Monday, August 24, 2009

Stale coffee - the tell tale signs

I was called out by a customer of ours last week complaining that our coffee was tasting bitter and strong compared to what we usually supply. Of course all sorts of alarm bells ring. Are we roasting too dark, have we ground the coffee incorrectly?

In some ways I say thankfully it was none of the above! It turned out that the volume of coffee sales was relatively low and a kilo of pre-ground cafetiere coffee was hanging around for a couple of weeks prior to being used. The moment I opened the container I could tell that bad things were afoot.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of tasting or smelling stale coffee I can only describe it as the sensation of a coffee having died. Simply the reaction with the air has eliminated all the aromatics; as a result the taste is flat monotone and unpleasant.

The solution in this instance is for us to supply the coffee in smaller packs and smaller quantities. I had brought along a freshly ground pack of coffee of the same blend to compare and contrast. One coffee was alive, the other dead - beware the air!

The indifference of a Global mono-cuture

There's a famous coffee shop found in the souqs of Khan al-Khalili in the Islamic quarter of Cairo called Fishawi's - It's open 24 hours a day and all they appear to sell is tea, coffee and Sheesha (a water pipe used for smoking). The only question the waiter asks after he has identified that you want a coffee is "do you want sugar in it?"
All Cairo seems to pass through their doors - I say doors only in a metaphorical sense as it has no doors; in fact the only way you know where the coffee shop starts and ends is when the chairs run out! Like so many shops in the Souqs they exist in one of the many alley ways populated by hawkers and panhandlers.
The waiters will proudly show you an ancient photograph of the old King Farouk in his dark glasses, who used to frequent the place. What can you say about Fishawi's? It's so .........Egyptian!
It's the distilled essence of Cairo; King's have been deposed, Presidents have come and gone, but Fishawi's like the Pyramids of Giza has always been, please God don't let it disappear.

Then there's the Coptic quarter, the part of Cairo that came before Cairo even existed. When Byzantine Rome became a Christian empire and before the armies of the east brought Islam. Here stand the great Christian Coptic churches, side by side with the Islamic mosques - each respecting the others tradition yet each determined to maintain their own identity.

Finally there are the kilometers of bland anonymous-looking high rise flats, typical in its own way of suburbia that surrounds any of the great cities of the world. Yet even here in this apparent anonymity, people crave recognition. Many of the porches from which hangs so much washing are painted in vivid colours; some in single colours, others using quite complex designs. So everywhere you look over the eons of time humankind has always wanted to leave a mark - a plaintive cry, "remember me!"

All of which makes Cairo airport like so many airports around the globe such a depressing place - a synthesis of global mono-culture. Where Coke, Cappuccino, Pizza, Pasta and French fries dominate the menus. A sanitized, stainless steel and plastic society. One that subjugates individuality. Where now is the confidence in our own cultures; our own traditions; our creative addition to our world?

Is it no wonder therefore that despite being better educated, having more opportunity than any previous generation, so many in our society reject what is on offer and seek to disfigure and disrupt.

In Jersey where I live we don't appear to be able to trust our own people to even deliver such key projects as a design for our waterfront. We like so many cultures today are frightened of being different - taking a chance; in turn our own society becomes indifferent.

Rather than being indifferent to our own cultures we must get back to celebrating them. Celebrating the creativity of each and every individual from whichever culture that goes to make the human race such an extraordinary force.

Long live Fishawi's and those who strive to be different.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Decaffeinated coffee pod problems

Whilst coffee pods are great in low volume sites and in particular for fresh ground decaffeinated coffee, they can be challenging to use when trying to make great coffee. Because the coffee is held in by paper a significant barrier is created for the water.

In fact the barrier is so significant that if you haven't got the right insert in your group handle the water will go around the pod rather than through it. We've had a couple of experiences of this lately and the immediate reaction is either the machine isn't functioning properly or the pods are no good. Both of these reactions proved to be incorrect.

Pods need to be held up tight to the group head to ensure that all the water is forced to go through the pod. This is achieved by having the correctly shaped insert in your group handle. The problem in the commercial market is that what works in one machine will not necessarily work in another. On the whole a flattened insert works in most machines, however it will be a case of trial and error. If you're using double pods, the depth of the double insert will be critical and once again there are different depths available.

If you're having to compromise, one little trick I've found helps is to slightly dampen the insert prior to inserting the pod. This causes the paper to stick slightly to the insert and thus makes it more difficult for the pressurised water to push the pod out of the way.

Don't despair pods are a good idea in the right environment and for the right reasons; it's well worth spending some time and effort selecting the correct inserts to deliver great coffee.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pairing coffee with food

Just had a really interesting tasting at Longueville Manor for an article we're doing with Eat magazine. Usually tastings are all about the coffee which is not unreasonable, however also in attendance on this occasion was Martin Flageul of Victor Hugo wines. The interviewer wanted to hear his comments on the taste and then make suggestions as to which desert to pair it with. The following observations were made:

Monsooned Malabar from southern India - This coffee is lightly roasted and thus has a very delicate flavour. It is notably smooth which is the result of the process that takes place at origin where the beans are slightly dessicated prior to bagging into 50 kilo sacks. Martin concluded that this would go well with Madeira cake or light biscuit something that won't overwhelm the taste buds.

Old Brown Java from Indonesia - This coffee is darker roasted creating a darker aroma, yet still achieving real smoothness in the cup. The taste is much more lingering than the Malabar coffee. Martin suggested dried fruits to go with this coffee - Dried Apricots was his suggestion, personally I think fresh fig would also be quite interesting.

Costa Rica Tarrazu - A medium roasted classic central American washed Arabica coffee. Right now this coffee is superbly aromatic and is a favourite with us at Cooper's. The caramel notes really come through in the coffee. For Martin this coffee was the classic coffee to have with a croissant or light puff pastry. Truly glugable!

Ethiopian Harrar - This again is medium roasted however is noted for its fruitiness. Martin immediately picked up on this coffee's complexity, it plays havoc with your taste buds due to the sun dried process that takes place at origin which locks in the fruit of the outer skin. After some deliberation this turned out to be Martin's favourite coffee which probably reflects a sophisticated palate which has tasted more than its fair share of blandness over the years. Martin's pairing suggestion was dark chocolate. The fruit and chocolate flavours complimenting each other.

This was a really interesting session and once again we end up with coffee being spoken about in the same terms as wine. Coffee has a lot of catching up to do in educational terms though.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Barista Coffee training course at Highlands

At last it's about to happen the first Barista training course at Highlands college will take place on the last Monday in June.
If Starbucks, Costa, Coffe Republic etc all have their own internal training progammes isn't it time that you made sure that you were up to date with the latest coffee making techniques.
The market is moving on so fast right now that a fundamental understanding of making great espresso based drinks is vital.
Can you afford to miss this course?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Paranoid about great coffee!

Ever since I've been back from the Atlanta SCAA coffee show where I made coffee alongside the finest Baristas in the world I've concluded that this whole coffee business can drive you totally nuts!
There are so many variables in delivering the ultimate cup of coffee, no wonder so many places sell truly average drinks; yet if they're buying from us we're talking about some of the finest coffee on the market.
Water quality, machinery set up, cleanliness, the right equipment, even the weather! the list seems endless - the answer I guess is to simply educate as best you can which is why I'm putting a lot of effort into the design of the latest and first Barista coffee course at Highlands college.
I figure that if you can frighten enough people into the knowledge of what can go wrong you might actually end up raising everyone's standard. A bit of reverse psychology!
One day we'll deliver the coffee that all those people who sweat blood put into this product truly deserve.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Are you doing Good Deeds in your community?

Global warming, pandemics, third world poverty – issues of such magnitude that it’s no wonder an immediate reaction might be to pull the duvet up over our collective heads and let some much larger body such as Government grapple with the apparently untenable.

The coffee industry in which I work is a bit like that. The 2nd biggest traded commodity in the world after oil employs millions of people yet the distribution of wealth within the industry is hugely disproportionate to the physical effort expended. How then is it possible for a small business like mine to ever hope to materially change anything? The Fairtrade foundation alongside charities like Oxfam have both endeavoured to educate we the consumer whilst at the same time redistributing some of the wealth; big organisations dealing with big issues.

As a consumer though I’ve always felt that it’s a bit like being at Church and putting money in the collection plate; my conscience has been assuaged, and now I leave it to a large organisation to do good on my behalf whilst I get on with my life. Good deed by proxy.

I hadn’t really thought about the subject too hard until earlier this year when I visited Colombia with some fellow coffee professionals. Colombia is an amazing country and grows some of the finest coffee in the world. Most of the farms are small holdings and due to the steepness of the slopes on which the coffee is grown every kilo of beans is picked by hand. It’s a huge logistical effort for which the pay in western terms is paltry.

As we toured the country I found myself increasingly questioning how we value things. “How much Gold for a Rain Forest? How many Diamonds for the gnarled hands gained in a lifetime spent in coffee? and so on. Everything seems inevitably to be reduced to its monetary unit whilst our own humanity is neglected like so much loose change. One coffee farmer made us all reflect on this point. Living in a very humble farmhouse in a picture postcard setting he came out with the line, “I’m not just selling coffee, I’m selling life!”. It may sound a little corny as you read this article, but this simple line stopped us all in our tracks. Here was someone living a very uncomplicated life with all that he needed to survive around him telling us from our cosseted western perspective that it doesn’t actually get much better than this. At that moment I had to agree with him, surrounded as he was by his family.
I now move the clock forward to Atlanta, Georgia this April and the largest gathering of coffee professionals in the world – they called it “the event” – Americans never underestimating the power of hyperbole! For anyone in the coffee business though this annual event is truly inspiring.

The keynote speech is always highly anticipated and for the first time in at least a decade a true coffee insider took the stage; a man by the name of Ted Lingle, a legend in the speciality coffee industry and said by many to have been the reason behind why people talk about coffee like wine today.

His speech was a very personal one as he talked about what drove him on in the early days when faced with the huge hurdles put in place by much larger organisations not willing to change; not willing to be inclusive, but wanting to be exclusive ensuring that their slice of the economic cake continued to grow at the expense of others; blind to the fact that what they were doing was totally unsustainable.

What he found was that he started asking himself some very fundamental questions such as “why am I here?”, “what is my purpose?”, and that ultimately we can’t live our life by proxy. As he said “talk is cheap, but deeds are precious”

He took a long hard look at his own core values – what standards he found acceptable; the importance of educating people and finally what he believed was acceptable ethically. By looking deep inside himself he found the strength to combat what on the face of it were insurmountable odds.

He concluded his speech with a story about “good deeds”. How when being called to meet his maker this individual was asked if he would like to bring anyone with them to say goodbye; he asked Fame, but fame declined; he asked Fortune, but fortune too declined; he asked his friends, but they too declined; finally he asked Good deeds, and good deeds said yes. The moral of the story, that the only thing any of us will ever be remembered for is our “good deeds” all else is superfluous.

In conclusion what my journeys have shown me is that it is so easy to pull up that duvet and let someone else act on our behalf; to value that which doesn’t matter. Jersey I believe finds herself at that point right now. How do we hold on to our heritage in the face of unprecedented change? How do we hold on to community when the experiences of young and old are so different? More importantly how do we hold on to our humanity?

What is vital though is that we one and all engage with each other – it’s those “good deeds” for which we’ll all be remembered both in our community and in our world. That’s worth getting out of bed for!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Milk handling and wastage

A combination of the SCAA exposition training sessions in Atlanta and a training session yesterday with a customer has really highlighted the importance of proper milk handling procedures.

Careful use of appropriately sized pitchers will make a huge difference to the quality of your cappuccinos and lattes as well as cutting down levels of milk wastage.

From my experience most food service outlets tend to encourage larger than necessary pitchers and here I'm talking about pitchers of 1 litre or larger. I reckon that the largest pitcher necessary is 1 litre and in fact there should be an increasing focus on using 0.6 litre pitchers or smaller with a real sensitivity as to exactly how much milk is needed to make just one cup of coffee.

Reheating milk or re-charging milk does not deliver consistent quality as the milk flavour will change dramatically from coffee to coffee. Best every time to start with fresh milk.

The message review the pitcher sizes you use.