Category Archives: Miscellanea

The rest, really. Things found.

Anthropology of the bean

Anthropology in Practice has a three-part series on coffee. From Boing Boing:

The first part looks at how coffee became a necessary part of our morning existence. The second delves into the history of the coffee bean in human culture. And the third examines the social role of coffee in creating a culture of productivity.

I’ve only read the first. That first installment is a social scientist’s view of how the coffee industry has morphed from what it was in the 50’s to what it is today. It’s brief and, to my eye, fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). It’s really a brief history of the marketing of coffee. I suppose you could read into this bit of coffee history the belief that those of us that believe certain forms of coffee are worth more money than others is simply the product of advertising and keen manipulation. In these matters I am more of the opinion that marketing finds consumers. It doesn’t create them.

Education of what makes one type of coffee worth more than the other is not necessarily manipulative. When it’s done well and done honestly it simply opens up the consumer’s set of choices and presents them with a decision that they must make, an opportunity to decide what it is that they value, about how much something is worth to them. To put it more crudely: if you don’t think the price that any one of the many specialty coffee roasters and purveyors is asking is fair, there is a Starbucks up the street that may be more to your liking and a grocery store a slight bit further down if Starbucks isn’t what you were looking for either. Not to be rude. It’s just that the choice is yours to make. And that’s something to be celebrated.

Update: I’ve read the other two posts – and you can be the judge of course – but lets just say the most compelling of the three just happens to be the first. At the very least it’s a story I have not heard a thousand times before.

Coffee history? Number two in the series? How many times can we re-hash old and unprovable ideas of the when, where, who and how of coffee? Apparently at least one more time.

And the last? Well, here’s a summation: coffee keeps you alert, wakes you, cures the morning/afternoon blahs, etc. etc. There. I’ve just saved precious minutes of your life. You’re welcome.

Grind science

David Walsh – research scientist by day, investigative brewer by … well, I assume that’s by day as well – has the latest word on the science of the pour-over brew in his recent post entitled At odds with unevenness.

In admirably deliberate fashion Mr. Walsh produced eight brews using four different types of pour-over devices and then proceeded to slice each of the resulting collections of spent grinds in half, finally subjecting each of the now sixteen different spent grind samples to testing in order to ascertain which of the brew methods produced the most evenly extracted cup.

God bless ‘im. Mr. Walsh is one patient and methodical man.

The results of the experiments are not to be reproduced here. Click through the link mentioned previously and give Mr. Walsh and his blog “The Other Black Stuff” its due (TOBS needs to be added to the blogroll and stat) but the results, as all good studies are want to do, provoke more questions and instances of speculation than they give answers. To wit:

  • I would be curious to see each brewing device put through its paces, producing several cups, each being the the product of a different technique i.e. (and as mentioned in one of the post’s comments) instead of a straight-through pour that fills up the cone on the V60, utilizing a technique that kept the grind bed low in the cone for the duration of the pour.
  • What role is the water quality playing in the levels of extraction?
  • What role is the filter playing in extraction levels given that each of the devices used utilize a unique filter design/contruction?
  • Man – and this might be considered a spoiler (alert!) for those of you who have not read At odds … yet – wouldn’t it be somethin’ if, after all this time spent hopping from one pour-over brew method to the next, the ubiquitous Melitta dripper actually produced the best brew of the bunch?

I’m sure, given time I could think of more.

A fine read. One to place on the virtual bookshelf and I can’t wait to find out what sort of additional experiments Mr. Walsh’s work inspires others to perform.

V60: first impressions

I picked up a Hario V60 pour-over dripper last week. A few initial observations:

  • It strikes me that the V60 is, in a way, the Slayer of drip methods. Let me explain. Two words: infinite adjusability. Now, to be honest, I’m not an expert on the Slayer (or, for that matter, any espresso machine) but from what I understand one of the key features of the Slayer is the amount of control it affords the barista over a whole host of parameters: pressure, flow rate, temperature, etc., etc., etc. I have found that the V60 is incredibly sensitive to flow rate, grind size and dose, more so than the other methods I’ve used. Change any one of those and you can get a distinctly different brew.
  • This sensitivity, I think, comes from the free-flowing nature of the device: very thin, highly porous filters coupled with a wide and extremely non-restrictive aperture means that most of the work of trapping and holding the water with the grinds is being done by the grind and the flow-rate of the pour.
  • Speaking of the filters, I don’t think there is a paper filter I’ve used that contributes as little to the flavor of the cup as those that are used in the V60. Awesome. I don’t know how they do it and I don’t care.
  • That red base/handle is sexy and the name, Hario V60, well, it just sounds … cool.

There's something in the water … but what is it?

The entire time I have been paying attention to the quality of the coffee I drink both at home and out ‘n’ about, there has always been a moveable feast of brew methods, techniques and various other theories regarding any number of the many variables that go into producing a good cup of coffee. I understand (I’m a snob, after all … at least when it comes to coffee). This almost obsessive focus of the coffee industry on the best method of brewing represents a reasonable amount of attention when you think of brewing as the final stage in a series of stages that form a long line, from producer to roaster, which is marked by fanatical attention to detail and quality. You don’t want to screw it up. It’d be almost irresponsible.

The one variable that has not been as subject to the whims of fashion is water. Filtered. Always filtered. From Peet’s to Blue Bottle, to Stumptown. Read the pamphlets and ask the people behind the counter and you can count on it: filtered water. But I’m starting to wonder weather this is always the best advice.

This post is actually a long time coming but I have never felt as if I had the experience and knowledge required to write about water quality and I have never known who to ask about the subject. I still don’t. But this is the internet, after all, where that experience and knowledge can be but a comment post away from you. And my latest experience playing with my new toy has only brought up the issue anew. In fact, It always happens when (funnily enough) I begin playing with a new brew method. I think it’s because my senses are especially piqued when I’m trying to dial it in.

Most recently it has cropped up again since I picked up one of the much-lauded Hario V60 drippers. I purchased it at Oakland’s Remedy in Temescal and since they use Ritual and since I needed some beans I picked out a Costa Rica. As it was a Costa Rica I was not surprised that it would pack a pronounced acidity. And so it did. But after I picked up my next bag of coffee – a bag of Guatemala Concepción Pixcaya – while I was visiting Four Barrel in San Francisco, brought it home and brewed up a batch on the V60, I thought something was amiss. It was too harsh. It was pronounced. What to change, then? Grind? Dose? Maybe, I thought, it was water temperature. But I thought about the other times I had used water straight from the tap. Most recently it was while I was house-sitting in San Francisco, without the aid of a water filter. I thought about how silky smooth the Four Barrel Kirimara Peaberry (which I picked up at Modern Coffee in Oakland) was. I remembered that I had wondered what, if any, effect San Francisco’s water had on that coffee. I never go the chance to find out. It was too good and I finished the bag before we came back home. But there have been other times and other coffees and other opportunities and I have been amazed at how simply switching from filtered to tap has changed the flavor of a particular coffee. Many times it has been for the better. Now I wonder what that Costa Rica might have tasted like with the water filter switched off.

What (I think) I know:

  • The flavor compounds in coffee are water soluble
  • There are many aspects of water that affect its ability to extract those compounds (temperature is only one)
  • Those aspects control not just how many of the compounds are available for extractions but, more precisely, which ones.
  • At my house, switching from filtered water to tap can change a coffee’s flavor dramatically

So, I suppose, some questions (calling all at-home coffee brewing aficionados):

  • Does anyone else have a similar experience?
  • Have you tried the water from your tap?
  • What are your experiences?

And for the coffee professionals … well … whatta ya know? Let ‘er rip:

  • Does anyone know what a home water filter is taking out that is affecting a coffee’s flavor to such a great extent?
  • Why is it that everyone seems to recommend filtered water? Is it to level the playing field? To give us all at least one common variable?
  • What if, though, it doesn’t do justice to your product?
  • Is there some way to gain knowledge of a particular area’s water quality and to recommend brewing parameters accordingly?
  • If I go so far as to have my water tested what am I looking for and how do I apply what I find to my brewing?
  • How does one even go about having their water quality tested in the first place?
  • Should I even bother?

That elipses at the end of the list above? It’s symbolic of why it is that I haven’t posted about this before: more questions than answers. And these aren’t even the half of them, especially considering my certainty that as soon as even one of the above questions are answered, that answer is bound to prompt a slew of other questions.

But don’t let that stop you …

The San Francisco Home-Barista Get Together

We may have differences of opinion in some matters but Chris Tacy – the creator and curator of the coffee blog God Shot – and myself certainly agree on one thing: you gotta taste! And I mean comparatively. Side by side. One next to the other. It’s really the very best way to get to get at all of the nuanced differences in flavor from one bean to the next.

If I could afford to or if my conscience could sustain the waste that would inevitably occur, I would buy a minimum of three bags of beans for each one I buy now, brew them all up at the same time, in the same way and go from one to the other and back again, sussing out every little difference and every little similarity between the lot. You haven’t really tasted coffee until you’ve comparatively tasted coffee.

Officially, this comparative tasting thang is called “cupping” and if you love coffee and haven’t participated in one yet, you really need to treat yourself. Now, there are many opportunities out there (and when I say “out there”, I mean in my neck of the woods: the San Francisco Bay Area) to cup at one of the many fine roasters and/or purveyors of our excellent local coffees but there aren’t many opportunities to get together and casually cup with, simply, a group of like-minded people that are mostly unaffiliated with the coffees on offer or, for that matter taste coffees, in said atmosphere, that hail from roasters located all over the globe. Not many at all.

So when I polled Mr. Tacy for more information about what I thought was going to be, exclusively, a group session of tamping and shot-pulling and found that, instead, it was to be more of a 50/50 espresso and cupping session and that the selection of coffees was going to represent roasters from as far afield as London’s Square Mile Roasters (who’s Aida Grand Reserve simply blew me away earlier this year) I jumped at the chance … and then I jumped back. The date, the date! As I told Mr. Tacy, I’d attend but I might not have a fiancé any longer: our engagement party is the same day. Priorities, people.

The San Francisco Home-Barista Get Together: 17th of July in SoMa. For more information, give ’em a shout-out over at Home-Barista.com riiiight here.

Go. And tell me what you think.

Damn Clever post

A long time ago in a land far, far away I mentioned that I might be writing a post about my experience with the Clever Dripper at some point in the near future.

Well, that “near future” has come and gone. In fact, we are now in what you might call the far distant future. At least in terms of the amount of time that has passed since I let my intent be known. Ah well, such is the life of the amateur blogger.

So, now, at long last, let me say a few things about my experience with the Clever:

1. Yum

Yeah, “yum”. The Clever has loads of potential to make that bag of finely sourced, roasted and presented bag of beans into a very tasty cup of coffee with very little effort. Especially when compared to other drip/cone methods.

All of the coffee I have made using the Clever has been the most consistently excellent coffee I have had at home…er, I mean in “The Lab”. I’ve made good cups with all of the methods at my disposal, to be sure. Day-after-day, though the Clever has been the most reliable method of getting the most out the beans I buy.

2. Technique

In my experience, there are but two variations in technique that make a major difference and those two can be summed up in this question:

To stir or not to stir?

That is the question. The stir has been the paramount differentiator between either two good but different cups of coffee or a good or bad cup of coffee. What do I mean? Continue reading Damn Clever post

Rumors of my demise…

To be honest, I don’t know if there are any rumors of my demise – or at least of the demise of Daniel of Arabica – swirling around out there (I assume not). It’s a perennially catchy title, though.

I thought I would post this to let anyone who passes by on occasion, looking for something to read know that, indeed, Daniel of Arabica is still alive. Life sometimes has its way of sucking out any free time one has and it has been supremely efficient at doing just that but if I’m breathing you can rest assured I’m still brewin’ ‘n’ drinkin’.

But writin’? Soon. Very soon.

There are at least a few posts that I feel obliated to write…

Continue reading Rumors of my demise…