What’s Brewing: Volcan Azul Natural – Costa Rica

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Image courtesy Wolff Coffee Roasters

One of the many benefits in having close and dear friends in the coffee industry is what follows shortly after the statement: “we’ve got something coming in you’ve gotta try”. Queue something a little special by Wolff Coffee Roasters having made its way to our friends at The Wired Owl Coffee Co in Sandgate.

On this occasion? A naturally processed coffee from Costa Rica, produced by Alejo Castro under the Volcan Azul name, which itself has a long history in the global coffee industry:

At the end of the 19th century, when coffee production was in its early beginnings in America, without knowing it, two pioneers and entrepreneurs, Alejo C. Jiménez in Costa Rica and Wilhelm Kahle in the south of Mexico, shared the same dream: “To produce the best coffee in the world” to satisfy the new demanding European gourmet market.

More than a century has passed and today the fourth and fifth generations of descendants of these visionary farmers still produce coffee within the same ideals of excellency and top quality that inspired their ancestors. They produce one of the best pure coffees of the world with its Brand “F.C.J. Volcan Azul” on the slopes of the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica.

Information courtesy Volcan Azul – Tradition

The coffee inside the brightly labelled Wolff Roasters bag certainly carries such an esteemed tradition with distinction.

This is a seriously tasty coffee, masterfully roasted by the folk at Wolff, and will also be used by competitors at this year’s 2017 QLD Aeropress Championships. I can’t help but think the judges are certainly in for a treat that day.

Upon grinding, there is a brown sugar aroma with a hint of orange and lemon zest. Consumed as espresso, there is a lovely caramelised sweetness, medium body, and a bright citrus zing. A sweet, fresh and delightful cup — think sweet lemon tart.

When prepared as a flat white, the added sweetness and viscosity of the milk really makes this coffee shine. This one is the full lemon meringue pie — that is the honest truth. I’m the first to admit not all of the flavours listed on coffee bags always find their way into my cup, (mostly likely a combination of brewing differences and simply my palate being responsible for that). This one, however, is exactly as it says on the tin:

The pleasantly sweet aftertaste reminds us of meringue with hints of vanilla. With milk, the Volcán Azul is creamy and biscuity, with hints of lemon curd.

I mean it — a lemon meringue pie in a six-ounce cup. Not only that, but a perfect way to sneak in dessert for breakfast. A winner all round I say. I was even tempted to over-aerate my milk just to get that meringue look on top, but hey, this isn’t the 90’s anymore…

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Breakfast is served

Of course I don’t expect you to take my word for it, and if you are on Brisbane’s Northside, pop in and grab a bag from The Wired Owl (227 Rainbow St, Sandgate), or Wolff Roasters (140 Gerler Rd, Hendra). The Wolff online store is also just a click away — wherever you are.

My Pick? Visit Aaron at The Wired Owl, and depending on what is featured as the single origin that day — he might even make you a cup.

Whatever your taste preferences, this is certainly a great one to try. Get some while you can!

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The Coffee Podcast

I’ve been very much enjoying The Coffee Podcast recently, which has served up some very compelling topics and guests from the coffee industry in recent episodes — none more so than the current two-part series featuring James Hoffmann.

Add to that a discussion on the Swiss Water decaf process (Episode 87), another on the relevance and application of genetics in coffee (Episode 88), and the breadth and depth of show content really shines through.

I particularly enjoyed the episode on genetics, given it provided some great follow-up to a little reading I did on the topic a few years ago, which at the time was the stimulus for this post. This episode will provide you with a better understanding of the critical role genetics is playing — and will play — in the sustainability and very survival of speciality coffee as we know it today, along with the great work being done by the folk at World Coffee Research.

Speaking of which, Specialty Coffee Association Executive Director Ric Rhineheart provides his thoughts on what specialty coffee actually is in Episode 81. Then, as you can imagine, I could not go past Episode 85 with US Roasting Champion Mark Michaelson.

Thought provoking, very entertaining, yet educational at the same time, if you enjoy coffee and yearn for a little more insight, The Coffee Podcast is well worth a listen. As the show’s Who We Are page will tell you:

Our Focus is People, our Language is Coffee

Check out the webpage for more information on episodes and topics which may be of interest, hosts Weston Peterson and Jesse Hartman, and download links. Alternatively, search for “The Coffee Podcast” in your podcast client of choice (my preferred being Pocket Casts).

Happy listening (and learning).

Restocking – a trip to Bookbinders

Although I’ve posted an image to Instagram from yesterday’s visit to the Bookbinders store on Brisbane’s Northside, readers of the blog and my social media following are not one and the same, so I thought I’d share a couple of things in a brief post.

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It was my second visit to the actual store itself — such a wonderful, calming space amid the chaos of rainy Friday afternoon traffic. The Bookbinders team do a fantastic job, stocking great products and provide outstanding customer service. It was great to hear business is strong, with foot traffic continuing to increase at the store itself.

It is definitely worth a visit if you have yet to do so, and of course if you already have, you don’t need me to encourage you to return — I’m sure that is inevitable.

Though it wasn’t a big haul by any stretch, the few key items on my list were ticked off.

Coffee drinking and roasting logs

I’ve written in a recent post about my thoughts and plans for recording my coffee roasting data, and the main reason for the visit was to pick up the new 33 Roasts log from the 33 Books series.

My only concern (immediately alleviated upon closer inspection) was whether the log contained units in degrees celsius as well as Fahrenheit (being a US publication). All good to go here, with units in celsius appearing on the R hand axis of the roast graph. Key details from each of my roasts will end up in a spreadsheet, and the entire notebook contents scanned, indexed and saved for safe keeping and easy search (perhaps a post for another day).

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A few drops of coffee in the ink is a nice touch

My coffee drinking habits? Well why not 33 Log those as well? When out, I use a modified version of this Day One / Launch Center Pro template (also available as Workflow app action if that is your preference) to rate the beverages cafes serve me, however when at home I’d like to record a little more often in relation to drinking what I’ve roasted myself. The 33 Cups of Coffee log seems like a good way to go here.

Upon completion, these will also be scanned, and I’m thinking perhaps the 4 and 5 star rated cups are worthy of indexing for future reference. I’ll give that one a little more thought.

 

Writing

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Though 40 pages less, a considerable reduction in paper weight from the Life Symphony to the Monokaki

One of the most pleasing aspects of visiting the store was seeing the healthy stock of Monokaki notebooks, which still remain my all-time favourite. Previous posts about those? Yes — here and here if you are interested. Having passed my 50% rule (that is, of usage in my current notebook before searching for another), it wasn’t a hard choice as to what I’d pick up next.

The masuya paper contained therein is a perfect mash-up of Tomoe River-like weight with a little more tooth to the nib. Just the way I like it. In order to share my fondness, some of that very paper will also be going out in handwritten correspondence from the Yuga Letter Pad I picked up as well.

Signing off

Given this was never intended to be a lengthy post, in closing, I think we are very lucky to have the Bookbinders team not only based in Brisbane, but having a brick and mortar presence as well. They are wonderful people with a passion for the industry — something well worth supporting as a consumer.

Happy writing, roasting and drinking.

A Coffee Appreciation Course – Extraction Artisan Coffee

Crossing the threshold to greater coffee knowledge…

If I am entirely honest, a good few of my Saturday afternoons are spent reading or napping on the couch. Sure, there may be lawn mowing or other activities involved, however external educational opportunities are not the norm. Let’s face it, my favourite segment of the weekend – with all of it’s promise – often finds me in a comfortable chair, utilising the I’ve got all day tomorrow to (insert procrastinated activity here) principle.

That being said, last weekend provided an opportunity too good to pass up, and the chair received a wave goodbye as I headed out the door on my way to Extraction Artisan Coffee’s inaugural Coffee Appreciation Course. It was obviously not too difficult a decision to go and learn from a very passionate and knowledgeable professional in Danny Andrade, whose acquaintance I made several years ago when he worked as a barista in the Brisbane CBD.

Social media and the occasional Bean Brewding Coffee Tour have provided a means with which to follow along as Danny’s coffee career has progressed, and I was over the moon to see the initial teasers a little over a year ago as Extraction Artisan Coffee began to take shape. It looked like my kind of place — and even better — is on my side of town.

Always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more about coffee and refine my home roasting and brewing skills, I enthusiastically ventured to Extraction in the knowledge I’d be leaving far better off in these areas than when I arrived. Really — is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?

The Course

Theory

The afternoon began in an upstairs meeting room, with Danny taking us through some slides explaining and illustrating many things, including but not limited to: the taxonomy of coffee; how it is grown and produced; processing methods; and world coffee production, farming, and trade relationships (including Extraction’s philosophy and future plans in this area).

Passed around the room were various green bean samples from different countries, growing elevations and processing methods, along with some examples of green bean defects which need to be removed prior to roasting.

A recurring and very important theme throughout this part of the course was the immense amount of resources required, and the inherent difficulty in producing specialty grade coffee. Those working hard to improve the industry — whether back at the farm or at your favourite café — are certainly worthy of our respect and support.

Roasting

Roasting theory

Next it was downstairs to the roasting room adjacent to the café itself, where we observed a washed Colombian coffee go through the sample roaster. Here we learned some more specifics about the phases of roasting, and Danny’s particular approach at Extraction, which aims to preserve and highlight as many of the flavours in the coffee as possible.

After tracking the time, temperature and key points within the roast, we had a look at the resulting curve produced, and compared that with a recently completed roast profile of the 10kg production roaster Danny uses to keep the Extraction grinder hoppers full of either single origin coffee or the signature Gratitude Blend. A quick colour analysis on the sample roast confirmed it was to the required medium-light level, and we then moved onto the sensory stage of the course.

Sensory training and cupping

A few of those aroma samples

With a lot of thought and no shortage of competitive spirit after splitting into two groups, it was time for some aroma analysis and identification using the Le Nez du Café aroma kit. With our olfactory systems doing their best to identify the various samples, we eventually reached a little sensory fatigue on the last few aromas.

Overall I think we did pretty well, and whether I was in the “runner up” group or just the one which had the “harder” of the two series of samples I’ll leave for you to decide. I’ll be sure to make note of that cooked beef aroma next time I’m in the kitchen!

Next up, the familiar slurp of a cupping room, as we compared a washed process Colombian coffee with an Ethiopian natural, assessing and noting the contrast (origin differences aside) and effect different processing methods impart on the resulting cup. Along the way we also learned more about the methods and importance of cupping, and how it relates to what is ultimately served in the café.

Brewing

Espresso theory

Once our taste buds had been awakened, we were keen to move onto espresso and manual brewing, the result of which was always going to be plenty of drinking and tasting. We worked through some espresso brewing and extraction theory, with Danny providing tasting samples from across the extraction (certainly not the usual Extraction) spectrum.

Comparing under, ideal, and over extracted espresso, I must say it is the first time (and what will no doubt be the only one) in about 8 years that I have ever received sub-par espresso passed from Danny across the bar. Jokes aside, the intended lesson was heeded, with a group of twisted faces savouring not one moment of the sour, under extracted cup, with the bitter, over-extracted version not fairing much better.

Check out what I – umm… I mean Danny created

With the knowledge of what we were not aiming to produce, we were then let loose (with close supervision) on the Mythos One grinder and VA388 Black Eagle gravimetric espresso machine (yes — I did notice a couple of differences compared to my Baratza/Sunbeam combo at home). We all managed to produce espresso within Danny’s requisite brew parameters, and with a little further assistance, managed to top them off with some textured milk. I wouldn’t call what was on top any sort of art as such, however they were certainly enjoyable to drink, and it was nice to put a few key principles together and enjoy a successful result in the cup.

Finally, and with Danny giving up a lot more of his valuable time than originally planned, we moved on to manual brewing, looking at the V60, Trinity One, immersion cold brewing and cold drip. Once some preceding theory and brew parameters were discussed, much tasting ensued, with a controlled fermentation processed coffee a very fruity highlight.

The finish

While scouring the internet and reading books are valuable learning methods in their own right — there is nothing quite like having a passionate, knowledgeable, and very successful industry expert graciously passing on some of that knowledge to those enthusiastically seeking a better understanding of the subject at hand. The Coffee Appreciation Course at Extraction was a perfect example of that.

The key concepts, principles and theory are important, as are their practical application, however an opportunity like this goes far beyond a simple learning exercise. It’s about hearing a philosophy. The reasons behind a certain approach — and thinking about those reasons a little more fully. It’s about understanding the meaning of it all in the grand scheme of things, and the people, processes and effects behind the entire chain of a particular coffee.

To me, that is what those few hours were all about. The intangible benefit of hearing about an entire philosophy, and its influence on everything up to, and including making a high quality cup of coffee. Something not able to be conveyed in its entirety on a screen or in print. It is here the value of a course like this really lies.

Extraction’s ‘Class of June 17’ (image courtesy Extraction Artisan Coffee)

Overall, it was a whole lot of fun. A thoroughly enjoyable and informative way to spend an afternoon, and certainly comes highly recommended from me if something like this sounds like it may interest you. My recommendation? Keep a sharp eye on the Extraction Artisan Coffee events page (the next Appreciation Course is being run on Saturday 29 July) and social media (Facebook, Instagram) for what is coming next. The team have plans…

Recording coffee roast data – a new analogue option

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Though I’ve yet to get my hands on one directly, this bite from Sprudge recently caught my eye. The folk at 33 Books Co in Portland, Oregon, have just released a coffee roasting log: 33 Roasts, which looks just about perfect for an enthusiastic home roaster. Reading about this new offering triggered a few thoughts on how I’ve recorded my home roasting data in the past, and how I might continue from here.

Recording my roasts – so far

While there are many ways to record data when roasting your own green coffee, I’ve generally found analogue systems well suited to my needs, having tried digital methods on and off over the four years I’ve been roasting at home. If I could suggest one thing to someone considering having a go at home roasting, it is to record data somehow. The exact means is not important, however as trends emerge and you look to make adjustments, having something to refer back to is fairly valuable.

So how do I do it? The most obvious means of doing so given my fondness for all things analogue, is a notebook and pen. In the absence of setting up some form of more automated temperature logging and roasting software (the probe, thermocouple and roasting software based “HeatSnob” from Coffee Snobs for example), I have always relied on taking down data points manually (time, temperature and heat settings) — irrespective of whether these end up in something digital or remain on paper. After keeping things in Evernote for a short while, I ended up simply taking the relevant notes down in a pocket-sized Field Notes notebook, and have many filled to the brim with roasting records now safely stored in a shoe box.

Meaningful scrawl in a notebook

In recent months I’ve been using an infrared thermometer gun 1 to capture temperature readings, and manually entering the data on a per minute basis into a spreadsheet template I stumbled across online via the Home Barista Forum. The advantage of course being the roasting curves produced automatically as the data is entered, however I generally don’t have a look at these until the end of the roast, simply following the rate of rise by looking at the temperature change down the column as the roast progresses (also calculated automatically as I enter the raw temperature readings).

Raw data and curves

I’ve found it easier to take note of the readings rather than look at the curve, given I cannot really see it easily working in split view on my 9.7 inch iPad Air 2, with a third of the screen displaying the timer.2

Using one-third split view on iPad for the timer

I have enjoyed using this method, as I can see a visual curve of how the roast progressed, though at times it can become a little tiresome to manually capture and log the temperature readings every minute or so. Again, with dedicated, connected temperature probes this would be a breeze, however that might be a project for another time.

Why the move back to analogue then?

Well, the obvious why not? aside – even when using a spreadsheet, my notebook is always on hand, as I find in the heat of the moment around first crack, it is easier to keep an eye on things and scrawl down the time and temperature data by hand rather than worrying about entering data onto the spreadsheet. Given things can happen fairly quickly at that point in the roast, I usually fill in the blanks on the spreadsheet once the beans are out and cooling.

There are some apparent disadvantages to an analogue system in terms of search, and viewing or manipulating data, however remember we are not talking about a professional, commercial-scale roasting operation here (very far from it actually). Most times in the past I’ve flagged the great roasts and referred back to my previous records be they digital or analogue fairly easily anyway. Having recently begun creating a digital index of my analogue archives (irony not lost), I plan to get around to my roasting logs and do the same. Of course keeping on top of things like this as I go would be a much better idea. You might be surprised how easily things are found with a decently constructed and searchable index. Then again perhaps you might not, for I guess it is common sense really isn’t it.

Finally, there is a simplistic ease in opening a notebook and recording data, without setting up my iPad, opening Numbers, selecting a spreadsheet template, creating a new file, copying some tabs and then entering some preliminary information. Sure, analogue isn’t for everyone, however after using a few different systems (both digital and analogue) over the past four years, I’ve come to know what I like, what I need, and what works best for me.

Reason enough.

33 Roasts: A Coffee Roasting Log

Analogue is well… analogue. Why the need for a pre-formatted option such as this latest offering from the 33 Books company?

For one, I think they look fantastic, and the pre-formatted pages contain just about every field you might need (particularly as a home roaster), along with a notes field for any little extras. A graph to plot those data points on a curve? There as well. Add to that a ratings field for retrospectively adding tasting notes over subsequent days or weeks is also a nice touch.

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Speaking of nice touches — from 33 Books Co., something unable to be captured in a pixel:

A teeny, tiny amount of real freshly-roasted coffee is added to the ink in each new edition, which is cryptically noted on the back.

At 5×7 inches — or what I’d call just the right size, the log is similar to my current general note-taker in the Baron Fig Vanguard, or the new upsized Pitch Black Field Notes offering. Incidentally, one my favourite roasting logs in the past was the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition, which came in at this same slightly larger-than-pocket size.

Signing off

In noting down these thoughts on my coffee roasting logs, of course I’ve yet to get my hands on one of those beauties from 33 Books Co., however the fine folk at Bookbinders are on the case and will come through with the goods pretty soon – of that I’m certain.

Having just taken delivery of a new coffee roaster (another post for another time), what better time to start afresh with my data logging process – and for that, the 33 Roast Log seems pretty much spot on.


  1. Although the readings lack validity, they are reliable for comparisons of minute to minute absolute temperature, and to monitor rate of rise over the course of the roast. ↩︎
  2. Yes I could indeed use my phone or some other time, however the size of the iPad screen is ideal to have the timer visible from a distance. ↩︎