More Tamper Tantrum videos

I meant to post each of these as they came out, but things like Maastricht got in the way. (A post on the whole thing will follow at some point, along with my scoresheets and stuff for those interested.)

Anyway – there are now two new talks out so I thought I’d post them together.

Cosimo Libardo

Take your time with this one. Go full screen, so you can see the data. It is some interesting research that will reward careful viewing.

Paul Stack

I liked Paul’s presentation a lot, despite (or perhaps because) of his misbehaving powerpoint. Well worth a watch too!

Watch and enjoy! Once again – was so proud to be a part of this awesome event that is only going to get better in the future!

Tamper Tantrum Live – my talk

Hopefully you’ve all watched Colin’s excellent talk I posted a little while back. If not then do so now – it is here. Today Steve posted mine up. It is very similar to the talk I gave at SCAA’s Symposium – but a little longer and you can see the images that went along with it. 1

People’s thoughts and feedback on the topic are very welcome – what is also exciting is how many more great talks there are to come from the day!

  1. And yes – I have a Sprudge t-shirt!  ↩︎

Tamper Tantrum Live – Colin Harmon

So a couple of weekends ago I popped over to Dublin to take part in Tamper Tantrum Live – organised by Steve Leighton and Colin Harmon. There were to be a bunch of short presentations on whatever the speakers found interesting.

The idea is that with more events there will be a library of interesting TED style talks on all things coffee.

Steve has started to release the talks in the order of the day, and kicking off the event was Colin Harmon whose talk I would consider absolutely essential for anyone thinking about opening a shop. (It was a very hard act to follow – Colin is a great speaker).

I’ll be reposting all the talks on here as they are released because I think they are all worth watching!

You can also download an iphone app which is a great way to subscribe to the talks as they’re released in the future.

A love/hate relationship with espresso

It goes without saying that trends and fashions are cyclical. What is in one day is out the next, only to be back in fashion once embracing it seems sufficiently different to what everyone else is doing. Such is brewed coffee vs espresso.  (I should probably warn you now that this is going to be a fairly long post…)

Outside of fashion my own feelings about espresso have changed dramatically over my career. It was all I knew coffee brewing to be for the first couple of years, and then I fell in love with brewed coffee and espresso seemed so awkward, so difficult and often so unrewarding in comparison. I was probably a bit too negative about espresso – I vaguely remember the idea of writing an article where Chris Tacy would defend espresso, and I would be all about brewed coffee.

Considering Chris’ fairly recent post this might seem a little odd. That particular conversation has gone down one path and I want to talk about something else – which is how much I enjoy brewing espresso these days.

I was recently running a couple of workshops at the Caffe Culture tradeshow, and I realised that explaining my own evolution of emotional attachment to espresso could be a good structure to explain how I now think about brewing.

This all starts with walking offstage in Berne in 2006 in the WBC finals.  I was delighted to be up on stage, I had a lot of fun but I definitely remember the feeling of walking off stage and feeling that I had absolutely no idea how to brew espresso.  I knew I had great raw materials, well roasted, and some nice kit to brew on.  I had been unable to push and prod my espresso into tasting how I wanted it to – I simply didn’t have the knowledge to exact the change on the cup profile that I wanted.

Looking back – I was serving fairly high dosed, fairly light roasted, underextracted and strong espresso.  It was sour, and no matter how much I slowed down the shot I couldn’t get it to sweeten up the way it had in practice.   Maybe I will come back to why later….

Espresso was so dispiriting for so long.  We end up using words like art for brewing, which I think is probably wrong.  Brewing is execution of task.  It should require craft, but not art.

Let me put this another way:  If I walk into your shop and order an espresso – how confident (as a percentage) would you be that the next shot you pull and serve will represent you, your shop and your coffee properly?  Be honest….

For a long time I felt that my own number was probably around 40-50% on a good day.  Sometimes espresso sucked, and I didn’t know why.  After the WBC the stress bumped up a notch – if I was serving coffee somewhere people would walk up with expectations and I rarely felt confident that I met them.

This nature of espresso is why there has been so much bullshit, myth and voodoo around for so long.  We explain things by looking for trends rather than explanations.  A classic example of this would be our approach to coffee grinding an humidity/weather.  I would argue that the weather will affect your grind, mostly by affecting how busy you are.  This impacts how hot your grinder is running, resulting in a grind change.  I simply haven’t seen a change in grind happen quickly with a rapid change in moisture/humidity. (I could imagine a gradual change would make more sense.)

I don’t want to get into a humidity debate – just an example of causation vs correlation.  Another might be the advent of naked portafilters.  At the time people were suddenly raving that they produced espresso with more body, more intensity, more sweetness.  The explanation was simply that people were pulling shorter shots, that looked normal volume because of the additional crema, but doing it so fairly slowly – they were pulling reasonably extracted ristrettos, they’d changes the recipe rather than the absence of a portafilters bottom somehow impact the extraction that occurred inside the basket above.

I’m getting off topic – I want to come back to why I enjoy espresso more.  I enjoy it more because it I have a functional recipe that I can replicate accurately, and relatively easily.

No doubt Vince Fedele had a big impact on this – with both the Mojo and the also the VST baskets.  I’ve already seen some strange things written about them, and what they do, so perhaps it is worth explaining a bit more.

We brew espresso by controlling flow rate using the resistance of the coffee cake.  Traditionally we think of two variables to control that resistance:  grind and dose.  Using these we can control how long the contact time is for a fixed volume of solvent (water).  The combination of contact time and quantity of water basically decide how much we extract from the coffee.

We didn’t factor in a third factor into that resistance – the bottom of a portafilter basket.  We tend to think of their job as being about filtration rather than impacting contact time.  However, they ought to be treated as an additional constant of resistance.  Most baskets are built with the majority of end users in mind.  Most end users – and that is a very large majorirty – are dosing around 7g per shot of espresso/14g for a double.  With a relatively small dose you need to grind pretty fine to get your desired contact time which has the benefit of exposing an increased surface area which makes the coffee easier to extract.

Higher doses – 18g+ came about somewhat by accident.  They were a product of grinding to order and using a basket to measure a dose of  ground coffee by volume.  The increase in dose meant additional resistance.  The basket resistance, plus the higher dose resistance meant we had to grind coarser.  This coarser grind made the coffee a lot harder to extract.  We found we liked the texture and strength of a higher dose of coffee, and this trend went further with people pulling shorter and shorter shots.  This meant we had less and less water to use in our extraction.  End result = underextraction.  A byproduct of this was darker roasting to help balance out the sourness of the underextracted cup.

The VST baskets are great because they do a few things exceptionally well.  They have less resistance the larger they are.  This means that you can grind much finer than you otherwise could before.  This means you can extract more.  This is good news.

Secondly – the way they are manufactured means that they are extremely consistent – an exact number and size of uniform holes. This means that if you have a 3 group all the baskets will act exactly the same.  Plus they’re built to be much thicker so they’ll last a lot longer.  This is a bit of a simplified explanation but hopefully you’ve all read the article in Barista Magazine that Vince wrote because it was great.  (Best edition of the magazine ever too!)

I haven’t really explained why this means I like espresso more.  I should probably do that now.

If I take a great espresso machine, and a VST 21g basket, and I put 20g of coffee into it and in around 28s I produce around 32g (brewing at 94C) then I know with 90%+ confidence that it will taste how I want it to.  That is, to me at least, pretty exciting.  It also massively reduces the stress of espresso.  I know that it won’t be a perfect shot, but it will be very tasty and something I’d be happy to sell.

I’ll be honest – the above recipe is where I always start.  I won’t taste it till I get there – because I don’t want the first 2 or 3 espressos I drink each day to suck.  I’m all for tasting bad espresso for diagnostic learning, but I’m also all for actually enjoying the damn drink.

Based on what I taste I might make changes, adjusting how I extract based on the cup.  If things are a just a touch out of balance on the acidic front then I will likely do something pretty simply like use a little more brew water to up the extraction.  34-35g of liquid from that dose will still have great mouthfeel if you brew it properly.  Very rarely do I need to make that change.  I know what kind of extraction yield I have, and I know what I like.  I’m not going to be prescriptive in that – the point of analysing espresso extraction (for me) is to understand what I enjoy, how I can change things to get there and to define the boundaries of good coffee for the recipe I am trying to make.

I’m sure some people will be horrified by the simplicity of the brewing.  Shouldn’t I spend longer “dialling in”, fighting my flawed grinder (because they’re all flawed), and burning out my palette to emerge the battered hero of espresso brewing, victorious in my reasonably good espresso which I might then struggle to replicate with any great consistency?  It amused me to see that Schomer (from his last blog post) 1 seems to revel in the challenge, in the difficulty, and sees it as being an important aspect to treating coffee brewing as a craft.  I don’t agree, but it is ok if you don’t agree with me (or with him).

I’ll be honest – I think weighing scales are an essential part of a good, streamlined, efficient dialling in routine in the morning.  I think they’re a great quick QC tool when you’ve got a tired tongue.  I think they’re a great training tool.  Volume measurement being so common and so flawed is one reason that I struggled with espresso for so long.  I think it is a very good reason that many other people struggle with it.  I think it is crazy not to spend £10 on a little tool that can do so much good. Do we really want to keep struggling with it to preserve our own egotistical version of our craft – or do we simply want to sell people delicious cups of coffee? If we can get past the basic challenge of consistent execution then perhaps we can get to a place where we can be much more creative with coffee.

I’m not saying that I can now brew perfect espresso every time.  That would be as idiotic as using the word perfect to begin with.  I find brewing espresso much easier than ever before, and I drink more espresso that I enjoy than ever before.  There are still many challenges with it, and a lot of things we don’t understand.  There are other factors impacting cup quality in ways that are hard to quantify – can’t help but constantly come back to grinders here too.

I promised a while back that I’d stop going on about weighing espresso.  I’m not going to apologise for breaking the promise, and I hope other people identify with my own to and fro with espresso.  It is still a completely frustrating thing in many other ways – if you listen to the last podcast with Tim Wendelboe then we both talk a little about this.

  1. There is so much in that article that I’d like to respond to, but I don’t really want to get into an online blog tit-for-tat blog tennis match  ↩︎

The future of speciality coffee

It was hard to listen to the various presentations at the SCAA Symposium this year without thinking about what it would mean in real terms for quality coffee in the future.
I don’t profess to make particularly accurate predictions (the various annual efforts on here stand as testament to that). However, based on the various talks I would make the following guesses:

A shift in production away from diversity

Currently about 60% of the world’s coffee comes from just 4 different producing countries. I hadn’t realise the distribution was stacked that way, but these are countries that are able to apply new technologies relatively easily that will allow even greater yields without expanding the area given up to grow coffee.

My prediction (in between 10 and 20 years) would be that 60% from 4 becomes 80% from those 4 countries. Right now there is a lot of incentive to grow coffee in Brazil. Not only are prices high but exchange rates make their currency even more valuable. This will spur greater investment and a significant bump in yield. The majority of this coffee will be poor to average. Variety/genetic research will focus on palatability of product, rather than excellence.

Coffee is chased up the mountain

Climate change means that coffee growing at current altitudes will be decreasingly possible and rewarding. Farmers at lower altitudes will likely switch crop to something more stable and less affected by disease and temperature (palm oil etc). Those that can grow coffee higher up, where temperatures remain cooler, will continue to do so. However, this reduction in planted area for coffee (as well as a hopeful focus on quality in order to make a sustainable living) will make coffee grown at altitude increasingly expensive.

Climate change figures (esp likely temp changes) seemed to vary at Symposium, but I hope Dr Peter Baker’s presentation will be made available as it was both informative and compelling. No one seems to be arguing the base fact that less land will be viable for speciality coffee in the future.

Diversity in speciality coffee

Throughout Central America, some of South America and East Africa I expect to see less total coffee being produced – especially less speciality coffee. This will drive up prices further but I think we’ll see some truly exceptional stuff as we learn more about producing higher cup quality on purpose. (Looking to the GCQRI on that one….)

If you retail coffee then start thinking about how you’ll see it when it doubles in price. I think it will, and will be sustainable there too. The gap between speciality and commodity will widen significantly. I think genuine speciality (some would say high-end speciality) will also break away from the broad church that we cover with the term “speciality coffee” today.


We’re going to see GMOs in coffee. I don’t like it, you probably don’t like it, nobody wants to talk about it, but I think these will likely appear first in the big 4 producing countries where there is greater need for economic stability from the coffee trade.

I hope that speciality works contrary to this to start to mine the genetic diversity in nature to see if we can’t find what we need there.

In summary

I don’t think fantastic coffee is going to disappear despite the challenges it faces. It is going to become increasingly scarce and its cost of production on top means that we’ll see a much bigger divide between C-market (which will likely drop back) and Speciality. You’ll have to fight to find it and buy it.

Whether you can plan that far ahead about how to be effective in a market that different, I don’t know. It is certainly worth some thought.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who was at Symposium, or who is interested in this sort of thing, about how wrong they think I am!

Restaurant Coffee

I don’t usually post much work related stuff on here, but taking this photo it struck how ludicrously easy it can be to do a great coffee service in a restaurant. This photo was taken in a restaurant in London called Trinity. Trinity is a small restaurant in South West London, in a fairly residential neighbourhood. A few months ago they took out their espresso machine and replaced it with brewed coffee.

Looking at the photo is seems almost ridiculous. They have a great equipment setup there, and it cost a lot less than even a cheap 2 group. It also takes up a lot less space. They offer different, contrasting coffees. The staff are passionate and informed about the product. 1 They consistently serve really, really tasty coffee. People like really, really tasty coffee.

This doesn’t mean it has been easy. People still come to restaurants expecting to end a meal with an espresso. I think it takes some bravery for a restaurant to admit that espresso is incredibly difficult to do, and instead choose to do something of which they can be proud every time it is served. Inevitably success here comes down to service more than it does product, and I was really impressed by how thought out their approach was.

This isn’t new globally – but it is new to London. There are restaurants out there that are willing to invest in staff, equipment and training. There are many more restaurants knowingly serving an item on their menu that isn’t very good. In fact they know it is pretty bad. Many are too scared to make the change – I hope Trinity pave the way for others to follow. As a consumer and as a coffee professional I’d love to see more great coffee coming out of restaurants.

  1. Doing staff training here is so much fun. We brew coffee, talk about it, argue preference and I answer lots of questions. I love it! That and the technical side of the training is easy to do, and the staff remember everything and just do a good job. The same is sadly not true of espresso training.  ↩︎

Where are we with pressure profiling?

David Schomer’s comments on pressure profiling this week haven’t been particularly well received it seems.

This is quite frustrating – he’s raising an interesting point, but has done so in a way that allows it to be torn apart due to his presentation. You could say he’s unable to back it up, he’s making such sweeping statements topped up with a self confidence easily labelled as arrogance. 1
Continue reading “Where are we with pressure profiling?”

  1. What actually annoys me more is the pseudo science is his writing. ” the preservation of these unstable molecular structures that constitute coffee flavor/aroma” being an example. Ah yes – these unnamed, mystery structures of wonder, so unstable that they’ve somehow survived temperatures in excess of 400F during roasting, but still so unstable that 1F variance in water temp ruins all!  I should also add that in person he’s been nothing but friendly to me, so I feel a little mean writing this.  ↩︎

The Speciality Coffee Crisis

This isn’t designed to be a fear-mongering post, but this is really something we have to talk about and think about as an industry.

I think we can accept as fact that the growth in consumption of high quality coffee is not being matched by growth in production. At some point in the not too distant future there will be a tipping point where total demand starts to comfortably exceed total production and this will result in a dramatic price spike.
Continue reading “The Speciality Coffee Crisis”

One final plea

This is one last humble request on a topic I know I’ve ranted on about before.

It would be really good, when talking about how we are brewing espresso amongst professionals, to start by talking about the weight of the espresso.  We need to stop using volume.  It is useless. Utterly useless.  Saying 1.5oz is like saying “about a basket full of coffee”.  It gets me in the vague ballpark, but it doesn’t really help if I am trying to dial a coffee in.

I’ve been really enjoying the reviews of various blends over on Home Barista, but I’d have really loved to know how much people’s great/amazings shots weighed (especially with Vivace’s Dolce where unusual crema volume is reported) – it would have made the reviews a lot more interesting and transparent.  I am sure it would also have been useful for people following along with those coffees and similar machines at home.

I know Andy Schecter posted about this on Portafilter less than two months ago – and now I just sound like a broken, whining, complaining record.  But weighing espresso is just so useful.

Alright.  That was it, no more posts about it.  This was the last (hopeful!) try.  We shall now return to normal service….

UPDATE: It was in error that I used the Home Barista thread as an example as some of the reviewers were indeed using both mass and brew ratios.  Apologies!