proposed name change

Based on feedback, I'm suggesting the name be changed from Put Up or Shut Up 2006 to Keeping it Real 2006.


It's been brought to my attention that people might have the wrong idea about the whole Put Up or Shut Up 2006 idea...

I guess that it has to do with the general perception that I am, as they say "a cocky bastard." As a result, people are making the assumption that either:

a) the whole thing is intended by me to be a way to show off my skills, and/or
b) a way to make other people look bad.

I guess that, given the impression people have of me - I should have been able to predict that this would be the interpretation. I probably should have tried to either figure out a better way to manage this or should have had someone else suggest the whole idea.

Honestly... the majority of my motivation for the whole idea has to do with the non-tangible aspects of the Internet conflicting with the very physical nature of espresso. Seriously, haven't you wondered what the shots people post photos of really taste like? I think one of the reasons why most of the talk on the internet about coffee is not about taste is that you cannot capture and share that taste in this medium. Well... this is the chance. This could be the opportunity for you to actually taste one of those sick looking naked espressoporn shots. This could be the opportunity for me to either demonstrate or fail to demonstrate one of my many theories to you.

I share thoughts on espresso with people like Jimmy - but he's only tasted two shots from me and I've never had a chance to taste a shot pulled by him. Alistair and I trade theories all the time - but I don't think I've ever pulled shots for him.

Now... to be fair... there is a part of me that also wants to force people to step up and put their rep on the line.

And... to be blunt... even with the (very small) list of interested party I have to admit that I know all too well that I'm about to get my ass kicked. There are two or three folks who has said they're in who can run circles around me as a barista. But that's okay - I may be cocky but I'm not unrealistic about my own skills.

Given the feedback I've received I would like to suggest some revisions to the proposed structure. In particular, I'd like to suggest that we remove "scoring" and instead only have written tasting notes and opinions. In addition, I think that all "entrants" should also judge so that it is a peer deal (with other folks judging as well). Finally, I think that the WBC style standardized temp, portafilter, basket stuff should (if possible at a logistic level) not be used in this case.


More Brew Temp Stuff

I've been doing more experimentation on the whole Flat Brew Temp profile and espresso blend theory I described earlier.

Until I have access to all the component beans of a couple espresso blends as well as the combined final blend this will all remain a theory. But I have some results from Single Origin tasting that indicate that the theory is at least worth considering and pursuing.

I ran taste tests with two different beans, graded on the same scale and with the same methodology as the original blend tests.

The first was the Victrola Brazil Cerrado Natural Peaberry Fazenda Pantano CoE. The results, as you can see below, map to the predicted bell curve distribution. Please note that these scores are the aggregate scores of all the attributes. Also, please note that the scores are entirely arbitrary and self referential (i.e in all cases the temp where an attribute was considered best was given a score of 9 and further scores were relative purely to that score).

The second was the Stumptown Ethiopia Sidamo. Again, a bell curve distribution.

Interestingly, and again predictably, not only is the temp "sweet spot" different for these coffees but the bell curve itself is different for each. Note that the Brazil has a very steep drop off from its sweet spot and the drop off is nearly symetrical. The Sidamo, on the other hand, drops off rapidly on the high end, but has a more gradual slope on the low end.

I'm going to continue to pursue this angle and see what I can figure out (if anything). Hopefully a roaster will be willing to provide component beans for me for their blend so I can get some real results (I'd be glad to have the beans simply labeled "Bean One," "Bean Two" etc to protect confidentiality).


A Modest Proposal

There are a whole lot of people spending a lot of time talking shit on the internet about espresso. I'm not going to suggest that people stop - hell no. But rather, I'm going to suggest that people put some reality behind their big talk.

Put Up or Shut Up 2006

I'd like to propose the creation of an event to occur in conjuntion with the SCAA 2006 show in North Carolina. This event is not intended to be a competition, per se, but rather a chance for folks to back up their words.

Haven't you wondered about the smack various people spout on the internet about their espresso? Haven't you wished you could taste their shots and see if these folks really do know what they're talking about? Haven't you wanted to show off - to demonstrate that your espresso really is that great?

Well... this would be your chance.

What I'm suggesting is an event where "internet smack talkers" get a chance to pull shots and make drinks for peers and judges. The idea is roughly as follows (though I'm open to suggestions).

As with the USBC, there would be three "stations" that have identical setups. Baristas would have a set time period (I'm thinking 30 minutes) to check their equipment, dial it and their coffee in, etc. They then would have to make three drinks each for three tasters. The tasters would probably consist of a peer (another "shit talker" entered in the event), an experienced judge (USBC, WBC, whatever) and an average espresso enthusiast or barista. The three drinks would be as follows (in this order):
1 - espresso
2 - espresso per taster's request
3 - milk drink
The second drink would allow a judge to request a ristretto - or a shot that was sweet - or a shot that featured the dark chocolate in the espresso. These would be requested after the first shots had been served.
Milk drinks would be up to the barista.

There would be no presentation scores, no technical scores - instead the tasters would merely grade the quality of the drinks served and, most importantly, would provide tasting notes for each drink. These would be published on the internet (of course).

There would, as with the USBC, be time limits but these would be far more relaxed than with the USBC.

We'd see no winner, no finals but rather merely publication of the results.

Baristas could either bring their own coffee or work with coffee provided for them by the event.

I'm also thinking that it would be great if "spectators" could taste drinks as well in some way.

I'm more than willing to try and line up machines, coffee and even a space for this.

In addition - I'll gladly, as one of the biggest shit talkers on the internet, throw my hat into the ring as the first barista.

I figure we'll have no trouble lining up folks willing to taste and criticize. Let's see who is willing to put their 'net rep on the line.... Let's see who can back up those words.

Those of you who are in the shit talking category know how to reach me. If you're interested... drop me a line.


flat temp espresso blends

I'm going going to try and argue the value of a flat brew temp profile. Honestly... I don't know if it's the right answer and, in fact, doubt there is a true "right answer" that can be generalized across all coffees and all desired flavour profiles.

But the reality is that a huge number of serious baristas work on machines that are designed to deliver a brew temp profile that is as flat as possible -- and now the machines are actually getting close to truly delivering this profile. In addition, we're now starting to see machines that can do this in a controlled, repeatable and accurate fashion.

The trouble is that many (if not most) espresso blends are not formulated to take advantage of this profile and, in fact, in many cases are exposed by this brew methodology.

I had assumed, as I'm sure many people had, that if you were to evaluate an espresso blend across a range of brew temps you would see the quality of the shots at these temps distributed on a bell curve. With the arrival of the prototype GS3 I finally had the chance to validate this belief. To my shock - it turned out to be untrue with the first coffee I tested. And with the second. And the third.

Now - in fact, it is true at a very high level. If you look at the distribution on a 1-2F scale you see a rough bell curve for all these coffees. The curve shows different forms, but it is a bell curve. But if you evaluate the coffee at tighter granularity - for example at a 1/3F scale - you no longer see anything like a bell curve. What you see instead is a saw-tooth peaky distribution across the top of the bell curve and then a progressive drop-off on both sides from there.

At first I doubted my results but after repeating them - across multiple coffees - I had to accept them.

It actually took a vacation on the coast with friends, Valerie and Bronwen to figure this out. It was actually Valerie who figured it out. It's wave forms - intersecting.

Okay, from here on out we're talking true theory - and you need to take it all with a grain of salt unless or until I get a chance to test it.

Let me explain... espressos are made of of multiple beans in a blend. Each one of these beans, I think, has an optimal brew temp and from there a distribution for quality that is, in fact, a bell curve. The trouble is that these curves are all different.

The reason there is the saw-tooth distribution at the top of the bell curve for the blend is that you are seeing peak and trough intersections between the various beans - across all the various attributes (body, clarity, flavour, aroma, finish, etc). This is creating positive interaction points as well as negative one.

The above chart is purely fictional and incredibly (over)simplified. But none the less, it should illustrate the point. Obviously, the chart really should be multi-dimensional to represent all the attributes and characteristics of each coffee and should accurately represent the value of each bean rather than making each one a perfect 10.

But even in this simplifed example you can see the trouble. The fictional blend illustrated here would probably have shown no problems or issues on older machines. The lack of temp stability intra-shot (no flat line brew temp) as well as inter-shot would result in a variance in the brew temp that would hide the differing brew temp profiles.

On one of the new and up-coming very temp-controlled this will not be the case. Sure - you'll be able to produce good espresso assuming the beans are good and the blend is good. In fact, you'll be able to produce 3 or 4 different tasting good espressos from this depending on your brew temp. But you will not be taking advantage of what the machines can deliver here.

Now, imagine that you were to evaluate your coffees as single origin espressos at various degrees of roast. Imagine that you were to determine the bell curves for each coffee along with the flavour profiles and flavour attributes for these beans. Now create a blend where the coffees are combined not just for flavour components and desired final flavour but those combined with intersecting brew profiles.

In the past we've had to pre-determine a brew temp (at a very gross level) and then evaluate experimental blends and single-origin components based on that one temp. This doesn't have to be the case anymore. Now, we can open it all up and let the beans tell us what to do.

Here is another fictional and oversimplified example.

Note that this blend has only three beans rather than five as with the previous example. Odds are going to dictate that it's going to be increasingly difficult to find beans that match an existing profile (flavour and brew temp) with each additional bean you add to a blend. As a result, I think we may see a decrease in the number of beans in a blend if people pursue this route.

This does not mean a decrease in overall quality or complexity of the resulting espresso. The myth that single-origin espresso was inherently inferior to blend; inherently less balanced and even inherently less complex has been pretty conclusively discredited. Using these high-quality single-origin coffees for your espresso blends should allow for the creation of coffees that take advantage of the strengths of flat brew profile, temp stable machines.

If I were a roaster/retailer with a cafe using Synesso machines or looking to buy a next-gen machine like the upcoming improved GB5 I would seriously consider looking at creating a blend based on the realities of this brew temp profile.

And if I were a serious barista competitor -- I would be working on with a competition blend based on this idea.