on Sunday, but it was nice to see a well-deserved latte art comp win from Erin, who I am sure will win the Australians and the Worlds, but might lose the Intergalactics to the seven-handed Florgostillians and their legendary 'galaxy of rosettas.' Big props to Kirby from Maling Room and Dave Seng for their placings. Jesse 'Iceman' Hyde took out the Barista comp, leaving the press with the immortal one-liner:

"I used to play guitar full-time for a living," Hyde said. "Coffee geeks will never be rock stars. Slash (former lead guitarist of Guns N' Roses) is way cooler than David Makin."

Golden Bean

So I've got a 5am flight tomorrow to the Equal Golden Bean conference + coffee roaster competition. Should be fun; really looking forward to tasting the best that Australia has to offer. Many thanks to Mr Makin for the lift and Cafe Culture for the whole thing.


Why yes, yes I am drinking coffee. I have a nice drip roast kenyan coffee generously sent down to me by the boys at Mecca in Sydney. Thanks guys!

Siphon: With a high dose, surprisingly full-bodied, with apple-juice like acidity and mouthfeel. Relatively low on the classic winey/raspberry flavour - for a Kenyan - but definite orange overtones. Wierd. Dry finish, owing to the hot weather that the parcel has been exposed to.

Seriously. Lightish roast kenyan coffee, for brewed methods, has to be as close to shooting fish in a barrel as you can get in coffee. It's usually very impressive and this one is no exception.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

LucaTech Industries Unveils the GhettoMax 2000 and Filter Coffee in Australia

Enter Mr Callahan

A few months ago, Adelaide espresso savant Ian Callahan threw down the challenge during conversation:

So here are the rules. Who can find the best/funniest/cheapest/most ingenious piece or pieces of crap to either
A) Chuck Norris (read, brake beat or crush) or
B) McGuyver (read, manipulate or engineer in some way) into a Drip station.

Single drip is okay, bonus points awarded for multiple cup drip/pour-over station, as well as practicality or sheer impracticality.

I feel that we need to set important boundary on the competition - you have until, say, December 14 to enter and you may enter as many times as you wish. (Selected so that my exams will be out of the way and I can have another go.) Your entry must disclose everything necessary to make your pourover station in such a way as to spoil the prior art base for anyone who might wish to patent such a device in future ;P Once all entries have been rounded up, Ian will collate them into a post on his blog and we can vote for a winner, to whom Ian will forward a prize by Xmas ;P

Given that Ian has a blackberry, I expect that he will be aware of what he has signed up for slightly before I publish this blog entry.

What the heck-a-roo?

So, if you're not up to speed on the uber-glamorous world of professional pourover brew stations, you might want to check them out:

4 Cup Station truBru from Taylor Maid Farms - $330 USD

4 Cup Station from the genius tinkerers at Espresso Parts $595

The latest Cafe Culture also features a 4 cup station called the 'terror bar' from Factor Design. Looked expensive - does anyone have a price?

The LucaTech Industries GhettoMax 2000 2 Cup Pourover Filter Station (EXXXTREEEEME)

As you can plainly see, the GhettoMax 2000 has a number of features unparalleled by any filter station on the market:
*Portability (TM) - suitable for catering, you can take the action to your customer and you can save valuable bench space when not in use.
*BrewGuard (TM) technology - owing to the wire guard on the side opposite the brewer, customers cannot touch the streams of filter brewing coffee
*Adjustulon (TM) saucer stands to get the brew vessels at the height of your choice
*PrecizoSize (TM) - the entire modular unit can be washed in a standard commercial dishwasher
*IKEA friendly (TM) - by utilising componentry from IKEA, this station will naturally blend in with the decor of any cafe ... that also uses a lot of stuff from IKEA

And the total cost is ... drumroll ... $5 per unit for the GORM clip on basket and you probably have everything else lying around anyway. To assemble, just buy one of the cheapass baskets, pull out the tin snips and make the necessary bends and cuts to get this:

OK, so it's a total piece of crap. But at least it's a cheap piece of crap.

Part II: Filter Coffee in Australia

Compared with the rest of the world, Australia is truly upside-down when it comes to coffee. We are close to unique in having a retail brewed coffee market that is almost 100% espresso. Until recently, that 'almost' was the nasty drip brewers at McDonalds. You know, the ones where the coffee would sit in glass carafes, baking on a hotplate for days because no Australian would actually buy it? The irony is that standard coffee scoring systems rate coffee for use as brewed coffee. Many is the time that I have had an 80something pointer outperform a 90+ coffee on the espresso machine. That said, brewed coffee is a fantastic way to appreciate the best that the world has to offer. The USA and Japan seem to buy a lot of the world's top coffee for consumption as brewed coffee. We could do worse than develop a fantastic brewed coffee culture in Australia to sit alongside espresso.

Enter the Clover. A few years ago, no-one in Australia had the slightest inkling of interest in brewed coffee aside from roasters, ex-pat yanks and random nutcases. A few brave cool kids bought a machine that produced coffee with a similar taste profile and - bam - people start to show some interest. Never mind the control that it gives you over the brew; people seemed to be more interested in the price tag and the fact that it was a complicated machine more like an espresso machine. Interest continued to gather for a few years and some of the cool kids overseas praised it to high heaven and built up the buzz. It looked like we were at a tipping point.

Out of the blue, checkmate - Starbucks bought the whole friggin' company, patents, kudos and all! A very clever move on their part. Starbucks has phenomenal buying power and reports are that they have been starting to snaffle up a lot of lots that specialty coffee roasters would otherwise like to buy. Is it possible that we could start seeing great coffee coming out of Starbucks? I can't see Clovers being rolled out in Australia for quite some time, if ever. It looks like Starbucks are doing OK, but not brilliantly with their Clovers overseas, with part of the problem being an inappropriate roast level. Still, it's only a matter of time until they get it right ...

Meanwhile, the snapping up of the Clover by Starbucks makes it unavailable to specialty roasters and cafes who might be interested in it. A similar level of control is offered by siphon brewers, but they are a total PITA to clean. You would have to be nuts to try to use one in a cafe ... how do the Japanese do it? Commercial filter brewing machines can produce a great result, but brewing two litres at once probably won't go down well with a public where those that are interested in coffee expect it to be brewed on demand and those that are not won't order it. French press/plunger is gritty and hard to clean. Aeropress doesn't have the clarity of flavour of filter. So, funnily enough, we are left with a renewed interest in single cup, pourover filter brewers - originally laughed out of the room as an alternative to clover. And why not? It's easy. Wet the filter paper, grind coffee, pour over water at the right temperature, serve up the brew and dump the leftovers in the bin. The amazing thing is that pourover filters actually do a much better job of brewing at a decent temperature than some crappy filter machines.

With a nice article in this issue of Cafe Culture, it looks like Toby is trying to take up the charge for pourover filter in Australia. Frankly, I was surprised. I have always pigeon-holed Toby into the high brew ratio, slow dripping, gloopy, chocolatey ristretto camp. After all, legend goes that Toby was critical in helping PB to develop the high brew ratio technique known as 'updosing', which has become as intertwined with the Australian identity in international coffee circles. Everything that I have tasted from Toby's Estate has been consistent with this approach and the TE stores seem to be kitted out with equipment geared towards it. This style of coffee is about as far from the light brewed cup as you can possibly get. Well, in recent years PB has been experimenting with 'downdosing', so maybe this is Toby's equivalent? Maybe Toby's interest simply arises from the similarity between filter brews and the cupping that all roasters enjoy? I'm looking forward to Toby's session on filter coffee as part of the Golden Bean and will endeavour to find out the answers - if I remember!

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