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In 2013, I was very fortunate to get published in Roast Magazine. David Cook, owner of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and I traveled to Hawaii and saw firsthand just how much the borer beetle was devastating and impacting coffee growing on Hawaii’s Big Island.
When we returned home, Roast Magazine agreed to let us tell the story of what we saw, and how it could affect the coffee world.
I was recently approached by Terri Moats of the University of Hawaii Kauai Agricultural Research Center. Terri had read my article in Roast Magazine, and asked me to keep up awareness of the problem. Terri reiterated that Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) is a serious threat to Hawaii’s coffee farms. The University of Hawaii CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) have a project to educate visitors and local residents about the importance of “clean visits” when touring Big Island and Oahu coffee farms.
Terri asked me to publish the following letter by CTAHR entomologist, Dr. Russell Messing, which was recently printed in West Hawaii Today newspaper.
Help protect Hawaii coffee
Kona coffee is world-renowned. Local farmers have rightfully earned an outstanding reputation for producing a top quality product. This helps attract thousands of tourists annually; farm tours (in addition to wholesale and retail coffee sales) all contribute substantially to west Hawaii’s economy.
It is less well known that more than half the coffee acreage in the state is grown on other islands (Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu). Big Island growers work hard to manage the damaging invasive beetle called the coffee berry borer (CBB). So far Kauai, Maui and Molokai remain free from this pest, while CBB was recently found on a single farm on Oahu.
Visiting tourists are naturally curious to see how coffee is grown, and often stop to take photos and touch, smell, and sometimes pick coffee berries from the tree. A casually picked coffee berry may harbor (unseen) tiny beetles inside its seeds – if the berry or even a single seed is deliberately or inadvertently carried away, the CBB infestation can spread. A short plane ride could place these pests in close proximity to CBB-free coffee farms (beetles can live happily inside seeds for months at a time). Most entomologists agree that this is the manner by which CBB will eventually reach the other islands.
We all want visitors to enjoy their farm tours, and to appreciate the fine coffee that is grown in the Islands. But, please, try to dissuade visitors from touching, handling or picking coffee berries in the field. Help protect coffee farms on the other islands from this damaging invasive species.
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!
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
Another 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.
”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”).
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.
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.
I’m so excited to share this experience with you. I have roasted my first commercial batch of coffee!
Up to this point, I’ve only dabbled in home coffee roasting. That started with a simple popcorn popper, which is the most basic form of a coffee roaster. In fact, it helps to think of advancements in the coffee roaster being improvements and scale-up of the popcorn popper.
From there, I invested in a small home coffee roaster for hobbyists, a definite improvement from the popcorn popper. The challenge with roasting coffee is in the ventilation since it creates so much smoke. My first home coffee roaster would set off the smoke alarm until I moved the operation to the garage. The last roaster I bought was yet another improvement, this one with a catalytic converter (same as your car’s exhaust system) to reduce smoke.
On a recent trip through Reno, NV, I made a point of stopping in at Coffee Per, manufacturer of the San Franciscan commercial coffee roaster. CEO Bill Kennedy gave me a great tour of the facility, and also invited me to roast a commercial batch of coffee, my first ever!
Bill let me do all the work, although he definitely helped. The roaster we used was the San Franciscan SF-25, 25 as in the number of pounds that it can roast at one time. Coffee Per is not only a manufacturer of roasting equipment, but they are also a wholesale coffee roaster, using their own equipment. Bill had an order to fill, and in his words, he was going to do all the talking, and I was going to do all the work.
Here’s a very quick rundown of what we did. Bill had the green unroasted coffee beans in a bin ready to be loaded into the hopper at the top of the roaster. I lifted the bin to the top of the roaster, and dumped the green coffee into the hopper. We then fired up the roaster by turning on the heat beneath the drum in which the coffee would be roasted, when dropped from the hopper. Gauges on the roaster identify the temperature inside the drum, and would also let us know the bean temperature as the roasting progresses.
On Bill’s signal, I released the green coffee from the hopper into the drum. A small circular window (see to the left, above) lets you see the beans turning in the drum so that you can keep your eyes on them as they roast. A small “trier” even lets you pull out a sample of the beans from inside the drum in case you want to take a better look at them without stopping the roast. As the beans are roasted, there are two audible “cracks” that help determine if they’re ready. Roasting past the “second crack” produces a dark roasted coffee.
Given an assessment of the color of the beans, the sound of the cracks, the smell of the roasting process, and the roaster’s experience with this particular bean, there’s a definitive point where they are considered “done”. At that point, they are dropped from the drum into a “cooling bin”. Coffee continues to roast from its internal temperature, even after it is dumped from the drum. The cooling bin agitates the beans while they are blown with cool air.
As a last stop on understanding this roasting equipment, I made the short drive from Coffee Per to a local roaster in Carson City, NV named San Rafael Coffee Company. Owner Landon purchased his roaster from Coffee Per, his is a 6-lb version. While at San Rafael, I enjoyed a brewed cup of fresh Nicaraguan coffee, roasted on the same machine that I was using earlier.
My first commercial coffee roasting – another very cool and eye-opening coffee experience!
I was honored to once again attend CoffeeCon as a Media representative, this time in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities anywhere, on July 26th, 2014.
CoffeeCon is THE show tailored not necessarily to the coffee industry, but rather to the coffee drinker. For those who love coffee, there is a full day of brewing and home-roasting workshops, interaction with local roasters, and presentations for the coffee drinker by industry giants. I had my work cut out for me, looking at the schedule and having to finalize which workshops and presentations I wanted to see.
Read: CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco (planning)
My first presentation of the day was by Kenneth Davids, author of three books on coffee, and founder of Coffee Review, the leading coffee evaluation website and report.
I was so pumped to see this presentation on the method behind how Kenneth evaluates coffee. I own the three books that Kenneth has written, and I follow his Coffee Review closely in order to run out and buy coffees in my area to which he has given a 90% rating or higher.
In an afternoon session, I was able to meet Alan Adler, inventor of the AeroPress coffee brewing system. I use the AeroPress at home, and for some coffee lovers, it is the only acceptable way to brew coffee.
Alan led a wall-to-wall packed session on how to properly use the AeroPress and get the most out of it. It was very cool to learn by the inventor himself.
Throughout the day, there were similar workshops given on how to properly use the Chemex and iced pourover methods of making coffee, as well as presentations on the science of coffee and importance of grinding. Keynote speaker George Howell gave the day’s longest and most in-depth presentation, as he did when I attended in Chicago last year.
Finally, one of the coolest things about CoffeeCon is the people you meet, or see again. Everybody there loves coffee, no matter where they are in the chain. To the left, I met Wilford Lamastus, a coffee farmer from Boquete, Panama. We were introduced by Jason Griest, owner of Sacramento’s Old Soul Coffee. I am visiting Panama in the early part of next year, and Wilford had great advice for planning my trip, and visiting his farm while I’m there.
And now, the big news…CoffeeCon has one more stop in 2014. Los Angeles on November 8th. Go to the official CoffeeCon site for information on how to follow them over social media, and stay updated. I’ll be there at the Los Angeles show, and if you’re in the area and love coffee, you should be too!
I always love hearing a business story that combines a lot of dedication and a little bit of luck, to create something brand new. That’s the story of Cheryl and Boyd, of the Renegade Roasters Design Group in El Cajon, California.
For 20 years prior to 2000, Renegade was installing and servicing coffee roasting equipment. At that time, they were the company helping install Krispy Kreme‘s coffee roasting plant. Boyd was getting increasingly frustrated with some of the common design features of coffee roasters. He truly felt as though he could design something that better fit the needs of the coffee roaster industry.
While they were doing their work for Krispy Kreme, Cheryl and Boyd asked if they could be provided space on the production floor for Boyd to tinker with different ideas he had. It was then that the Renegade roaster was invented. Fourteen years later, it is available in at least three different sizes depending on the amount of coffee that needs to be roasted.
Since then, the company has sold roasting machines throughout California and all over the world. While I visited them, Cheryl told me about a local roaster that I’ve been to before, that has been roasting for 25 years. When they needed to expand production by buying a new roasting machine, they turned to Renegade. They liked their trial of the Renegade, and if it fits in with their business, Renegade will be their future provider of roasting equipment. And this is a company that’s been doing the same thing successfully for 25 years. There’s always room for improvement.
So, why the name Renegade? Simple. Because the big established roasting equipment manufacturers don’t like them. They have taken a step back from how coffee was being roasted conventionally, and re-thought the model. In re-thinking the model, they have identified ways to better customize how coffee is roasted to bring out the best in it, and how to make the coffee roaster’s life easier in the process. For instance, Cheryl showed me how easily a Renegade can be cleaned and maintained, versus the conventional machines. When a big company has had the good fortune to do things the same way for so many years, it’s the companies like Renegade that reconsider how things are done, invent something better, and force the much slower-moving big companies to change.
Just as customer service is a must for the coffee roaster, so too is it for Renegade. As Cheryl pointed out to me, “we answer our phones seven days a week”. When the coffee roaster is working, Renegade is working.
There are all kinds of coffee shows for the industry, where people in the coffee business get together. CoffeeCon however is the first, and as far as I know, only show for the coffee drinker. It’s for you and I. If you love coffee, there is no shortage of great information, vendors, and demonstrations at CoffeeCon.
The biggest challenge of all is how to see everything that I want to see. To add to the challenge, we’re attending a sporting event in San Jose that late afternoon, so I won’t even have the luxury of the whole day.
10 AM: This is the time of day where I wish I could be in four places at once. George Howell is the keynote speaker, and his cupping/tasting workshop last year was a highlight of the show. However, since I attended the whole workshop last year and also interviewed George afterwards, I may forego his workshop this year, or sneak in before it ends.
This narrows my options to the AeroPress workshop led by AeroPress inventor Alan Adler, Cacao Tasting (I am a dark chocolate fiend!), and How to Review Coffee with Kenneth Davids, founder of Coffee Review.
There’s no easy choice here, but I have to go with How to Review Coffee. I own three books that Davids has written, and I follow his Coffee Review evaluations so that I can try the coffees that he reviews that are local to me. I also plan to interview him later that day, and would be embarrassed if I didn’t attend his presentation.
11 AM: Here, I’m torn between the Chemex lab, and Helen Russell‘s presentation on Coffee Social Responsibility. I am a proponent of responsible coffee buying – thinking about where coffee comes from and conditions in those parts of the world. However, I attended a similar presentation last year and it was at the expense of a formal presentation on proper use of the Chemex as a way to brew coffee. I have to go with the Chemex lab.
12 PM: Hands down, I have to go with the Science of Coffee at this time. I am by no means the science type, but I think a basic presentation on the science of coffee would be very cool and informative.
1 PM: It has to be the Aeropress lab, led by its inventor Alan Adler. I’m upset to miss Scott Merle‘s presentation on Coffee Sustainability, but as you can see, there is just way too much I want to see at each time slot. I love my Aeropress and use it often at home to brew coffee.
At 2 PM, we bust a move to catch live UFC in San Jose at the SAP Center! Fellow fight fans, Ruthless Robbie Lawler vs. Matt the Immortal Brown!! Yes, I said earlier that coffee takes precedence, but as you can see above, I’ve outlined four solid hours of coffee education before I’m on my way. It will be another great experience, and one that makes me appreciate coffee all the more.
Recently, I participated in an online course by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the coffee industry’s trade association. In representing the needs of the coffee industry, they also provide education in specific areas. This course was an Introduction to Roasting Equipment.
At the most basic level, coffee roasting comes down to two things: applying heat, and keeping the coffee beans in motion. Without heat, they won’t turn brown from their original green color. And without motion, you won’t get an even roast. Ironically, the appliance that both applies heat and keeps material in motion is the popcorn popper. Years ago, I used to use a popcorn popper to roast my own coffee at home.
As time has gone on, I have upgraded from the popcorn popper to home coffee roasters.
Read: Marc’s Coffee Bar
A farmer has gone to great effort to grow a consistently good coffee, and from there, your local roaster brings out the best in its flavor. Here is the jist of what your local roaster does.
The green coffee beans are fed into the hopper at the top of the machine, and into a drum that will turn at a certain speed while a burner underneath the drum provides hot air flow. The coffee roaster determines at what temperature he wants to set the drum, as well as what speed for it to turn.
It helps to think that the coffee flavor we all love is at the center of the bean. As it is roasted, the flavor is “unlocked” and brought to the bean’s surface. The roaster can hear this happening at a stage called “first crack”, the earliest point at which you would stop roasting the coffee. ”First crack” sounds like popcorn popping. Further along, there is a “second crack” that sounds as though you were playing with cellophane wrapping in your hands. Darker roasts go to and beyond “second crack”, at which point the coffee will take on flavor characteristics of the roasting itself, replacing the flavor nuances that are specific to the coffee’s origin.
There are a couple important additional steps in roasting coffee. The first is cooling. After the coffee is roasted and removed from the drum, it maintains a high internal temperature. The beans need to be cooled down so that they don’t continue cooking from within.
The second additional step is incinerating. The by-product of roasting is a skin that falls from the coffee bean called “chaff”. This chaff burns, requiring strong ventilation when roasting coffee.
These are the basics. While the machines don’t differ greatly from one to the next, the real art of roasting is in how the machine is used to bring out the absolute best that the coffee has to offer. This requires much trial and error, strong knowledge of the roasting equipment, and a dedication to constant learning. When you find coffee you like from a local roaster, stick with them!