Crop to Cup – Part 5 | Tasting

Photo 22-10-2013 4 25 25 am

Here we go, the finale in the Crop to Cup series, where we sample the end result of the past 6 weeks caring for and nurturing (let’s be honest – processing) our microlot of coffee beans. As you can see by the image above, it was going to go one of two ways. Over this time we have worked through pulping and fermentation (Crop to Cup – Part 1); drying (Crop to Cup – Part 2, and Crop to Cup – Part 3); and hulling (Crop to Cup – Part 4) prior to roasting.

After such a long process, my concern was that I would be somewhat biased about the result. Also, given I had such a small amount, how was I going to brew? After setting aside half of the massive 27 gram (roasted) crop to return to the generous barista who gave me the coffee cherries in the first place, only enough remained for a single brew, whichever method I chose.

After much deliberation, I went with my Hario V60. My rationale being I wanted a method that would allow me to assess the coffee on its own merits rather than being combined with milk, and in the knowledge that the returned beans to my barista friend would be tasted as an espresso. The V60 seemed like a good fit as I would be able to enjoy six or so weeks worth of care and attention for a little longer, rather than having an espresso that was both created and consumed in a flash. Though in saying that, I would also be in for a longer period of disappointment and torture if the resulting brew was horrible.

Photo 22-10-2013 4 30 44 am

So, how did it turn out?

The Whack

Jen’s Australian Microlot
Harvest Year: 2013
Wet processed; sun dried
Sorry, no further information regarding the exact origin of these beans!

Hario V60 Pourover

The section I have been waiting to get to for some time now!

In summary, the resulting brew was fairly ordinary, however drinkable none the less. Overall, it lacked any real body and had minimal sweetness, even as the brew cooled. Underneath there were some very mild floral and herby notes doing their best to be tasted. Accompanying these were some earthy flavours which thankfully did not overpower the brew, though lingered in an aftertaste that was a little, shall we say … strange.

Generally speaking, none of the flavours really overpowered the brew, making it a little “flat” overall. Given the light to medium roast of the beans, perhaps in retrospect I should have roasted them a little darker.

Feedback from my barista friend on the espresso experience was not positive at all. The concentrated form of an espresso shot seemed to magnify everything that was wrong with the beans, particularly the lack of any discernible body. I am told it was quite a flavourless experience.

Conclusion; Know This
In conclusion, although a little labour intensive, processing from the original cherries into something I could roast and then brew was a very satisfying experience. Yes, the taste test above did not reveal anything outstanding, however the brew was certainly drinkable and knowing that both the roast and brewing variables could be tweaked and improved if more of the “raw materials” were available was a promising sign for any future attempts.

I must also note here that I am comparing this with some fairly high quality beans I routinely purchase from Ministry Grounds Coffee, my usual supplier.

Rating : 2/5

If you have followed this 5 part series, thanks for sticking with it over the past couple of months. I hope it has given some insight into small batch coffee processing had you not already experienced it yourself. For me it will be back to the usual roasts and posts. I’m not sure if the labour intensive nature of processing from scratch suits my lifestyle. Then again, my mother did say there is a nice young coffee tree in a pot she is saving until my next visit. Perhaps I am about to become a grower as well…

A View on Coffee Loyalty Cards

An interesting look at the concept of coffee shop loyalty cards came through my twitter feed recently, published by 2007 World Barista champion James Hoffmann (Twitter) on his site jimseven. He is also the Managing Director of Square Mile Coffee Roasters in East London.

They aren’t really loyalty cards, they’re more accurately described as discount cards. They are a fancy and convoluted form of coupons. Great coffee shops tend not to think of themselves as the sort of places that offer discount coupons but that is what loyalty cards are.

Let’s not fool ourselves: no one is loyal because of the card. No one is going to avoid other coffee shops simply because of the fact they carry a single loyalty card in their wallet for their favourite cafe.

I have often wondered on the real value of these systems, and agree wholeheartedly with Hoffmann’s comments, however I would also ask the question of whether anyone would really desert their favourite cafe if there suddenly was no card. If no one is loyal because of the card, I would venture to say no-one would necessarily be disloyal if they were suddenly without the card. I acknowledge I may be quite wrong about this.

Hoffmann’s point being, surely the only way to create loyalty to your cafe or brand is not through a discount programme, the design of which came from “companies with a commoditised product who were looking for a competitive edge” and goes on to point out specialty coffee is a “differentiated product, not a commoditised one”.

This led me to think on how I view these types of programmes, though given my interests in home roasting and coffee in general – am I biased? Could I really see this from the perspective of the average consumer? In posing these questions, there is no suggestion Hoffmann is struck with this bias, and if so, I do not see this as an issue, for it is those within an industry who must look at various issues from time to time and generate further thought and discussion. After all, it is often these types of initiatives that drift towards being “industry standards” without much question or analysis.

Why do I drink where I drink? The people, the quality, the blend, the ambience of a cafe? On thinking further about this, it comes down to two things for me – the coffee and the people. These two components control and influence the entire experience and quality thereafter.

The people
Primarily their passion for serving up consistently high quality coffee every single time I visit. I have waited a little longer at times whilst a barista has said, “sorry I’m not happy with that” and extracted the shot again. Knowing that the shot and resulting drink, whether short, long, with milk or without has been made with effort, and he or she has strived to achieve their best work with every cup is something that will keep me coming back time and time again.

I think those same characteristics then lead on to other facets such as the cleanliness of both machine and overall facility, and level of service in general. I’ve found that in striving to achieve the perfect cup, these cafés are (generally) not prepared to let standards slip in other areas either.

The Coffee
Am I sitting here writing this as an expert? Far from it. Am I an enthusiastic home roaster who blogs about my coffee roasts and brews? Absolutely, and am therefore part of a group of consumers who will take note of what I have described above when deciding where to consume coffee we don’t roast and brew ourselves. I love trying out new cafés, and generally try them a couple of times to assess consistency and perhaps allow for an off day, but everything that keeps me coming back will be evident quite soon in this vetting process.

When I say the coffee, I am talking about the brand, blend and how it is served. One café I faithfully attend every day, serves espresso based drinks with one full-bodied blend. Another I regularly visit serves espresso based drinks with the choice of house blend, or the single origin of the day, along with three additional Artisan Light Roasts served up through V60, Chemex, Siphon, or Aeropress methods – yes, absolute heaven for the enthusiastic consumer. All of these options are served with advice, great passion, and follow-up on how you enjoyed the result.

What’s my point about loyalty cards?
So what am I really trying to say here? Probably my main point is to question whether loyalty cards actually have any effect at all on consumer behaviour. Does a loyalty card really have any power in driving consumer behaviour, or is it something that is nice to have, is a little bonus, but in the end we would all visit our favourite cafe anyway, even if no loyalty programme existed. I can’t help but think the industry as a whole may have overestimated the effect of these programmes in the absence of any real measurable data (remember, non industry person speaking here).

I have always declined to use loyalty cards on the basis that I am, and always have been, happy to pay for a quality product with service to match. It is also interesting to immediately hear discussion and comment when visiting a cafe with a group, if prices are more expensive than what is expected (a discussion for another post) – never anything about loyalty cards. Try as I might, I just cannot imagine people going back to an unclean facility to drink something made by rude staff that is at best unappealing in taste – but then again it happens. As to why this occurs, I do not have an answer. Though to be fair, a cafe exhibiting all of these features would probably not survive for very long – but surely it is not simply because of a loyalty card. Surely?

Upon having my wife proofread this prior to posting, she informs me I am probably biased, and she believes many do use these cards extensively at multiple outlets, searching out the “freebies” that are on offer. So perhaps my point of view is inaccurate in relation to these loyalty programmes, however I would like to think that once these consumers have searched around, when they hit on a great cafe, the quality and service will ultimately trump the card.

Electronic Loyalty Cards
As Hoffmann suggests, newer electronic forms of these types of programmes may provide a way to gain more meaningful data on consumer patterns or preferences. Again, I am not familiar with usual cafe measures other than cups served or kilograms through the hopper per day, so am really not in a position to comment in detail on this. However, the very first loyalty programme I am actually using appears similar to the Harris and Hoole app Hoffmann links to and discusses in his post.

So, why am I using this one, given my comments above? Put simply, it makes the experience of ordering and paying easier, and reduces my wait time during a critical part of the day – on my way to work.

The app itself is called Beat the Q, and sits on the home screen of my iPhone (see left in image below). As the cafe is a very busy one, often a visit on my way to work required a wait that at times probably became a little longer than I would have liked.

Signage at the cafe promoted the use of this app, and after downloading and creating an account, I can now order through my phone as I get off the bus. By the time I reach the cafe, I have only to wait another couple of minutes at most, with my order being placed about 8 or 10 minutes prior to arriving. Upon speaking with the staff, at least as many if not more orders are received through this process than the standard walk up queue during the busy before work period.

Beat the Q

Beat the Q

The bonus? A free coffee upon signing up to the app (top ups via credit card or PayPal within the app), with the tenth coffee free (see right in image above). The app also saves your favourite order, and confirms with a notification when it has been received. The whole process is very smooth and works well. What it provides for the cafe in the form of additional data may be where this differs from traditional cards, though I would have thought similar data could be gained through the register. Perhaps not.

Would I turn off the tenth cup free option if I could? Maybe, but as long as I keep using the app that is a moot point, as it occurs automatically (though I do try to tip at least the value of the free drink over the course of the loyalty period or thereabouts). The only downside I see with this type of system is that it may result in a little less interaction between staff and customers if the entire experience occurs through this type of transaction. I guess only time will tell.

As I have pointed out earlier, I am merely an enthusiastic coffee consumer and home roaster who got thinking on this subject after reading Hoffmann’s thoughtful and well crafted post. My main aim when I purchase from a cafe is to support quality and passion, which ensures I will enjoy what I purchase, and am happy to pay for the privilege – and every cup I consume.

As to the value of loyalty programmes and where they should be headed? That is for those in the industry (such as Hoffmann) to decide, though I believe with further analysis and discussion on points such as these, we as consumers can only be better off.

What’s Brewing #5 – Indonesian Aceh Gayo

Young boy in Guel dance, Gayo country, Aceh pr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s nice to review a coffee produced “locally” here in the Asia-Pacific region. This Indonesian Aceh Gayo Gr1 Organic was originally roasted to go in my Three Bean blend (see What’s Brewing #4), however I was obviously keen to assess it as an origin in its own right. Living here in Australia, there are a number of smaller coffee producing countries in the region, however most of my experience has been with those originating in New Guinea. Lets see how this one stacks up.

(Right: Young boy in Guel dance, Gayo country, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia)

The Whack

What: Indonesian Aceh Gayo Gr1 Organic

* Origin: Gayo Megah Berseri estate in the Central Aceh region of Sumatra
* Altitude: 1400–1600 metres
* Processing: Semi washed, sun dried
* Harvest: March 2013

How: Latte, Aeropress, V60

Dry Aroma – Probably best described as spicy/herby with floral notes, mingled with brown sugar

Latte – Does surprisingly well through milk. I would not say there is a lot of body, though definitely enough to give it some punch, carry through the chocolatey undertones and floral notes. Performed better than expected here.

Aeropress – Very well suited to this form of brewing, possibly even shading the V60 in allowing the herb and floral flavours to come to the fore. Made me think a little of dandelion. The only negative here is it probably lacks a little sweetness.

V60 – Smooth, very smooth. Shows more sweetness than the Aeropress however a little less of the herbal and floral notes. The medium body and a crisp finish make this a very enjoyable brew overall.

Conclusion; Know this:
Though assessed across the three methods above, you may note no Espresso. No conspiracy here, I have simply been playing with the V60 a little more (or a lot judging by the dwindling filters), having only purchased this a couple of weeks ago. I had high hopes for this variety given it is a “local”, and certainly was not disappointed. This is one of the best all rounders across the different brewing methods I have had in recent times, and would highly recommend this either on its own or in a [blend](What’s Brewing #4).

Overall rating: 4.5/5

What’s Brewing #4 – Three Bean Blend

Three Bean Blend

In my last coffee related post, the aim of choosing the three particular bean varieties was to specifically create a blend that worked equally well in most, if not all forms of brewing that I use, both short and long, as well as espresso based milk drinks.

How did things turn out? Let’s take a look…

The Blend

  1. 60% Bazil Moreinha Foremosa dry processed
  2. 25% Guatemalan Atitlan Small Producers wet processed
  3. 15% Indonesian Aceh Gayo Gr 1 Organic wet processed

Although the destination I am trying to reach in a blend is probably one I will never fully attain, improving with each attempt will be satisfying enough for me. As my drinking methods involve many styles, creating a blend to suit them all is not likely to be an easy one. All things considered, the current blend worked out quite well.

The Whack

What – Three bean blend (60% Brazilian, 25% Guatemalan, 15% Indonesian). All roasted on the lighter side, with the Brazilian light to medium.

How – 160ml single shot latte, Aeropress, Espresso

AssessmentDry Aroma – Probably best described as caramel and nutty, with hints of brown sugar and a little fruit.

Latte – Mild caramel flavour with traces of fruit; has a lengthy finish as the body of the Brazilian pushes through. The extra body certainly made this work well in a milk based drink, without overpowering the creaminess and fruit tones of the Indonesian and Guatemalan varieties.

Aeropress – When brewed in the Aeropress, notable body was evident, with a crisp fruity sweetness, again with a nice long finish. Some of the herby / floral traces from the Indonesian also shone through.

Espresso – The more concentrated form of an espresso brought out the creamy caramel and brown sugar flavours of the blend. There was still a good amount of acidity, and crisp sweetness remaining, however the floral tones of the Indonesian were lost.

Conclusion; Know This – Overall I was quite happy with this blend, which worked particularly well as the base for a milk drink, yet also short or long on its own. What would I change? Probably a little more body for the milk drink, and a little more of the fruitiness for all forms of brewing. That will be for the next blend!

Overall Rating – 4/5

What’s Brewing #3 – El Salvador Finca El Capulin

Coffee in El Salvador

Coffee in El Salvador (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the What’s Roasting #3 post a couple of weeks ago, I have roasted a further batch each of the El Salvador and Colombian bean varieties in an attempt to fine tune and unlock their best characteristics. Acknowledgement must go to Neil Atwood from Ministry Grounds, my green bean supplier for some great ‘real time’ twitter advice whilst the second batch was roasting.

The remainder of this post will concentrate on the El Salvador varietal, with the Colombian coming in the future.

The reason for the second roast so soon? Probably due to my expectations being fairly high as to the likely quality and flavour profile, and whilst the results of the initial batch were good, the second certainly was an improvement (lighter roast). Also, my tasting was done (as it often is) both via the Aeropress and a one shot 160 ml latte, both of which undersold the quality a little. Neil also advised he expected the El Salvador would struggle through milk.

Anyway, on with The Whack:

What: El Salvador Finca El Capulin

  • Origin: El Salvador
  • Region: Cerro Verde
  • Altitude: 1498m
  • Processing: Fully washed, patio dried

How: Latte, Aeropress, Espresso

Dry Aroma – notes of citrus and a little spice

Milk Course – Although it fights hard to be noticed, using this blend in your morning latte definitely does not do it justice. Just not enough body to hold your attention. Definitely a good example of horses for courses.

Aeropress – Definitely better here. The notable acidity pushes forward the citrus flavours, with syrupy undertones on the finish. As usual, the flavours are foremost as the brew cools.

Espresso – Of the three tasting methods here, this is where this variety does its best work (depending on your body vs acidity preference – read further on this below). Extracting this through an espresso machine will give you the best example of the smooth, subtle flavours. The notable acidity brings through citrus type flavours, with a syrup like finish. Given the variety is quite subtle, the concentrated form of an Espresso seems to be the sweet spot.

Photo 21-07-13 8 00 49 AM

Be warned however, if you are after a punch of body, it still won’t be found here – for some this may be a negative, however I don’t see this as necessarily the case if your tastes are not crying out for this. Personally, I like it, though can see when used in a blend with a variety providing more body (which is what I plan to do), may appeal to those who find it a little wanting on its own. My favourite barista (herself Italian) who taste tested, called it as she saw it – needing more body:

…you know, like a good Italian woman, she’s got the curves…, she’s strong, she’s got a lot to offer. Not skinny and light, she’s got the body. She’s got real…

I can’t remember the rest as my mind wandered somewhere else – but you get the picture. Some will just like more body in their Espresso. And evidently their women?

Thinking more on this, I would refer you to an excellent article on A History of Acidity in Coffee, which is also featured in this months issue of BeanScene Magazine. Here it is recommended we should acknowledge and embrace the different flavour profiles in coffee, both the more recent trend towards higher acidity espresso and the more traditional full-bodied, low acid type:

Personally, I’m not against this as a style of espresso as some people may think, but it really demonstrates just one style of espresso.

Conclusion; Know This:
Upon review, the El Salvador is definitely a reminder on the merits of a wide range of tasting methods. As I outlined in a very early post on my reviewing system, the assessment of my roasting results is not based on the standard ‘cupping’ methods used to formally assess taste quality by those more expert than myself. This is a conscious decision, as taste for me will always be a result of how I brew and drink each variety on a day-to-day basis.

Despite recent trends in my coffee drinking habits, future reviews will include as many brewing varieties as I have available to me to avoid missing a method that may showcase the full potential of a particular origin. So, as far as this El Salvador lot is concerned, as an origin, it is certainly made for drinking on its own, in a shorter rather than a longer brew. I am looking forward to experimenting with this variety in some blending to achieve a greater balance between the acidity on offer whilst adding some body to the mix.

Overall Rating: 4/5