If you are not planning on attending this year's SCAA annual show and the World Barista Championship in Seattle... well I have one more very good reason for you to be there.

How about if I told you that you'd be able to drink espresso pulled by some of North America's top baristas using some of the world's coolest espresso machines?

I know that this is the illusion that all of us are under the first time we go to a coffee trade show. And then we leaved jaded and angry after being unable to get even a decent cup of coffee the whole time and after drinking one too many cup of old, acidic drip coffee from "our sponsors."

But this time it's actually going to be real!
The Barista Guild of America is going to have a booth set up. In the booth will be three super hot shit machines. First - a La Marzocco Hybrid (mmmm.... classy). Second - a Synesso (ooohhh... high tech). And then a third mystery machine (aaaa... mysterious). And the list of the baristas who will be working the booth is like a who's who of US rockstar baristas. The list includes all the USBC champions from 2002 through this last year (Phuong will obviously be a bit busy - grin). Here is a partial list:
- Ryan Dennhardt (finalist, 2005 USBC),
- Kyle Larson (winner, 2005 NWRBC),
- Heather Perry (winner, 2003 USBC),
- Amber Sather (finalist, 2005 USBC),
- Dismas Smith (winner, 2002 USBC),
- Ellie Hudson-Matuszak (runner-up, 2005 USBC),
- Bronwen Serna (winner, 2004 USBC).

As far as I'm concerned, this alone is worth the price of admission.


Barista Magazine!!

a "pre-release" copy of the first issue of Barista Magazine just arrived at Stumptown.
i'm really excited about this. roasters finally got their own magazine last year and now baristas get theirs. once we get a coffee consumer magazine we're going to be fully covered.

i think this is a really really good thing and a really big deal.

the issue includes a great profile of Bronwen Serna and a really cool article on the Copenhagen Coffee Academy. it's also got the first official notice with photo of the new La Marzocco GB/5.
had what i felt was an amazing origin espresso today. a wonderful Yirgacheffe 3 days out of the roaster. wonderfully sweet, with a medium body and lovely milk chocolate notes. people noticed hints of musk and some grapefruit rind as well. fantastic aromatics - a really delicate and polished coffee with shocking balance.


don't be a chimp

sometimes it takes forever for observations and opinions to slowly crystalize into something i can express. at other times, things just snap into focus all of a sudden.
i've been exchanging emails with Andrew Barnett for the last few days and today i had one of those moments of clarity.

most of us in the coffee world are learning on a very basic, lower brain stem, trial and error basis. we mimic the actions of methods of people we respect. we try and adopt or discard. but we don't understand. or perhaps more accurately, we don't try to understand first, and then formulate a tactical plan based on our understanding.

let me try and clarify what i mean with an example.

most of us talk about the importance of tamping. most of us talk about tamping level, about tamping with at least 30lbs of pressure. but what is the goal of tamping? not only do we not talk about what the goal is - most of us don't think about the goal. honestly, i doubt must of us have ever tried to understand what the goal is. if we were to think about the goal - then all of a sudden we would be able to evaluate methodologies for achieving that goal and it would be obvious what would work and what would not. so... what is the goal of tamping? well, if we understand espresso as well as we can, we can reach the conclusion that the primary goals of tamping are: preservation of distribution and elimination of paths of least resistance. okay, so we have to understand a little deeper to see why this is so. an understanding of hydrodynamics makes it clear that an even and optimized extraction of coffee depends on an even density and resistence in the coffee bed. so... understanding this requires an understanding of hydrodynamics as well as coffee extraction. understanding coffee extraction requires an understanding of coffee at a physical and chemical level.

do all of us go through the kind of process that i've reverse engineered in this example? do we try to understand espresso?

or do we just pick up a stick and poke it into a termite mound because we saw another chimp do it?
we've been frantically cupping coffees of late. nothing like what Duane and those folks experience in the CoE judging (6 and more flights a day) but still enough to make me jittery even if i spit.

general thoughts from the cuppings... while we're seeing some really amazing coffees on the table, there are still far too many samples that show defect. in one flight we found that 2/3 of the cups had defect. given that we're only buying the top coffees and only working with the top farms, co-ops and importers and given that we have a reputation for being willing to pay for top coffees but only being interested in top coffees... i don't understand how this happens.

on the other hand, there have been some really outrageous coffees. standouts have included our current Yirgacheffe, a sample Guat or two, a sample Harar and our current Mandheling.

we've also been pulling a bunch of different coffees as single origin espressos to see how they're evolving. it's been very interesting. i'm sure there are some lessons and conclusions but right now it's all too complicated in my brain for me to parse.

i've been really focusing on understanding taste and flavour of late. it's an incredibly interesting and important topic. it shocks me how little we all know about this.


more lever action

we spent some more time with the La Pavoni before folks took off. it was super fun.
Bronwen got to pull some shots of Nicaragua Segovia and pulled two nice shots (one of which was really good indeed).

it's not an easy machine to use - to say the least.
on the other hand, when you get it right the shots have a buttery mouthfeel that is amazing. they seem a bit less "fuzzy" than good shots from pump machines.
and the best shots i've had from this machine are as good as anything i've had from any machine (La Marzocco, Mistral, Synesso, whatever).


fun with levers

i had an excellent time this morning making espresso drinks for valerie and bronwen on the La Pavoni. a good macchiato for Bronwen, a good cappuccino for Valerie and a nice shot of espresso for me.

it's a pain, it's a lot of work, there are all sorts of tricks and hijinks... but the resulting drink quality is pretty amazing for a home machine.

i really like the mouthfeel i'm getting with a good shot from this machine.

with the Hairbender i'm getting very nice buttery sweetness (a sort of butterscotch note) and some dutch processed cocoa in the finish when pulled on the Pavoni.

i'm going to try pulling some shots of the Rwanda Karaba as well as the Nicaragua Segovia. i think we should see interesting results.

as a general rule, i'm finding that accuracy of grind is incredibly important on this machine - more so that with any other machine i've used. and there is a sequence of steps and techniques which does work - but variance from this optimal methodology results in issues (to say the least).