An experiment with grind size

My experience with the ExtractMojo has so far resulted in one recurring realisation:  I often wasn’t grinding finely enough.  The purpose of this isn’t to rehash the whole underextracted thing.  More a simple experiment in terms of people’s preferences.

Accurately communicating grind size remains near impossible.  We can say coarse, very coarse or fine or whatever, but it is still a pretty bad communicator when you are stood in front of a grinder that you don’t know.

If people are up for it then I’d like to try an experiment.  Pick a method that you know well.  Record how you are currently setting your grinder for your desired grind size.  Each time you brew it, keep everything the same (brew temp, water volume and steep time if applicable) but go a touch finer.  Keep going until you hit the wall of bitterness.  You’ll know it when you taste it, when the cup falls to pieces in a bitter finish.  Come back a touch coarser, and try a side by side brew of this grind Vs your original grind.  Which is better? Why?

I hope a few people will try this – it would be really interesting.  I am interested because if someone asked me the ideal grind size for the aeropress, for example, then I’d say to keep the steep time the same and bring the grind as fine as you can before it starts tasting noticeably bitter.

(I am quite prepared for you to all come back and tell me I am an idiot)

Predictions for 2009 – Analysis

Well.  I really didn’t do well this time!  Having done ok on my 2008 predictions I must say that I can’t quite claim the same level of success for 2009.

My predicitons were:

1. Coffee Packaging takes a step forward

Nothing here to report.  I don’t know if anyone has done anything interesting in 2009 with roasted coffee packaging but I certainly haven’t seen it, and I don’t think it has had an impact.  A poor prediction.

2. Improved Green Coffee Packaging

This is a tricky one.  I am sure that this year people have received record quantities of vac-packed, or grainpro packed coffee.  I know that a substantial amount of coffee that we’ve bought this year has come this way.  I also know that it leaves me conflicted over the amount of waste this packaging generates.  An OK, passable, but not great effort at prediction.

3.  Someone invents a grinder worth getting excited about.

Nope. Nothing here.  I know why, from an R&D cost Vs sales perspective, this hasn’t happened.  For some reason I guess I thought it just would.  A complete failure of a prediction.

4.  Decent Coffee Press in the UK.

I am going to claim this one.  You could argue that the quality of writing hasn’t been where it could be but I think this year we’ve seen unprecedented levels of coverage for speciality coffee – mostly in response to Gwilym’s win – but also covering the blossoming of London’s coffee culture.  I hope it continues.  A pretty successful prediction.

5.  Producing countries in the WBC Top 6.

Another utterly failed prediction.  Raul was just outside the top 6, and I think there was some surprise at who made the top 6 and who didn’t.  Nonetheless I can’t even vaguely claim this one as successful.

So…  Barely 1.5 out of 5 I reckon.  Not good work.  I shall have to try harder for my prediction for 2010, or just give up entirely!  I hope next time I don’t confuse speculation and prediction with wishful thinking!

The one interesting thing, in terms of me trying to salvage my credibility, are the two main predictions that I got wrong in 2008 – the rise of pressure profiling and increase in green coffee pricing – have somewhat come true in 2009.

There can be no argument on the pressure profiling front.  From the Slayer to Strada, but also to Cimbali’s rather impressive pressure profiling machine – the technology is now here and seems to have perhaps captured the interest of manufacturers more than baristas but I think it will continue to be incorporated into new machines.

As for green coffee – it may not yet have reached the peak of March 3rd but after a steep drop it is definitely back on the rise:

(couresy of Wolfram Alpha – the rather splendid search engine for this sort of thing.)

I’ll post my predictions for 2010 around New Year.

WBC Thoughts

I should probably try and post some vague approximations of all the craziness, stress, surprise and good times that was the WBC this year.

So – Gwilym’s performance:  I am sure pretty much everyone has worked out that we didn’t go to this competition with the main goal of winning. The idea this year was the same as the idea last year, and the year before that: give an interesting performance that one could are proud of.

Continue reading “WBC Thoughts”

5 Predictions for 2009

I suppose I consider my previous predictions (with your support) reasonably successful.

Just for fun I am going to make another 5 predictions and we’ll wait and see how they turn out!

1).    Coffee packaging takes a big step forward

Think for a moment about how many kilos of espresso are brewed every day.  Think about how many bags are thrown away each day.  Good packaging is a necessity for quality, but it isn’t recyclable and that is becoming more and more of an issue.  The reusable, valved buckets we’ve been using at Square Mile have been great, and I am glad the bulk of our production goes out in them, but we still have to bag a good deal up.  Hopefully this year we’ll see someone clever devil make a breakthrough and move coffee packaging at least a little closer to closed loop recycling.
Continue reading “5 Predictions for 2009”

WBC Testing – Usability and Grinders

I am writing sat comfortably in amongst the green coffee down here on Granville Island. I have had enough coffee for a month, and everyone is exhausted and caffeinated.

Despite this, and contrary to what we had planned to do, there has been no official tasting during this WBC evaluation of equipment and personally I think this is a great thing. We had some plans, but very quickly we realised that it would simply be pretty much impossible to run a test that really did justice to the capabilities of the machinery here and to perform evaluations that would withstand both our own, and other people’s, criticism.

Instead we pushed our usability testing a little further and developed the protocols used. If I can get a copy of the sheets we used I will post them. The machine evaluation tests covered things like buttons, ergonomics, the live feedback (gauges, displays etc) machines gave and other stuff (like how easy it is to clean or service a machine). Three groups worked for a set period of time on machines, pulling shot after shot, and then rotating. It has completely changed the way I think about using a machine, and clarified a lot of my thinking on what I want from an espresso machine. Manufacturers were allowed to set up machines as they wished (in terms of preinfusion and pump pressure – more on the latter if I can post about it). We drank a lot of our shots but it wasn’t to rank them – more to see how the machines would respond to us changing the brew recipe or trying to manipulate the machines as we might in competition (flushing routines etc).

Grinders were evaluated in a similar way. Again – we had six grinders to test: A Rossi doserless, a Mahlkoenig K30 and K30 twin, a Compak K10 WBC and the new Compak Doserless “Fresh” and the Nueva Simonelli Mythos.

For grinders with timers the consistency of dose delivery was evaluated, the level of particle aggregate (more on this in the future I hope), how it held a grind and the ergonomics and intuitiveness (is that a word?) of adjustments and controls.

I think the manufacturers are happy and they were around the machines at all times while we worked them, and were helpful in answering any questions. I think, or certainly hope, they are happy with the testing and they will certainly get a lot of feedback from this. If they run with it I am very excited to see what will happen next.

Any testing is obviously open to complaints or the highlighting of problems but everyone involved has worked very hard and I think we are all proud of the testing. The next round in 3 years will really set a standard as we learned a lot about testing machines in the last 5 days.

Don’t expect results any time soon – I don’t know when manufacturers will find out their full results but I do know the winner of the bidding will not be announced til after Copenhagen, which I think is correct.

I will edit my photos on the flight home so I will post when the set is up on flickr in the next few days.

Again I am happy to answer any questions, or to try and clarify how we did things but I am not really comfortable giving my opinion about any of the machines at this stage – certainly until I’ve spoken personally with the manufacturers about the notes on my forms.

New K30

So today my grinder from Mahlkoenig arrived.  It was the K30 model that I won at the UKBC.

Mahlkoenig K30 Grinder

I must confess to being a slightly difficult customer and asking for the polished metal finish, with the blue body.  Perhaps I just like shiny things – I think it looks great.  At some point I shall have to spend a while trialling it against the Compak.  Perhaps when I get the GS3 (it is London now, so that should be pretty soon).  This model is stepped and I am wondering if it is possible to retrofit the stepless grind adjustment.  We shall see….

K30 Grind adjustment

A big thank you to Mahlkoenig for their generosity and support!

Every home should have one….

Just starting to clean up a Mahlkoenig VTA 6 grinder, that some of you may know by its “R2D2” nickname that was a chance bargain. Something of an oddity – it is single phase and still has its sticker in German (which is coming off) as well as an odd plate that restricts the grind to certain settings (that isn’t going to last long either!).

Burrs are massive – 120mm, and it grinds coffee incredibly fast -2.5kg a minute on the coarsest setting. Even at a Turkish grind it chewed through 250g of coffee in about 20 seconds. Scary. Puts my current kitchen grinder, which is no slouch – a Bunn G3A – to shame.

I’d really like to give it a new coat of paint, but first and foremost just want to give it a damn good clean!