This post should probably start with a disclaimer – I did not pay for my ExtractMojo, it was very kindly sent to me by Vince Fedele at Terroir Coffee to use and give feedback upon.  I am very grateful to both him and Andy Schecter and Scott Rao also for getting me involved.

In many ways I am surprised that this isn’t a hotter topic of conversation, especially online.  Then again many of you reading this may have done the same thing as me – download the trial software, have a little play, think it is a cool little automated coffee brewing control chart.  I sorely underestimated it.

Continue reading “ExtractMojo”

SCAE Brewmaster Certification

In the world of Speciality Coffee filter coffee isn’t very sexy. One criticism leveled at the SCAE is that it seems obsessed with espresso and yet espresso only makes up a small percentage of how all coffee is consumed in member countries so they have started a Brewmasters program.

Anette and I traveled up for a two day course held at Bunn’s UK office to take part. The first day is primarily lectures – Mick Wheeler gave a seed to cup, Christian Klatt from Mahlkoenig talked about grinding, and Shane Pender from Marco talked about grind size analysis. I’ve attended a fair few seed to cup lectures but there were a fair few interesting nuggets in there I hadn’t heard before and also another view point on the economics of farming. Equallly in a world with very little information on grinding coffee it is always nice to be able to ask difficult questions.

TDS Meter

Then it was onto the brewing lectures given jointly by Paul Stack of Marco and Mike Khan of Bunn. This was similar to the lecture given on filter brewing at the ETCC in Moscow, except in greater depth. Beyond better understand of the kit the focus was around the brewing control chart.

Brewing Control Chart

I am not going to explain it in great detail but essential filter brewing is a balance of extraction and strength – the amount of solubles taken from the ground coffee vs their concentration in the final brew. Extraction is hard to measure easily so with the chart you can test the strength and then, if you know your weight of coffee used, work back to the strength. The SCAE gold cup standard says that you should extract between 18-22% of the ground coffee, and that the final strength is between 1.2-1.45%. Interestingly there are other standards – SCAA, SCAJ or NCA and they all agree on the extraction but not on the strenth. Norwegians like a much stronger brew than the Americans – but everyone likes it properly brewed.

This all makes more sense on the course, I assure you. The first day ended with a written exam covering all the lectures.

TDS meter and control chart

The second day had a more practical focus. First Anette gave a cupping workshop, which is always a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how widely people’s taste preferences differ (I still can’t deal with the Malabar!). After this testing protocols were explained because the long view of this course is that we Brewmasters (I do love the title) are now able to certify a coffee shops filter coffee as achieving an SCAE Gold Cup standard. This is then verified by the SCAE by sending them a sample of brew water and brewed coffee along with details of the weight used to brew. (If you don’t send the water then they can’t subtract the solubles already in it, to give you an accurate reading of the coffee concentration.)

We all had to brew Gold Cup standard coffee, document it and measure the brew time and pH in order to pass the course. Which we all thankfully did – we were the only people not from a filter machine company, the rest were from Bunn, Marco, Animo and Bravilor.

Attendees at the Brew Master Course
I know the debate about what Speciality Coffee is will continue, but is nice to be able to at least measure good practise and standards and though good brewing doesn’t turn bad coffee into good coffee, it is at least tasting as good as it can. It is a great course, and I would recommend it to anyone – I guess it mostly has roasters in mind, or other coffee suppliers as they would be the ones verifying accounts. If you are curious then get in touch with the SCAE.  If you are in the UK I think they will be running this course at Hotelympia in February and if you are interested then drop Steve Penk and e-mail (sgp at laspaziale dot co dot uk)

SCAE Antwerp 2007

So, the long overdue post on the annual SCAE event held in Antwerp this year.

I have to say it is an odd event – the tradeshow part of it was very small, and the real attendance this year seemed primarily focused around the three or four competitions.

Antwerp seems lovely – I wish I had had a bit more of a chance to look round and get to explore. Did have some damned fine pieces of fried potato slathered in mayonaisse within minutes of arriving though. So good.

As you’ve probably read Anette and I were there as nominated representatives for the competitions going on. Anette was on the day we arrived in the cupping and I am sure most of you have read the result of that. There were loads of great cuppers in the event and I have to say it is probably my favourite coffee competition to enjoy as a spectator. This sounds very odd, but Alf Kramer really does an excellent job of keeping the tension high during the showdowns. There is something very dramatic about lifting a cup in the air and everyone straining to see whether it has the red dot.

Thomas from Norway gets it right!

I like this competition for so many reasons – most of all because it isn’t about judging. You are right or you are wrong. It is that simple – your skills are there for everyone (audience included) to see. I’d love to see this competition spread further and further, and I hope there is a UK one next year so I can enter.

Paul Meikle-Janney was our entrant in Coffee in Good Spirits, and he managed to pick the first slot out of the hat for the second year running. I am not sure how I feel about this competition – I think it has the opportunity to spread the whole barista craft a bit wider but I find it weirdly constraining. You can read more about it at the website.

Paul’s tray for the candyfloss and donut drink

I was competing in the latte art competition. I drew second onto the stage (damned early morning for me then…) and really wasn’t that good. I think of the competitions this one is the most flawed. Before it looks like I am trying to excuse my placing – I’m really not, I just didn’t pour good art, was under-rehearsed and just not comfortable. (Fate had played a small role leaving me with no coffee and a few broken cups). Last year the competitions scoring weirdly catapulted me up to a very undeserving 5th place. This year the changes in the scoring seemed very odd. I am not saying they didn’t pick a worthy winner – Jack had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand at the end of his 8 minutes, and his art was great – but I think the system must change. Currently there are score sheets filled out by the judges, but these are not used. Instead at the end each of the five judges give a single score out of 10. 2 judges represent score, 2 represent taste and then a head judge. There is also a weird time bonus of three points (which counts for a great deal it turns out) if you finish within the last 15 seconds, no earlier and no later. I think we really have to decide what we want the competition to promote when we look to score it. Whilst I think the US competition isn’t completely there yet – the absence of tasting frustrating me – I still see consistently better quality pours in their competition. By turning it into a high pressure environment it becomes more about who chokes and who doesn’t. (I choked!). I think there is a middle ground between the two, where taste matters but the pouring time isn’t as intense. Plus I think baristas need to have some input into how they think the scoring should be done. I know I’ve now written a lot about this in comparison to the others but it was the one I was closest to. I really hope it doesn’t seem like sour grapes on my behalf.

As a side note – my effort at a “signature pour” was the inside out rosetta – I didn’t manage great ones on the day which was a shame and the only photo I have of my efforts is from practise. I did manage a few better than this, will have to try again some time:

It was cool to see Luis from the Consejo in El Salvador again.  He had the most popular airpots of coffee at the show – I started all my days off with a cup of his Pacamara – forgot to find out much about it though!  Seeing Luis always reminds me that I want to get back to origin soon and that I should really work on my cupping skills to see if I could get on a CoE cupping as an observer.   It is always a pleasure to see him – he is one of the most absurdly nice people I’ve ever met, in and out of coffee.

There was a barista party on the Friday night which was really quite impressive.  A bar in the middle of Antwerp with wall to wall free beer, food and coffee.  The coffee coming from one of 4 machines dotted around the place, the nicest being Jeroen’s Mirage with a very cool spring pre-infusion system.  It was nice to chat to him for a bit as you become aware of other barista bloggers online and you communicate from time to time but nothing beats having a beer and nerding out of coffee (and cameras!).  That night flew by, chatting to all sorts of people who I’d only encountered in the online coffee world.  The odd point of the night was being ushered outside to see Jeroen stood on top of something (a car?) doing the thank yous and pushing the t-shirts (I bought two – all for a good cause).  Considering the amount of free booze the night seemed relatively calm, though when people moved on we had to crash having been awake since 4am that morning.

The other highlight of the trip was a visit to Caffenation.  Rob, who owns it, is a great guy and clearly absolutely loves what he does – which is serve the best coffee in Antwerp.  There was a really nice feel to the cafe, and on the Sunday I visited really felt like a place I’d happily escape the house to just sit and enjoy a coffee and a paper.  Everyone I spoke to who had visited remarked on the atmosphere and feel of the cafe.  I am jealous of anyone who has nice outside space, and it was great to sit out there for a bit looking back inside the opened up cafe.  I had a really interesting shot of Harrar whilst I was there, balanced acidity and full of character.

I have to say I hope to go back to Belgium soon, maybe with a little time to explore.  The weekend left me so very tired and then today has been the build up for Caffe Culture – I have a feeling I am going to be very busy over the next couple of days…..

Anette is World Cup Tasting Champion 2007!

I am utterly delighted/proud/so happy to get to post that Anette won the World Cup Tasting competition here in Antwerp today!

For those of you new to the competition the format is triangle tests.  In a round a cupper must pick the odd cup out of the three in 8 different sets.  Once they have settled on 8 individual cups the rest are cleared and they must then lift up their chosen cup in turn to see if it has the red marking underneath indicating they got it right.   It gets quite tense.

19 national entrants compete once and then the top 6 go into a semi final.  Those with the most right progress and it goes to time in case of tied scores.  The difficulty of the tests also increases the further you progress.

Anette’s first round was a maximum score in a very quick time (the only person faster was last year’s winner – Gloria from Guatemala).  In the semis she missed one bowl, but got through to the final 3 on her quick time.

The finals were great – the atmosphere was a lot of fun and it really (really!) gets tense towards the end.  It was Jacques from Brazil, Arni from Iceland and Anette.  It came down to the final bowl – if Anette got it wrong then her slower time put her third, but if it was right she won.  I’ve never been so pleased to see red marker pen on the bottom of a cupping bowl…

I will post a full set of pictures to flickr when I get back – it is off to celebrate at the barista party tonight – I will take lots of pictures!  As for the latte art (which I compete in on Sunday) and the Coffee in good spirits competition (our entrant is Paul “squeeky” Miekle-Janney) then either the pressure is off or the bar is set insanely high.  I’ll keep you posted.

Again – huge congratulations to Anette!

Looking towards Caffe Culture 2007

For a long time the biggest and best trade show for coffee was Hotelympia which is every 2 years, and this is probably still the case but Caffe Culture is a really interesting show, and is now in its 2nd year.

Last year the show was crazily busy for me.  Apart from an amusing and brief appearance on BBC breakfast tv on one the first day that meant people at the show kept asking if they had seen me somewhere before without being able to remember where, I strongly remember plowing through a lot of coffee (the remnants of my UKBC blend of that year) and serving the majority of it as espresso which seemed a pretty good thing at the time.

I am spending a bit of time today working on my presentations for the show.  What is interesting is that this is a tradeshow that has realised that the internet has pretty much killed the traditional tradeshow (you can see most products in almost infinite detail online, and get most prices too) and has turned to education to add value.

Aside from traditional seminars – I am doing one about barista competitions – they have gotten involved with the SCAE UK Chapter to run an impressive selection of workshops in 4 separate classrooms.   Each workshop has a different theme – Espresso, Filter Brewing/Cupping, New Start Up, Advanced skills.  I like that they are trying to get away from espresso as a central theme.  It is good to see Clover will  be there, as well as shop roasting workshops and good solid basics like how to layout a bar so it actually works (all too rare in the real world sadly).  I think Se’s presentation on how to improve your UKBC performance will be well attended as well.

I openly admit I am involved in one session – the advanced barista skills one – but if people get behind this I think it is really going to be excellent and set a very high standard for what the SCAE can offer.  All the classes and the instructors are listed on the website here.   We need to see education spread further in the UK, we need people to see the value in it – though I don’t think anyone reading this will seriously question that – and I think this event is a really good step in that direction.  And at £20 a session (if you buy 5) it is absurdly cheap (I think they’ve sold a fair few already).

The last time I did an advanced barista workshop was in Ireland (For the SCAE chapter there) I think I misjudged the audience a little bit.  I maybe went too much science not enough fun.  I hope not to make the same mistake twice!

I guess I am posting about this because I want to spread the word about an event with strong training and education (that has been my role for the last 2 and a half years)  that I see as being really positive and would dearly love to see it be the success it deserves.  That and (if I am honest) I really hope people come to my workshop!