Doing your coffee research

I think it is fair to say that the coffee industry shows an interest in the science of coffee. Up until this point most of this science has been more relavant to commodity coffee, and its challenges, than it has to do with quality.

It seems a lot of baristas, roasters and others in speciality coffee are looking to do research too. I’m posting this to ask where they are looking and how they are going about it.

Most don’t have access to published papers, and there isn’t a great deal of stuff online – everyone finds coffeeresearch.org pretty quickly but I think coffee has probably moved faster than that particular website has. ASIC is certainly a valuable resource, but perhaps inaccessible to those without a science background.

In their hunt for knowledge, I’m wondering how many people have grabbed the literature review published by the GCQRI, or have grabbed any of the resources on their site. What are people looking for? Bearing in mind there are no easy answers – are we just talking about wanting to do more research, and learn more about coffee rather than having a specific plan of action or a goal to our learning?

In the future there will be more information to share, mostly from the GCQRI, and I think it would be beneficial to understand how people do their research (honestly), to make sure information ends up in the right place. I’m not trying to catch people out here, I certainly spent a long time putting phrases into google and hopefully hunting through the mixture of garbage and occasional information nuggets it produced. I didn’t know a better way.

What about you?

Do you want to sponsor the podcast?

The response to the last poll seems pretty favourable, so I am now officially looking for sponsorship. I am fickle about this stuff as a listener so I promise to make this as sympathetic as possible.

I should make clear that I’m not out to gouge or be cheeky with this – this isn’t how I want to make a living! If you are reading this and curious then drop an email to sponsor@ this domain name (always hard to hide email address from the evils of the web….). I will respond with a bit of info on the whole deal.

I’m going to look very silly if no one is interested!

Predictions for 2010 – Analysis

As we head towards the end of the year I thought I’d have a quick look back at 2010’s predictions post to see how I did. I’m not sure these posts have any value beyond a little entertainment, though it is increasingly obvious that I don’t know the difference between a prediction and “a thing I want to see happen”….

1. Widespread measurement of brewed coffee

Whether people like it or not isn’t the issue here, so I think it is safe to claim this one as correct. There are a lot more Extract Mojos out there than people probably think, which (as you’ve guessed) I believe is a good thing. I hope this continues to spread.

2. Another very bad year for the UK Branded Chains

A failure here, I really can’t claim this one as right. Costa are growing impressively, with some incredibly aggressive plans to more than double their number of units before 2015. Starbucks are in a much stronger position in the UK than a year ago. I have no idea about Caffe Nero.

It has been another good year for independents in the UK, but not at the expense of the bigger companies. This is a whole other subject though.

3. Increasingly Explicit Seasonality

I think it is still something that we’re struggling with as an industry, but I definitely think that it has become a more accepted and widespread part of how we talk about coffee. Lots more seasonal espresso out there too – which is a good thing. People with more experience in the industry than me will be able to comment about whether (in general) it is harder to find certain origins “out of season” than it was before – this would be an interesting metric. (Assuming we could agree on when an origin was out of season….) Gonna claim this as correct!

4. Baskets for Espresso machines

For me (personally) this was true – I learned a tonne and got excited about baskets, but for the industry I don’t think it was accurate. Can’t claim this as correct.

UPDATE: It seems important to clarify this one a little more. New filter baskets were mentioned at the NYC Out of the Box La Marzocco event and technical data shared that showed huge improvements in quality and performance over present filter standards. These are coming from LM, and they are extremely interesting. I’d recommend that people should keep their eyes peeled for updates at LM OoTB events.

5. WBC Prediction

I predicted that the same day semi and final would be a good thing (a bit vague I know – but I think it was!). I also said that at least 4 of the 12 semi finalists would be from producing countries. Turns out 5 1 of the 12 would be from coffee producing countries, and there can be no doubt that the WBC is a much more level playing field than before. I don’t think baristas from coffee producing origins can claim any sort of disadvantage when it comes to availability of different coffees, as many at the WBC did an exceptional job of showcasing their own origin and involvement with it. So – gonna say correct here too!

Three out of five isn’t awful, better than the year before! I’ll post a bunch of new predictions up just before the new year. Thoughts or comments welcome.

  1. 6 if you want to count Australia as a producing country, which feels like cheating to me.  ↩︎

Brewing outside of Gold Cup

This isn’t really supposed to be a contentious or confrontational post. It is just something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Lots of people now have sufficient equipment to understand their extraction, in terms of how much of the coffee grounds are ending up in the beverage. The research says that 18-22% is the desired range of extraction, certified by all Speciality Coffee bodies (SCAE, SCAA etc) in their Gold Cup programs.

First let’s get the important caveat out of the way – just because the overall extraction falls within this range it doesn’t mean the drink will be tasty as you can’t account for the evenness of the extraction. This isn’t what I want to talk about though.

My question is this: Does anyone reading this, who regularly analyses their extractions, have a particular coffee or brew method that they think works better when the extraction falls outside of this range?

Would they be willing to share if that is the case?

To explain a little more to remove confusion:

By better – I mean that in a hypothetical side by side test, using 100 members of the coffee drinking (and enjoying public), do you have a coffee/method that the majority of testers would prefer over an even extraction of the coffee within the Gold Cup range?

I’ve imposed the condition because while some individuals may prefer coffee brewed unusually (say a sub 20s espresso extraction), most people would prefer a traditional extraction (25-30s for the sake of argument). Individual preference is important, but so is spreading and selling speciality coffee to as many people as possible.

Does this make sense? If you do – then please post a comment. I’m not out to shoot people down, or try to embarrass them in some way. I may have reached various conclusions from my own research but I’d like the opportunity to discuss this further with people.

The change when coffee cools

My last post on this generated some amazing comments, for which I am very grateful.  It has also meant I’ve been talking about and thinking about the change in flavour when coffee cools quite a lot recently.

Something dawned on me – I can’t think of another beverage that goes through such a huge change. (And I’m very much open to suggestion here!)  Sure, wine breathes and changes, tea changes as it cools but you don’t get this massive shift in flavour, taste and mouthfeel that some great coffees can offer.  This is something unique and enjoyable about brewed coffee.

So why don’t we talk about this more?  This is interesting! I don’t mean amongst ourselves as an industry, but to customers.  While it does get harder to notice with the addition of condiments, it still seems like a relatively easy promise to make that you can be confident will come true.  It has been something I’ve been talking to people more about, and while they may not always agree with me about exactly how the coffee changes (also a good thing) – they do always remark at how much it changed.

Could we use this better, as an industry?  To those who drink coffee at home – is that change in flavour an enjoyable part of the coffee experience, or merely something that happens in the background while you drink your delicious coffee?