Giving Tumblr a go

18 Aug

After having felt the need to be able to post shorter and less ambitious posts, I’ve decided to open a Tumblr account. There I’ll be posting short thoughts and ideas about coffee as well as pictures and stuff that pops into my head. The kind of posts that needs less work to put up.

If that sounds like the kind of thing you’d like to read, pop by http://coffeeola.tumblr.com/ and have a look.

Treating the symptoms not the disease

24 Sep

Coffee cherries

Lately there have been an increasing focus on how the coffee is packed at origin and at the roastery. Numerous blogposts and comments on forums have glorified the advantages of new methods of packing green beans and at the same time complaining about the shortcomings of the jute bag. Which gas should be used when flushing the coffee? What kind of metal/plastic material is to be used when vac-pacing? What about grain pro?

I’ve been one of these people singing the praise of vac-pac and nitro flushing at origin. Recently however I started asking myself the question if this might be shooting ourselves in our collective feet.

Firstly. There can be little doubt of the eco-unfriendlyness of all this plastic wrapping being used. Tons and tons of thick plastic or metal-like bags being thrown away. In most cases this is in addition to the jute bags. (It’s still often covered in jute as well).

Secondly. The extra costs of getting the machinery to pack these coffees. Is this where we want mils/farmers/exporters to be spending their cash? What if this money where spent in the field or in the nurseries or on wages to farmers and pickers?

Thirldy. What do we actually know of the advantages of packing greens this way? Is it actually hurting the coffee? There are still many answers to be found out. Is this just another fad of the 3rd wave specialty coffee business?

Ok, so this is what I’m getting at: To me the real problem, the disease if you will, is that the beans don’t get to the roaster soon enough. They stay in the producing countries, often in giant warehouses on the docks in high humidity and heat for a long time. Combatting this with new packing is not treating the disease only the symptom: the coffee fades to fast after arriving at it’s destination.

I think our focus should be on what can be done to improve the logisitcs, the mindset of the people in origin and to get the coffee transported much more quickly to the roastery. This is where the problem lies. Beans are being picked in February and arrives at the roastery in September. This is not only happening because of dirt roads and old lorries. It is also in the mindset of the producers and middle men. Sometimes one gets the feeling that once the samples have been approved and the contracts signed a lot of people at origin lean back and relax and then the months fly by.

If this is actually the thruth, are we being to naive at our end? Should we be demanding the coffee be delivered in a certain amount of weeks and paying for the extra cost this might induce instead of paying for grainpro bags or vac-packing and so on?

I don’t think this is the only and absolute solution. It just surprises me that so many discussions on the fading of coffees and how to keep the greens fresh only revolves around packaging, not where the actual problem lies.

I’m deliberately painting things black and white here to start a discussion. The solution may probably be a bit of both for all I know. What are your thoughts on this?

The picture on top of the post lifted from this page.

Cupping on the iPhone

3 Apr

Ok. I admit it: I’m a gadget freak. But what would life be without these all to often oh so useless, pricey machines that sparkle like jewels and make cool sounds?

Please don’t answer that question.

I have for a while been looking for an easier way to jot down cupping notes. My writing can sometimes be less than legible after hurriedly writing down notes on pieces of paper while cupping. Enter the iPhone! This little companion plays me music, entertains me with games and useless applications (and once in a while puts me in touch with other people.). Why can’t it be my cupping notepad?

This has bothered me for a while. Most of the crew at TW are loaded with iPhones just waiting to get that little bit more useful. Well, I’ve heard your pleas (even though you didn’t realize you were making them.)!

I have “modified” an application called Tap Forms (opens in iTunes) to double as a cupping form, and it works! You can even export the results. I’ve made an excel sheet that I can paste these results into so that they later on can be compared and stored.

As you can see I’m very thrilled about this, and it will last at least until I spill the first coffee on the iPhone. I enclosed some pictures below so you can gaze upon this wonder… Click on the pictures to see large versions.

(By the way, the cupping notes in the pictures below are just an example and not from an actual cupping of Mountain Top. It’s a great coffee, and I’m enjoying it as a single origin espresso at the moment.)

Cupping resource Part 1

23 Mar

siste-dag-olas-supereksperimentmmmm-058

Ok. Finally I’ve managed to make a new version of the cupping form I had made after looking through all the cupping forms I could get my hands on.

I was going to post it long ago, but the harddrive of my mac died and with it all my work.

So now I’ve painstakingly made a new version of the old form. I decided to make some changes to it. It’s based partly upon the Cup of Excellence cupping sheet and is intended to be used either as a full CoE cupping sheet or just a simple descriptor cupping sheet where you can disregard the point scale all together, or you can even choose to use both.

Personally I’d like to be able to have a cupping form that could be used not just for the full thorough cuppings.

I find it sometimes a bit difficult to read my hastily jotted down numbers on a CoE cupping sheet so I decided to make them more like volume nobs. No illegible numbers, just plain lines. I feel that this way it’s also easier to read at a glance after cupping.

Next time I’ll post the cupping sheets I’ve managed to reclaim after the harddrive crash.

Feel free to download and use this form, but if you do please give me some feedback on it and don’t use it for commercial purposes.

Edit: I looked through the cupping form recently and discovered that if you added 36 as per the normal CoE form you’d end up with 108 points max instead of the desired 100. I have changed the form so that you add 28 points extra instead to get to 100 in the end. I also changed “Flavour” to “Taste” as per suggestion.

Cupping form 2nd draft

Small and big changes

19 Feb

logo

Small changes:

I decided it was time for a brush-up on the look of my blog. I feel the new theme is more tidy and neat and has the features you’ll look for at a glance.

Big changes:

I’ve been offered a new and challenging job at Norway’s biggest specialty coffee roaster and green beans importer Solberg & Hansen. I happily accepted the offer and will start a new chapter in my work life on the 27th of April.

I’m sad to leave Tim Wendelboe as it’s been a great place to work, but I’m very glad to get to work at S&H which will offer new possibilities and challenges. I’ll get back to this in more detail when I start at S&H.

 

Thats it for now.

 

Ola

What makes it taste so good?

6 Sep

In earlier posts I have written about how important it is to taste your own coffee and to check your routines.

All to often however I have found how hard it is to objectively review how good (or bad) your own coffee tastes to others.

What makes a certain coffee taste good, and can one judge taste objectively?

In all businesses that deal with the sense of taste there is an understanding that this sense is influenced by a huge variety of things that in the end makes up the end impression of what the product tasted like or how good it was.

I guess we all probably have had that customer walk through the door having been to some African country and reveling about having tasted the best coffee in their life there, and asking if you have coffee from this country. Knowing that this country most likely have exported their best coffee, and that what this customer tasted probably what was swept off the floor after sorting out what to export makes one ask the question: Why where they so overwhelmed? (This blog gives an excellent example with cigars.)

So how can we trust our own taste, and how accurate is our cupping?

One of the things that have been annoying me after having worked both as a barista and a roaster is how baristas (and many of the rest of us) judge a coffee after for instance tasting a few random pulled shots of espresso. The classic scenario is how a shot that tastes great is due to a skilled barista whilst a shot that tastes off often is blamed on the roast or the composition of a blend. This (and an over developed sense of pride in my roasting) provoked me into trying to come up with a few points that made people put more thought into their tasting. I know this is going to start discussions but I deliberately put things on edge to provoke people to think.

To me there are first and foremost two areas where I think we are guilty of taking shortcuts.

First of all: Taste is a very subjective and complex mechanism, but is taken for granted and used as an ultimate judging tool without much thought to what affects our perception.

Second: There are so many variables that can affect the taste of a shot from the beans in the hopper to the nectar in the cup, but how often do you take this into consideration when tasting that shot?

 

To the first point. There have been conducted considerable research into the science behind the sense of taste. Taste is very individual. We are all equipped with different genetic prerequisites that influence what we perceive. The “supertaster” is a person with a genetic advantage of specially shaped tastebuds on the tounge that gives him or her an edge over us other mortals in tasting. We all know however that as much as 80% of flavour comes from smelling so you would need to be a “supersmeller” as well to benefit from this.

What so if this “supersmeller” and “supertaster” would cup a cup of coffee, would they give us the ultimate answer as to if the coffee is good or bad or what it tastes like? They would also need the experience and knowledge in what a good coffee is supposed to taste like. This in turn is influenced by culture and personal tastes.

What if this “supertaster” an “supersmeller” just ate or is tired after working a long day? What if he or she is tasting in a noicy room or is influenced by the opinion of a group of peers? Could we trust their answer?

This article refers to something called the flavor pyramide where the basic tastes we often refer to is the last of the building blocks of our perception of flavour, the one that is most dependant on the others. Still this is the only level given much thought when we taste our coffees.

 

Then comes the second point. Pulling the perfect espresso is very hard, and the craft of the barista deserves all the respect it gets and more. Even more difficult is repeating this perfect shot over and over again. There are so many factors that can influence on each extraction that it’s close to impossible to pull two perfectly uniform shots.

An article about blending for Italian espresso in the March/April issue of Roast Magazine pulls out yet another factor that affects inter shot uniformity, namely the relative chance that the exact composition of the blend will be mirrored in the few grams of coffee fitted into the portafilter. They use an example with a blend containing 20% of a Guatemalan coffee. The percentage of this coffee will be (in the puck) between 18 and 22% (spread of +/-10% about a mean composition of 20%) only 48% of the time. The other 52% of the time it will be outside those limits.

If this coffee served a purpose of highlighting the blend in a certain direction (which it most likely would be) the taste of the espresso would vary quite a bit from shot to shot. I’m not sure all of us would be able to tell that well, but it certainly is a factor to be reckoned with.

Also, like is the case with wine, the form factor of the cups will influence the flavour as well as the quality of the water (if the espresso is being tasted in different countries like is the case in the WBC).

 

So where exactly am I going with this rant? Well, first of all I want to make people think more about all the things that affect our perception when we taste and try to take this into account and look beyond this when cupping their own or other peoples coffees.

Secondly… Baristas, STOP BLAMING THE ROASTER WHEN YOU FUCK UP THOSE SHOTS AND HAVE A BAD DAY!!!!

There! I’ve said it. Glad to get it off my chest! 

Shop roasting: Roasting with an audience.

18 Feb

Roasting  
Last week our roaster malfunctioned (again!), and I had to go out of the shop to roast. Solberg & Hansen were nice enough to let us use their UG22 Probat roaster. Thank you S&H! They are a medium scale roaster and naturally don’t roast their coffee in a coffeebar as we do. The whole experience taught me a lot about several things. 

First of all that it’s easy to get used to roasting with logs and several temperature probes. The UG22 had only one analogue thermometer at the exhaust, whilst our roaster has two digital thermometers (one bean pile thermometer and one exhaust). At S&H I had to rely a whole lot more on sight and smell and the knowledge of the development of the beans I’ve managed to pick up so far. I’m not going to pretend that it all went like a breeze, but I was surprised over how well it turned out.

This leads me on to the next thing I learned while roasting at S&H: It’s easier to roast without people constantly disturbing you to ask what you are doing. This seems pretty obvious, but after roasting in the shop for a while I have gotten used to it. Looking back now however I realize that one has to be a lot more focused when roasting with an audience. I’ve lost count over how many times I’ve had to tell customers that I’m NOT grinding beans, nor brewing coffee in that giant metal thing, I’m actually roasting coffee. There is no doubt that the roaster draws attention to itself and I feel that for every person realizing what I’m actually doing there is one more person enjoying their cup of coffee just a little bit more. So I’ve found my place as not only a roaster but also a teacher of basic coffee knowledge. I dear to claim that shop roasters are the frontline soldiers of specialty coffee. (Anyone disagree with this?) 

Photo taken by Chris Kolbu (and used without permission… Sorry Chris.)

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