Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tastebud Training: How To Become A Better Coffee Taster

Posted by Erin Meister on Serious Eats,
November 28, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Coffee at a cupping, or professional style tasting.

Tasting is hard. No, really—think about it. We put stuff in our mouths all day every day, and sure, hopefully we enjoy most of it. But how much do you actually think about what you're tasting? Tasting different coffees side by side can be as daunting as going to a wine tasting. How on earth is a new taster supposed to identify and name all the seemingly zillions of flavors and aromatics emanating from that hot black cup of joe?

Here are a few tips to help you exercise your tastebuds to better understand and appreciate your morning coffee. (Or, heck, anything you eat or drink, for that matter!) Join us to develop not only a more nuanced palate, but also the vocabulary to go along with it.
Sip Before Sugar

This might seem obvious, but if you really want to get a sense of how your coffee tastes, try it—just try it—before up-ending that packet of Domino in there. To many people, coffee is a seemingly overpowering flavor, with strong bitterness or smokiness that can seem harshly unapproachable at first. That's often our first reaction to things like beer, wine, and fine liquors, too—until, that is, we develop a taste for them.

Nobody ever developed their taste for beer by dumping sugar in it, and neither will you for coffee by doing the same. Take one sip before sweetening it up, and try to savor that sip if you can. Next time you have a coffee, take two swigs before adding your lumps, and so on. See if you can't come to enjoy the taste of black joe little by little: it will significantly improve your ability to discern nuances you may never have experienced before through the milk and sugar.
Practice Makes Perfect

In order to be a better taster, you simply have to taste more stuff. For the next few weeks, try to slow down for a second as you go about your eating life. Hold things on your tongue a bit longer than you normally would—whole foods especially—and try to think of what other tastes they remind you of. Does that bite of brown rice have a nutty quality to it, or is it more like grass? Is there something honey-like about the sweetness of a ripe melon, or is it more floral?

Even if the act of savoring each bite for the sake of storing flavor memory doesn't instantly transform you into a supertaster, it will at the very least probably help you enjoy your food more as you work through it. Win-win!

The Nose Knows

Our sense of smell deeply informs our sense of taste, so try to go in for a nice big whiff before you take your first bite or sip. Especially where coffee's concerned, the smell of both the dry grounds and the pot as it's brewing can give you a lot of insight into the flavors lurking behind that brown. And scent memory is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools in our palate-stretching arsenal: When a certain aroma conjures images of youthful camping trips, a favorite food, a fondly recalled afternoon at the beach...these things all sound hippie dippy, but they can be surprisingly telling. That camping trip might mean you're detecting a smoky or toasted note in the coffee, that favorite food might mean sweetness or spice, while a beachside afternoon could indicate savory umami in the cup.

Compare and Contrast

One easy exercise for your tongue is to taste several variations of the same thing. With coffees, we might taste a few different varieties of beans all prepared the same way, or try beans across different regions, the way we might do a wine tasting of one grape from a few different areas.

But you don't have to be a coffee guru or a wine connoisseur to taste with discrimination: Simply turn to the bounty of the season. Buy a bushel of different varieties of apples and taste slices from each in succession, making sure to note which is which, and maybe jotting down some thoughts about the flavors that strike you as you go. Think about how the texture of each feels in your mouth, think about how sweet one type of the fruit is in relation with another. If you can start to recognize these types of elements in other things you taste regularly, it will be more of a cinch the next time you face down a flight of different coffees.

Quit Smoking

I'm not trying to be preachy about it (that's your mom's job), but smoking does not only dull your sense of taste, but also your sense of smell, which is in large part what clues your tatesbuds in on what they're experiencing when you go in for the kill on that perfect slice of pizza or hand-crafted small-batch Scotch. If you want to develop a masterfully working tongue, then, unfortunately you'll have to kick that Kool habit you've been hanging on to since you were 16. (PS: Note that's "Kool," not "cool," which is probably what got you into this mess in the first place.) But hey, if you can't have your coffee without kicking up that cigarette jones, far be it from me...

What other advice would you give to a new taster? Have you found anything to be especially helpful when trying to develop your palate?

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's the Single Best Way to Make Coffee?

Published: October 2, 2011
The New York Times

Grinding beans with a burr grinder just before you prepare your coffee is the single most important step to making a better cup. Because coffee degrades rapidly when exposed to oxygen, mediocre beans just out of the grinder have much more flavor than even fantastic beans that were ground up yesterday. (As for the beans you ground last week, it's time to add them to the compost heap.) A decent burr grinder doesn't come cheap, though. The entry point is about $100, and if you want a better engine or more settings, you can easily spend $300. But like investing in a chef 's knife, it's a one-time expense you won't regret. Its beauty is that it crushes the beans into particles of a consistent size, unlike a blade grinder, which whirs some of the coffee into powder and some into chunks. And consistency is incredibly important to coffee's taste: a blade grinder is very likely to produce grinds that lead to uneven extraction, which results in bitter flavors.The beans you grind are also important, of course. You should be drinking the ones that are in season and therefore the freshest -- right now, that means the beans from South America. It's important to remember that shopping for coffee beans is like buying fish: ask for what has just come in. It makes a big difference.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coffee May Help Women Lower Depression Risk

Wall Street Journal
September 26, 2011

In what might be good news for coffee drinkers, a new study found that women who regularly consume the caffeinated beverage are less likely to suffer depression.

Four or more cups a day lowers depression risk even further, by 20%.
Women who had two to three cups of coffee a day had about a 15% lower risk of developing depression during a 10-year period than women who had only one cup of coffee or less per week. Consuming four or more cups a day reduced the risk of depression even more, by 20%.

The study, by Harvard University researchers, analyzed health data of more than 50,000 women who were part of the Nurses' Health Study, a federally funded effort that has followed thousands of registered nurses for decades to assess risk factors for cancer and other diseases.

The Harvard research, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is believed to be the first study specifically looking at depression and caffeine consumption in women. The study was primarily funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers said the study doesn't prove that caffeine or caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of depression, but it suggests caffeine has a "protective effect." Alberto Ascherio, one of the study's authors and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said researchers decided to look at depression after smaller studies suggested a decreased risk of suicide among women who were regular coffee drinkers.

Depression is a chronic health problem that affects twice as many women as men. At least 20% of women develop depression at some point in their lives, the researchers said. Caffeine, most often in the form of coffee, is considered the world's most consumed central nervous system stimulant that temporarily boosts alertness and often improves people's moods.

Numerous studies previously have looked at the health effects of coffee. Scientists generally have concluded that for most adults moderate doses of caffeine, or the equivalent of about two to four cups of coffee a day, aren't considered harmful. But too much caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, stomach upset and a rapid heartbeat.
In the latest study, researchers in 1996 identified 50,739 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study who were free of depression. The average age was 63 at the study's onset. Over a 10-year period, 2,607 of the women developed depression.
Researchers measured caffeine consumption by analyzing a series of questionnaires the women completed between May 1980 and April 2004. The surveys asked about the types of coffee, tea, soda and other liquids that were consumed over the preceding 12 months. Women were also asked about their consumption of chocolate, which also contains caffeine.

Dr. Ascherio said most of the caffeine the women consumed came from regular coffee. He said researchers also looked at total caffeine consumption, including from other sources, and found results similar to those for coffee consumption. No association was found between intake of decaffeinated coffee and depression risk, he said.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ristretto | On the Rocks

by Oliver Strand
New York Times Blog
June 10, 2011, 4:15 pm

I became hooked on cold-brew coffee after working a construction job in New Orleans more than 10 years ago. It was strictly a regional thing then, everywhere in the Big Easy and nearly impossible to find elsewhere — you could find cold-brew concentrate in the supermarket, but most of the people I knew were given mayo jars full of the dark, dense liquid by an aunt or a grandmother. In the following years, I became a proselytizer for cold-brew coffee, gaining converts for a steep-and-strain method that seemed counterintuitive until you tried it.

The coffee started to catch on in New York in 2007; by last summer, it had become regular fare at almost all of the coffee shops I frequent — it seemed everybody had fallen for the clean, clear flavors of iced coffee that wasn’t traumatized by hot water. But in coffee circles, no conversation is closed. When I mentioned cold brew to Counter Culture Coffee’s Peter Giuliano, he told me that he only used the “Japanese iced method,” in which you brew hot coffee directly onto ice. With characteristic diplomacy, Giuliano told me I had it all wrong.

George Howell, of George Howell Coffee, was more direct. Brewing onto ice is “the only way to do it,” he said. “It’s fresh! There’s none of that oxidized flavor [of cold brew]. You want to know what [cold brew] is like? Open up a bottle and pour a glass of wine and let it sit around.” Cold brew is for “simplified Merlot drinkers,” Howell said. “But the Japanese iced expresses terroir beautifully.”
Got it.

The iced method isn’t complicated. Basically, you prepare brewed coffee as you normally would, only you use half hot water, half ice you put in the bottom of the vessel. The hot, fresh coffee drips directly onto ice so that it’s cool and ready to drink right away.

My simplified instructions are below. (Coffee fanatics measure liquids by weight — these days, a digital scale is standard gear — but while most use grams, I prefer ounces because the low-scoring numbers are easier to track.) If you want to go deeper, Counter Culture’s recipe is here, George Howell’s is here, and Square Mile’s James Hoffman’s thoughtful and complicated take on it is here. Everybody’s is different, and everybody’s is right. Chances are you can make it with the coffee gear you already own, or you could get a Hario kit here.

Is it vastly superior? I’m not convinced. And I’m not giving up cold-brew coffee — opening the fridge to find a jar of concentrate is as much a part of summer as a nectarine or a Carvelanche. But I appreciate that the iced method is simple and quick, tasty, easy to master. It’s another addition to the repertory.

Iced Method Coffee
1 ounce fresh-ground coffee
7 ounces ice
8 ounces water heated to 200 degrees, plus extra for rinsing filter.

Place a filter in a Chemex (or any filter brew system) and rinse filter with at least four ounces hot water. Remove filter, discard water, place Chemex on a kitchen scale and add 7 ounces of ice.
Replace filter, add coffee and slowly add 1 ounce of water heated to 200 degrees, until the grounds are saturated. Let the grounds “bloom” then deflate, which might take up to 1 minute.
Reset scale to zero and add remaining 7 ounces of water heated to 200 degrees, in a slow, steady stream. Drink immediately.

(image taken by Oliver Strand)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stumptown Expands With the Help of a Powerful Investor

Matthew Peyton for The New York TimesStylish baristas at the Stumptown Coffee Roasters cafe at the Ace Hotel.

Originally published in NYTimes' blog, June 2, 2011, 2:22 pm

It looks like a big year for Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The Portland, Ore., company, known for getting some of the finest coffee in the world and serving it with rock ‘n’ roll flair, plans to open two coffee bars in Brooklyn, add a bottling facility to its roaster in Red Hook for its cold-brewed coffee and, Duane Sorenson, Stumptown’s founder, says the company will try to open roasters in Chicago and San Francisco.

All of this is possible because of an investment from TSG Consumer Partners, a private equity firm that has invested in several successful brands, selling its stake in Vitaminwater for $677 million in 2006.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters is one of a small number of independent companies that set the standard for coffee roasting over the past decade. Its connection to TSG was first made public on Tuesday by Todd Carmichael in a posting on’s “Eat Like a Man” blog. In a piece titled “The End of Stumptown, America’s Hippest Coffee Brand,” Mr. Carmichael wrote: “Duane Sorenson, the founder of Stumptown, the Che Guevara of the rock-star barista movement, sold his life’s work to the highest bidder.” Mr. Carmichael is the founder of the coffee company La Colombe Torrefaction.

The post didn’t name TSG, but the next day, Ben Waterhouse of Willamette Week in Portland reported that Stumptown Coffee Corp., a new company that registered with the State of Oregon on April 28, listed Alexander S. Panos as president and secretary. Mr. Panos is TSG’s managing director.

Both Mr. Sorenson and Mr. Panos said the coffee roaster was not sold.

“I still own Stumptown,” Mr. Sorenson said in a telephone interview. “I’m still in control of Stumptown, the only thing that’s changed is that I brought in an investor, a buddy of mine, who brought in some money so that I can do the things I want to do.”

The two cafes in Brooklyn, which are expected to open this fall; the bottling facility, the company’s first outside Portland; and the two roasters would require a considerable investment.

Mr. Panos said he shared Mr. Sorenson’s vision. “If you’re Duane and you want to bring great coffee to San Francisco, how’s he going to do it?” he said. “Most of these companies don’t get past their home market. The fact that Duane came to New York is miraculous. He did it by his boot straps.”

Still, bloggers, coffee writers and denizens of social media expressed dismay that Stumptown, which has a devout following, would take on an investment partner known for scaling up – and selling – successful companies. The assurances the Mr. Sorenson was still in charge seemed to have cooled some tempers.

Mr. Panos said in a telephone interview that he was not, in fact, an officer of Stumptown Coffee Roasters and was listed as such only for filing purposes.

“Duane runs the show, no ifs, ands, or buts,” he said. “He controls the company. I’m just an investor.”

In filings in Oregon, he is named the president and secretary of Stumptown Coffee Corp., and as the authorized representative of its two subsidiaries, Stumptown Coffee and Stumptown Coffee Roasters Inc. Mr. Panos also said that he had no involvement with an entity registered in Delaware as Stumptown Coffee Corp. on April 11, even though it was originally listed under the name TSG Coffee Corp.

“We can’t disclose the structure of the investment,” Mr. Panos said. “What I can say is that Duane controls the company.”

What’s certain is that there will be more Stumptowns, and soon.

“Getting some money to grow your business is not evil,” Mr. Panos said.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ristretto - Brains and Baristas

The New York Times

March 3, 2011

Brian W. Jones Michael Phillips, the 2010 World Barista Champion (Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Chicago) and Oda Misje Haug (Kaffemisjonen, Norway.)

The TED conferences taking place this week in California are famous for their brainy presentations (held by futurists, technologists, the odd “paper-cutter artist”) and a rapt audience (a Comic-Con of early adopters and outliers), where a biomedical engineer might cede the stage to an artist who “reshapes urban airspace” while Bill Gates takes notes. Soon, TED could be known for its coffee, too.

This year the TED conferences are outfitted with seven coffee bars staffed by a roster of international all-star baristas, more than 40 in all, that include World Barista Champions and baristas with cult followings in their hometowns of Oslo and Sydney, Guatemala City and Montreal. They should be professional rivals – the baristas work for different coffee shops and roasters – but they’re at TED under the auspices of Coffee Common, a newly-minted organization with the unapologetically idealistic purpose to create “a community with shared values.” Counter Culture Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters might duke it out for wholesale accounts in New York City, but at TED they’re all on the same side.

So you have Counter Culture’s Peter Giulliano praising MadCap Coffee Company, an upstart roaster from Grand Rapids, Mich., that was founded in 2008. (He writes in a Tumblr post that MadCap is “young and fearless.”) Or Stephen Morrissey of Intelligentsia, a former World Barista Champion, preparing Terroir Select Coffee’s Mamuto (from Kenya) in the morning and Ritual Coffee Roaster’s La Orquidea (from Colombia) in the afternoon.

Coffee Common is associated with Alex Bogusky’s Common (motto: “Collaboration is the new competition”), a community that sees fast prototyping, social ventures and better branding as a path to an improved, more entrepreneurial future. Big ideas. Maybe the appeal of Coffee Common at TED is more basic. As Laurel Touby, the founder of Media Bistro, tweeted: “Long Beach, where #TED2011 is happening, is not known for the coffee. Thankfully, there’s a thing called @coffeecommon here to save us.”

originally published on March 3, 2011 in the New York Times