The Pacific Beach Coffee Scene

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Travel


UPDATE, 19-Jan: Everybody, thanks for your patience.  I’ve been traveling all over the place, but lining up interviews with local cafe owners in Pacific Beach.  Stay tuned, and learn more about the coffee scene here.

Two years ago, I moved to San Diego, California.  I only knew one person who lived here, so I decided to live downtown so that I’d be able to meet people.  I didn’t realize that downtown San Diego isn’t close to the beach, and beach is why I wanted to live here.  About eight months ago, I finally moved to the beach, specifically Pacific Beach, one of the nicest parts of the greater San Diego area.

In a nutshell, San Diego is so far south, it’s almost at the border with Mexico.  The airport is directly north of the downtown core, closer to downtown than in any other major US city I know.  Beyond the airport, the harbor morphs into beach, and eventually meets the Pacific Coast Highway.  The Pacific Beach neighborhood is 15 miles north of downtown San Diego.  It is a beautiful stretch of beach with a three mile boardwalk for pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders.


PB was mainly known for its young residents and college students, but with a rising cost of living, the population has matured and is becoming more professional and affluent.  I live seven blocks from the ocean, but a few blocks away from the main street that divides PB east and west.  As my landlord says, “the zombies don’t come this far from the main street”.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be checking out the coffee scene here in Pacific Beach.  PB is becoming known for its bars and eateries, so it should have a good coffee scene.  If it doesn’t, let’s find out why not.

To identify the best cafes that PB has to offer, I went to Yelp and searched under “coffee” and my zip code.  As I visit and profile these cafes, you should also go to Yelp and carry out the same search.  I ranked the results both by how well-rated they are and how close they are to where I live.  I made my final list based on who ranked highly on both lists of results.  You could build a similar ranking and evaluate the coffee in your area.

In each case, I’ll try their coffee, and reach out to the owners to find out more about how they started out in coffee, and how they select the coffee that they serve.  Stay tuned!

Blind pourover taste test: Chemex vs. KitchenAid

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

kitchenaidandchemex“Ladies and gentlemen…we…are…live!!”

No, I didn’t have Bruce Buffer in my kitchen, but there was a legitimate bout between two coffee heavyweights.

Earlier this month, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.

Read: CoffeeCon Los Angeles 2014 – planning
Read: Official CoffeeCon website

I was a part of the media team that met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer.  The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way.  They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method.

Read: What is Pourover Coffee?


It’s important here to set criteria.  At no point did KitchenAid claim that their machine would make a better pourover coffee than my Chemex.  What they did claim is that they had taken a step towards automating pourover.  If they could make a comparable coffee with many less steps, it could net out a win for them in my opinion.

I boil my water for the Chemex on the stove, and you may have a faster way to heat water than I do.  It takes me about ten minutes to boil the water I need, and the brewing cycle with the Chemex takes four minutes.  So, a total of 14 minutes from yawn to brewed coffee.  In terms of how manual the four minutes of brewing is, this is completely subjective.  You may enjoy the manual part of the Chemex process, as I do, because it allows you to handcraft your coffee.  However, I have had guests over and wished for a more automatic way to make a great coffee for so many people.  When it’s just me, I don’t mind the manual part of using the Chemex at all.

The KitchenAid brewer took me four minutes to set up, between grinding the coffee, measuring the water I would need, and rinsing the paper filter of any particles that might be attached to it.  Just over five minutes later, my single cup of coffee was brewed.  So, a total time of 9 minutes and 15 seconds.

pourovertastetestlabThe Switcheroo

As the coffee was brewing, I attached a Post-It note to the bottom of each mug.  On one note, I wrote a “C” for Chemex, and on the other, a “K” for KitchenAid.  After the coffee was done brewing, I poured the correct coffee into the correct mug.  From there, I did a “shell game” with the mugs and moved them around until I couldn’t remember which was which.  With that done, the tasting began.  I recorded aroma and flavor notes by the mug, before checking to see which was which.

Aroma and Flavor

For my coffee, I chose an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, roasted by Counter Culture, one of the exhibitors at CoffeeCon.  I wanted a freshly roasted coffee for the most flavor, expecting these two brewing methods would produce slightly different tasting coffee.  I went with a Yirgacheffe because it has a very distinct flavor, with floral tones in the aroma, and citrus in the flavor.  I would look for the citrus in both coffees since Counter Culture emphasized this characteristic in its roasting notes on the coffee bag.

The coffee brewed by KitchenAid had a great floral aroma right out of the gate.  Surprisingly, the Chemex seemed to have a much more muted aroma.  However, the flavor was not consistent, in that the coffee brewed by KitchenAid had noticeably weaker flavor.  The coffee brewed by Chemex was much brighter in flavor, and the aroma did develop as the coffee cooled.  The flavor also seemed to develop as the coffee cooled, revealing more than the coffee brewed by KitchenAid.

As a final note, the coffee brewed by Chemex held its heat longer, which was a definite advantage.  The KitchenAid brewer has a surprisingly long brewing time, which may be the cause.

In Conclusion

We go to the judges’ scorecards for a decision.  I award this to the Chemex.  It’s manual, but I don’t mind that.  The aroma was muted at first but developed well before I was done the coffee.  It was more flavorful, and held its heat longer.  When I’m only making coffee for myself, or myself and one guest, I will continue using the Chemex.

The KitchenAid brewer made a decent cup of coffee, and will certainly be my preference when making coffee for a large number of guests.

Also worth pointing out, I had to improvise a filter for the Chemex because I’ve run out.  The Chemex uses a unique paper filter that you won’t find for any other purpose.  The KitchenAid uses the standard #4 size filter.  I always have those on hand, so that is certainly a point in KitchenAid‘s favor.

KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer vs. Chemex

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear


This past Saturday, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.

The media team met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer.  The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way.  They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method.  For those that are not familiar with pourover coffee, a couple of the more popular brands are Chemex and Melitta.  You may recognize the Chemex as a glass pitcher designed with a cone at the top for the filter and ground coffee.  The Melitta that I’ve used is a plastic cone with a base that sits on your coffee mug and makes one cup at a time – the filter and ground coffee go in the cone.

Read: CoffeeCon Los Angeles 2014 – planning
Read: Official CoffeeCon website


I’m traveling next week, but the following week, I’ll be setting up a blind taste test in my kitchen to compare the new KitchenAid brewer to the Chemex.  My Chemex is the most used coffee gear in my kitchen after my grinder.  It’s what I use to make most of the coffee that I drink.  I want to put the new KitchenAid brewer to the test, and what better way than against one of the main companies raising awareness and interest in pourover coffee.

There are other factors that will go into my evaluation of the KitchenAid brewer.  Right out of the gate, I don’t expect it to beat my Chemex in terms of flavor in the cup.  I’m confident that my Chemex will win, but that bias won’t affect the all-blind taste test.  Specifically besides flavor, I’ll be evaluating:

– Time to brew.

– Temperature of coffee.  This will be to personal taste.  I don’t like to wait long for my first sip.

– Clean-up.

Ease of use will be a slam dunk for the KitchenAid brewer.  It’s an automated brewer, where the Chemex is intentionally  manual.  I feel as though the manual process of using a Chemex is part of its charm – however, if the KitchenAid brewer makes comparable coffee, it will be tough not to use it more.  Especially since it makes eight cups, twice as much as my Chemex makes.

Stay tuned!  We’ll find out how well KitchenAid’s new pourover brewer performs against one of the stables of pourover coffee.  KitchenAid vs. Chemex.  Check out KitchenAid’s official site to learn more about the new brewer.

CoffeeCon Los Angeles 2014 – planning

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee News


     Southern California coffee drinkers!  CoffeeCon makes its first ever stop in Los Angeles, taking place this Saturday, November 8th at Mack Sennett Studios on 1215 Bates Ave.  It is open from 9 AM to 4 PM.

I’m excited to attend yet another CoffeeCon event, having attended the inaugural event in Chicago last year, and the event in San Francisco this year.  CoffeeCon is THE event for coffee drinkers.  Not a coffee industry trade show.  This is an event of workshops, presentations, and coffee tasting that is geared specifically for the coffee lover.  If you live in Southern California and you love coffee, be there!

Read: Trip Report –  2014 CoffeeCon San Francisco
Read: Trip Report – 2013 CoffeeCon Chicago
Read: Official CoffeeCon website

Below is the schedule for the Los Angeles event.  As was the case with the previous two CoffeeCon events that I attended, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once, and the key is to decide in advance what to experience.  Here’s what I’m going with…


My focus in going over this schedule is different in this case than in the previous two.  I will be purchasing a six-pound coffee roaster, and roasting coffee here in San Diego.  More to come on that, but in the meantime, I want my class selections to be helpful to my future coffee roasting.

Even with that focus in mind, it still isn’t easy!  At 10 AM, I’m looking at Introduction to 8 Basic Flavor Descriptors.  To help develop my skill as a coffee roaster/taster, I have become very interested in the flavors and descriptors of coffee.  This workshop will certainly help attendees understand the wide world of coffee flavor.  A shame that it’s at the expense of seeing Kenneth Davids‘ panel on the Future of Coffee.

012Intro     At 11 AM, I’ll attend Butter Coffee.  I wasn’t originally interested in seeing this, but I am curious only because of the current fad of putting butter in coffee to help with digestion – I don’t know if it’s hooey yet.  I’ll learn more.

George Howell‘s presentation For the Love of Coffee Tasting runs for half the day, and is a staple at the CoffeeCon events.  I attended his entire presentation the first time, and only caught part of it the last time.  This time, it’s been moved from the morning to the afternoon, but otherwise the same decision as in the previous two CoffeeCon events – do I spend the second half of the day in George’s presentation (which I know is incredibly informative on all aspects of coffee)?  Or, do I attend three other workshops in its place?  After much thought, I’ve decided to attend three workshops that are new to me, rather than attend George’s presentation, that was amazing, but that I’ve already seen.

At 1 PM, I will attend the Chemex Lab.  I own a Chemex and understand the directions pretty well, but I’ve never had formal training like this.  I still remember visiting my first coffee roasters that would only serve a cup of coffee by pourover.  Planet Bean in Guelph, Canada, and Coava Coffee in Portland, Oregon both come to mind.

At 2 PM, the workshop on Championship Winning Coffee sounds very interesting, and a great fit for my plans to roast coffee.  It is hosted by Klatch Roasting.

Finally at 3 PM, Building a Direct Trade also sounds very interesting.  I have been on coffee origin trips to Guatemala, Honduras, and Hawaii, and I’m very interested in learning more about direct trade coffee, that is coffee sourced through a direct relationship with the farmer.

Wow, that’s a big day, and a lot of notes.  Stay tuned because as always, what I learn there, you’ll learn about here!

CoffeeCon Los Angeles 2014 – is coming!

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee News



     Listen up Southern California coffee drinkers!

Next weekend, CoffeeCon makes its first ever stop in Los Angeles.  CoffeeCon is THE show for coffee drinkers…you and I.  This is not a coffee industry trade event, it is a gathering of coffee lovers learning everything there is to be learned about coffee.  I attended their first event in Chicago two years ago, and this year in San Francisco.  From CoffeeCon‘s website:

     “Taste the world’s different coffees, locally roasted every conceivable way, brewed using many different methods by 20+ specialty roasters. Meet other coffee enthusiasts in the world’s largest coffee meet-up. Hear expert presenters share secrets to expand your taste buds and coffee consciousness. Attend classes and hands-on labs to empower and expand your own coffee brewing at home. Food, live music and prize giveaways, where top brewers, beans and accessories are awarded onsite.”

Read: Trip Report –  2014 CoffeeCon San Francisco
Read: Trip Report – 2013 CoffeeCon Chicago
Read: Official CoffeeCon website

The event takes place on Saturday, November 8th at Mack Sennett Studios on 1215 Bates Ave in Los Angeles.  It is open from 9 AM to 4 PM. Below is the schedule for the Los Angeles event.

Later this week, I’ll run a fine toothed comb through the schedule, and post the workshops that I plan to attend.  Check back to learn all about it.










Portland Coffee Fest 2014

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee and You

IMG_1149This past weekend, I attended the Coffee Fest show in Portland, Oregon.  I had attended this same show a couple years ago when it took place in Seattle.  This year, the 72nd edition of Coffee Fest moved to Portland, and to Oregon for the first time in its history.

Read: Seattle Coffee Fest 2012

Coffee Fest is an industry trade show, primarily for coffee roasters and cafe managers.  The emphasis of the show is on how the business owner can grow their sales, so ironically, there’s less coffee at Coffee Fest than I would’ve expected.  The emphasis is definitely on keeping a coffee business current, but also on the different worlds that a coffee business can get into.


I didn’t take count, but it seemed that the largest business segment exhibiting at Coffee Fest was tea.  Many successful coffee business owners expand into offering a variety of teas.  I don’t mind tea, but I also don’t know enough about it to speak with exhibitors in this space.

IMG_1151Another large segment in exhibitors was coffee importers, and these were the people that I came mainly to see.  I’ve been shopping around for a coffee roaster, and I think I have the one I want picked out.  With that decision behind me, I’ll need larger quantities of green coffee than I’ve bought before, and I wanted to meet the importers that make that possible.  I was able to meet with sales people who work for these importers, and made some great contacts.

The last big segment of exhibitors was chocolate, and as was the case when I attended in Seattle a couple years ago, both Guittard and Ghirardelli were on hand.  In fact, Guittard sent me many pounds of excellent dark chocolate bars after I met Chuck at their booth two years ago.

Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite cities in the world, and it was a pleasure to travel there for Coffee Fest!  I’m looking forward to returning to Portland again soon, and to another Coffee Fest one day.



Should I buy coffee in 5-lb bags to save money?

in Buying Coffee


I can save almost 1/3 if I buy coffee beans in 5 lb bags from my local coffee shop, instead in a 12 oz bag which my family consumes in a week. Is the savings worth it, or will the coffee beans go stale in the 6-7 weeks it will take us to use up all the beans? We grind as much as we need daily in our Baratza Virtuoso, which we then use mostly in a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, although some of it also goes into an Aeropress & a French press,

Diane Allen



I love this question!
Coffee is perishable, so the more you buy, the less likely it stays fresh before you’re done with it.  I used to buy Costco coffee in 5-lb bags to save money.  I wouldn’t necessarily notice the degradation in quality as I went through that large a quantity, but when I finished it and bought a new fresh bag, I definitely noticed the difference.


Think of coffee as you would any other perishable item.  You likely wouldn’t buy fruit in bulk in order to save money if you knew it wouldn’t stay fresh.  I recommend only buying as much coffee as you intend to go through in the next 2-3 weeks.  Beyond that, what you’re saving in money, you’re giving up in quality.
This often leads into the question of whether you can save money on coffee by buying it in bulk, and putting some of it in your freezer to save it.  Coffee is sensitive to the smells that are around it, and it will absorb smells from the other things in your freezer.  Also, the dramatic drops in temperature to freezing, and from freezing, will also cause some of the coffee’s flavor to be lost.

Black and Decker burr grinder – no bueno!

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear


When you’re buying a coffee grinder, look to a burr grinder over a propeller grinder.  The burr grinder is a little more expensive, and quite a bit louder, but you make up for it with a consistently ground coffee set to your choice of how fine or coarse.  By contrast, the propeller grinder inconsistently grinds the coffee, and the propeller blade may even burn flavor from the coffee, both of which will affect the flavor in your cup.

Read: Isn’t my propeller grinder good enough?

For years, my rule of thumb on kitchen appliances, including a drip brewer and coffee grinder, has been the following.  If you want quality at the right place without spending hundreds of dollars, buy Cuisinart.  If you want an economical alternative with all the bells and whistles stripped away for the best value, buy Black and Decker.

However, the Black and Decker burr grinder has changed my outlook.  Here are my problems with it:

The consumer reviews for the Black and Decker burr grinder were fairly scathing across the Internet.  That should’ve been my first concern, but I felt it possible that these people were expecting too much.  Remember, it’s the economical alternative.  For instance, while grinding, you need to hold the button down the entire time you’re grinding, rather than with the Cuisinart burr grinder where you set the amount of coffee you’re grinding, and then hit the button once.  If you take your finger off of the Black and Decker grinder, it stops grinding.  That’s not awesome, but again, remember this is the economical alternative.

Where I can’t defend it is in a few areas:

1) It makes a mess every time, as you see in the image above.  You have to sweep away grinds that have shot out of the ground coffee chamber, every time you use it.  It needs to be better sealed.


2) It seems to favor a coarse grind.  When I select its medium grind setting, it’s a little too coarse.  I was at least able to compensate for this by choosing a setting that is slightly finer than medium, in order to get the medium grind I want.

3) The whole bean chamber never clears out completely.  What I mean by that is that the coffee has stopped grinding, but there are still several beans flying around the first chamber, bouncing off the burr blades, but never passing through them.  This means, unless I clean the appliance every time, there are remnants of previous coffees every time I grind.  Those remnants have already gone stale and will affect the flavor in my cup.

My advice?  Spend the extra $20 for the Cuisinart burr grinder pictured to the left.  It costs $50, and will last you for years.  Over those years, you will have a consistent grind, and an appliance that’s easier to use, and less messy.  As we all know, you get what you pay for.  What disappointed me with Black and Decker is that even as an economical alternative, it does a lousy job.

Coffee Tasting – at your local roaster

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee


Last week, I attended a coffee cupping and tasting at a local roaster here in San Diego, California.

What is a coffee cupping?  It is the practice of analyzing a coffee’s flavor.  The idea is to take a specific coffee to understand all of its tastes and aromas, to be able to determine information about the coffee.  The two main reasons to do this, are for a professional coffee roaster to sample and evaluate the coffee before committing to buying a large amount of it.  Coffee competitions such as the Cup of Excellence also rely on this method of evaluation to determine the quality of a coffee.

The second reason to cup coffee is for the professional coffee roaster to be able to explain what makes it unique to coffee drinkers, before they buy it.  You’re looking for something unique in your coffee, and the descriptions of flavor that you see on better packages of coffee, are meant to help you find a coffee you’ll enjoy.  As an aside, when you use our Coffee Quiz, your particular tastes and likes are being linked with the tastes and aromas that have been determined while cupping coffee.

IMG_1080Why attend a coffee cupping?  Not all coffee tastings are cupping.  A coffee tasting is simply an open house, where coffee drinkers are invited to try the different coffees that the roaster currently offers.  The actual act of coffee cupping entails the same process used by evaluators to analyze coffee.  In a nutshell, you let the ground coffee brew in hot water for four minutes.  In that time, the ground coffee farms a solid crust at the top of the cup.  After four minutes, you break the crust with a spoon and in the seconds that follow, you are exposed to the aromas and tastes that this coffee has to offer.  Coffee cuppers will generally keep notes when trying a coffee as not to lose their first impressions.

The coffee cupping that I attended was hosted by a local coffee roaster that had procured two new coffees: an Ethiopian coffee and a Yemeni coffee.  My host started with an explanation of the history of coffee from the two areas.  We then cupped the coffee together, after which he asked for my first thoughts.

This is where I get insecure in my coffee knowledge :).  I know what I like and don’t like in a coffee, and have been taking steps to improve my understanding of coffee flavor so that I can better describe it.  To that end, I’ve been using Le Nez du Cafe kit to improve my coffee tasting skills.


Read: Le Nez du Cafe – mastering coffee tasting

To my own surprise, I was able to intelligently comment on what I was smelling and tasting in the two coffees.  Aromas that I had recognized from the Nez du Cafe were present in the two coffees, and my host congratulated me on identifying them.

In the end, I selected a half-pound of the Yemeni coffee to take home.  It wasn’t that I necessarily preferred it to the Ethiopian coffee – in fact, in some respects, it is overpriced because of the complexities of importing anything out of Yemen.  The reason I selected the Yemeni is because I have had many Ethiopian coffees before, and the Yemeni coffee was new to me.  Also, the two coffees share many similar characteristics, and I felt the Yemeni coffee was almost a “different take” on the familiar Ethiopian coffee.

I’ll describe the Yemeni coffee as I did to my coffee cupping host, because it made sense to me, and he liked the explanation.  It was as though the Yemeni coffee’s flavor was the same as the Ethiopian (the two growing areas are adjacent to one another), except that it was held in a “fist” of other tastes that made it unique, most prominently an earthy taste that differed from the Ethiopian.

Look up your local coffee roasters, and find out when they host tastings.  They should be free of charge, since the roaster is inviting you in to sample their latest and greatest.  Take advantage of it.  It is excellent coffee education.  I’ll be attending future tastings at the same roaster.

Le Nez du Cafe – mastering coffee tasting

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear


     “You can derive great enjoyment simply by drinking a good cup of coffee, but your pleasure will be heightened if you can distinguish your impressions, appreciate and gauge the richness and complexity of the coffee.”

A few years ago, David Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company introduced me to a kit of 36 coffee aromas known as Le Nez du Cafe (literally translated from French, “the nose of coffee”).

Read: The 36 Tastes of Coffee
Read: Le Nez Du Vin – learning flavor

Its inventor Jean Lenoir had created a similar kit for wines, and followed it up years later with the coffee kit, “a collection of the most typical aromas found in the world’s top coffees”.

I finally decided to invest in this kit.  I’m happy to say I’ve started my journey into better understanding coffee flavor.  One of the keys of Le Nez du Cafe is that it not only isolates specific aromas of coffee, but it names them so that you can better remember the aroma, connect it with familiar aromas, and use common language when discussing it with others.

IMG_1060     Take Vial #1: Earth.  This is a vial carrying literally the distinct aroma of earth (dirt, mud).  It is a very distinct aroma found in many coffees.  On one hand, it is attributed to poor handling in the case of cheap robustas, or a coveted (and very intentional) flavor found in fine Ethiopian coffees.  Combined with other information (and aromas), you could use this to determine a great deal about the coffee.  And be able to identify it and discuss it with others.

My palette is admittedly weak.  I know what I like and don’t like in a coffee, but have always lacked in being able to put words to it.  Also, there are aromas to coffee that I just don’t know, or don’t know well.  For instance, it is simpler for me to identify Vial #26: Dark Chocolate, because I eat a lot of dark chocolate and know the aroma well.  By contrast, Vial #3: Garden Peas will take practice to identify, because I don’t eat them and don’t know the aroma as well.

Here is my training plan: I pulled vials #1-3 only, and smelled them over and over until I could put them in the correct order every time.  Then, as you can see in the picture above, I added vials #4-6, and smelled them over and over until I could correctly identify all six of them blind.  I plan to keep adding three vials at a time, until I can put them in the correct order without fail.  I expect with each new addition of vials, it will take me longer to correctly identify them all, and that’s the point!  Eventually, I’ll have all 36 in the mix, and I’ll know I’m a coffee tasting master when I can randomize and correctly identify them all.  In fact, the highest certification of coffee taster in the world incorporates Le Nez du Cafe in its testing.

In addition, I’ll be looking for these aromas in the coffee I drink, now that I am able to identify them.

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