The Bean Brewding Brisbane Northside Coffee Tour

Having attended a couple of Brisbane coffee tours run by Glenn and George at Bean Brewding over the last two or three years, I recently felt it was time to get along for another.

Green coffee at Semi-Pro

As I’ve mentioned before, the tours are a great way to discover new coffee destinations, or for places already familiar to you — experience a more detailed look “under the hood” at a cafe or roastery and hear more about the coffee industry itself. As an amateur enthusiast, after spending many years researching and learning about the craft, I can guarantee there is no better way to further develop your coffee skills and knowledge than interacting with those who work within the industry on a daily basis. Of course I’d also recommend any of the tours for simply a fun morning out with plenty of coffee — what’s not to like about that!

So, on a sunny Saturday morning in April, it was Brisbane’s Northside which played host to a dozen or so coffee tourists eager to see more, learn, and sample some of this town’s finest coffee offerings.

The Tour

Semi-Pro Coffee

Our first stop and meeting point was Semi-Pro coffee in North Lakes, where we took a closer look at coffee roasting. Gracious hosts Jason and Tim provided an insight into their roasting philosophy and processes, creating a profile for a naturally processed Brazilian coffee while we watched things unfold both in the roaster, and on the Cropster software in front of us.

Monitoring roasting curves at Semi-Pro

Some further discussion on topics such as rate of rise, charge temperature and development time (amongst other things), took us to the end of the session, by which time we had also sampled an earlier roast of the same full-bodied and nutty Brazilian coffee.

The tour that keeps on giving

After the freshly roasted coffee had sufficiently cooled, each of us bagged, labelled and sealed some to take home.

Certainly a fine way to start the tour and the morning.

Semi-Pro Coffee
6/37 Flinders Parade, North Lakes, QLD 4059
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The Wired Owl Coffee Co.

A sort trip down the road to Sandgate brought us to The Wired Owl Coffee Co, a real suburban gem and true destination venue in its own right, which coincidentally was celebrating its second birthday that very day. Owners Aaron and Tracey (along with a very efficient team) were on hand to ensure the visit was a success. Here the emphasis was on taking the time to stop, sit down, and enjoy some great coffee.

Oh and great it was indeed, with Aaron serving a naturally processed coffee from fifth generation El Salvador producer Aida Batlle, and sharing the story behind one of the highlights from the Wolff Roasters coffee offerings from the past year.

Aaron from The Wired Owl sharing the Aida Batlle story

Those on the tour tasted the Finca Kilimanjaro coffee as an espresso and a flat white, comparing the sweet and syrupy dark berry flavours of each. My pick – the espresso, however both were outstanding, and testament to the passion and high standard of quality and service you will find out in Brisbane’s suburbs if you know where to look.

A short note to mention that Aaron and Tracey are very dear friends, and nothing makes me prouder than watching their hard work develop The Wired Owl into one of Brisbane’s finest suburban cafés. So yes, perhaps I am a little biased, however I encourage you to visit for yourself and enjoy everything it has to offer.

The Wired Owl Coffee Co.
227 Rainbow St, Sandgate, 4017
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Neli Coffee

For the final stop on the tour it was back to a little science with Ed and Alex at Neli Coffee in Redcliffe. Here we learned about and compared the moisture content and density of various green coffees from different parts of the world.

Ed from Neli Coffee talking moisture content and bean density

After a quick trip outside to view and sample the sweetness of some coffee cherries growing in the Neli Coffee “car park microlot”, we moved onto sampling some of the renowned geisha varietal brewed by filter, some cleansing Cascara (a tea-like brew from the outer pulp of the dried coffee cherries), and of course a little more espresso.

A new kind of caffeine high

A demonstration of some new and innovative brewing methods also accompanied some general coffee Q&A (with prizes!), and was a great way to conclude the tour. As well as some great coffee, Neli’s soon to be renovated roastery and retail area has quite an array of devices for the home enthusiast and is well worth a visit.

Neli Coffee
293 Macdonnell Rd, Clontarf, 4019
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Summing Up

Another region of Brisbane, and another tour completed. I must admit to having an ever-increasing amount of knowledge relating to Brisbane’s coffee industry thanks to the team at Bean Brewding.

If there is one thing I would say about these tours, it is they are a relaxed, fun, and very informative way to expand your coffee skills and knowledge. For many attendees, coffee is of course not simply one of our favourite beverages, but a passionate enthusiasm for the craft itself, and the industry bringing it to us.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, attendance on a Bean Brewding Coffee Tour certainly comes highly recommended from me — whether you are new to specialty coffee or have been dabbling for some time. Either way, you’ll feel right at home and learn a considerable amount to help you on your journey — which in itself is likely to be a lifelong one.

The next tour? Find out more on the Bean Brewding Tour Page. If you cannot make it along, I’m thinking the next best thing would be some Bean Brewding freshly roasted coffee.

Related posts:

Bean Brewding Coffee Launch

Readers of the blog may recall I have attended the odd coffee tour around Brisbane, run by the friendly, yet professional team at Bean Brewding. I’ve written about some of those occasions in previous posts:

Now come the beans

Partnering with well-respected and award-winning local QLD roaster Manna Beans, you can now get your hands on some of Bean Brewding’s own roasted coffee for your home brewing needs.

Kicking things off with your choice of either a blend or single origin offering from El Salvador, the recently launched Bean Vault complements the Coffee Tour side of Bean Brewding perfectly. Judging by the tasting notes, either coffee will result in a great tasting cup, and a couple of bags of the aptly titled (and coffee tour themed) Great Day Out blend are on their way to my mailbox. I’m always particularly interested in blend expressions and interpretations, and this combination of Colombian, Brazilian, and Ethiopian origins sounds like a beauty – well worth an extra bag to pass onto a friend.

If you are thinking of sampling what I’d say will be a pretty impressive brew – now is the time to do it. For a limited time, the team are offering a Self-Guided coffee tour from their stable of offerings free with any bean purchase. Why not end up with a glimpse into the Bean Brewding tour portfolio as well as a bag of beans to boot?

The finish

With Bean Brewding having been in existence since 2010, George and Glenn’s limitless dedication, passion, and thirst for greater knowledge and understanding of coffee is only surpassed by their desire to share it with the broader Brisbane community.

With ties to the Brisbane coffee community strengthening with each year of tours, there was of course no better way to expand things a little further than with their own line of coffee.

I’d highly recommend giving the coffee a try, and perhaps we can compare tasting notes on a future tour…

Check out the coffee here.

What’s Brewing: Kayon Mountain – Ethiopia (Natural)

In the latter half of 2016, a number of fantastic coffees come through my usual green bean supplier Ministry Grounds. This naturally processed Ethiopian certainly stood out, resulting in a repeat order for an additional couple of kilograms to go into the yearly festive blend given to family and friends at Christmas. There may have also been the expectation a little would be “left-over”, which I would have to take care of myself of course!

The Region

In relation to Shakiso and its surrounds, where the Kayon Mountain farm is located — Wikipedia tells us:

Shakiso is a town in Southern Ethiopia, in the Guji zone of the Oromia region, an area known for gold and titanium mining, along with native forests. Guji is bordered on the south by Borena, on the west by the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, on the north by the Ganale Dorya River which separates it from Bale and on the east by the Somali Region. The highest point in this zone is Mount Dara Tiniro. Cities and major towns in this Zone include its administrative center, Negele.

Sorting station in Ethiopia (Photo by
Sorting station in Ethiopia (Photo Pete Lewis; Wikimedia Commons)

Many outstanding coffees originate in and around Guji, and it is not uncommon to see many pop up in the offerings of speciality roasters as the season comes around each year. Generally, if you are looking for some berry flavours in your cup, just about anything from this region would be a great place to start.

The Coffee

The following information courtesy of Ministry Grounds:

The Kayon Mountain coffee farm is a local family-run enterprise with over 30 years experience in the production of Guji coffees.

The family’s rich experience has included many years of seed selection and nurturing of heirloom local varieties. Two spring fed nurseries are maintained to for the planting of seedlings in the loamy-clay soils of Kayon and coffee is grown in a semi-forest environment under native Acacia trees.

  • Coffee: Kayon Mountain – Ethiopia
  • Region: Guji, Oromia
  • Area: Taro kebele, Odo Shakiso district
  • Altitude: 1900–2200 masl
  • Process: Natural
  • Varieties: Mixed Heirloom
  • Harvest: November-January
  • In the cup: Strawberries & cream, stewed apple, toffee & jam aroma, medium acidity, creamy body with notes of strawberry jam, cherry, blueberry, candied fruits & chocolate with a clean finish

The Brew

Here, things have been many and varied — from tasting and testing both filter and espresso roasts for the festive blend I’ve referred to above, to full immersion cold brewing, pour overs on ice, and the occasional iced latte (given the usual hot summer weather here in Brisbane).

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A little of the annual Festive Blend ready to roll out the door

As I’ve alluded to above, an Ethiopian naturally processed coffee was a good place to start when seeking some berry flavours for the annual festive blend. With this flavour the predominant aim, the Kayon Mountain comprised 60% by weight, with the remaining 40% a washed El Salvador — Finca Patagonia — providing deeper plum notes for the filter roast. For the espresso roast, the remaining 40% was shared equally by the Finca Patagonia, along with Guatemala Ceylan, which added a little more body and chocolate flavours. Overall, the blends were reasonably successful in achieving my aim regarding the overall flavour profiles, and feedback has been positive from those who received some at Christmas.

The Kayon Mountain brewed as a single origin? Equally well received, however I must admit most of the small amount remaining I kept for myself.

When prepared as espresso1, a lovely rich cup resulted, with strawberry and blueberry flavours, followed by a rich chocolate finish. With milk as a latte or flat white, again those berry flavours were at the forefront, and combined with a little chocolate, the overall profile resembled a Cherry Ripe.

Even if purchased with filter brewing in mind, it is certainly worth running through your machine as well, regardless of roast level. I honestly don’t think you would be disappointed.

With filter brewing2, a clean, crisp, full flavoured cup ensued, with flavours of red berries, a hint of blueberry and chocolate with a creamy, medium bodied, lingering finish. Most of my filter brewing was done using a V60, along with kicking off many a December morning in the office with the AeroPress — both providing equally impressive results. As you’d expect, the V60 produced a cleaner, more nuanced cup, however there were no complaints about the AeroPress brew, from either myself, or my office coffee pals Tracey and Andrea, whom I must thank for determining the final ratios for the festive blend.

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Anyone for another?

Last but by no means least cold brewing. Although a couple of 1 litre batches were indeed “cold brewed” using full immersion over 16-18 hours (similar to this method), I’m also partial to hot brewing and flash chilling — using a V60 over a jug of ice. This method simply involves around half of your usual brewing water already in the vessel as ice, with the remaining half off the boil as usual for brewing a V60 (the dose generally being a little higher than what you might otherwise use). If you’re interested and have not yet delved into the world of iced pour over brewing, perhaps use this as a guide.

Depending on your preference, while adding milk to either of these chilled brews is an option, doing so mutes a little of the richer berry flavours. When consumed black (my first preference, with only one test cup consumed with milk), I’d have to say it was definitely one of the more refreshing drinks I consumed over summer. When you have four or five 200ml bottles of cold brew stashed in the fridge, it becomes mighty hard to limit consumption to a reasonable level on those hot days.

The Finish

I think you get the idea.

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Iced latte at the ready

I have been quite taken by this fabulous naturally processed coffee from the Kayon Mountain farm in Ethiopia. Having been put through a wide array of brewing methods over the course of the past few months, it handled all with aplomb.

My preference — despite enjoying it across all forms of brewing is probably by filter, although the bias introduced by these long, hot days of summer probably push the cold brew into first place.

If you are able to get your hands on some, I for one highly recommend it.

  1. For reference, espresso brewing was done on a Sunbeam EM7000, using a 1:2 brew ratio – that is 19-21g dose, yielding 40-44g in the cup. ↩︎
  2. My filter brewing is typically done at a 1:17 ratio. ↩︎

My Home Espresso Set-Up

Recently I began writing a post about the merits of weighing espresso dose and yield, and then realised I haven’t really ever outlined just what my espresso brewing equipment consists of. I’ll warn you now this most certainly is not a post about fancy high-end equipment, however what I do have does a pretty good job at producing tasty espresso.

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Of course you can spend as much as you like on this type of stuff, however I’m also a firm believer in maximising the potential of what you have, regardless of your particular level of investment. Further, I believe some great results can be achieved from what is available in the home appliance segment of the market.

So, as a preface to some more posts I am thinking of writing down the line (most of which admittedly exist only in my mind at the current time), what follows is the machinery and other bits and pieces I use to produce stunning, high quality espresso at home. Haha! If I knew what I was doing with this blogging game, that’s a better post title right there.

Before we move onto what is sitting on my kitchen bench, I think it is worth pointing out that while I may have high praise for the machine I use, your mileage may vary of course, and remember my perspective comes from a firmly narrow field of usage. I mean after all, you buy a machine and if it works well, you use it — for many years. I’ve really had no reason to look around or try others out.

In saying that, there are machines and home enthusiasts who can no doubt churn out better results, however I’m pretty happy with what ultimately ends up in my cup.

Let’s get underway then.

Machinery

Espresso Machine – Sunbeam Cafe Series EM7000

As I mentioned in the opening, with the exception of my filter grinder (more on this below), my equipment remains firmly in the realm of what I’d describe as consumer-level home appliances.

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The espresso machine is a Sunbeam Cafe Series EM7000. This particular one was bought from our local Harvey Norman after seeing an advertised price posted on OzBargain of $399.00. As you can see from the link in the section heading above, the model’s RRP is $849.00, and is routinely listed between around $699.00 and $899.00 in stores (for example at the time of writing, The Good Guys also have an online listing of $679.00).

We purchased the EM7000 fairly hastily, not wanting to miss such a good price, despite being a little wary of the reason for such a large reduction. The decision was made a little easier by the fact we had been using the previous model (EM6910) for about 4 years, and prior to that, the original EM6900 for nearly 7 years (after winning it through a magazine subscription competition). We at least had a certain expectation of reliability and performance through experience.

Although my intention here is not a full product review, suffice to say, in the two and a half years we’ve had the current model, with care and regular cleaning, it performs just about perfectly. Reviews online are mostly positive, and generally when there are issues, they centre around the performance and/or reliability of the steam wand and knob. Admittedly, in recent months I’ve had the steam control knob off and readjusted things slightly, however beyond that I’ve not had any concerns whatsoever. Beyond replacing the O-ring in the group head, that is also about my limit as far as taking things apart and tweaking them.

Why this particular model? As I mentioned, most likely familiarity in the first instance, after owning the two previous models, and the expectation of a few issues being ironed out now that a third generation had been released.

I should mention at this point that from a use perspective, the machine produces two espresso shots, with two (because one is low-fat, and one is not) associated milk steamings each weekday morning, three of each on weekends with an additional two or three more occasionally when visitors call in over the weekend. So although not high volume by any stretch, the machine does see use pretty much 365 days a year.

Other key features include a twin-thermoblock, allowing texturing of milk and extraction of espresso at the same time; relatively rapid heating when switched on; programmable water/steam temperatures and pre-infusion modes; and cleaning cycles for both back-flushing and descaling. A separate hot water arm though not essential, is certainly nice to have, and I do use it to pre-heat the cups.

An aside on the PID controlled twin thermoblock. I’m sure there are purists who prefer a twin boiler to a thermoblock set up, however at the price point we are talking about, the temperature stability is great, and having one thermoblock for espresso and one for steam is a godsend. Although it is of course not essential to simultaneously heat/texture milk and extract the espresso, not having to wait for the machine to alter its temperature before doing so has been a must-have feature for me since that initial EM6900. I don’t think it is something I could now be without.

img_6606The 15 bar pump for producing espresso performs exceptionally well, with a pre-infusion mode to improve evenness of the extraction. Of course every few years the seal needs replacing around the group head, however I have never had any issues with the pump itself.

All in all I’m pretty content with the quality of output from the current machine, and I reiterate here my belief in maximising the little things to create better quality espresso, rather than necessarily spending thousands on a home machine. That being said, like anyone I do dream, and budget permitting I would of course do both — in a heartbeat. Honestly though, my main point is that a machine like this one or others in this category do a great job if you apply a little effort towards the details.

My main gripes? Not many really. The design of the drip tray seems a little short in relation to the group head above it, and sees water splash out onto the bench top when flushing the group head, though flushing into a cup avoids this fairly easily. There is a slight delay in the steam pump shutting off when the switch is closed, however this is easily accounted for after your first couple of uses. I don’t tend to use the milk temperature or espresso pressure gauges in day-to-day use, preferring to use other methods for assessing this information.

img_3752The steam function for heating/texturing milk may be a little slow compared with some other machines (I’m not 100% sure it is), taking on average around 50 seconds for milk to come to temperature for a single beverage, and about half that again for two drinks. Again, in a home setting I believe this is more than acceptable, and I’ve no real complaints about that.

All in all, I’ve been very happy with the Sunbeam line of Cafe Series espresso machines for well over a decade now, and my current model certainly does not disappoint. This is a machine made with commercial touches (Twin thermoblock, brass 58mm group head, sloping portafilter handle etc) rather than commercial components per se (no E61 group head, twin boiler or pressure profiling), however this is what makes it such value for money in this segment of the market.

It’s a great machine I enjoy using each and every day.

Grinder – Sunbeam Cafe Series EM0700

As you can probably tell from the above, I’m pretty happy with the espresso machine currently sitting on my kitchen bench, and have no real plans to look around for another. Not so the Sunbeam EM0700 grinder designed and marketed as the partner to the machine I’ve discussed above. I would say it does an admirable job, and a replacement will probably come for reasons other than dissatisfaction entirely.

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Along similar lines to the espresso machines I’ve owned, this is the third in a line of Sunbeam grinders, which have served me well over the years also. The purchase of the current model was made in mid 2014 after an ill-fated, short stint with a Breville Smart Grinder, with which I was unable to adjust the grind fine enough for espresso. I believe the Smart Grinder Pro is the one you want (should Breville be your choice), however at the time I had picked up the particular Breville model at a very discounted sale price.

In any event, it was back to what had been the faithful tried and true Sunbeams again. I say what had been tried and true simply because the EM0700 was a major redesign on its predecessors and I wasn’t entirely sure how the new model stacked up. On the whole I needn’t have worried, as it is more than adequate in coping with the required grind size (read “fineness”) of standard single floor filter baskets along with the aftermarket VST basket I know use.

img_6572The grinder itself contains conical stainless steel burrs, has 30 steps of adjustment (more on this below), 450g bean hopper capacity, and the ability to grind directly into the group handle, with a built-in switch in the portafilter cradle to do so. It is belt driven in an attempt to reduce vibration and noise apparently, however what can I say — a coffee grinder is a coffee grinder — they are noisy beasts.

The main issues I’ve had over the past couple of years relate more to grind retention (grinds left in the chute or adjacent to the burrs), cleaning, and a little inconsistency at times. Add to that the grinds clumping a little has me thinking that if the EM0700 were to give up the ghost tomorrow, I’d probably be looking at an upgrade purchase rather than a direct replacement.

On a side note, in the images I’ve included in this post you’ll notice another grinder — the Baratza Vario, worth far more than the Sunbeam, and a much higher quality grinder in its own right. Why then would I be using the Sunbeam in preference? Simply the fact that every day I grind for espresso as I’ve mentioned above, and also for either AeroPress or my V60 drip filter. I’ve always been apprehensive about constantly adjusting back and forth between coarse and fine settings, preferring to keep one grinder for filter and another for espresso.

Firstly, a rather privileged situation I know, and my intention is to care for the grinders a little more in doing so. Whether this really makes any difference or not I’m not entirely sure, however that is how I roll, and on that basis I will continue. By the way, the Vario was an Instagram competition win through the good folk at Espresso Parts – yes I’ve been very competition-lucky in my coffee journey over the years.

So, the positives I’ve found with the Sunbeam – firstly the price. With RRP at AU$299.00, the grinder can often be found at various sales for around $50.00 less. Next, adjustment. The grinder comes with a stepped, 30 increment adjustment collar, which more importantly can be recalibrated at either end to go a little further than the standard 0 or 30.

Depending upon how you may use it, this ability could be a deal breaker. For my espresso grinders, I need to be able to achieve a fine enough grind to ensure my espresso machine is usable. That is, allows me enough flexibility to control the flow at a given dose. When using the standard single floor filter baskets which come with the EM7000 Espresso Machine, or VST baskets, the grind essentially needs to be similar to what you will find in a commercial setting. This is a lot finer than lower end machines which utilise dual floor baskets to accommodate the pre-ground supermarket coffee sold in vacuum sealed bricks.

I’ve recalibrated the grinder finer than the zero setting to the tune of 5-7 additional steps, which is a little over done, however I still like to be able to drop down a couple of steps if I need to, without hitting the zero marker. The user manual will advise if you recalibrate too finely, it will result in “a metallic grinding noise” as the burrs collide. We don’t want that of course, so if you head down this path, go in small increments. Once done, I was (and still am) more than happy with the level of control I have with the flow of espresso, using minor grind adjustments on a day-to-day basis (between settings 3 and 7 approximately).

I tend to think the EM0700 is better as an espresso grinder (once calibrated), as the particle distribution seems a little spread when grinding more coarsely for filter brewing. That is of course simply my opinion based on very unscientific tests (read a little haphazard use of a sieve to check a few times how consistent the particle size was).

img_1346Those few negatives I’ve mentioned above in relation to grind retention and cleaning aren’t massive, however to elaborate a little. For cleaning, the adjustment collar removes and takes with it the outer burr — handy for getting a vacuum hose around the top and sucking out retained grounds. Firstly, removing the adjustment collar is not an easy task, and takes a significant amount of force to rotate it to the unlocked position, and a little less to remove it off the top (I use the handle of a wooden spoon to push on the lug and rotate it, and the flat end of a wooden kitchen spachelor to lift it off).

Once it is finally off, only then will you see how much retention actually occurs in and around the burrs — and it is significant. I do understand this occurs in many grinders, however takes a little dislodging it the dogleg into the chute. Of course the grinder still functions quite well, however this is not an ideal situation, and I suspect is a major contributor to the clumping together of grinds as they pass through the chute.

In summary, the EM0700 grinder from Sunbeam will serve you well, with regular cleaning and perhaps a little calibration adjustment. I don’t grind directly into the portafilter for reasons related to my own dose-weighing workflow, which is a story for another day. For the price, I’d say the output is of a good quality.

Ultimately though, if I had to choose between replacing the espresso machine or the grinder, it is the grinder which would be shown the door.

Other bits and pieces

What else do I use besides the machine and grinder? A set of Hario scales to weigh my dry coffee dose which goes in the portafilter, and the resulting beverage weight or yield produced in the cup. I’m certainly not going to recommend everyone start weighing their espressos, however it is surprisingly quick and simple to do with the right set of scales, and provides a great deal of feedback if you are looking to become more consistent with espresso brewing.

I use the standard Sunbeam supplied tamper, however one day will up the ante on this a little as well. Does it work as expected? Of course. Another point of note is the commercially sized 58mm portafilter of the Sunbeam EM7000 machine, which accommodates commercial tampers and filter baskets. A handy thing to remember when comparing machines if you are considering some aftermarket accessories or tweaks down the track.

img_6596In addition (which relates to my weighing workflow), I grind into a decor small plastic container, which is easy enough to tare on the scales, and then transfer the grind into the portafilter, as the circumference of the container opening is a precise match for the inside of the 58mm filter basket. So, placing an upturned portafilter on the container, flipping the whole lot over and shaking a little provides a mess free transfer, unclumping of grinds, and decent initial distribution in the filter basket all in the same motion. I’ll go into a little more detail in a future post, however to explain the presence of those little plastic containers, there you have it.

As I’ve mentioned, I a VST filter basket, which is the 18g size. After trying a 20g basket, found that I am best dosing 20 – 20.8g (brew ratio approximately 1:1.8-2.0)in the 18g size. There are significant differences when using a VST basket compared with the standard Sunbeam one, and I’ve found the combination of grind, dose and flow achieved with this combination seems to better suit overdosing the 18g basket a little. Perhaps I am wrong on this, however the results seem pretty good to me.

Finally, I dry wipe the basket with a paper towel, tamp on an old rubber mat from the base of a previous (Sunbeam) grinder, and away we go. Once done, the used grinds are then disposed of in a Sunbeam knock box which sits in a corner on the kitchen bench.

To Finish

Boy, this has been a little long-winded compared with what I had in mind at the beginning, and when that happens I’ve probably made things more confusing, rather than simply providing better detail.

Frighteningly, there are a few points I’ve deleted and some I’ve left out, which I think will be best served in future posts I’ll hopefully get around to writing.

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I think the best way to sum my feelings on the current set up is to report that this morning I got up, fired up the machine (which is ready in about a minute), made my wife a 6oz decaf flat white, and myself an espresso and 4.5oz flat white (21.6g dose; 44g beverage weight), and was more than happy I had the equipment to produce exactly what I wanted.

Further, I would be happy using everything I currently have for a number of years yet, and I think that speaks volumes for both the espresso machine and (mostly) the grinder.

Cheers. Like another?

What’s Brewing: Burundi Musumba Natural – Monastery Coffee, Adelaide

img_6464Almost all of the coffees I write about here on the blog are those I have purchased as green stock and roasted myself. This has been an intentional approach as the aim of my coffee writing here was never to be a café or coffee review site as such.

So what exactly, is the aim? As I’ve mentioned in the past, it is to share my enthusiasm for learning more about this humble brew which brings so many of us together across the globe. Part of this has always included looking into the growing regions and farms where these coffees are produced (assuming such information is available), and the Musumba Hill co-operative in the African nation of Burundi is what I’d like to explore a little further today.

I picked up a bag of the Burundi Musumba from Strauss in Brisbane’s CBD when the coffee was featured as part of a regular rotation of guest roasters.

The Country

Burundi is a small country in east Africa, covering almost 28,000 square kilometres, has a population of 10.4 million people, and is served by the capital Bujumbura. It shares borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania (the latter two are of course being well-regarded coffee producing countries in their own right).

The Burundi country profile on the BBC News site reports:

Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12 year, ethnic based civil war…

The ethnic violence sparked off in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts

From the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook:

Burundi is a landlocked, resource-poor country with an underdeveloped manufacturing sector. Agriculture accounts for over 40% of GDP and employs more than 90% of the population. Burundi’s primary exports are coffee and tea, which account for 90% of foreign exchange earnings

The Facebook goes on to say Burundi’s GDP in 2015 was an estimated $7.711 billion, placing it at number 164 compared with the rest of the world’s countries. Further political unrest in 2015 resulted in disruptions to the flow of agricultural goods due to blocked transportation routes. It is hoped funding assistance from the World Bank will help restore this infrastructure and again lower transport costs.

The median age of Burundi’s inhabitants is 17 years, and life expectancy at birth is 60.09 years, placing it at a lowly 197 compared with other countries throughout the world. In reporting on population estimates, the Factbook also has a side note which sadly, is not uncommon for many African countries:

…estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected

The sites I have quoted above contain significantly more information than I have pulled out and presented here, and a Google search will provide an ongoing timeline of unrest and turmoil, with a report in The Guardian just a few days ago outlining a UN report alleging human rights violations and high risk of a “spiral of mass violence” in the country. The government has since denied the allegations.

An optimistic, yet cautious James Hoffmann writing about Burundi in The World Atlas of Coffee (2014):

With 650,000 families dependent on the crop, movements towards higher prices through improvement of quality can only be a good thing. However, the constant fear of political instability returning looms large

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A favourite image of mine from The World Atlas of Coffee

Of course my intention is not to simply paint a negative picture of Burundi, however I do wish to point out the significant challenges faced by its coffee producers, and am thoroughly amazed anything is produced at all, let alone processed, shipped, and resulting in the quality of cup I can enjoy sitting here in my lounge room.

The disconnect between where this coffee originates, and where it is now being brewed and consumed is stark, a fact which also makes the Long Miles Coffee Project so remarkable.

The Long Miles Coffee Project

2016-09-25-burundi_post_lmcp_logoI have now been sitting in front of a blinking cursor for quite a few minutes in an attempt to put some words around the story that is Long Miles, however this is probably best done by the Carlson family’s Long Miles Coffee Project website:

We are a small American family living in Burundi, which is smack dab in the heart of east Africa. We are passionate about producing amazing coffee and caring for the well-being of the coffee farmers who grow it. We weren’t always coffee producers. First, we were a family with a dream.

Part of that dream? Working with Burundi’s farmers and growers to facilitate direct working arrangements with the world’s coffee roasters. Another part? Building a washing station to enable better quality control and price guarantees for local farmers.

I highly recommend perusing the posts on the site’s blog, where you’ll find writing such as that of June 9, 2015, about the family’s need to exit the troubled nation:

I had heard heavy gunfire all morning but after weeks of violent protests, that was nothing new. We had been sending them off to school with the sound of tear gas bombs as their soundtrack. This day was somehow different; suddenly I felt my gut turn and I just knew — the time to get to school was NOW

Only to return in April of this year in time for the next harvest:

There just has to be hope, and it’s there for the choosing. So, on the back of one of Burundi’s darkest days, we began packing. I don’t call this choice bravery or stupidity (it’s been called both) – I just call it ours. Our choice to be home. Our choice to sink our roots into the soil of Burundi, come what may

Other inspirational, humbling, and even amusing stories on the blog from some of the coffee farmers themselves show just what a difference one family has made to the lives of many.

There are a couple of thoughts which repeatedly come to mind as I sit here and write about this fine coffee from Burundi, the country itself, and the Long Miles Coffee Project.

In the first instance, many of us have enthusiasm and passion. Fewer have a call to action, and fewer still, uproot their families and plant them in one of the poorest, most politically unstable countries on the planet. The result? Touching the lives of those less fortunate in a way that will go a long way to securing (as much as it can) the future generations of Burundi coffee farmers and their families.

It is a story worth telling.

Speaking of which, you could say there may at times be a sense of “story fatigue” in specialty coffee. Of course every coffee has its own origin story — equally as valid and important as the one I am passing on to you here. Reading a little further on the plight of farmers in Burundi however, reinforces that these are not only stories on the back of a coffee bag. These are real people, often struggling to survive each and every day, in conditions we in our comfortable lives will never experience.

Again, I urge you to visit the Long Miles Coffee Project website to see more examples of this great work for yourself — some of which has resulted in this fine coffee from the Musumba Hill co-operative finding its way to, and being roasted at, Monastery Coffee in Adelaide, Australia.

The Coffee

Information courtesy Monastery Coffee

  • Burundi Musumba Natural
  • Roaster: Monastery Coffee, Adelaide, Australia
  • Washing Station: Bukeye
  • Organisation: Long Miles Coffee Project
  • Region: Kayanza
  • Country: Burundi
  • Processing: Natural
  • Elevation: 1,800 m
  • Varietals: Heirloom Bourbon
  • Tasting notes: Strawberry, Chocolate, Spices

This lot received a lot of attention – a dedicated team of 4 women stir and monitor the coffee cherries throughout the day on raised ‘drying beds’ to maintain even drying of the coffee,

At the time of writing, the coffee is available directly from Monastery (AU$18.00; 250 g); free shipping within Australia.

The Brew

Being a filter roast, the majority of my consumption has been through a V60 drip filter, and to a lesser extent an AeroPress. If I had to choose, the V60 makes a cleaner, more nuanced cup —as you’d expect.

In terms of flavour, it is after all, an African Naturally processed coffee, and with that you will find the requisite fruit bomb in the cup. Think strawberry, yes, however as the brew cools a little, things begin to open up even more. The mouthfeel becomes a little creamier, and as the acidity rises, those strawberry flavours really concentrate, moving through strawberries and cream, to almost a red cordial of sorts.

A description such as the one above may sound like an overpowering trip down the “red” spectrum of flavours however that is not the case at all, simply descriptors which came to mind as I worked my way through the brew one afternoon. If we were sticking with the coffee favour wheel, then strawberry in abundance is definitely where I’d pin it. The acidity is spot on, it has medium body and a lingering finish, being a joy to sip and saviour.

As espresso — yes, I run all of my filter roasts through a longer shot out of curiosity, and here those strawberry flavours dominate again, with a hint of chocolate. As a milk drink it stands up pretty well, however the acidity is a shade high as an espresso — though of course is again not surprising in a filter roast.

The Finish

2016-09-25-burundi_post_flowerI do realise this post has run a little long compared with the usual What’s Brewing format, however as I’ve mentioned above, there are stories worth telling.

This coffee from the Musumba Hill co-operative itself? Well, it’s a beauty, and is an example of adversity resulting in greatness. I’d highly recommend picking some up if you get the chance.

For me, this post has been part coffee exploration and part geopolitical discovery, combined with a healthy reminder about where these coffees actually come from and the lives of those who produce them. If this post does nothing else, at least click-through to the Long Miles Coffee Project site, and browse the faces and words of those dedicated coffee farmers.

When you next sip your favourite brew — remember them.