May Coffee

If you are still in school like me, then May probably means the end of regular scheduled classes. To me, it also means I get to start having my morning coffee on the outside balcony which is my favorite thing.

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This month I get to share three coffees with you that paired exceptionally well with early mornings and my balcony. Two of the varieties are from Costa Rica but taste very different from one another, while the third is a surprisingly chocolatey and non-acidic Kenyan. I was very surprised that none of these beans exhibited the flavors I have come to expect from their regions. It was pretty neat!

The first Costa Rican variety comes from ROSSO in Calgary. I don’t know if this goes for all methods, but I had better immersion-brewed results (in particular, this new french press method I’ve been trying) than I had with pour-over. I didn’t taste much of the advertised tangerine, but I did get the stone fruit and sweetness.

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Next up was the other Costa Rican from Phil & Sebastian in Calgary. Again, this one seemed to come out better in my french press where it was a light, nutty and tea-like experience. In the aeropress, I got a lot more of a harsh grape flavor.

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Finally, my personal favorite this month was an unusually chocolatey Kenyan from Monogram in Cambridge. More specifically a sweeter milk chocolate than say, cacao nibs. These were very easy to brew, I liked it however I did it. I think that might have to do with the double-washed processing… Anyway, I really think you’ll like it.

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And that’s a wrap for May! You should be seeing your packages arriving any day now with the newly minted membership cards (stickers are still being printed, but they’re coming). This month you’re also getting a bonus card to guide you through our first bit of homework. There are no marks awarded for this bonus activity, but hopefully it will give you something to think about when you are refining your french press method. For those who aren’t in the club yet but want to join in, a description of the techniques are in this article. And if you’d like to get on the list for June, head over to the Patreon!

Cupping with a french press?

Cupping for clarity

Cupping is the way the coffee industry grades coffee… and it’s hilarious. Not that it’s not  important or that it’s done in a stupid way, it just looks silly. Here is an abridged version of the Specialty Coffee Association protocol;

Cupping Glasses

  • Cupping vessels shall be of tempered glass or ceramic material. They shall be between 7 and 9 fluid ounces (207 ml to 266 ml), with a top diameter of between 3 and 3.5 inches (76 – 89 mm). All cups used shall be of identical volume, dimensions and material of manufacture, and have lids.

Determining Measurements

  • The optimum ratio is 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water, as this conforms to the mid-point of the optimum balance recipes for the Golden Cup.
  • Determine the volume of water in the selected cupping glass and adjust weight of coffee to this ratio within +/- .25 grams

Pouring

  • Water used for cupping should be clean and odor free, but not distilled or softened. Ideal Total Dissolve Solids are 125-175 ppm, but should not be less than 100 ppm or more than 250 ppm.
  • The water should be freshly drawn and brought to approximately 200º F (93ºC) at the time it is poured onto the ground coffee. Temperature needs to be adjusted to elevation
  • The hot water should be poured directly onto the measured grounds to the rim of the cup, making sure to wet all of the grounds. The grounds to steep undisturbed for a period of 3-5 minutes before evaluation.

Evaluation Procedure Samples should first be visually inspected for roast color. This is marked on the sheet and may be used as a reference during the rating of specific flavor attributes. The sequence of rating each attribute is based on the flavor perception changes caused by decreasing temperature of the coffee as it cools:

  • Step #1 – Fragrance/Aroma
    • Within 15 minutes after samples have been ground, the dry fragrance of the samples should be evaluated by lifting the lid and sniffing the dry grounds.
    • After infusing with water, the crust is left unbroken for at least 3 minutes but not more than 5 minutes. Breaking of the crust is done by stirring 3 times, then allowing the foam to run down the back of the spoon while gently sniffing. The Fragrance/Aroma score is then marked on the basis of dry and wet evaluation.
  • Step #2 – Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, Body, and Balance
    • When the sample has cooled to 160º F (71º C), in about 8-10 minutes from infusion, evaluation of the liquor should begin. The liquor is aspirated into the mouth in such a way as to cover as much area as possible, especially the tongue and upper palate.Because the retro nasal vapors are at their maximum intensity at these elevated temperatures, Flavor and Aftertaste are rated at this point.
    • As the coffee continues to cool (160º F – 140º F), the Acidity, Body and Balance are rated next. Balance is the cupper’s assessment of how well the Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, and Body fit together in a synergistic combination.
    • As the coffee continues to cool (160º F – 140º F), the Acidity, Body and Balance are rated next. Balance is the cupper’s assessment of how well the Flavor, Aftertaste, Acidity, and Body fit together in a synergistic combination.
  • Step #3 – Sweetness, Uniformity, and Cleanliness
    • As the brew approaches room temperature (below 100º F) Sweetness, Uniformity, and Clean Cup are evaluated. For these attributes, the cupper makes a judgment on each individual cup, awarding 2 points per cup per attribute (10 points maximum score).
    • Evaluation of the liquor should cease when the sample reaches 70º F (21º C) and the Overall score is determined by the cupper and given to the sample as “Cupper’s Points” based on ALL of the combined attributes.
  • Step #4 – Scoring
    • After evaluating the samples, all the scores are added as describe in the “Scoring” section below and the Final Score is written in the upper right hand box.

 

A cupping session can appear painfully serious, yet includes adults slurping and sucking out of spoons dipped into community cups. Lol

But this is the way coffee grading is done, and determines the price of a coffee (commodity coffee costs somewhere around 1 USD per pound, while highly sought after coffee can go for hundreds of dollars per pound at auction). Coffee pros claim that cupping results in the cleanest and best representation of what a coffee tastes like, which is why so much rides on a cupping session.

Ok, so I’m not saying that we should all be cupping at home. What I’m getting at is that the cupping protocol is a refined process with an explicit purpose – total appreciation of the coffee being tasted. So, shouldn’t we be trying to simulate the brewing process of a cupping session when we make coffee at home?

 

Simulate a cupping with french press

This was exactly the question posed by James Hoffmann on his blog JimSeven. Something you may have noticed; the brew method used during a cupping is a full immersion method. This is where coffee is steeped in water, rather than letting the water percolate through. This is the same thing that happens in a french press, so maybe we can simulate the cupping experience with a french press!

The major difference, though, comes in separating the brewed coffee from the grounds. In a cupping, the floating grinds and oils are scooped out, and coffee is slurped from the top surface. With a french press, the floating grinds are pushed to the bottom of the vessel. No matter how carefully you do this, the press inevitably agitates and forces a final percolation in the beans. It’s this step that James attempts to avoid. Below is a quote from Jame’s original post where he outlines a little experiment he performed to compare his regular french press technique to the kind of brew you’d get at a cupping:

So today I did a little experiment. I brewed two press pots:

The first was brewed as I usually do: 60g/l (in this case it was 24g/400g water), 4 minutes, break and clean (see cupping protocol), press and then after a minute or so I served/decanted. The grind was a little coarser than cupping (2 steps on our VTA6).

The second I treated like a cupping bowl. Cupping grind, 4 minutes, break and clean (see cupping protocol) and then I left it sitting there for 10 minutes (around the time a cupping bowl starts to get really tasty). When it was time to pour I put the strainer in but didn’t plunge – I just poured it through the mesh.

James Hoffmann, on JimSeven.com

Soooooo….

I have been playing around with this technique for the last month. Typically I am a pour-over or aeropress guy but I gotta say, I’ve been really enjoying my french press a lot more. I might be converted to using the french press for my everyday coffee.

Go ahead, give it a shot! If you are a Level 3 subscriber, you have a perfect A/B test set-up. Just follow both of Jame’s recipes, one bag per recipe from a single variety. Otherwise, try it out with your regular coffee. If you do, let me know what you think in the Patreon comments!

For current subscribers, you will be receiving a printed summary with your package that you can take to the kitchen. It looks something like this:

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April Coffee

In March I visited Boston for a meeting of the American Physical Society. The conference hosted roughly 10,000 physicists for 5 days, talking about new and exciting research. When I wasn’t steeping myself in science, I percolated through the city to find great coffee.

Mar19_GHow_front-01.jpegMy favorite this month has got to be the Kenyan from George Howell. On top of having a really impressive shop (more on this in my Boston review), they have been roasting and innovating in the specialty coffee world for a long time. This is their “flagship” coffee, and I can see why. I mostly drank this as a pour-over (15 g coffee to 270 g water, medium-fine grind), but had great experiences making some pretty potent Aeropress shots (30 g coffee to 250 g water, very fine grind and short time until press). The pour-over really brought out the darker berry flavors while the high concentration, short-time Aeropress recipe emphasized its citrus notes. I wish I had more of this coffee…

hdr_00073_0-01Gracenote cafe was one of the better places I stopped in Boston. The coffee I had at their tiny service counter was fruity and delicious, and I planned on taking that taste home when I picked up these beans. I must have grabbed the wrong bag though, because these tasted much darker and spicier than what I had at the shop. What a delightful mistake! Not to say that these are dark roast, but they definitely fall on the less citrus and fruity side. I loved these as a strong pour-over (15 g coffee to 200 g water, medium-fine grind), and they ended up being my preferred “first coffee of the morning” bean. The mouthfeel and mildness made for a satisfying, gulp-able brew.

The third sample this month doesn’t come from Boston, but rather Toronto. I got a little unlucky with the other cafes I tried in Boston. I ended up running out of time to explore and I didn’t want to bring back beans I thought were just “ok”. I hope that’s alright.

hdr_00071_0-01I finally got around to visiting Library Coffee near the Ontario College of Art and Design in downtown Toronto after being urged by friends for some time. I had an excellent long black and decided to bring back some slightly more challenging beans. These are a honey processed Ethiopians, and when done right there is a really nice fruit-tea flavor in there. I found them to be a bit sensitive, so be careful over-extracting. The result is still nice, but going a bit lighter on the extraction really lets the delicate flavors shine through.

As always, I hope you enjoy these coffees as much as I enjoyed picking them. While the window to get this batch is closed, there is still plenty of time to get on the list for May!

March Coffee

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I’ve been travelling a lot in the last month, which means the March coffee club review is coming a bit late. But this also means I’ve managed to source some nice coffee along the way!

In February I visited New Orleans, which from what I’ve read, doesn’t have the biggest specialty coffee scene. This couldn’t be further from the truth! …with a small caveat. It’s likely a visitor is going to stay closer to the tourist areas around the French Quarter, and aside from Spitfire Coffee, I had a hard time finding anything that great. However, if you are interested in exploring the neighborhoods surrounding the small pocket that is the French Quarter, there are plenty of great spots to check out.

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This month I’m bringing back beans from Mojo, HEY! and Stumptown (which I know is not a native NOLA roaster), and by subscriber request, they skew to the more traditional, dark-and-chocolaty flavors.

The Stumptown is a sweet and syrupy Ecuador with a bit of a grape or plum. I’ve really enjoyed this as a pour-over. I found it hard to over-extract, so would recommend 17 g of a-bit-finer-than-usual grind with about 300 g of water. For me, this took a little longer to percolate than usual, but I was happy with the results.

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I brought back some Mexican beans from HEY! and this was the darkest, heaviest of the bunch. It’s toasty and chocolaty, but easy to overdo it (maybe because it’s a natural wash). I had the best luck with a coarse grind in my French press. As long as you don’t leave it too long (start around 3 minutes), 15 g beans to 250 g water seemed good.

 

Feb19_mojofront-01Finally, Mojo had a nice Uganda available. It reminded me a lot of the HEY! beans, but a lot easier to get right, and a lot smoother. While the HEY! beans were heavy on the chocolate (or maybe cacao to be a little more specific), the Mojo had a bit more spice to it. I was happy with my typical pour-over recipe of 15 g coffee (medium-fine grind), with 250 g water.

I hope you enjoy tasting these coffees as much as I enjoyed finding them! While the shipping period for these ones is now closed, there is still some time to sign up for April. This month I went to Boston for a physics conference and just so happened to taste some of the best coffee I have ever had.

If you are interested in the coffee scene around New Orleans, I will be posting a bit of a travel report (including some breweries and veggie restaurants) in the next couple weeks.

PS. You might be wondering what that yellow bag is in the back. Apparently The South traditionally likes to add chicory to their coffee, so I figured I ought to try it. I can say definitively, that I do not like to add chicory to my coffee, so I won’t be sending any of that out. In the spirit of scientific discovery, even a failed experiment can be a learning experience. So before I give up on the chicory, the roaster recommends trying it as a cold-brew. Results to follow…

Welcome to the club

Hi! I’m Adam, the guy behind A+S. I’m a physics graduate student and coffee lover.

coffee man science glamour model beauty so pure so sexyAs a grad student, I have a professional relationship with coffee. Like many jobs that require long hours and concentration, grad students – even if they were never coffee drinkers before – will eventually find their way to the stuff. “Come on, just try it,” they said. “We need to get all this work done by tomorrow, I think Starbucks is open late,” they said.

I’ve personally never really felt the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine (though I have felt a caffeine OD, a story for another time). Still, my coffee habit really developed in grad school. I found something comforting in having a warm drink while I work. Later I discovered that brewing my own coffee gave me a moment to take a step back, clear my mind, and re-focus. And of course it was fun discovering interesting (and sometimes uniquely horrible) roasts.

I’m not a barista (though I have taken part in the Canadian Aeropress Championships). I don’t have access to all the latest tools, nor the time to perfect the art and science of coffee (I’m currently trying to learn the art and science of science, after all). However, I do appreciate a good cup, enjoy exploring flavors, and have a DIY mentality I bring to pretty much everything I do. I find digging in a figuring out how all this stuff works to be fun and rewarding, but that doesn’t mean you have to. And that’s the reason for this blog. I want help you brew the best coffee with whatever time and tools you have access to, according to your tastes and interest level. There’s no wrong way to take your coffee, and there’s no reason you can’t brew something you love.

If this all sounds good, then welcome to the club! In the following weeks I will be writing and sharing a few basic brew guides (The Office Coffee Guide is already up). I will also be reviewing coffee and gear. If you already have a coffee routine, great! You may be interested in the new cafes and beans I try (I am based in Hamilton Ontario, near Toronto). In the coming weeks I will be visiting New Orleans and Boston, drinking and writing about as much coffee as possible.

Finally, if you’d like to try some of the unique beans from my travels and want to support the site, consider joining the Patreon. Patrons will receive three (or more!) different and exciting coffees every month from great roasters around the world- ground, packaged, and vacuum sealed to your specifications.

So there yah go. That’s who I am and what this is all about. Thanks for for reading, and I look forward to (figuratively) diving into all this coffee with you!