Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Science of Crema at Nestlé



Peter Giuliano was very kind to share this article and linked video from last year's SCAA Symposium (the video is 16 minutes long and worth every minute you spend watching it):

Brita Folmer on Crema

Dr. Folmer's talk is a rare and really wonderful glimpse into defining, measuring and achieving high quality in coffee using the full complement of scientific and technological tools available. Sadly I doubt this talk will be viewed by those who most need to see it: specialty coffee folks who think that having a "passion" for quality, or over-paying for small lots of green coffee from farms you've visited, has something to do with actual quality, when it does not.

Think about all the theories about espresso and crema you've heard: it's the sign of truly fresh coffee; you need robusta in the blend in order for it to really last; it protects the aroma of your shot while drinking it; it needs to pour towards the rim of the demitasse and stay intact to be a good one - on and on. Then look at this video, which looks at what crema actually is, what consumers and expert tasters expect and perceive it to be, and how good crema can be part of not only straight shots of espresso but the drip-strength caffe lungo that dominates the market in much of Europe (and which deserves a much wider audience here).

There's so much to learn from, and to be impressed by, in this excellent presentation, but for me the most important aspect of all is how seamlessly this company integrates the technical aspect of coffee chemistry and the perspective of expert tasters with the needs, wants and preconceptions of its customers. The consumer hardly factors in to most discussions I hear among American microroasters: instead it's talk about how much we (behind the counter) like such-and-such microlot, how much we spent on the latest Rube Goldberg brewing contraption, or how we roast the coffee to our ideal profile based on what we find at the cupping table. That's coffee-as-hobby; this talk is about the coffee business. 


38 comments:

  1. So…

    First, I'm not sure if you're pushing this video as a quality thing, an analytical thing, or a "this is what espresso should be" thing, and it's only because of your sub talk towards some relatively new roasters who think they have all the answers, vs SCIENCE (btw I agree with you on the new roasters thing).

    So let me preface what I'm about to say with this:

    It's virtually impossible for me to take anything Nespresso says about espresso and coffee seriously. No matter how much science is thrown at it. And I'm not saying this because Nestle is a fundamentally bad corporation in terms of its overall impact on the world (they are - one e.g. is how they were a prime mover in causing the coffee crisis pricing collapse in the late 1990s via encouragement of the WTO to fund robusta growth in Vietnam, flooding the global markets), or that they spend more on one person's salary (George Clooney) than they do on the coffee put into their capsules in a year.

    No… I don't take Nespresso or its scientists seriously because Nestle a) ignores one specific tenant of quality espresso: fresh grind is crucial to great espresso (and all the assorted chemistry and physics that comes from freshly ground coffee), and b) most, if not all of their science is thrown at trying to make a visually better looking shot of espresso from so so coffee that has been ground and packaged weeks / months before.

    Preface over. ;) Part 2 next

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  2. I saw this video two days ago when it came out; I could appreciate the focus groups and identifying how much smell, aroma, and visuals impact a consumer's expectation of espresso. I noted in their experiments they weren't using Nespresso's capsules, but a specially built transparent portafilter contraption (with what looks like a second chamber water bath around the coffee chamber); I wonder if they were using stale ground coffee and any other additives their capsules have, but didn't get a clear sense of that. I also noted the extractions visually, from what I expect from espresso, were lacking.

    I noted this study did give me some additional ideas for how I go about analyzing espresso; for instance, I've been breaking down shots into five or six segments for nearly a decade now (using a custom tray with six shot glasses I slide along the drip tray below the spouts, moving it every five seconds - tray built for me by Andy Schecter, shout out!); but I have not done the seven sip and comment thing, which I think is a great idea.

    Lastly, her scientific study reached the same conclusion I've known for years myself (and full credit to David Schomer for teaching me this in 2000, and Harold McGee for confirming it, but with regards to spirits (whiskey etc) and the surface effervescence they get with the addition of a bit of water): that one of creme's many benefits to the cup is that the constant burst of the bubbles release aromas into your nose, enhancing (or detracting) from the espresso experience. (side note - I am pretty sure most uber-serious espresso people know this already).

    But I keep coming back to several things when watching this video. a) It's Nestle; b) they use stale, meh quality coffee at best in their top of the line Nespresso capsules, (and lower quality in the flavoured ones); c) most, if not all of their science is driven towards how to make cheap, stale, old coffee taste better in their proprietary system.

    I can appreciate the study this woman has presented. It does give true specialty coffee espresso artisans more tools to go forth and make better espresso with, by using the scientific methods presented here. End of the day, any competent espresso aficionado with competent tools and good coffee and water, already making good espresso might even be able to make theirs better by applying some of the scientific analysis presented here.

    But I hope you're not championing Nespresso as anything approaching specialty coffee or specialty coffee espresso?

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  3. Lastly, some side notes:

    I do mostly agree with you on some of the new wave of roasters thinking they have all the answers on espresso. For instance, ANY ROASTER who proclaims their roast method is so good they only need a uni-roast for any of their coffees, doing equally well as espresso or drip or press… well, in my opinion, they don't really understand espresso (Yeah, I'm talking about Heart Roaster's opus on this that they published in their blog).

    I want to reiterate - though I have almost no respect for Nestle (or Nespresso) in terms of quality and ethics, I can appreciate this video for what it is - presenting some scientific method that we now in specialty coffee can make use of it analyse our own espresso with.

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  4. Hola,

    As to your initial question, it's pretty much the last thing you mention.

    There is no such thing as a good publicly traded corporation, so your characterization of Nestlé as a bad one rings hollow. They are no more and no less ruthless than any other company of their size, and if anything have done (and continue to do) more good, by far, for the follks that grow their beans than any smaller player I'm aware of.

    As for your not taking Nespresso or its scientists seriously becuase of grind, that's a commentary on (and reflection of) your great ignorance about the basics of coffee. Nestlé's water-cooled roller mill grinders, operating in a sub-1% oxygen envirorment (from roasting to packaging) preserve fare more coffee aroma than any other packaging system.

    Really, what are you comparing this with? Putting whole beans in tin-tie bags (with 21% oxygen inside and out) and hoping for the best? Putting just-roasted whole beans in a premade valve bag but then just heat-sealing it because you don't have the money (or don't care enought about quality) to draw a vaccuum and backflush with nitrogen to get the oxygen content below 2%?

    The objective fact of the matter is that Nespresso's capsules are far fresher than what you are selling, and your Luddite ignorance of basic science just makes you look like the fool that you are.

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  6. ne stupid comment here and half a dozen on the original post on the SCAA website prompt me to reiterate the obvious:

    Nesté is a huge mulitnational corporation and has done (and continues to do) many noble and many awful things. They are also gigantically influential, worldwide, in coffee, and at in terms of sourcing, roasting and manufacturing they are absoultely state of the art.

    Smaller players (that means all of us) and those passionate about truly great, human-scale coffee ought to learn from such giants and do our best to equal and evnetually surpass their quality standards and their devotion to the consumer but in the service of the handmade, eccentric, unusual, seasonal and delightfully inconsistent coffees that are the lifeblood of specialty coffee.

    We should not say we are better when we are merely different, and we dare not ignore those (be they Nestlé, Green Mountain or Starbucks) who deliver convenient mediocrity to their customers. That's all I'm saying

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I didn't receive anything but the one comment that I posted. Maybe a glitch with Blogger? You can reach me by email if you'd prefer.

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    2. I likewise had a lengthy response vanish this morning, a blow to my prolix. Thanks for what you're doing, Kevin. One loves an artisan hollering from a rooftop in entertaining language.

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  8. I don't understand CoffeeGeek's comment about how they caused a coffee pricing collapse bu encourgaing robusta growth in Vietnam. Isn't lower prices and more players a positive thing?

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    1. Perhaps it would make more sense if you saw the entire comment that was intended:

      http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/espresso/general/677868

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    2. Oop, never mind. Should have read your comment more carefully.

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  9. Okay CoffeeGeekBloggin”, the rest of your comments finally showed up in Blogger’s comments moderation queue, and I’ve published them. I’ll try to address them in order (and in two parts due to length restrictions on Blogger).

    Let’s see....I trust you can supply proof of the claims you make about Nestlé and Vietnamese robusta AND George Clooney earning more money than they spend on the coffee they put in Nespresso capsules. I await your evidence with bated breath.

    I get it that you don’t like Nestlé; I find lots of things about them, corporately, to dislike as well, but my objections are along the lines of hating what they do to promote their infant formulas at the expense of mother’s breast milk, pushing bottled water and so on.

    Your statement that they use “stale, meh quality coffee at best in their top of the line Nespresso capsules” is simply untrue. That is a matter of fact, not opinion. They’re buying absolutely first-rate Yirgacheffes, Kenyas and much else for those products, roasting them in state-of-the-art roasters, grinding them with great precision (and no loss of aroma) on water-cooled, roller mill grinders (each of which costs more than most Third Wave roasting plants) and the entire process including the encapsulation of the just-roasted coffee is done in a sub-1% oxygen environment. Objectively speaking their coffee is fresh, and stays fresh for a very long time.

    I have the utmost respect for Harold McGee, and next to none for David Schomer, a self-styled, self-taught expresso “expert” whose insanely over-dosed, under-brewed espresso shots are undrinkable even in milk. I do agree with you that some of the conclusions about crema in the Nestlé video would indeed be obvious to an espresso connoisseur, but there is much that is new, including the “hyper-crema” angle and the importance of crema in the caffe lungo coffees that Nespresso machines are optimized to brew.

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  10. As to your last comment about whether I’m championing Nestlé as offering specialty coffee, I guess I’d have to say that “specialty,” thanks largely to the money-grubbing, standards-ignoring ways of the SCAA over the years, has pretty much become a meaningless term even within the coffee trade (it never meant anything to consumers, as SCAA’s own research showed long ago). For marketing and category tracking purposes any coffee that isn’t R & G Folger’s or the like in a 3 lb. can is specialty these days: canned ready-to-drink, flavored, whatever.

    If we’re talking about green coffees that might rate 80-85 points or higher then Nestlé (and Starbucks, for that matter) is one of the largest buyers in the world of such coffees. With respect to cup quality, I’m certainly not going to say that the best Nespresso capsule is going to yield a shot that’s anywhere near the quality of what a skilled barista with really great, freshly roasted coffee (that’s roasted properly for espresso) and a good doser-grinder and espresso machine can produce. On the other hand, in the real world of, say, Seattle or Portland, there’s going to be City-roasted Costa Rican or maybe Ethiopian, dosed at 20 or more grams and yielding an über-ristretto shot of espresso with the acidity of lemon juice concentrate. I’ll take the cheapest Nespresso blend over that any day of the week - and so would anyone else who drinks coffee for reasons other than self-flagellation. That’s the reality out there - and that is why Keurig and Nestlé are growing exponentially as the larger Third Wavers sell out to the VC firms who (foolishly) think Stumptown or Blue Bottle cold brew is somehow better than a can of Starbucks Double Shot.

    Heart in Portland is as good a poster child as there is for the utterly uninformed idiocy of so many newbie players in the Third Wave world (though I heard the same claim about being able to calibrate the espresso machine to make light roasts taste good from the head of QC for Stumptown). As Jerry Baldwin said long ago, “the proof is in the cup,” and having tasted plenty of espresso shots from all of these places in Portland and Seattle I’ll just say that it’s a good thing that their customers are still ordering mostly milk drinks, or they’d have been out of business long ago. There is zero effort here to learn from the Italians, who invented and perfected espresso machinery and roasting and blending for it, or even to learn from the likes of Starbucks, which despite a severe decline in coffee quality and freshness over the years still has enough sense to use 7 grams per 1.1.25 fl. oz. espresso shot (including crema) and as a result still has better-tasting espresso drinks than 95% of the Third Wave places.

    We should learn what we can from Nestlé of course, but more to the point it would be so cool to see a Third Wave (or Fourth) in coffee that incorporates rather than ignores the best of what has gone before. Until that happens, I’ll keep calling it what it is: the third wave regression.

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  11. On Nestle.

    http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/markprince/11-27-2002

    I do my reseach ;)

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    1. That's old news and also reflects, in my view, a pretty uninformed opinion from someone with no actual working background in coffee, lots of preconceptions, and poor grounding in coffee history.

      Dan Cox recently addressed the real story of the price collapse and ICA in a comment in Roast Magazine's Daily Coffee News:

      an Cox September 10, 2014 11:52 am
      Nora Burkey’s article Hate the Game, Not the Players mentions that the coffee trading system seemed to be better at providing coffee farmers with improved prices during the years the International Coffee Agreement was in effect. She mentions that the ICA (International Coffee Agreement) controlled prices and the supply of coffee by way of a quota system. ABSOLUTEY not true! The ICA was signed by both consuming and producing countries and the quota system, along with fees associated with each bag of coffee exported, was the key provision. Prices were never discussed, as that would be collusion, and no one could agree on prices anyway. Each coffee country has a different cost of doing business and thus there was no minimum wage and coffee workers are still paid by the piece or the pound picked. Quotas, meaning how many bags a producing country could ship to another member country, were instituted and from the get-go they were a bone of contention. Small producers felt at the mercy of large producers and could be left literally holding the bag; they could not ship beyond their quota to member countries. The idea was that supply would affect demand which would in turn affect price. Theoretically true, but not in practice.

      The system came to a tumbling halt because everyone cheated. First, producers would project huge crops so their quotas would be increased. Secondly, any excess coffee that was not sold to a member country could be sold to a nonmember country at a lower price! This meant if you were a consuming county in the club a ICO member, (international Coffee Organization) it could cost you MORE to buy coffee from a producing member. This was blatantly unfair and eventually the US dropped out because of this injustice. The fact is that the US paid the highest dues of all members and got tired of all the fighting and eventually just quit.
      Without a support system in place, it was every country for itself and each producer made the deal that was in their own self interest. All coffee grown was sold, but prices plummeted as consuming countries squeezed producers. This situation created a fifteen year financial disaster for producers and a windfall for roasters.

      So the answer to Nora’s question is multilayered. Are producers better today in a totally free market system which may also encompass various certification programs, or is it better for the producers to be in some kind of quota system like the old ICA? As a capitalist and free market cheerleader, my first rally is for the free enterprise market to thrive. The consumer is always right and will buy what they need. However, at what cost to the producer? Maybe there is another way of buying/selling coffee which encourages risk and free market enterprise but also has a degree of economic safety for the producer.

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  12. Regarding what Nestle uses in their Nespresso capsules. I've seen their PR on some of the farms they source from. But many questions have been raised about that - some of these farms and coops can't possibly produce the volume that Nestle needs for their capsules; while they may use SOME good coffee (again, as a purely PR move because I don't believe for one second Nestle as a corporation cares one iota about paying farmers a living wage) Nestle is the world's largest buyer of commodity grade coffee, and has been for a long time (going back to at least the mid 1990s). This information is gleaned from reading through the trade magazines over the years, incl Coffee & Tea and C&CI. Don't ask me to quote specific issues, I don't keep those magazines.

    But as the saying goes, "you can't put a shine on a turd" and the real turd(s) in Nespresso are a) the age of the coffee inside them, b) that they were ground long before use, and c) the waste. Not to mention proprietary systems which are extremely consumer unfriendly.

    Nestle, as far as coffee farmers go, as far as the environment goes, and as far as quality - genuine quality in the cup goes, is an unethical corporate citizen. Don't get me started on the breast milk issue. Nestle used their financial, legal, and political power to foster an environment that would create historically low coffee prices. They weren't the only one, but they were a major player, with regards to Vietnam going from a nobody on the world coffee stage to second biggest producer in the world behind Brazil, flooding the market with sub grade robusta and driving global trading prices to a world low.

    You're right, I don't like Nestle. We do not have any Nestle products in our house, and do everything we can to keep it that way. I do not support corporations with unethical practices. That is why I don't like them. They are unethical. To the extreme in many cases.

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    1. Publicly-traded corporations are forbidden, by law, from putting the environment, suppliers or anything else ahead of return to shareholders. I don't draw much distinction between Nestlé and any other multinational company and if anything find their relative lack of greenwashing refreshing, relative to, say, Keurig Green Mountain or some of the larger Third Wave players who talk about direct trade while paying their bills with commercial coffee sold to their wholesale accounts.

      Anyway, if you truly don't want to support corporations with unethical practices, you need to stop buying anything made or imported by publicaly-traded companies. Good luck with that.

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  13. One more comment, to try and break things up a bit. I'm quite surprised, Kevin, that you think the O2 free environment results in "fresh coffee" for extended periods.

    All that does is prevent oxidation, one of the detriments to coffee. But it doesn't prevent another crucial thing from happening - one that absolutely drives flavour into the cup - C02 evacuating from the ground coffee. You mention we should be following the Italians more on espresso, since they, as you said "perfected espresso machinery" (come on Kevin - you don't really believe that, do you? Espresso technology in grinders and brewers is still in its baby phase - we still haven't come anywhere close to perfecting that enigma machine, and improvements happen in leaps and small steps every few years)

    You mention we should be following the Italians. Let's follow one - and ironically, another company that believes in oxygen free packaging. Illy. In Andrea Illy's Espresso, The Chemistry of Quality, his scientific research and analysis not only shows the importance of Co2 (and other gases) stored in the whole bean (and ground coffee) as a delivery mechanism for water non-soluble lipids, oils and other flavour enhancing elements in the coffee, but clearly shows how quickly these gases evacuate the coffee after it is ground to espresso sized particles (fyi, and IIRC 80% gone in <5min, when ground to 300microns avg size).

    Illy's research has helped them settle on packaging systems and gases used to reduce the evacuation of gases from coffees in their iperespresso systems and their cans, but it still happens.

    Preventing oxidation is one battle against old coffee. But there's many more battles science can't tackle in the world's most complex food item (1200+ individual chemical components, 800+ contributing to taste and/or aroma), when it is used in a less than optimal way.

    What's optimal? 4-9 days after roast, properly stored whole bean, ground seconds before brewing. Seconds.

    PS. My name's Mark, not "CoffeeGeekbloggin'" (grin). Unfortunately, that's the name displayed here because of your login system using my decade-old Blogger account.

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    1. What I pointed out it that we need to understand and respect what the Italians have done, especially with roasting and blending for espresso, as a prerequisite for genuine innovation and improvement. That has certainly happened in some cases - certainly at Peets and Starbucks way back when - but not everywhere.

      As for espresso equipment, thirty years ago we were saying that the "art" of espresso is really just crappy engineering, and while things have improved greatly that's still pretty much the case - which is exactly why the Nespresso system was invented, and why it has been so successful.

      I'm certainly familiar with Andrea Illy's book and am a long-time admirer of Illycaffe generally, but the Nespresso capsules are just as much a cloesed system as Illy's pressurized packaging. I do of course agree with you, abaolutely, that in a perfect world we'd all be brewing just-roasted coffee meetig the standards you've specified. But there again we're back to the reality of how lousy espresso technology is: you need not just the fresh coffee, properly roasted and expensive machinery but a highly-trained and dedicated barista to operate it all. The reason this worked at all, historically, in Italy, is that the barman (almost invariably a man) and maybe his son were in that job for life, making one size of cappuccino and straight espresso, for here, all of their lives. That model has fallen apart even in Italy, and of course never worked anywhere else.

      What a lot of work for a brewing method that remains one of the worst ways to experience the flavors and aromas of truly great single origin coffees. How easily we forget that this is a brewing method that was designed to optimize the very limited potential of commercial-grade coffees by at least serving them fresh, using an extraction that substtitutes power for nuance, and making the works so bitter that sugar to offset it all is a necessity. My old boss Howard Schultz I suppose gets the credit - or blame - for literally putting the espresso machine and its operator on a pedestal, but bear in mind this is a guy who thinks Kenny G is a jazz musician and Jordan Cabernet is the world's greatest wine.

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  14. And thanks for introducing yourself Mark! I appreciate your comments.

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    1. Hi Kevin,

      I'm a bit late, but I enjoyed the discussion between you and Mark even if it was sometimes - I think over reacted. I don't like the intolerant way of most third wavers either but criticize them the same way won't bring either any peace nor any progress. Your style makes your posts very amusing. But I like the way how James Hoffmann think about possible mistakes third wavers made/are making (see his last two post on his blog) also.

      Another interesting topic of freshly roasted coffee vs conserved ground coffee. I would think that there are surely methods to conserve coffee even ground coffee. These methods sounds good, sometimes spectacular. But they are compromises. I would argue that such conserved ground coffee could ever compete a properly - same way and freshly - roasted coffee (few days even one-two week old) in a proper one way valve bag.

      Kind regards from Hungary

      Gábor

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  15. Hi guys, it' Mr. Broken Record again . . .

    and I'll say it again: I have had espresso from $15,000 machines that look like hot rods from the '50s, and they sucked just as bad as the ones from La Spatziales that poured maybe 20 shots a day in some crappy bodega. The technology is great. In reasonably trained hands, a nice Faema or La Marzocco makes a delicious beverage that to me anyway, is still a magical thing. I've been hooked on this s&*t since 1982. I'm so sick of the perfectionism around making coffee. Every time I get my hopes up about some new place, the coffee is just so disappointing. But that doesn't mean there isn't good coffee out there - it's just not in the new shops with the Harios and the diamond-encrusted grinders being operated by people who know more about the kind of feed the donkeys at "origin" are eating than about how to serve the average customer a beverage that makes them want to come back for more. A few people care deeply about the rootstock from which the coffee plants came, but most of us just want to have a nice cuppa joe, for chrissake.

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  16. Preachin' to the choir in my case Robert, but I appreciate it! We as an industry ought to be looking for every opportunity to show customers how simple, easy, fun and affordable great coffee (in a café or at home) can be, but as you know things have gone the other way.

    Clearly the occasional place that does do at least some of this (e.g. Philz in the Bay area) tends to be very successful, and lately I've seen a few positive signs, with some places using the Aeropress and/or Clever Dripper instead of Harios and, predictbly but ironically, the return of batch brewing in Fetcos and the like to Stumptown and a few others).

    There's a major missed opportunity here, and sadly the void is being filled by K Cups.

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  17. To Kevin and Mark.
    I do understand your frustration with light roasted coffee and how it has become a "trend". I don't think heart is guilty of pushing underdeveloped coffee to consumers these days. Sure, each roaster goes through a learning curve of what they want their product to taste like, as well as what audience they will attract.
    I would like to know when the last time you visited either one of our stores was. We do not put 20 grams in and pull ristretto shots. We use 19 grams and pull 36-40 grams of coffee out and these extractions are in the 20% range. I think it's quite high for the specialty coffee industry at the moment. I know numbers don't make good coffee, and you are 100% right about "the proof is in the cup." I'm confident that even the older generation (that is more sensitive to acidity) would enjoy our house espresso. We can't control what other people decide to do with our roasted coffee. I'm sorry if you have had a bad experience. We do still offer a blend that changes seasonally. It's developed more to be able to cut through milk & to be user friendly. This is not a hard coffee to extract, even for a home barista. I know we did calibrate our coffee for our grinders and machines late 2013 and this is not comparable to a home setup, so I learned the hard way by visiting other cafés and simply by tasting what they did with our coffee. I don't like bright, sour, or poorly extracted espresso. I do not think we have it figured out, but we are on an exciting path. We are getting lots of good feedback from people who did not like our coffee at one point. There are bigger companies in this industry that are pushing over roasted, past crop, & baked coffee.
    I'm not going to name companies that I don't think are representing specialty coffee well, but if I did I would go visit them and get your "facts" straight before throwing them under the bus. I'm excited about coffee & the science behind it.
    I'm always listening to my peers for advice, but in the end it's like you said "the proof is in the cup". Thank you for sharing this video, I thought it was great!
    -Wille

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  18. Hi Wille -

    I'm in the Pacific Northwest every summer and often another time during the yeaer as well, and last tasted Heart's coffee this past June. It was the lightest-roasted, most underdeveloped of many such coffees I tasted in Portland and Seattle.

    I should be clear that I have no problem with acidity in coffee! When I was VP/buyer/roastmaster at Allegro Coffee I offered roasts ranging from scary-dark West Coast French (18-19 on the Agtron scale) to Yirgacheffe's and Kenya auction lots roasted in the citty+/light full city range (70-72).

    That said, those lighter-roasted coffees were intended for drip and vacuum pot brewing only, and I would never have allowed a coffee that hadn't gone into second pop go make its way into an espresso machine. I read your blog post/explanation about this and disagree completely with you (and Scott Rao for that matter). There are basically two ways to have balanced acidity in an espresso blend (or single origin), and they are to lower the acidity through coffee selection (thus the prevalence of low-acid Brazils as base coffees in classic Italian blends) or to corral it through roast, which is why the very hard, high-grown and super acid coffees used for espresso at places like Peets and Starbucks "back in the day" were roasted so much darker.

    Personally I am not looking for the acidity of fresh-squeezed lemon juice in my morning espresso. I can get that from fruit juice, or from a cup of very bright filter coffee, drunk black, or from a nice first-flush Darjeeling. I sure as hell don't want a shot of overdosed, under-roasted coffee mixed with milk in a cappuccino - and I've yet to encounter any consumer who, given a choice between such coffee and properly roasted espresso would choose the former.

    Anyway, I did want to make it clear that my criticsim of Heart, Stumptown, Intelligentsia and others is an informed one. We can and do disagree about coffee but I respect your passion for it and wish you well.

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  19. I loved reading through all of these posts. I also resonate with the statement "coffee everywhere, but nothing fit to drink." Here in New York City everybody is selling the tried and true third wave stuff and pulling single orign shots that will take paint off cars. I found myself back to Starbucks for their reserves on the Clover, which are truly great coffee's (most of them). At work I have a, wait for it... Nespresso machine for espresso and a bag of Peet's and a CCD. The fact is there is no variety with coffee anymore and I stopped getting espresso in cafes a few years ago, while admittedly still buying mediocre drip, or French Press. Somebody said to me recently, "maybe you just don't like coffee." Um no, I just don't like YOUR coffee. I just can't believe to get a decent cup I have to mail order for it. I live in the most convenient city in the world and have to mail order for coffee. Coffee, as with most NYC pretentions: Our vanity is greater than our misery.

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  20. Hi Patrick-

    I'm sorry to hear about the state of things in New York, but not surprised based on the reports from there I've been reading and hearing. It's doubly unfortunate because NYC has great water for coffee and a rich tradition of classic full city roasting - albeit by folks who aren't there anymore.

    I agree with you about the Starbucks Reserve coffees. I tried most of what was on offer at their Roy Street Coffee place in Seattle (the "stealth Starbucks" that's been written about quite a bit) and had a very good Colombia Nariño and a stellar Yirgacheffe that unbeknownest to the staff was a dry-processed thrill ride in the Clover. It was so good, in fact, that I wanted to buy some beans to take home, but they wanted $20 - for a half-pound! Considering that Lighthouse Roasters just across town was offering a Yemen Mocha that was equally good for half that price I just laughed - and all the more so at their explanation that "small lots like this are really expensive."

    I'd be curious to know where you've found mail order coffee that pleases you. I can certainly see ordering from Peet's when they have a good Harrar or the like, and John Weaver at Weaver's Coffee is another and perhaps overall better choice in the deep roast realm. Where you could find classic full city roasts these days I really don't know....Counter Culture maybe?

    For my part I'm just really grateful to be able to buy green coffee from Sweet Maria's and roast my own. They're bringing in some really great coffees and the roaster investment pays for itself fairly quickly. I had some dry-processed Yirgacheffe roasted to full city this morning in my Aeropress that was easily among the top half-dozen coffees I've ever tasted. If I had to resort to mail ordering roasted coffee instead I think I'd seriously consider just drinking tea (from Upton, o course).

    Nespresso and Peet's in a Clever @ work doesn't sound at all shabby to me. And speaking of Peet's, I just got their email offer for the first roast of their holiday blend and it reminded me that their "regular" Guatemala, for example, is San Sebastian - and that, in general, they continue to offer, as their only single-origin choices, the same coffees that both they and Starbucks used to offer all of the time - and it's full pounds of coffee, not 12 oz. bags, at 25-50% less than the Third Wave places. That's also a commentary on how thoroughly Starbucks has lost their way: the very existence of a "Reserve" or "Black Apron" series that's merely the same quality as the entire menu once was says it all.

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    1. Hi Kevin:
      I just spent about 25 minutes writing a reply to you in this thread. But then I made the mistake of hitting the "preview" button to review my post and...all my work permanently disappeared. That is 25 minutes I will never get back.
      Suffice it to say that there are, IMHO, plenty of tasty balanced shots available in NYC. You just have to look around for them.

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  21. Interesting discussion. I'm also not a fan of the uber-sour, brain scrambling third-wave trend. Redbird coffee -- a microroaster in Montana -- is run by a guy named Jeff. He crafts espresso blends in the northern Italian tradition. And by all accounts he's deeply passionate about his work and is a true artisan.
    http://redbirdcoffee.com/collections/coffee-selections/products/red-bird-espresso

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  22. Thanks very much for your comments. The folks at Red Bird sound excellent.

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  23. Kevin, thanks for the reply. There are some "ok" shots, but it isn't all that practical in my opinion to travel across town for a shot of espresso passing by dozens of cafe's in the process. Nespresso, sadly just does it better, right on my desk at work. Who knows, maybe it's because I am Italian? I tend to like that style of shot better than most of what I try.

    I checked out that Roy Street stealth Starbucks when I was in Seattle last year. It was the first time I have been to Seattle and I loved it. Even though some of Seattle's coffee was similar to here in New York, I found that there is a much greater variety of roasters, and i would only guess more diverse green buying. From what I understand from a friend and cafe owner most of the smaller guys are just tagging along on orders that the relatively bigger players like Joe's are buying. It creates this kind of monopoly of flavors. Furthermore, most of the people roasting coffee, like buying green coffee, are self taught, trial and error, or taught by somebody who was self taught. Surely you can get great coffee this way, but it seems like it has created a kind of clique, which you time and time again mention: passion, but ignorance to everything outside of their world.

    Anyway, I have only really ordered Peet's online. I feel that I am one of the weird people in this world, who actually hates buying things online. Maybe because it seems ridiculous given that I live in the City with "everything".

    Counter Culture does have some great offerings, but for some reason I can only find mostly south and central american beans at cafes. I actually love their blends. Also, Allegro's Mocha Java blend is amazing, which I can get at Whole Foods now. Perfect in a French Press.

    Friend who owns a cafe that I mentioned has been roasting himself at his Brooklyn cafes called Variety (ironically) has gotten some amazing Ethiopian beans and roasted them at what I would guess to be City+. They are pretty great, but I guess I am just a Peetnick. They do it better!

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  24. I love that this blog exists. Flying in the face of the Soviet Republic of Non-Blended,Barely Roasted Espresso.

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  25. Hi Kevin, I normally wouldn't do this, but I'm interested in your thoughts on this conversation happening in a forum. http://www.styleforum.net/t/153072/lets-talk-about-coffee/2800_10 Pretty much post #2807 to the end. I'd send it to your email, but there doesn't seem to be a link on your blog to do so.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Hi Patrick - thanks for letting me know that I left my email (ekknox@gmail.com) off the "about me" part of the blog; I've corrected it.

      I read the thread you provided the link to and added what I hope are a few choice comments, but I don't plan on being a regular contributor there as I have more than enough coffee industry sites to keep up with. Keep on fighting the good fight though!

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  26. Thanks so much for your comments. Always appreciated, even if (especially) I am wrong!

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  27. Hi Kevin,

    I'm a bit late, but I enjoyed the discussion between you and Mark even if it was sometimes - I think over reacted. I don't like the intolerant way of most third wavers either but criticize them the same way won't bring either any peace nor any progress. Your style makes your posts very amusing. But I like the way how James Hoffmann think about possible mistakes third wavers made/are making (see his last two post on his blog) also.

    Another interesting topic of freshly roasted coffee vs conserved ground coffee. I would think that there are surely methods to conserve coffee even ground coffee. These methods sounds good, sometimes spectacular. But they are compromises. I would argue that such conserved ground coffee could ever compete a properly - same way and freshly - roasted coffee (few days even one-two week old) in a proper one way valve bag.

    Kind regards from Hungary

    Gábor

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