What it takes: Barista Cup

4:00 AM. The streets of Miami are dark. A loan beacon of light stands out of the twilight haze. I drive, sleepily, towards the light. Panther coffee is deserted save for Ryan Hall, Camilla Ramos (2012 South East Region Barista Finalist), and myself. I’m here to help Ryan train for the Barista Cup, a competition pitting the best Baristas in the industry against each other and coffee they’ve never tasted. 4AM is when the cafe is quiet, our measurements precise, and the experiments uninterrupted. This, my friends, is what it takes.

Ryan has a not-so-secret weapon up his sleeve; the use of Sieves to remove the fine particulates made from variations in grind. These particulates extract faster than the rest of the grinds and often escape from the filter, muddying the bottom of your fine pour over and adding unwanted flavors as they continue to seep. This was the method used by the 2012 Barista Champion Matt Perger. There is argument on both sides over how much of a difference the micro-particles make, ranging from none to award winning. I personally believe, and will eventually test, that they make a difference during brewing, but do not yield detectable flavor by continuing to seep in the cup; their removal is purely aesthetic, which is to say also very important. In this experiment, we used the cupping methodology to test the differences in flavor profile by sieve size and compared all of them with an un-sieved standard. Results: Excellent. The coffee flavor gained clarity, and was much cleaner in in the cup. But, as always, drawing conclusions from a single test, with only 3 tasters and one sample per sieve size is not generalizable; sensory science is a data heavy subject! Perhaps then, dear reader, you will allow me to generalize in saying coffee tastes better at 9AM than it does at 4AM.All the Best,

Application of Knowledge: Cups 2

Things didn’t end with my last experiment. In fact, that post set off a group of local Baristas to check their own assumptions about cup quality.

I spend far too much time at Panther Coffee, as I’ve mentioned before, using it as my office and a source of (almost) infinite energy. I still drink tea in the mornings, and at night but most of the rest of my days in Miami are spent sipping coffee by a computer. It’s so much nicer being in the company of others rather than being hole’ed up alone; Panther has really built a community around it and has a constant flow of ‘interesting and unique flowers of individuality’, also known as ‘people’. I mean, its still Miami… so I sit at the wonderful communal table and chat with the small start-up teams that meet there, or the cute (Miami) girls who won’t stop talking, or the slightly older and more mature women on their overpowered Macbooks. The bankers are not very conversational, but the police and fire fighters are good company.

Best of all is talking with the Baristas. Our conversations always move to action and most end in experiments (where I find out I still do have a limit to my caffeine tolerance).

It started off normal enough; A shot of espresso came out a touch watery and was lacking in all the malty depths ground beans can offer. Not an earth shattering problem, and not one I blamed them for; their primary Synesso is in the shop, and they have been relegated to using a mere double head La Marzocco without pre-infusion.

But improvements could be made.

Christopher, the fearless Barista manning (not simply using) the machine, adjusted the parameters, and hidden flavors locked away came surging up sugar coated in proper tiger stripe crema. The shot went from just under 1.5 fl oz to a single ristretto 1.15 fl oz (not that I was counting or anything); correlates of quality you ask? the bitterness flipped from a slightly woody note (-) to nuttiness (+), while roastedness (- / is that a word?) decreased, and rich (+, the flavor of fat and oil) increased with an enjoyable creaminess  (+). Most of all, the viscosity (mouth feel) of the shot was much thicker and more present. The shot was an order of magnitude (on a logarithmic scale) better.

While most intelligent, life loving mammals would have ended their consumption of psychoactive alkali while still cogent, it was with great pleasure, amidst further discussion, that I proffered a fine quality YingGe tea cup to test how much a difference it would make.

I hope all of you tea lovers are shuddering at the sight.

The results: Wow.
actually, let me make that a bit more clear:  WOW

And while I’m not much one for superlatives, this really did raise the bar and blow me away.

The aromatic profile was far more rich, dense, and complex than in the coffee house ceramic. Coco, butter, figs, and ground up young fairies all were volatile and aromatic. Viscosity increased, and the general sense of well being and paranoia from caffeine overdose also hung over my head. I know I wasn’t imagining all of it, because Christopher, the brave and valiant Barista pulling the shots (from the mere, remember?) tasted it as well. T’was good!

More experiments are needed, we were still only 2 tasters, and one shot of the variant sample, so statistically, we don’t know anything yet; but I’ll be taking my espresso out of Chinese or Korean Porcelain in the future.

– Jason

NYC weekend

Why fly up to NYC for the weekend?

For the requisition of supplies at Zabar’s of course!

The dearth of the artisan market throughout the country has been a limiting factor in the cultures spread; and while Wegmans is OK and Whole Foods is… OK… there is no replacing the local. You don’t go to Wegmans for community.


I also took a quick stop at Grom’s Gelato.

I started eating Grom’s back in 2006 while living in Florence, Italy. I’m happy to see they have been successful.  They use all natural flavors actually made from the fruit/nut/drink (synthisized flavors can be ‘natural’ and ‘organic’), and on a whole, it is some of the best gelato available. That said, there espresso gelato needs some work. It was mostly a dark roast over extracted bitter brew; not a true set of pulled espresso shots. Considering the work involved in making that, its not a suprise, but considering their commitment to quality, and the price charged for it, I expect better.

The hazel nut, on the other hand, was perfect.

This sums up my weekend in NYC. Obviously.

– Jason

Coffee Bean!

Look its a coffee plant! It starts off as a bean! (who knew?)

And this is the bulk of my ecology research in Panama… (kinda-sorta-not really).
The bean grows into a plant, which then produces more beans. (now that’s all I know!)

Also, loosing both of your big toe nails, at the same time, sucks!

– Jason