Profile: Kobos Coffee

in Buying Coffee

I have a personal connection with Kobos Coffee of Portland, Oregon.  I spent a weekend in Portland while deciding whether or not I wanted to move here.  I arrived late one night, and checked in at the Marriott downtown.  I was so excited for the following day’s coffee adventure, that I pushed the vacuum-sealed stuff in my hotel room to the side and took to the streets of Portland.  The closest cafe to the Marriott?…the SW Market Street location of Kobos Coffee.  My first cup of coffee in Portland!

Production Manager Kevin Dibble invited me for a tour of Kobos’ roasting facility on NW Vaughn.

Founded in 1973 by David and Susan Kobos, it is not only older than both Kevin and I, it is a pioneer and stalwart of the coffee scene in Portland.  Only one other roaster has been at it longer.  The result is that their wholesale relationships in the area are entrenched, and the loyalty of their customers speaks volumes.  Kobos has seen so many trends come and go, that Kevin laughed about a 30-year old picture they have of a pourover coffee maker, before it became fashionable to make coffee in this way.

In fact, Kobos unseated Starbucks at every coffee outlet in the Oregon Health and Science University, whose campus as Portland residents know, is virtually a city within a city.  It reminded me of a similar victory of Old Soul in Sacramento, CA who at the mayor’s request, bought and made a success of a closed Starbucks location.

Read: Profile Sacramento’s Old Soul Roastery and Bakery

It’s very telling when a company has been such a directing force in a local market for as long as Kobos.  In short, it means they’re doing something right.  In the world of coffee, it means they’re making good coffee.  In the Portland coffee market, it means they’re making exceptional coffee.  I took home a half-pound of Organic Peruvian coffee that I’m enjoying as I type this.

Lots of unroasted green coffee from around the world.


The original Kobos roaster, still operational, and on-hand when the capacity is needed.


Kobos' 160-pound roaster. Here, the beans have finished roasting and are in their cooling stage. Without this stage, the heat generated in each bean would continue to roast and burn it.


Not a jar of beans, it's a jar of stones extracted from the coffee after it arrives at Kobos so that you don't find it in your bag of coffee.


A mini roaster for sampling batches of new coffee so that Kobos can determine whether they want to sell it, and how they will set its roaster settings for it.
A special thanks to Kevin and the Kobos coffee team! A great and informative tour.

Better Ways to Brew Coffee

in Brewing Coffee

Many years ago, my brother introduced me to the French Press.  He explained that for many, this was the best way to brew coffee.  At the time, I didn’t have a sophisticated enough taste for coffee for it to make much difference.  I also remember staring at the press pot and thinking about how primitive it looked compared to some of the tricked-out drip brewers that were on the market. 

It would be many years before I would use a French Press again.  I had made plenty of upgrades in my other coffee gear and certainly, the coffee itself that I was buying.  I had finished some reading on making great coffee, and the press pot came up again and again.  I decided to buy one, and alternated between using it and the drip brewer.  As time has gone on, I’ve used the drip brewer predominantly to make a large amount of coffee to be poured into my Thermos, but for smaller amounts, some of the fancier brewing methods.

Read: Buy a Thermos…Make Good Coffee

Last year, two different guests to the website asked me which I thought was the better brewing method between the press pot and the pourover method (the latter also known as the Chemex or Melitta).  Similarly, many people still refer to the press pot as the Bodum, named after the company that made the design popular.  Pourover was new to me, so I actually had to research it.  When I did, it just seemed like a LOT of work compared to the very turnkey way of making coffee by press pot.  With nothing else to go on, I ruled in favor of the press pot.

Read: Melitta vs. French Press…fight!
Read: Pour-over Brewing Method – the Chemex (greatly expanded description of pourover)

I now have a drip brewer, a press pot, and a pourover coffee maker in my coffee bar.  I will say that both the press pot and pourover make a noticeably better coffee than the drip brewer, but then again, both are intended to be improvements on the design of the drip brewer, itself an improvement on the percolator. 

Here is some loose logic for how and when I decide to use each:

Drip Brewer: For making a lot of coffee at once.  Generally to load into my Thermos for a day of being on the road, or if I am making coffee for a lot of guests.

Press Pot: Takes the longest to cool down, so for when I have time to sit back by myself, and enjoy it (ie. Sunday afternoon, no hurries).

Pourover: For some novelty in preparing it – it is definitely the most interesting to watch being prepared.  I do enjoy talking through the process as I prepare it.  Also, the paper filter removes any sediment from the coffee, which I like to provide for coffee drinking guests in my home who may not know to swish their cup before the last swallow, or care to.

So, the drip brewer remains my method for brewing a volume of coffee.  Between the press pot and pourover, I cannot pick a “winner”.  I like them both.  The pourover leaves no sediment in the cup but the coffee cools off quicker.  The press pot leaves sediment in the cup, but it doesn’t bother me as I’m expecting the sediment.  I love having them all in the coffee bar at my disposal.

Indian Coffee

in Brewing Coffee, Coffees of the World

It’s always fun for me when a bunch of coincidental things happen at once.  Earlier last week, I was e-mailing back and forth with Shreerag Plakazhi of India.  I had misunderstood that he was asking me if I’d ever tried coffees from India.  There is coffee production out of India, most of it from small growers, and responsible for about 5% of the world’s coffee production.  Shreerag was actually referring to a unique coffee brewing method called Indian filter coffee or South Indian coffee.

True Indian filter coffee is made with a unique two-cup metal contraption, and I don’t have one.  It’s also made with a combination of dark-roasted coffee and chicory.  A week later, I received an email from a visitor to the site named Makeda Queen, asking me if I had any advice on adding chicory to coffee.  Last but not least, this week, a new book entitled “The Romance of Indian Coffee” was released, and I knew the stars must be aligned for me to experiment with something new.

  • Ask Marc: Got a question about coffee?  Any question?

Here’s the best that I figured I could make my own Indian filter coffee at home:

– It’s made with roughly a 80% / 20% mix of dark-roasted coffee and chicory.
– I don’t have any dark-roasted coffee at home, but I did just receive my home roasting equipment.  If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been having lots of fun home roasting again.  I took the last of my unroasted Nicaragua Maragogype beans that I bought from Toronto’s Green Beanery and roasted them as dark as I could without burning them, or setting off the fire alarms.
– On my last trip to the grocery store, I bought some chicory from the baking aisle.  I’m not the culinary type, so I confess I don’t quite know what exactly chicory is.
– I’ve decided the method I will use to brew in absence of the true equipment is by Chemex pourover.

The magic all happens tomorrow.  I don’t know what to expect, but the only way to truly appreciate the wide world of coffee is to try as much of it as you can.  You don’t need to roast your own beans and buy chicory from the grocery store, but if you love coffee, experiment with it.  Try one you’ve never tried before.  And when you visit your local roaster, take the time (and theirs) to learn what they have to offer that you would enjoy and haven’t tried.

Coffees of Ecuador

in Buying Coffee, Coffees of the World

I have friends that just returned from Ecuador.  Like any good friends, they brought me back coffee fresh from the source.  I was excited to get it home and try it, as I’ve never tried coffee from Ecuador.  Coffee is very much like wine, in that it takes a sample of the world’s offering to fully appreciate every flavor and variety.

Coffees of Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the top 20 producers of coffee in the world.  Although the country itself is small, its varied ecology makes it possible to cultivate all of the varieties of coffee within its borders, including premium Arabica beans and less-expensive Robusta beans.

Coffee cultivation and export is a significant portion of the country’s economy.  While they presently export to the US as well as all over the world, it is not very prevalent in the US.  As a result, very little is written about its unique qualities, and to the best of my knowledge, this would be my first cup of coffee from Ecuador.

El Tostador

The packaging of my friends’ coffee is entirely in Spanish and I am definitely not smarter than a fifth grader yet in Spanish.  But, I know key words so I gave “reading” about the coffee my best shot.  Naturally, I could see that it was produced by El Tostador, Cafe Tostado y Molido, where my friends bought it in Ecuador.

The first thing I noticed is that the words Arabica or Robusta were not printed anywhere on the package.  My rule of thumb when I see this is that it is probably cheaper Robusta beans.  After all, you would promote that you are selling Arabica beans, so if nothing is said, I assume it’s Robusta.  However, I was able to identify from the packaging, the region where the coffee was grown…the province of Loja.  The variety of coffee grown in Loja is Arabica – great news. 

The frest-roasted coffee was ground to order for my friends who brought back a pound for themselves, and brought back a pound for me.  It was ground fine, so I’ve been preparing it by pourover moreso than by press pot, since you would generally use a coarse ground coffee in the press pot to avoid overextraction (sludge).

Read: Pour-Over Brewing Method
Read: Fresh Press Brewing Method

In the end, I couldn’t help but take some of the Spanish from the packaging to a translation website, which told me:
“From the quality coffee plantations of the highlands of the province of Loja, a tradition of flavor and natural fragrance is born.”


Ecuador has a couple challenges in order to have its coffee included in the list of Specialty Coffee origins.  First, it hasn’t actively promoted itself as a source of fine coffee to the US market, and promotes itself in the European market mainly on price.  The climate of Ecuador is similar in characteristics to other countries who produce well-recognized coffee.  This leads to the second challenge, that the country’s harvesting and processing standards are not as tightly regulated by the state since other exports, such as bananas, have increased in importance.

I was happy for the opportunity to try a new coffee I hadn’t tried before.  The only way to truly appreciate the world of coffee is to try coffees from around the world.


Reverse Osmosis and Coffee

in Brewing Coffee

Question: “How will using reverse osmosis water in my coffee maker affect the flavor? Is it a bad choice?” – Tina

Answer: I’m hearing more and more about water filtration and purification systems in the home, and reverse osmosis continues to come up.  I’m by no stretch a chemist, but I’ve made a valiant attempt to understand how RO works and will do my best to explain it, leading to how that would affect the taste of your coffee.

RO works by creating two “chambers” separated by a membrane.  The membrane acts as a filter that removes unwanted chemicals and particles from the water in the first chamber, which (along with some waste water) is flushed into sewage, while the second chamber contains a purified water that pours from your tap for cooking and drinking.

So, the short answer to your question is that not only will it not affect the flavor of your coffee adversely, but it will likely make it taste even better.  Water is one of the most underrated ingredients in making good coffee at home.  Fresh roasted whole bean coffee and unfiltered water still make only a mediocre coffee.  When I use my drip brewer, I only pour filtered water from the Brita in my fridge, or I use one of two methods that involve boiling water – the French Press or the pourover method.  So, I did further research comparing RO to boiling water as purification methods.

While RO is certainly more convenient than having to boil water each time you want to use it, it ALSO appears to be a better system for purifying water.  The membrane in RO will stop many unwanted particles from ending up in the water that you drink.  While boiling water will kill bacteria, it will only move unwanted particles around in the water which will end up in your cup.

So enjoy your new RO system!  I think you will find that it has a very favorable effect on your coffee.  Thank you for the question.

An Amazing Coffee Story

in Buying Coffee

An amazing story about coffee, or a story about amazing coffee?  Both.

I had my first coffee at Coava Coffee Roasters in April when I visited Portland, Oregon for the first time.  I was deciding if I wanted to live here or not, and maybe Coava helped that decision along, because here I am.  It was the second time in my life that coffee was served to me by pourover, so it was still relatively new to me.  The first time was at Planet Bean in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

Read: Profile Planet Bean Coffee
Read: Portland’s Big Coffee Scene

I woke up one morning, and like so many of us, started the day by making sure everything was still right in the world through my mobile device.  I checked the Twitter world, and now that I’d moved to Portland, the city’s name caught my eye in a tweet.  I learned that the esteemed Coffee Review coffee rating service had granted an almost unprecedented score of 95/100 to coffee roasted by somebody right here in Portland.  It was Coava.  The coffee, a Guatemalan Bourbon grown in the Xeucalvitz Community.

The rating of 95/100 by Coffee Review is a big endorsement.  Rating coffee is subjective by nature, but to the best of my knowledge, it is not a service biased to certain roasters.  In other words, if they’re giving out a rating this strong, it’s good coffee, go get some!  I had only heard of a rating that high being given out for the Hacienda La Esmaralda from Panama that sells literally for hundreds of dollars a pound, and for which the book “God in a Cup” was written.

To think I could get a pound of similarly rated coffee for the price of a normal pound, I decided I was getting some that day.  I’m only about a ten minute drive from Coava‘s Grand Avenue location, and I will admit I had a touch of the hysterics as I was driving there.  In fact, I may have parked on the sidewalk.  Part of me was expecting it to be sold out when I got there since the Coffee Review tweet had been posted that morning.

When I walked in and turned to the selection of bulk coffee, I saw the Guatemala Xeucalvitz and reached for the very pound you see in the picture above.  I turned to the gentleman behind the counter for the following exchange…

Me (holding up the coffee, wide-eyed): “This is it!”

Coava employee (nowhere near my excitement): “Yes, it is.”

Me: “This is the stuff that Coffee Review rated.”

Coava employee, nodded his head.

Me (almost incredulous): “Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Coava employee: “Yes I do, will that be all you need today?”

I couldn’t decide if he really did know, or if he was so sure of his company’s product that he didn’t need to make as big a deal of it as I was.  The woman pictured here offered to brew me a cup by pourover as you see in the picture, and I accepted without hesitation.  I know I was only ten minutes from home, but I just really wanted to try this coffee.

When I got home, I understood the first employee’s response to my excitement.  He DID know just how good their coffee is.  I’m not saying that because the cup they served me was amazing.  Or, because the cup of it I made for myself at home was amazing.  I say that because when I visited Coffee Review‘s website to learn more about Coava, I counted a total of FORTY ONE coffees roasted by Coava with a score of at least 90.  Among them, a total of three coffees rated 95/100! 

You’ll be hearing alot about Coava Coffee Roasters to come.  I’ll be trying alot of their coffees, and you can order them at their website online.

Check out: Coava Coffee Roasters
Follow me on Twitter.

Portland’s Big Coffee Scene

in Buying Coffee, Coffee News, Fair Trade and the Environment

I recently moved to Portland, Oregon.  Before choosing this city as my new home, I visited here on a weekend to make sure I liked it.  I already knew the city loved coffee, and while that certainly turned out to be true, it was beyond my wildest expectations.  If you follow me on Twitter (please follow me on Twitter), you may have noticed that my “coffee walkabout” the day after I arrived was my busiest day of tweeting since I opened my account.  Yes, the caffeine had something to do with it.

Here is just a flavor of what I ran into that day…

Embarrassingly enough, my coffee adventure started in the hotel room.  Hey, it’s not always easy to get this body moving.

From my hotel room, I made the shortest walk to a cafe across the street called Kobos Coffee, a Portland-bred roaster with a few locations and roastery in the city.  I had the Black and White Blend at their SW Market location, and sat down outside their store to enjoy it and consider how the rest of the day would go.  I decided to cross the downtown core of Portland to make my way to one of Stumptown‘s locations – by the end of that walk, I figured I would need another.

For some, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is THE name of coffee in Portland, due to their signature ambiance, appeal with local residents, but also consistency in their product and service for the numerous locations that they’ve opened.  I was also intrigued by their Direct Trade program, where the company’s purchasers meet directly with the coffee farmers to ensure quality and consistent growing practices.  This seems the natural evolution of Fair Trade, as long as you’re big enough to afford the direct sourcing.  Stumptown is one of a handful of roasters in the country that can afford it.

I would hit a second Stumptown location in downtown Portland before the end of the day.

My next stop was to hit a Portland staple, an actual attraction, Powell’s Used Book Store, the largest used book store in the country.  Don’t laugh, for a city that loves reading (hey, it’s one way to pass the time with all the rain), it’s a natural attraction.  And for another, it is truly a giant book store.  I suggest checking it out when you’re in Portland, but have a genre of book in mind, it’s way too big for browsing.  Located inside is World Cup Roasters, where I bought a 12oz cup of their Drip Coffee.

From there, I ventured back towards the downtown core.  By this point, I had sat down to enjoy two of my four coffees and walked with the other two.  One was served by pump container so hard to say how it was prepared.  Two were served by French Press, and the last was served by Drip Brew.  You know you’re in a city that loves coffee when they even tell you on their menu how it was brewed.

If you live on the west coast, you’d probably wonder why I would stop for a coffee at Peet’s.  After all, with as many homebred microroasters as Portland has to offer, why go for the chain?  That’s because I’m not from the west coast.  The Major Dickason blend from Peet’s was one of the first coffees that made me realize how good coffee is supposed to be.  I’ve gone on to different coffees from there, but never forgot how much that particular blend opened my eyes (and tastebuds).  Since I had never seen a Peet’s outlet for myself, I had to stop and get one.  This was my first coffee of the day that I confess I didn’t actually want.  I needed a break, but couldn’t turned down a fresh-brewed Major Dickason coffee.

I knew I was heading for a major caffeine crash at some dreaded later point in the day.  In the meantime though, I was full of energy.  Enough that I walked through downtown Portland to the Willamette River and crossed it to check out the south side of the city.  With all the energy I had, I would’ve swam across the river if it was warmer out.

My last stop of the day was at Coava Coffee Roasters, a roaster I would’ve never found had I not stumbled upon it, and one that you will hear much about in the blog posts to come.  It was the second time that a coffee was prepared for me by pourover (the first time being at Planet Bean in Guelph, Ontario, Canada), and the first time that day.  I sat down and enjoyed my coffee there until a wedding reception arrived to take over the floor space.  With all the coffee I’d drank, I couldn’t be sure if I was hallucinating the whole thing.

You’ll be reading alot about Portland, Oregon in the months to come, and the amazing and unique coffee it has to offer.  It is a great city that loves their coffee, and offers their coffee lovers many options and venues to choose from.  Forget Seattle, this is the capital of the coffee world!

Pour-over Brewing Method – the Chemex

in Brewing Coffee

The first time I ever heard of making coffee by “pour-over” was almost a whole year ago.  Click here to see the video I found back then of a tiny Japanese robot preparing coffee by this method.  I commented at the time that it seemed like a lot of work when I was getting coffee from my drip brewer just fine.

Late last year, I was asked for my thoughts comparing the pour-over technique to the French Press.  I came back to my opinion that the French Press is held in such high regard that there must be a reason why, whereas I wasn’t hearing as many advocates for the pour-over technique.

This month, I visited the Planet Bean roastery in Guelph Ontario and saw something for the first time.  All coffee served in their retail cafe was prepared by the barista using the pour-over method.  I asked Bill Barrett about this, and he gave his opinion that this was an ideal method to brew and get maximum flavor from coffee.

By coincidence, I was given another chance to answer this question when Dawn Foster e-mailed me and asked,

“Marc, what is your opinion of the Chemex coffee maker. A friend swears by it.”

What’s the difference?  Is it worth the bother?

Your drip-brewer at home heats the water and dispenses it over the filter of ground coffee.  That filter fills up with the heated water that extracts solids from the coffee that drips into the pot.  Grind some coffee, pour water in the machine, flip a switch, wait, enjoy.

By contrast, the pour-over method involves you slowly and gradually pouring the hot water in a thin continuous stream over several minutes rather than flooding the ground coffee at once.

To the left is the Chemex coffee makerIn the home version of the pourover technique, this is the name I have heard the most often.  To brew coffee in this way, you would still use a paper filter in the cone opening seen on the left.  Once your water is boiled, you would let it cool slightly so that you are not pouring boiling water onto coffee (which spoils it).

What follows is the slow and deliberate process I shrugged at a year ago, of pouring the water onto the coffee in the filter.  This happens in three steps: pour once to saturate the ground coffee, pour a second time to build a volume of hot water in the filter to drip into the bottom chamber, and pour a third gradual time to use up the rest of the water.  In case it isn’t clear, I don’t own one but don’t worry, instructions come with the Chemex :).

The Professional Way

Planet Bean prepares all of their retail coffee by the cup in this manner.  It has the definite appeal of quality that can’t be rushed in how it’s made.

The pour-over station is set up for each cup of coffee sold in the shop.

From the many varieties of coffee available that day, yours is organized in a single serving that is pulled from the shelf and brought to the pour-over station.

The coffee is emptied into the filter.

And the pour-over begins. It is the same process as I described with the Chemex above, with three separate pouring steps before your cup is ready and served to you.

The exciting part for me is that all of this is very new to me.  I can’t deny the East Timor coffee I had on-site at Planet Bean was awesome, but they have quality in every step so it’s difficult to say it was all about the pour-over technique specifically.

I’d love to hear from you if you have experienced the pour-over method – comment here or always feel free to send me an e-mail.  I’m very intrigued to learn more about the pour-over technique.

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