Tag Archives: brewing

4 steps to perfecting your pour-over.

Are you one of the thousands of people that have upped their home brewing coffee game? coffee brewerPour overs, Aeropress and so many other single cup brew methods have invaded kitchens across Canada.

Recently we did a post about how to have a better coffee experience. This was more about getting you into a mental state prior to cupping or drinking coffee.

Today I want to talk more about the technical side of how to brew a quality pour-over at home consistently.

However you approach your brewing, you want to make sure it is replicable. When you’re playing with variables, make sure your consistent with what variable you are changing.

Here are the top 4 steps to monitor:

Agitation – are you pulsating your water doses as you get to your desired weight? If so, how much and how often?

Stirring – are you stirring the coffee at the bloom or once you’ve hit your water weight?

Particle size – Are you adjusting your coffee particle size according to the amount of coffee you’re brewing? Are you keeping it consistent?

Temperature – have you played around with brewing your coffee one or two degrees hotter or cooler?

Isolating variables will help you pin point how an action affects outcome and if it was a desirable outcome or not. By isolating the variables you can replicate the results next time you brew.

I hope this helps you get a better cup every morning and give you a better day every week.


3 things you can do to have a better coffee experience.

I have had the opportunity to introduce many people to their first cup of great coffee. I have 

Photo credit: Joe Driscoll, http://goo.gl/7E83X6

Photo credit: Joe Driscoll

been a part of hosting and attending many cuppings from California to Canada. A few months ago the government of Chiapas, Mexico covered all expenses to have me meet with farmers and cooperatives in Chiapas and to be a part of that years coffee cupping competition to rate the best coffee coming out of Chiapas.

Just yesterday I hosted a cupping in Toronto which got me thinking I need to write a blog about how people experience their first cup of great coffee.

The thing is, there is something I experience every time I’m at a cupping table. I admit that it’s my fault, I should probably have created a better explanation on how to approach taste, or I should respect the moments prior to the cupping to get people in the right frame of mind. You can’t just throw people into the “cupping ring” and expect them to come out unharmed. The thing that happens almost every single time I take people in unprepared is at least one individual comes out thinking they hate great coffee!

It’s mind boggling  absurd! And years ago I even thought slightly offensive. Disgusting!? Tea like!? Doesn’t taste like coffee!? Listen to yourself. It’s coffee, in fact its great coffee! (I don’t know about you, but I find great humour in this!)

So I think it’s time I work through my pre-cupping routine, and we’ll do it together as I’m still hashing this out and haven’t tried it on “subjects”. I think both I, and the participants will come out better for it.

3 things you must do before you experience great coffee:

–       Define what constitutes “great”?

When we’re drinking great wine or eating great food we approach it with a different state of mind. We want the experience of grandiose flavors. Does the steak make me want to throw ketchup on it? Maybe it’s just ground beef.

–       Flavor and aromatics are King and Queen.

Exemplary flavor = Sweet, balanced acidity, clean, well-developed body and phenomenal aromatics. Use the tools at your disposal; nose, taste, feel.

What does it smell like? How does that smell alter or complement the taste? How does it feel? Is the weight in your mouth heavier like milk, or lighter like water?

–       Put your preferences on hold.

We tend to approach everything in life through the lens of our culture. Food and drink is no exception. If you grew up with bland food and coffee, chances are you want to neutralize and are put off by any thing that has flavor. Try to put preferences aside as much as possible and approach the coffee by concentrating on what you’re smelling and tasting and not thinking about if you enjoy it or not. 

See how taking 5 – 10 minutes prior to cupping and going through these steps changes your outcome on the experience.

I can already see that when I’m going into a coffee cupping, before my mind and mouth are prepared I get much less value out of the experience. 

It’s ok to dislike certain coffees, foods and wines; the important part is knowing why you dislike them. This will help in your purchasing decisions and you’ll grow by leaps and bounds in knowing your likes and dislikes.

And because your taste buds are on 10 day to two week cycles, you might actually start enjoying that coffee you hated two weeks ago. 

When Adding Salt To Your Coffee Is A Good Idea.

I remember my grandma putting salt in her coffee bed before brewing. This was many years 

This is not my grandma. :)

This is not my grandma.

before I drank or even thought about coffee. I never knew why she did that but it turns out that many people add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness.

Since being in the coffee business, from time to time I still hear about people putting salt in their coffee.

So when should you add salt to your coffee? 

People add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness. The sodium ion interferes with the transduction mechanism of bitter taste. But interestingly enough, the reasons behind this are not fully understood.

A study done at the University of Munich revealed that bitterness is extracted at the end of a brewing cycle. Over extracted coffee will comprise of more bitter compounds. Also, coffees that are brewed at really high temperatures or high pressure (like espresso.) This is because bitter tasting compounds are less soluble than others.

Caffeine it self is a bitter compound but not the main bitter compound in coffee.

As a blurb on our last blog, the darker the roast of the coffee the more bitter it will become.

Chlorogenic acids are highly present in light to medium roasted coffees, as you roast longer and darker higher levels of phenylindanes emerge by breaking down the chlorogenic acids. These phenylindanes cause a more lingering harsh taste in your mouth.

So the longer you roast the coffee the harsher it seems to get. But getting rid of bitterness in your cup is not isolated to the roast profile.

Some experiments done by a wine connoisseur revealed positive results in reducing bitterness in his coffee and espresso when putting a pinch of salt into the basket. It did however alter the taste of the coffee, it did not taste salty, but it lost some desirable qualities he was getting from the coffee on the brews done before salt was added. Adding salt to coffee is done differently in different cultures. For instance:

–       In northern Sweden there is a tradition of serving cured ham and other meats with their coffee this is believed to produce the same outcome of reducing the bitterness of the coffee.

–       In costal areas where fresh water mixes with salt sea, people are known to simply use that water for brewing coffee.

–       In Ethiopia it is common to serve salted popcorn with coffee.

A study done by P.A.S. Breslin and G.K. Beauchamp in the Oxford Journals showed that there was no consistent degree of bitterness suppression from salt in coffee. Which means that adding more salt won’t necessarily convert into less bitterness.

Salt can do a lot for poor coffee beans, poor roasting and poor brewing.

If you happen to get and consume good coffee, you’ll be doing yourself a big disservice by adding salt to your coffee. (Tweet This!)

 As my chef friend would say – “Ketchup is used to cover up bad cooking.”

On the left we have specialty grade coffee. On the right, your "bargain" coffee brand.

On the left we have specialty grade coffee. On the right, your “bargain” coffee brand.

If you’d like to read up on a few other experiments about molecular gastronomy,  check out, Tasting Salt With Coffee by Tim Windelboe and Martin Lersch.

3 common misconceptions on espresso.

What is espresso? Is it some bitter jolt of caffeine, or something new and trendy?

In this article we will cover 3 of the most common misconceptions with espresso.

1)   Espresso is a type of bean.
2)   Espresso is a type of blend.
3)   Espresso is a type of roast.

The finger could be pointed in many directions, inaccurate marketing by coffee chains and grocery stores, or in word of mouth terminology as those ever popular “chocolate covered espresso beans.”

If you ever get the privilege to travel to a coffee farm and experience the beauty of the coffee farming process you’ll quickly discover that the trees look quite similar. Sure, there may be some different varietals on the farm but one thing you will not notice are trees labeled, “drip”, “aeropress”, “syphon pot”, “espresso”… and so on.

This may sound slightly ridiculous. You may think this is obvious information, but it is humorous how many people would rather choose a large cup of coffee rather than an espresso based drink assuming that it is from a different bean and has different chemical composition.

There is some truth in that some companies choose to make some espresso blends. These blends are often used to try to “tame” the coffee and are often easier to work with that single origin espressos (SOE). The problem doesn’t lie in that so much, as in the belief that you can’t use anything than an espresso blend to brew espresso with, or espresso beans.

Espresso roast, this unfortunately would be poor marketing on behalf of coffee companies. I have a strong belief that many coffee companies thrive on keeping the general public uneducated. The less they know, the less they’ll question us. Unfortunately this causes us to dumb down one of the worlds most complex products.

You can use any roast profile you desire to brew espresso with. You might find that you’ll need to adjust your brewing parameters to compensate for the roast, but if you’re using a good coffee, you should be getting a good result. Contrary to popular belief, a dark oily bean is not a good sign. This is a sign that the coffee bean is over roasted or past it’s prime and the cell walls have begun to be compromised and they are starting to release the oils (the aroma and flavor) that you’re trying to get out of it while brewing.

Take away; If you’re fortunate enough to have an espresso machine at home, try to use the same coffee through it as you would use for your drip brewer and think about the differences in taste that each brew method brings to the table.

Why adding less grinds doesn’t equal weaker coffee.

Rarely does a day go by that I don’t hear about using less grinds to make the coffee 

brewchartweaker. This does have its place, and if your ratios are correct an often overlooked aspect is if you are using the proper grind consistency for the brew method of choice, or if your water is at the proper brewing temperature.

In this article I’d like to touch on;

How extraction works?
What is proper extraction?
How to properly extract, and get weaker coffee!

How extraction works;

Coffee extraction occurs in two stages. First the water contacts the grounds, which rapidly washes away at the coffee solids and displaces the gases. Secondly, the coffee absorbs water and swells which drives off the carbon dioxide where the volatile aromas are trapped within the grounds and migrate into the liquid by diffusion.
Roughly half of your extraction occurs almost immediately.

Rate of extraction is determined by ground size (how fine you grind), water temperature, agitation, and brewing ratio (percentage of coffee to water)

So lets assume we have the least amount of variables possible. Our coffee has the proper and consistent grind for the brew method we are using, our coffee is fresh, our brewer is dispersing water evenly across all the grounds, and our water temperature is stable and consistent (in volume). Our only variable is how much coffee we are using.

What is proper extraction?

Most coffee associations including Norwegian, Europe, and American recommend an 18%-22% extraction. Simply put I would suggest beginning with a 1:17 ratio. Measuring both the coffee and the water by mass. In other words, using 1 gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water. In this range you have the highest chance to maximize sweetness and minimize bitterness.

If we are using less coffee for the same amount of water we are allowing longer contact time and the coffee will gradually increase in bitterness. In the first half of your brew, you are extracting acids and sugars, as your brew continues and all your sugars and acids have been extracted, all that remains to be extracted from the coffee are it’s bitter components.

So how do I properly extract and get weaker coffee!?

The key word is dilution.
It is ok if you find coffee brewed at a 1:17 ratio still to strong. You do have some flexibility, trying going down a little in your coffee weight, but don’t stray from it to far. It is far more beneficial to brew at the proper rate and add hot water to your already brewed coffee after. This way you can extract the oils out of the coffee allowing for a well-balanced cup and simply dilute it to your desired strength. This will preserve the flavor more and result in a more enjoyable cup.

What are other ways you have successfully brewed coffee for people who like it “weaker”?

Roaster, Barista and Customer; Deciphering The Code

Coffee roasting profiles can often be confusing and the tasting notes on bags misleading. As Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 2.53.50 PMyou develop your coffee pallet you’ll depend less on written descriptions and trust your own sense of taste.

The most common way I hear customers describe a coffee roasts profile are light, medium and dark; Only 3 descriptions for an enormous amount of possibilities.

What do these mean, and how can we help customers find what they are actually looking for?

In the roasting world there are many ways that we attempt to capture the roast more accurately and consistently; The SCAA has color tiles with numerical correspondents, lots of roasters use Agtron (a device that uses infrared light to analyze color and gives out a roast score with a numerical value.) Other still, go by measuring the bean temperature at the termination of roast. (or all 3.)

All this to help us recreate a great roast and deliver a consistent product.

This is just a little peak behind the veil on the science and intuition that goes into roasting. Keep in mind we’re not even touching on the subject of profiling.

As baristas (baristi) we want to provide the customer with exactly what they’re looking for, and sometimes that means trying to read between the lines.

More often than not, someone looking for dark roast is looking for “quality” and that’s what they associate with it. Sometimes they just want something with a heavier mouth feel, but rarely are they looking for a charred and mystical third crack.

So trust your barista intuition and always give your customers the best experience you can, while propelling our industry forward.

Interview w/ Jeremy Ho – 2012 Canadian Barista Champion

Jeremy Ho, a longtime baristas at Phil & Sebastian in Calgary took 1st place in the Canadian Jeremy nationalsNational Barista Championship which makes him the first Calgarian to represent Canada on the world stage in Melbourne, Australia for the World Barista Championships where he took 9th place.

I recently had the pleasure to chat with Jeremy about competition and leadership.

First off, congratulations again on winning the national championship and the 9th place finish at worlds!
It has been a few years since Canada has cracked top 10 hasn’t it?
It was 2010 since Canada cracked the top 10 with a 7th place finish by Kyle Straw.

It was great to see you perform live both at regionals and nationals. Can you explain how your approach to the “ring” differs from the first two competitions to the world stage?
My approach when I am prepping backstage, rolling out the cart, and getting into the competition area actually was no different between each stage. I try to prepare as much of my wares, cart, signature drink ingredients etc. as much time in advance in order to not be rushed and to be calm when I roll out. I usually avail of my team, delegate tasks to be done to people whom you trust to ensure that you are able to get all aspects of your cart prepared properly and in advance. A helpful tip is to grab a cart as soon as you can. From there, I usually listen to a bit of music to pump myself up, perhaps go through some of my opening lines, and get extremely focused and very pumped up. I also stay very positive throughout this process (which all changes after I compete, haha), to keep the great energy up and to lower EVERYONE’s stress. It’s important to go into the actual competition time feeling as confident as possible, but to be relaxed and focused enough to be able to respond to changes. Say a prayer, roll out and execute!

In terms of preparing the actual routine, we learned firsthand at how all encompassing a world stage routine must be. It was miles ahead what any of us had presented at any stage – in/house, regionals or nationals. We also saw how important preparation and organization was, as well as preparing for technical differences depending on where you go.

But my approach to competitions has always stayed the same. Using a competitor’s fire, I always pick a coffee that I am truly passionate about, and try to present it in a way that moves the industry forward, is approachable to all, and is a little outside of the box.

Ben Put has been a huge support system as a coach, friend and co-worker, how has Ben added value to you as a barista and a competitor?
Ben has been absolutely integral to my success in the coffee industry in general, never mind competitions. He is the epitome of coffee professional and innovator. I have learned a lot working alongside Ben and am constantly amazed at his “barista intuition”, his humility, knowledge and technique. He pushes me to be better everyday, and thus we work extremely well together. As he has said before, iron sharpens iron.

He also has always been a role model for competitions for me. The amount of investment of time and energy was something I learned was necessary to be successful. He works harder than anybody and is always rewarded with success, which is no surprise given his talent level. We trained very hard together, experimented together and to have his energy focused on my routine was such a great gift.jeremy perform

On the subject of support, I have never seen a company so invested in their people as Phil & Sebastian. Phil was actually weeping at the National competition when you took 1st place and Ben 2nd! How has intentional and proactive leaders (such as Phil and Seb) influenced your career?
It is so important to have owners that invest in and believe in competition, as well as your own individual skills. They have always provided an incredible atmosphere of pursuit, innovation and passion that has fit so well for me and have contributed greatly to what I have learned.

Being intentional and proactive are great traits to learn from, as P&S projects, experiments, and directions are always purposeful and deliberate. Being proactive was another trait that I learned is integral to self-directed learning which I think is key for baristas to continuously learn and be successful in the industry. They also work extremely hard, are very smart, practical, insightful, and humble. These are intentional traits that are key to being successful and I am glad to have seen that in them.

We are constantly evolving our employee relationships and we are in the works of even documenting and clearly outlining paths where baristas can succeed in our company, which is another great example in which P&S are investing in their staff.

What was the range of emotions from after winning nationals to realizing you’ve got the world competition ahead of you?
Nationals were an incredible feeling as I was so happy for our company to be able to give them such a great result for all the hard work they put towards my routine. Finishing 1-2 was a goal that Ben and I set together, and we were ecstatic with the outcome. There was a little bittersweet as we were all rooting for Ben to win as well (given his history). Just shows you how much of a team we are. However, I believe we have a stronger team this year, and insight from worlds was invaluable for him and I cannot wait to see what he does this year.

I was never really that nervous to compete on behalf of Canada on the world stage. I saw it as a huge honor, and was very excited and thrilled to be able to represent the amazing Canadian coffee community at the world stage. When I arrived in Melbourne, and first step foot in the competition arena and grandstands, they had all the national flags displayed in the rafters. I felt very proud and pumped when I saw the Canadian flag, and it dawned that I had a great opportunity. I wanted to bring the spotlight back to Canada.

So you obviously love Ethiopian coffees, you have used them at all your competitions this year and if I remember correctly it was also what got you really into coffee in the first place. Can you tell us what it was about the Duromina cooperative you used in worlds that made you shelf the Koke region you were using at nationals?
I look for a couple things when choosing a coffee to use for competitions: taste (first and foremost) and story. A coffee purchased with a lack of transparency or traceability usually means there is little to no story involved. Coffees that have development projects, are purchased via relationship with the producers or are from partners of ours over many years usually have incredible stories that help explain why the coffee tastes so good. The Koke we had was an excellent tasting coffee, but because it was purchased through the ECX, had very little information on it. Because part of our competition philosophy is to share unique information about coffee so people can be engaged and learn, we knew we had to get a more traceable coffee from Ethiopia. During our green buying trip in February we visited a number of cooperatives that had been working with Technoserve, a developmental organization that provides business and agronomy advice to farmers, and has been instrumental in developing wet mills in West Ethiopia. When we visited and heard about Duromina’s incredible story, we knew it would be amazing to use it at Worlds. Tasting the coffee only confirmed that it was a World Barista Championship caliber coffee.

What’s next for you in the coffee world?
Lots of very cool things happening for us in the cafe. I will be taking on a more involved role at P&S, hopefully focusing on more R&D, and developing lots of events and customer experience and knowledge type work. Who knows, maybe another competition is in the works too 😉 …

What is the biggest impact or change you’d like to have made in the coffee industry through your career?
I want to bring Canadian coffee in the global spotlight and have people view us as a thriving community where coffee innovation and quality experiences exist. I want to inspire new baristas and people and raise their expectations as to what coffee can be. I want to be involved in helping people discover what we love so much about coffee, world wide. I would like to also help move forward the cafe experience and interaction component of coffee, especially in the Canadian context.

What’s your next goal to accomplish totally unrelated to coffee?
Finish my MSc in Population and Public Health, and to get my paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.

I know there have been so many people that have had their fingerprint on getting you to where you are, any shout outs you’d like to make?
Obviously everyone at P&S, from Cafe to roasterie staff and everyone in between for their support. Everyone cheering me on in the Canadian coffee scene. My close friends, family and loved ones for supporting me during competition. And thank God for the opportunity given.

To Find out more about Jeremy you can follow him on twitter and instagram: @OhYmerej
and his blog here.