The Inaugural Coffeegeek Lab Tasting

Last weekend, a sizable group of coffeegeeks gathered in chief coffeegeek Mark Prince’s newly created lab space. Mark, not willing to pull a week long caffeine permahigh invited the locals over. Our mission was to taste a number of coffees from some of North America’s premiere roasters.

The Coffeegeek Lab is incredibly well stocked. The entire gamut of consumer espresso machines is represented all along one wall. Another nook has nearly all of the Hario products ever produced, which for a glassware addict like myself is very cool to see. The lab centerpiece is one of the most coveted piece of espresso technology out there – the La Marzocco GS3. However, espresso was not why we were all standing around with our cups. A couple of 1.5 L french presses were brought out and the coffees shown to the group. Offerings of the day were varied, with coffees from Phil and Sebastian Coffee Roasters (Calgary, AB), DOMA Coffee Roasters (Coeur d’Alene, ID), PT’s Coffee (Topeka, KS) and Counter Culture Coffee (Durham, NC).

Before I ramble further, here are my thoughts on the five coffees we ended up tasting.
Brewing

  1. Phil & Sebastian Kenya Kiru Co-op. First up was an auction lot coffee from my old pals (and employers). The cup showed a bright, clean acidity with what a lot of people realized was an aroma similar to tomato. Tasting it, the tomato was still there! One fellow taster likened it to a really well made fresh tomato soup. I picked up on a pleasant bitterness that was just like Angostura bitters (famous Trinidadian cocktail bitters used in drinks like the Old Fashioned). P&S were starting us off well. Of note, this coffee performed best at 100 grams of ground coffee as opposed to 90 grams for the 1.5 liter brew volume.
  2. PT’s Panama Elida Estate. The Elida Estate offering was a naturally processed coffee, where the coffee cherries are essentially left to ferment on their own. A risky move, but if the farmer’s gamble is successful, the results are a very rewarding flavor profile. This did not disappoint. Huge fruit in the cup, mostly blueberries. That profile is probably familiar to fans of the celebrated lots of coffee that were coming out of Ethiopia, notably Beloya coffees. I haven’t had such a fruity cup in awhile and this was my favorite of the five (but, as I was told at the event, I do have a bias towards this flavor profile.)
  3. DOMA Costa Rica. No information on the bag on this one, but visiting DOMA’s website elicited a bit more information. It’s a classically profiled Costa Rican coffee sourced from the Helsar de Zarcero micromill. Lots of milk chocolate and a good level of acidity to create a very balanced cup. Hard to follow the last fruit bomb of a cup. I was however the recipient of the rest of the bag thanks to knowing where DOMA roasts in Idaho. This past week I’ve finished off the bag and it’s a really enjoyable everyday coffee.
  4. Counter Culture El Salvador Aida’s Grand Reserve. I was very excited to try this coffee for a second time. Aida Batlle is a fantastic coffee farmer. She produces some of the best coffees available from Central America and has developed relationships with some of the best coffee professionals in the world, notably Counter Culture and Square Mile out of London. Sweet citrus and stone fruit notes dominate. This coffee is obviously very special. Notably, this is an all peaberry lot. Peaberries are anomalous, rounded beans where only one bean forms instead of the normal two. The extra attention given to selecting peaberries results in phenomenal quality in the cup. The fact this one is from Aida’s farms makes it extraordinary.
  5. Counter Culture Panama Esmeralda Especiale. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling this coffee before and it is often name dropped as the “best coffee in the world”. Though I tend towards natural process coffees for my favorites, there is something about the coffees from Hacienda La Esmeralda. Often, this coffee comes across more like a tea. The cup is exceptionally clean for a french press. Aromas are very much floral with jasmine and a meyer lemon acidity. The florals increased through cooling. Drinking an Esmeralda is something all coffee lovers should get a chance to do, though it will probably set you back $8 for a small cup at a reputable cafe.

 

Pouring a Cup

Chris, from cleanhotdry.com, doles out the good stuff.

 

This tasting was a phenomenal opportunity for all levels of coffee consumers and professionals to drink some of the best offerings from some of the best roasters on the continent and I would like to thank Mark for organizing it on such short order. Thanks as well to Beata, Leo and Chris (and anyone else who was cleaning up if I missed you!) for doing a lot of the behind the scenes work.

The Coffeegeek Lab will be the host of more events like these in the future. Keep an eye on Coffeegeek and the Coffeegeek Facebook page for information on future tastings and the imminent unveiling of Mark’s consumer courses to be offered in the lab.

Relaunch

I’m serious this time.

Though I’ve been out of the coffee industry for over a year, it is time to relaunch Pulling Shots. The number of shots that I’ve pulled in the past 15 months can be counted on one hand. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve only pulled two shots since I last worked the bar at Phil & Sebastian during the summer of 2008. Those two shots were both made on the same day on Mark Prince’s La Marzocco GS3.

My role in the coffee world now is completely different. I’m not your neighborhood’s mostly friendly, sometimes surly coffee jockey. Now I’m the quiet guy who comes into your cafe and orders a cappuccino, an espresso or perhaps one of the by-the-cup offerings you have on your fresh sheet. I’ll sit down and enjoy that drink, bring my cup back to the counter and move on.

The reason for my departure from blogging is that in being that customer, I thought I had nothing to say. I had fleshed out my positions on many things over the 5 years that this blog has existed. Taking a spin through my oldest posts, I realize how immature at times the content of my writing was (give it a try, it’s amusing if not embarrassing!). I was a pretentious kid trying to make sense of the coffee world. My blog was a soundboard for thoughts I had as to where the coffee industry in my two cities should have headed. Over the past few years, I think we’ve made it to the point where a lot of my concerns have disappeared. Cafes, roasters and baristas are for the large part starting to do the things everyone wanted to see happening back when a multitude of coffee blogs were active. Since then, blog activity has slowly decreased as have the major coffee forums.

However, I would like to start posting again actively. I still drink coffee a number of times daily and still maintain connections with a network of coffee industry folk, many of whom I consider good friends. This blog’s voice will strive to be one of a customer. I have a few posts planned for the next bit, the first of which will be a summary of today’s inaugural Coffeegeek Lab group tasting. I hope to get some more posts up on the cafes in town that are worth checking out. In addition, I hope to get my fledgling food blog up and going again since I wrote a couple of posts for it back in May. I’m a regular on the Western Canada boards at Chowhound and I hope to post reviews and recommendations on my blog where I can be a little more verbose than on Chow.

Here’s to a new era of coffee blogging!

Chemex

Controversy is brewing (hehe) over at coffeed as to the merit (or lack thereof) of the Chemex, a manual drip brewer enjoyed by many coffee lovers the world over. The discussion was sparked by Scott Rao, author of the Professional Barista’s Handbook, an in depth look at a lot of the science and ideas behind current coffee practices. His post of coffeed is entitled “Chemex: why you should hate it”. Harsh right?

Well, some good points were made and decent rebuttals were also written by bright lights in the industry like Counter Culture Coffee’s Peter Giuliano. As a daily drinker of Chemex coffee that I make at home, I was a little taken aback by the apparent discrediting of one of my favorite preparation methods. I think however, I can see through some of the politics in the posts and see that this is another discussion on taste. Some people are looking for a big bodied flavourful cup of coffee. Others enjoy a cup that is more subtle and aromatic, but lacks the body of say, a french press.

Klaus Thomsen writes:

…I’d have to say (and I am not trying to stir things up here guys and gals!) that I often found that Americans tend to be more focused on body in filter coffee whereas I find that Northern Europeans tend to focus more on the aromas. I don’t drink my Chemex coffee because I want body – quite the opposite. I like the clarity of the cup as a contrast to my usual french press…

I am inclined to agree. Maybe I just happen to get it right when I brew.

Do you guys like Chemex/pourover coffee?

Reintroductions

Well, it’s been well over a year since I’ve posted anything in this blog. I still sign posts around the internet with this address… so I thought maybe I should get around to making a post.

As some of you may know, I no longer am working in the coffee industry on a regular basis. My last stint as a barista was this past summer in Calgary where I almost exclusively steamed milk at Phil & Sebastian Coffee at the Calgary Farmers Market. Good times were had at P&S. The staff there have such dedication and passion for coffee. I wouldn’t hesitate to say there are very few places like it in North America, if not the entire world.

Anyways.

I am finishing up my Bachelor of Science degree at the University of British Columbia. I have approximately 2 months left to finish off a few courses and my thesis. Most of my time these days is spent deforming rocks and trying to measure the permeability of the faults I create by deforming them. Yes, it is actually exciting, and yes, now I know all kinds of things about percolation networks and fluid flow through interconnected porosity. How does that have anything to do with coffee? Well, indirectly, percolation theory can help explain the distribution of water through a puck of coffee loaded in your portafilter. I’ve yet to really explore that side of the science of coffee, but it will definitely be something to consider.

Possibly the most interesting development in the past year is that I am now a homebrewer. My roommate Dave and old Pearson friend Alex are partners in this venture and we have proven ourselves to be competent brewmasters. Our best batch so far has been a variant on local microbrewer Storm’s Hurricane IPA. It was a superb example of a west coast IPA, with lots of hops (dry hopped too!), but a pleasant balance that seems to be missing in a lot of commercial examples. Tonight involved the bottling of our newest beer, Paul’s Porter. Named for hockey great Paul Coffey, it’s a strong coffee porter. Once it has been fully bottle conditioned, we are expecting a 6.5% robust porter with a backdrop of  coffee (we used a 6 cup mokha pot of local roaster Ethical Bean’s Ethiopia coffee that Dave happened to have on hand). It’s tasting decent already, and that’s warm and without any carbonation. Looks like a porter too, the beer is black and opaque.

My current coffee situation involves me buying retail coffee for the first time in probably 5 years. My regular roasters are 49th Parallel and Intelligentsia. 49th has proven to be a consistent, excellent roaster. My regular bean from them is their Caffe Artigiano Yergacheffe since the Kerrisdale Artigiano is less than a minute walk from my apartment. It’s always fresh and is a very balanced, quality Yerg best made in my Chemex. When I’m looking for a treat though, I head down to Elysian Coffee at Ash and Broadway where they usually have some tasty offerings from 49th, like today’s Clover of Beloya. For those of you that have not experienced the latest issue of this wonderfully crisp, berry-laden natural Ethiopian coffee, I recommend you visit the folks at Elysian (or 49th in Kits for that matter). The people watching from the bar there is great too.

Seattle

Going down to Seattle for a couple of days to check out the scene there. I’ve only spent a few hours in Seattle before on a bus-airplane layover on my way to San Francisco. I plan to hit up the new Stumptown locations, my old faves Victrola and Vivace, hopefully Trabant and whatever else I might stumble upon. Sakae and I are planning on walking everywhere (well, within downtown, Pioneer Square area and Capitol Hill), so it should be interesting.  Lunch on Friday is going to be at Salumi (yay!!).Hope to pick up some good bottled beer too.I know this is last minute, but any suggestions out there for a good bottled beer store around downtown/Capitol Hill or anywhere else within a couple miles from Pike Place? I want to get to Bottleworks, but I think it might be too far for me to get out to.  

Still Alive and Kicking

At this point, my readership probably only consists of feed readers and random link clickers… but that’s okay. I’m actually surprised that I’ve had decent traffic levels without posting.

But no longer!

I have recently finished the fall semester of classes in my third year of geology at UBC and am now approaching a busy schedule of exams in various fields such as Geochemical Thermodynamics and Ore Minerals Processes.

I still work at Wicked for those curious (until the summer, when I will again return to Calgary for a geology position). For the most part I am there Saturday and Sunday mornings and early afternoon, keeping the hordes caffeinated. We’re busier than ever, so I can’t promise a chat, but the drinks will make up for it!

I’ll try to post more. I promise. In the meantime, stay caffeinated.

Absurd Latte Art

James Hoffman, reigning World Barista Championship, has started an absurd latte art “competition” with which many people have submitted interesting pictures of rosettas and tulips being poured in, well, ears, mouths, guitars and tomatoes among others.I decided I would enter the fray by being ironic. Why not pour latte art into a pitcher you pour latte art with?Apologies to anyone who has done this already, and well, sorry if it’s a bit lame, but the idea came to me while between rushes at Wicked today…This is a 12 oz. pitcher. Pitcher latte art.


On tap

49th Parallel El Salvador La Montaña
Excellent coffee for everyday drinking. Well expressed acidity and classic El Salvador profile.

Bulleit Bourbon
By far the best bourbon available in BC for the price. $35 for a bottle gets you the highest rye content bourbon on the market. Lots of spice and typical bourbon corn sweetness. Excellent on its own, but also makes a mean Old Fashioned. Better than Knob Creek in my books and pretty close to Woodford Reserve.

The Phonograph

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