Friday, December 24, 2010

Micro Lots and The Perils of Buying Local

An article from the Economist has got me thinking about the price we pay for coffee and other produce.  I've read much spilled ink on the subject of sustainable coffee, but reading the Economist's report on the sorrows of undocumented farm workers provoked some new thinking on coffee and food in general.

1.  Indie coffee businesses have fallen in love with the micro lot.  Myself included, we are proud of knowing what hillside our coffee comes from, and the name of the farmer who cultivated it.  The problem is that most coffee farmers, even many of those attempting to grow specialty coffee, never get the chance to produce a micro lot.  Instead, they must work with large companies or sell to traders on the C market.  

Although micro lot coffee remains a tiny percentage of the overall coffee market, I see opportunities for disproportionate impact amongst the world's coffee farmers.  With an up-market piece of the pie, I'm hopeful that we will leverage our passion for better coffee to try new and innovative sustainability solutions that larger companies can learn from.  

What if we expanded our coffee quest to previously commoditized producing regions? What if we tried, documented and reported on our experiences so that others could learn from us?  What new ideas and new best practices are already out there that we can learn about and try in a new place?  Daniel Humphrey's work with the USDA on field quality in Puerto Rico and the Global Coffee Quality Research Institute's study of cup quality in Rwanda are both outstanding examples of what we could contribute to coffee farmers everywhere.

2. We've done a good job educating consumers on the importance of green and fair growing practices at origin.  The story of the Vegas family in the Economist, however, reminds me that the food industry as a whole has brushed the social costs of cheap food under the rug.  Why can't the "fair" branding successfully applied to coffee over the last two decades be applied to other food products too?  

Although we're starting to see progress with chocolate, organics, and locally-grown produce, there's a long way to go.  Organic or not, most produce in America is still harvested by undocumented migrants who work hard for wages that are higher than they could earn elsewhere, but lower than most of us would take.  Meanwhile, most tropically-grown commodities remain just that, commodities whose cultivation is often rife with the worst sort of labor abuses.

Recognizing the true costs of the current system doesn't make solutions apparent.  Forcibly returning millions of undocumented workers, if it could be done, would simply push millions of families back to lives of even less opportunity in their home countries.  And it's far from clear if consumers would respond to a more aggressive fair-trade strategy aimed at raising prices on everything from bananas to sugar.

I've touted buying local as a constructive and prophetic alternative to the status quo.  But even local isn't guilt-free by itself.  If everyone in the country bought from the farm next door, farmers in places like Oaxaca would be even less able to afford essential health care or education for their children, let alone dreams of a future in a place with more opportunities.  Put another way, purchasing a Washington carrot keeps money out of the hands of farmers in developing countries that depend on that agricultural income from our food system.

None of this means local farms and sustainable growing practices aren't an excellent solution.  I'm more aware of the true costs of my food, though, and I'm wondering if my support for local and sustainable agriculture needs to be supplemented by an outpouring of compassion and creative thinking on behalf of those who would lose their jobs if my dreams become reality.  

We've already seen a good example of constructive work on the challenges that come with improving quality in our own industry as we've committed ourselves to sustaining the farmers whose produce we value.  Although we as an industry wouldn't be directly involved, I can't help but wonder what a similar commitment would look like in bananas, chocolate or spinach.

All in all, a commitment to local food seems to be a more serious thing than I thought, and I'm driven to my knees for those trying their best to thrive within a warped food system.  Uncomfortable thoughts, indeed, but appropriate for Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Introducing: The K165 Siphon Filter!

Almost as soon as Alex Negranza posted his Coffee Catcher siphon hack, we were asked when we'd be producing a filter for the 3 cup vac pot.  

The answer is now!

In order to fit a variety of siphon diameters, we decided to develop a filter fitted to the glass throat of the brewing chamber, which is the same size in most siphons.  We asked some vac pot geeks to help us pick an ideal mesh size, and they settled on our K165 mesh because of it allowed oils through easily while still offering a clean cup.  

The K165 is single-layered so coffee flows easily through the filter during draw-down.  The filter is folded tightly and stitched with non-tarnish Argentium silver around the frame.  As a final step, we crimped the edges of the mesh to ensure a perfect seal against the glass lip of the siphon.  It's worth noting this mesh is even finer than our Coffee Catcher mesh, so it offers an even cleaner cup than the Coffee Catcher siphon mod.
It's a clean seal!

One product tester summed up his experience this way: 

"The filters are excellent, the 165 in particular.  We used Ecco's Yirg, which popped even though it's a week post roast.  I liked it at 17 grams, ground to 18 on a Virtuoso, heat off at 0:45, temperature 91-92 C, simple quick stir at beginning and end. ... We loved how crystal clean the 165 was. Oils were gloriously there, but there was also flavor clarity.  A tiny amount of fines would make it through but when pouring we'd just leave them in the bottom globe."

We're excited to let this one out into the wild so all you geeks can start to experiment!  Check it out over at Kaffeologie.  If you're a blogger, drop us a note if you'd like to review one.

Happy brewing!  And thanks to all you folks who kept asking us to develop this.  It was a blast... :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perfumery Radar & Coffee

The economist reports on Portuguese research aiming to reliably classify perfumes into families based on detailed analysis of scent chemicals.  Known as Perfumery Radar, the process establishes a detailed correlation plot between thousands of scent components and traditional quality descriptors like "citrus" or "chypre."

Here's a diagram of some of the results.  Does it look familiar?

The researchers don't mention coffee, but it seems like it would be easy to extend their gas chromatography process to develop automated versions of coffee flavor plots.

I see possible applications for this tool in the ongoing professional development of Q graders and perhaps expansion and further standardization of Q vocabulary.  A standardized coffee radar plot would also be a useful in correlating processing methods and genotype to particular flavor profiles.

What would you do with coffee radar?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Next Thursday - Seattle Coffee Society

Thanks Daniel Humphrey for addressing the gripes constructively.  This is a great idea.

Inaugural session dedicated to: why are certain coffee countries "trendy" - or not?

The original post at Daniel's blog here.  Time and date TBD.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coffee Catcher Siphon Mod

Kaffeologie's new siphon mod is out.

Credit for this discovery goes to to creative barista Alex (Barista_Alex).  I can do no better than to post to his awesome blog post on the subject, including killer pix.

Monday, November 29, 2010

K250: Now for AeroPress

Update: we're releasing our K250 mesh for AeroPress today.  Check it out here.

To sum up: no paper taste, easier on the elbow, and reuseable!

First Look: Kaffeologie K250 Mesh

Say hello to Kaffeologie's K250 mesh line for various pour over devices, and chemex.  Samples are being farmed out to reviewers and coffee geeks, and early results have been pretty positive.

So what's in the box?

The filter itself is a 304 stainless steel woven mesh meeting ASTM 2016-06, which is a set of standards dealing with filtration consistency.  The mesh contains 250 threads of .0016" wire per linear inch, and has an open area of 36%.  In other words, 64% of the mesh area is impermeable.   The mesh is doubled during assembly, yielding a net open area of approximately 13% (36% x 36%) and substantially slowing flow-through compared to a single layer.

Unfortunately, because materials differ there is no clear comparison between this open area and equivalent statistics for classic paper or cloth filters.  Any help in developing a common open area comparison for these other materials would be much appreciated!

With ingenuity, the doubled mesh can be adjusted to any pour over shape.  Cut seams are folded over to prevent leaks and stitched with either Argentium sterling silver or pure titanium thread.  A thicker piece of Argentium wire encircles the lip of the filter to maintain shape.

The filters can be cleaned by rinsing upside down and then soaking with puro-caf.  An early tester learned that turning the filter inside-out and scrubbing the seam (ala cloth filters) puts too much strain on the mesh and yields tiny tears.

We're still coming up with the don't-kill-yourself list of things not to do with your filter.  The only one I can think of currently is: This filter contains hot fluids during use.  Don't pick it up and burn yourself!

Finally, here's the first video of the filter in action.  More videos will appear in due time on the site.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coffee Question of the Month

Here is a question that keeps bugging me.  I can't come up with a satisfying answer for what I'm tasting.

What is going on with this double catcher extraction? Separating the bed from the brew for 3/4 of the  brew cycle seems like madness.  Yet the coffee tastes better.  Brighter, crisper, with a distinctive silky body.  Is the catcher somehow dispersing the bed evenly as it is pulled at the 3rd minute?  This was previously suggested to me, but I'm not sure that dispersion at 3 minutes is a sufficient explanation.  For one thing, a significant part of the bed doesn't disperse, but stays happily atop the bottom Coffee Catcher.

Is it something to do with the final pull of the bed through the mixture at 4 minutes?  That seems a bit late.

I don't have a good explanation.  And I certainly can't account for two tantalizing clues: First, after pulling the first Catcher, the foam at the top of the press looks white, not coffee-colored.  Second, the bed consistently reeks delicious floral / perfumey aromas AFTER the brew.  If you don't think this is weird, sniff a bed from traditionally-brewed French press coffee.  

For those who missed out, here are a few videos: the original guide, plus a clip of the extraction in progress and an extended tasting.

Auto-Agitation for your French Press?

John ran into the Stir Brew device at a Chipotle on the east coast.

I may be un-tutored, but it looks like a patented auto-stir dealie for a beaker of coffee.

Anyone know anything else?

I guess it saves on spoon-wielding or press-shaking.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First Thoughts: James Hoffman on Cupping, Nick Cho on Clever

First thoughts on two very interesting, and much-linked new pieces this week.

The first, by James Hoffman, details his attempt to replicate the cupping experience in a French press.  He fined up the grind and deliberately allowed the coffee to sit with the grounds in the press for 10 (!!) minutes prior to serving.  Result: high marks at the cupping table and via ExtractMojo.  Hoffman concludes by suggesting we may routinely under-extract our presses.

As usual, James gets points for taking the bull by the horns.  Why do cupping coffees still taste decent after 30 minutes, while French press coffee often tastes rancid?  Some commenters observed that the cylindrical design of the press (low surface area) leads to poor immersion of grounds.

My take: agitation (or lack thereof) is a critical differentiator between real-world french press consumption and the cupping room.  Fines can precipitate out of a still mixture whose surface is occasionally disturbed by a cupping spoon, but mixing the coffee as it is decanted and then lifting, swirling and sipping the cup continually re-involves the grounds in the brew process, pushing the brew toward over-extraction as it ages.  Tastier real-world French presses need to calibrate for quite a bit of agitation over the life cycle of the cup, which might mean a coarser grind than ideal.

The second piece, by Nick Cho, is an experimental video showing a pour over experiment in a Clever dripper using both a SwissGold filter and a standard paper filter.  The idea is to trap coarser grounds in the SwissGold, which can be lifted out of the brew prior to drainage.  Draining is then quicker, which allows Cho to increase immersion times without falling off the edge into over-extraction.

My take: Fascinating idea.  Kaffeologie is working on a Clever filter to go with our new pour over items, and I'll be trying Nick's suggestion with our prototype.  At first glance, the idea seems to increase the similarity of the Clever to full-immersion systems like the French press.  It would be interesting to deliberately map out a new world of pour over - press hybrids.  Way to think outside the box!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Five Tips for Better Drip Coffee

With the possible exception of the ubiquitous press, most of the brewing methods I see and use on a daily basis would be exotic to most coffee drinkers in the United States.  I've never written about the humble and much-maligned drip percolator -- until now!

If you are an occasional gourmet coffee drinker who relies on a Mr. Coffee, this post is for you.

1. Clean your coffee pot and percolator.  Daily!  Especially with the auto-heat function most coffee makers use, a thin film of coffee solids will develop on the bottom of your carafe.  The plastic tray that you place your filter in will also develop a layer of grime (coffee makers are usually made of a dark colored plastic to hide this nasty stuff and keep your percolator looking nicer than it is).  Grime in the percolator or the pot can do nothing good for your brew.  Remember there's no such thing as a "seasoned" coffee maker, and battle the stuff daily.  A wipe down with a paper towel and a hot water rinse does wonders for a percolator tray.  Use dish soap and hot water in the coffee pot.

2. Grind your coffee fresh, even if that means getting a cheap blade grinder.  If you use a grinder, keep it clean too.  One rule of thumb is to wipe down the grinder every time you change your coffee bag.

3. Know your coffee maker's brew cycle, and pour that pot as soon as it's finished.  Coffee ages most gracefully as it cools, and coffee on a hot plate gets stale quickly.

4. Rinse your paper filter under hot water before placing it in the tray and adding coffee.  A gentle but thorough rinse will get rid of much of the papery taste in the filter without damaging the paper itself.

5. Buy fresh, whole bean coffee weekly.  Look for a roast date on the package within the last week, and keep in mind that the coffee will unpredictably go stale somewhere around 14 days after roasting.

These best practices will help, but to be honest, most coffee makers have one fatal flaw that will consistently cause acrid flavors in your coffee: (relatively) cold water.  Coffee fully extracts at temperatures above 190 degrees Fahrenheit, and most coffee makers use water far below this temperature.  The combination of cold water with relatively long brew times produces a burnt, coffee-forward flavor that misses the subtleties in many great coffees.

The four steps above address other problems, but I'm afraid the only way to address the temperature issue is to fork over $300 for a hand-made Dutch Technivorm drip coffee maker. :(

Of course, if you get gourmet enough to buy a Technivorm, why not save cash and use a French press instead?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Up Dosing in the Siphon

Friday's puzzler for you caffeine geeks: why does a vac pot seem to require consistent up dosing to brew a good cup?  I tried SCAA cupping standard ratios, and the brew tasted acrid and over-brewed.  Upping the dose to 11.5g per 150ml (40% up dose) produced much more satisfactory results.


My own two cents: The bottom-up agitation combined with top dumping of the coffee means the coffee is particularly hard to mix into the water consistently throughout the relatively short brew cycle.  If it takes 20-30 sec to wet all the coffee, that's 25% of the brew cycle.  A higher dose may be a shortcut to better brewing ratios from the start.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The B.S. Gap in Coffee

The specialty coffee world is well stocked with coffee nerds -- including me.  Unfortunately, precious few of us seem to have majored in the hard sciences at school (this also includes me), and the result is a startling dearth of scientific knowledge amongst coffee's best and brightest.

This doesn't stop us yakking.  In fact, an amusingly high percentage of coffee professionals seem to have permanently locked lips with the Blarney Stone.  Though the last burst of hard research on coffee was in the 80's, we suggest scientific reasons for much of what we do (or don't do).  I hear science invoked in vac pot discussions, pour over disputes, and espresso machine showdowns.  On this blog, I do my part with my ongoing speculations on the French press and the Coffee Catcher. 

So is it bad that we propose seemingly reasonable theories without the hard research to back them up?  I don't think so.  I love the creative dialog that emerges from asking questions and suggesting possible answers.  I think the give-and-take itself helps us to weed out crackpot theories and identify the good ones.  I think we depend on our palates to move the process forward where we can't explain the science coherently yet.

All this talk is much better than nothing, but there's a limit to how much we'll learn without some new coffee chemistry research.  In 30 years of innovation, I think we've accumulated a gigantic scientific deficit of questions, and I think it's costing us a thorough understanding of what we do right now, and how we could improve coffee in the future.

Don't get me wrong, I love shooting the breeze with my coffee buddies, but at the end of the day, I want some answers. I want to understand more about how different brewing and processing methods affect what's in my cup.  This isn't rocket science.  The answers are out there, yet I can't find anyone who is working on finding them!

So here's a challenge: let's get some of the BS out of coffee -- by bringing in a few B.S. degrees.

Credit for inspiring this post goes to Andrew Daday of Stumptown Coffee.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Double Catcher: Brewing by Vacuum Dispersion?

Credit for this post goes to Kyle Watson, better known as Mr. Crampy to biking enthusiasts around Redmond.  Over a steaming cup of double-Catcher Koke this morning, Mr. Crampy drew on his physics background to explain how the double Coffee Catcher brewing works.

Pulling the first Coffee Catcher creates a vacuum beneath the rising Coffee Catcher. The vacuum isn't perfect of course, but Mr. Crampy thinks it's sufficient to generate an efficient dispersion effect, completely mixing the coffee and grounds to produce a very even extraction. He suggests this even extraction is the reason for the coffee's particularly clean taste.

This is by far the most reasonable explanation I've heard for the phenomenon. While convinced this method tastes great, I'd been stumped as to how extraction worked properly with the coffee locked away for 3/4 of the brew time. Perhaps the agitation and negative pressure Mr. Crampy alludes to accelerates the brew during the final minute.

Here's a movie of the process. Other double Catcher videos over here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tasting Six Presses

I wanted to brew six different presses this week, and taste them blind and side-by-side. In the event, I attempted to brew five and failed miserably.  The six methods I wanted to investigate will be familiar to regular readers of the blog:
The idea was to set up a double-blind tasting, in which both I (the brewer) and my tasting colleagues would not know which cupping bowl contained which coffee.  I even brought multiple coffees and dreamed of repeating the experiment to evaluate the results from multiple origins.

We brewed at Street Bean Espresso, which is a fine tasting venue and which I frequent for it's Trapicitos French Press.  I learned a great deal about how to conduct a future experiment properly, and I think we all had fun, but I did not discover much about the differences between these press variants.

A few reflections:
  1. An experiment involving 5-6 simultaneous presses needs 3 baristas in order to avoid over-brewing several presses.  More on that below.
  2. Voting for coffees can be fun, but only if chits are water-proof.  Paper is flimsy.  Also, voting for 1st to 3rd is a lot less confusing than voting 1st to 5th, since people lose track.
  3. Finally, treat the data with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Here's how the votes turned out:

At first glance, the shake seems a runaway winner, with the double catcher and single catcher more or less tying for second.  The pull is the clear loser.  Closer inspection, though, reveals a number of problems.

  • The graph is displayed in the order the coffee was brewed, left-to-right.  Due to the pulling and pressing and shaking of the left three coffees, the last two presses were over-brewed.  In this context, it's worth noting that we tasted a lot of bitter acrid oils in the French press pull.
  • Not all coffees reached the table at the same temperature.  Due to temperature exchange during shaking, the French press shake coffee arrived substantially cooler than the other four coffees.   Coffees tend to open up and taste sweeter at cooler temps, and temps also influence palate sensitivity.  Finally, first impressions matter.  We all thought the shake was super-sweet and juicy right off the bat.  Did we give the other coffees an equal chance?  Probably not.

Is tasting a quixotic quest?  I don't think so.  I do think we need to develop a set of best practices for vertical tastings similar to the SCAA standards for coffee cuppings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Double Coffee Catcher Cleaning Power!

I confess, I still don't know exactly what's going on here. But the visual (and gustatory) differences are stark. Check it out.
The Double Catcher. Note the corona effect. 
Traditional French Press. Note the color and clarity change.

So - what's going on here?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Climate Change & Coffee

Right up front, I'll confess that of necessity this article is speculative.  Climate change is coming, it will certainly affect coffee (and may already be doing so), but we don't know exactly what the future holds.

That said, I'd like to lay out some insights that have emerged as I try to make sense of my online reading and a few real-world conversations.

First, although the map of coffee is shifting, I think that is not inevitably for the worse.

Recent blog posts about the death of Kenya coffee and touching on falling crop yields in Colombia are standout examples of an emerging awareness of the fragility of the current coffee map.  Magnifying the effects of recent crop disasters in terms of global warming, the conversations I've had and articles I've read tend to end on a down note (to put it mildly!).

Climate change, though, is a fickle thing.  Warming climes will expand the coffee latitudes northwards and southwards to regions that have previously been too cool for coffee production.  Fancy a fine Argentine arabica?  What about micro-lots from northern Pakistan? I don't know whether either of these regions would actually be appropriate for cultivating fine arabicas, but I think it's important to note that the coffee map is already expanding.  Where will fine coffee come from next decade?

Altitude is another climate-shaped variable.  An old Reuters article reports that in Costa Rica, 2000 m arabicas are now possible in a region where 1800 m was the previous high.  Meanwhile, lower altitude coffees are struggling.  A stark example of the latter is a depressing map posted by Dr. Hayes-Bohanan of Vanderbilt, ripped from a UN study on Ugandan coffee.

If coffee cultivation begins to move up fragile mountain slopes, that will uncover all sorts of biodiversity challenges for the coffee industry.  Our industry best practices, including labels such as Bird Friendly or Rainforest Alliance certified as well informal direct trade arrangements, will need to be updated to reflect the changing standards required for the new micro-climates in which coffee is cultivated.  In some places, we may need to give up coffee cultivation entirely rather than irreparably damage rare habitats.  Overall, I suspect the biodiversity challenges we've begun to address in the last 15 years will turn out to be the tip of the iceberg.

Finally, I don't think coffee cultivation in warming areas is necessarily doomed.  The key will be managing coffee plant stress in new ways. In the blog post linked above, James Hoffman discusses the development of a new, rust-resistant strain of coffee in Colombia.  Whether or not this particular varietal catches on, the coffee gene pool is a critical resource that is crying out for more attention and protection from the industry.

The standout issue here is the rapid erosion of the coffee gene pool in Ethiopia, coffee's homeland, due to the superior economics of growing khat.  Here are a few insightful posts on the problem: The Khat Economy, and Khat and Development.  While the market is skewed towards robust, quick-bearing, and high-priced khat, the spread of khat can be reversed, as this article from the Yemen Times suggests.  If khat continues to replace coffee, I expect we will lose so much of coffee's genetic heritage that our ability to actively manage coffee's adaption to climate change will be severely constrained.

The other key adaptation for warmer climes lies in innovative coffee cultivation and processing methods.  The previously linked article on Costa Rican coffee cultivation describes emerging best practices of intercropping and shade-growing coffee that reduce stress on coffee plants at lower elevations.  These seem like best practices regardless, and it's encouraging to think that responsible cultivation methods seem to build more resilient coffee cultivation communities.

Here are my conclusions, so far:

1. I think we need to prepare to explore new coffee lands in the next decade.  What does that exploration look like for the specialty industry?  What kind of resources do we need to set aside soon to help construct coffee cultures in emerging coffee lands?

2. In order to manage the challenges to biodiversity that changing coffee cultivation poses, we're going to need some new tools:

  • a new vocabulary covering changing environments, processing methods and standards
  • new cultivation and processing methods
  • conservation principles agreed at all stages in the value chain
  • a new set of evaluation methods, including updated labels

3. I think we need to aggressively address the erosion of coffee's genetic heritage, particularly in terms of the emerging importance of khat in Ethiopia.  One way to address this is simply to pay more for coffee.  Other, more complex mechanisms may be needed, too, such as a type of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) that incentives the government and communities of Ethiopia to preserve the heritage of coffee for all of us. The proposed REDD scheme of rainforest payments is an example of a PES. More info here and here. Innovative coffee financing instruments may be needed too, providing coffee farmers with some form of security during the bad years that are likely to come more frequently with climate change.

4. Most of all, I think we need to become more involved with coffee farmers and processors as they struggle to adapt to changing climate.  It's too easy to wring our hands and mourn the loss of our fine Kenyans or last year's Harrars.  We need to get our hands dirty and support the communities who have produced these fine coffees.  That will require cycling back some of our profits to the coffee lands, providing resources to help farmers adapt to the threats posed by a changing climate.  Fine coffee is not a lost cause, but the extraordinary challenges posed by climate change call us to be more proactively and positively engaged with the coffee lands than ever before.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The French Press Shake

Agitation in French press extraction seems to be largely unexplored. We tried some serious agitation in the press this week, and enjoyed some very tasty results with our Koke. In addition to significantly increased extraction, the coffee tasted noticeably cleaner than even via the traditional Coffee Catcher method.

For the record, here's the process we used:

1. If you tend to use a finer French press grind, coarsen it up a few notches. On our Virtuosos, we found 27/26 led to over-extraction, and 31 was about right.

2. Use a half dose in an 8 or 12 cup press, in order to leave room for aggressive agitation.

3. Throw in a Coffee Catcher, pour and let brew stand for 3 minutes.

4. At 3:00, begin shaking the press vigorously in a consistent, circular motion. You should see a substantial whirlpool effect.

5. Shake continuously until about 3:45, and press at 4:00. Pour out right away.

So, would 4 minutes of continuous agitation inevitably over-extract? What about agitating during the first minute, instead of the final minute? There's room for more experiments here...

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Coffee Catcher Pull

I realized I hadn't yet written a single description of the Coffee Catcher Pull technique (a.k.a. the French Pull). This technique is referenced in a recent Seattle Weekly review, in an older Why Not? Coffee post, and in a previous post on this blog.

Here's how it works. You can see a video of the pull itself starting at 1:10.

1. Place the Coffee Catcher into your press, aligning the catches with the spout, and add coffee and hot water as normal. If you're using an 8 or 12 cup press, brew a half press of coffee. Otherwise, you will not be able to hook into the disc through the hot coffee!

2. Shake, submerge or stir in the coffee bloom according to your preferences.

3. After about 3 minutes and 30 seconds, gently insert the hook into both catches of the disc. This may take a few seconds. At about 4 minutes, pull the Coffee Catcher up through the brew and remove the cake.

4. Wipe the lips of the carafe with a tissue, and drop the plunger to trap any stray floaties.

5. Pour and enjoy!

Coffee Catcher FAQ

This post is long over-due! Here are the top questions we get about the Coffee Catcher. We'll update this post periodically with new questions, or info on new brewing methods (see #3 below).

1. Q: Where can I get a Coffee Catcher?
    A: Right here. Unless you live in Seattle, we are not yet in a store near you. If you do live in Seattle, you can pick up a Coffee Catcher at Trabant or at Visions Espresso.

2. Q: What is the Coffee Catcher made of?
    A: All parts are made of 100% stainless steel.

3. Q: What does the Coffee Catcher do?
    A: Two things. First, the Coffee Catcher collects grounds for easy removal after brewing. Second, the Coffee Catcher seems to filter suspended fines out of the brew in such a way that the resulting coffee tastes cleaner and has a longer cup life. Yup, that claim sounds far-fetched. We didn't believe it either at first. Posts exploring the filtration effect herehere and here.

4. Q: How do you use the Coffee Catcher?
    A: We originally designed the Coffee Catcher to be placed in the bottom of the press before adding coffee. After brewing and pressing, hook into the disc to remove the Coffee Catcher. Original video  here.
    That said, it turns out the Coffee Catcher offers intriguing possibilities for other brew methods. See experiments with coffee siphon pots, the Coffee Catcher pull technique (referenced in 5th paragraph here), and the Double Coffee Catcher technique (videos here and here), and a technique called multi-bed brewing (blog posts here and here). We expect to discover still other ways to use the Coffee Catcher in the near future. Stay tuned...

5. Q: How do I clean my Coffee Catcher?
    A: Daily, clean in three steps:
         1. After removing the coffee puck, use the hook to scrape the puck into the trash, the compost, or over your plants.
         2. Then give the disc a rinse under the faucet.
         3. Next time you brew, insert the Coffee Catcher and add a little hot water to pre-warm your press. Shake the press gently to agitate any stray fines caught between the Coffee Catcher discs into the water. Dump the water into the sink and brew in your pre-warmed press.

          Occasionally, do a thorough cleaning:
          1. Gently unscrew and disassemble your Coffee Catcher using a flathead screwdriver. We recommend disassembling directly into a bowl.
          2. Cover parts with hot water and a dash of Cafiza powder (eco-friendly phosphate free powder here)
          3. Soak for 15 minutes, rinse in cold water and reassemble when dry. To condition the metal, you can soak the assembled Coffee Catcher in water for an hour afterwards.

6. Q: I see wrinkles around the edge of my Coffee Catcher mesh. Does it still work?
    A: Yep! First, the steel discs themselves provide sufficient structure to lift and compress your coffee grounds into a cake. Second, our taste tests tell us that suspended fines trapped by the Coffee Catcher stay trapped regardless of wrinkle appearance or arrangement, perhaps because falling french press fines plug any gaps caused by wrinkles very early in the brew cycle.

7. Q: Why is the Coffee Catcher a disc instead of a cup shape?
    A: Preferences for coffee amounts used in brewing vary, and doses may even change slightly depending on roast or type of bean. We designed the Coffee Catcher as a disc in order to trap any amount of coffee: half presses, full presses, even double-dose presses (see iced coffee post here). Also, a disc shape means the Coffee Catcher will not interfere with the French press plunger action.

8. Q: Does one of the Coffee Catcher sizes fit my press?
    A: Probably, since we designed the Coffee Catcher to fit the most popular French press models. That said, let us know if you have a size that doesn't fit, as we're already working to add more sizes to the line-up.

French Press Fines

This post is a loose follow-up to the cliffhanger at the end of my long and headache-inducing post on the chemistry of French press foam.

After concluding that French press foam might act as a sort of chemical scrubber for coffee fines (insolubles), I was eager to start comparing different methods for removing fines from the brew.

While I stand firmly with those who hold the palate as the final judge of coffee quality, the palate is inevitably subjective. I set out to measure suspended French press fines concentrations objectively -- and [SPOILER ALERT] probably failed to do so.

I prepared coffee in five different ways. First, I prepared coffee traditionally, brewing in a French press for 4 minutes and shaking in the coffee bloom at 3 minutes. After that, I tried the Wendelboe / Hoffman technique, the Coffee Catcher press technique, the Coffee Catcher pull (referenced here and here), and the double Coffee Catcher technique (videos here and here).

Referencing a video at The Other Black Stuff, I decided to pour the prepared coffee in each case through a clean paper filter and weigh the results using a gram scale.
The remaining residue looked pretty scary!
After weighing the filters, I found the following (per approx. 900 ml of liquid coffee):

Traditional - 3.1g
Wendelboe/Hoffman - 2.7g (-13%) (56 g solids removed)
Coffee Catcher Press - 3.0g (-3%)
Coffee Catcher Pull - 2.8g (-10%) (103 g solids removed)
Double Coffee Catcher - 2.3g (-26%) (134 g solids removed)

Did these numbers surprise me? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the results are not necessarily correlated to my palate's perceived cleanliness of flavor (which I assume is a direct correlation to suspended insolubles). My palate tells me all four variants are cleaner than the traditional press, but I would have rated the Coffee Catcher Press method as substantially cleaner than the number would indicate.

However, I wasn't surprised if the results reflect heavier, non-suspended particulates. This, I think is the "mud" that sinks quickly out of the brew, and I suspect it is not related as closely to perceived cleanliness. I noted that the three methods that involved the removal of large particulates easily beat the other two methods. Also, the only double-removal method tested removed far more weight than other methods. It's worth noting that the Coffee Catcher Pull measurement is skewed slightly by experimenter error: the disc slipped slightly part way up the carafe and leaked an unknown amount of solids back into the brew.

Is any of this significant? I'm still working on that one. I set up the test hoping to test differences within tolerances of a tenth of a gram. I was careful to test as large a volume of coffee as possible in order to exaggerate per ml differences. My statistics knowledge is rusty, but preliminary results indicate that these results are not necessarily significant (i.e. differences in weights could be chance alone). My instincts disagree with this assessment, and I'll post more as I discover more.

Finally, I'm circling back to square one. How do I measure suspended French press solids? This experiment shows that they appear to be too light and/or too small to be measured via paper filters. As an example, notice the tiny residuals that leaked through the paper filters on the drying plate. A smear like this leaked through the drying filters in each case. Perhaps these are the particulates I'm hunting for.
A dry smear of particles too small to be trapped by the filter. Are these the elusive suspended solids?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Chemistry of French Press Foam

I used to think that foam at the top of a French press was a matter of personal preference: some drinkers prefer foam's texture and astringency, while others insist it clouds the palate and inhibits flavor clarity. What does it matter? It turns out that the presence or absence of foam during the brew cycle may affect the final flavor of the brewed coffee itself.

Here's why:

Coffee beans hold deposits of fatty acids (lipids) that are released during extraction into the brew. Lipids are all hydrophobic, so in the press you'll notice them separating themselves from the water and gathering in small pools of oil at the top of your cup. 

Certain lipids also have special chemistry that makes coffee foam possible. Sterols make up only about 2.2% of the total lipids in the bean, but they are amphiphilic, which is a fancy way of saying the sterol molecule has one end that likes water (water soluble) and one end that hates water (water insoluble).

A sterol is a physically flat molecule with an hydroxyl (HO above) group bonded to four ring structures of carbon known collectively as cholestane. Chemically, sterols are part of the steroid family and are related to hormones like testosterone and estrogen. One of the sterols in coffee is cholesterol.
Amphiphilic chemicals are a must for forming bubbles, as their opposite ends allow them to line up and form bubble walls that are insoluble on the outside and soluble on the inside. As carbon dioxide bubbles form during brewing, amphiphilic sterols effectively give water-hating oils a place to hide - within the walls of forming bubbles. 

Here's the kicker. Extracted coffee oils collect against the super fine coffee grounds that are suspended in the water. Some of those fines then get trapped inside bubbles as a part of the foam structure on the top of brewed coffee. In other words, the foam on top of a press likely acts as a chemical scrubber, stripping away fines suspended in passing convection currents and holding them in the foam structure itself.

Does any of this make a tastable difference? Yes. Expert baristas Tim Wendelboe and James Hoffman have popularized a French press variant in which foam is scooped from the surface prior to pressing the coffee. Video here. The resulting brew does taste significantly cleaner and less muddy.

Photo by Alex Negranza of Why Not? Coffee

To my knowledge, no detailed chemical explanation of the Wendelboe/Hoffman variant has been proposed before. One physical explanation has been suggested: saturated coffee grounds at the top of the press over-extract when forceably moved through the brewed coffee by the plunger. The theory goes that the Wendelboe/Hoffman technique removes these grounds and thus avoids over-extraction.

On close examination, I don't think that explanation holds up. While physical agitation does increase extraction rates, both traditional methods and the Wendelboe/Hoffman brewing variant involve gentle but significant agitation when the crust or bloom is stirred in (known as the break). After the break, relatively few grounds are left floating at the top of the brew and pressing is a gentle process in both cases. In other words, most particle agitation -- and thus over-extraction -- would occur in both methods. Furthermore, over-extraction alone does not explain the significantly cleaner mouthfeel yielded by the Wendelboe/Hoffman variant. It seems like the only significant difference between the two methods is the treatment of the foam after the break.

To me, French press foam chemistry provides a much more satisfying and robust explanation for the significant cleaning effect of the Wendleboe/Hoffman brewing method. By removing foam before pressing, fines that would otherwise be agitated out of the foam and into the brew during pressing (press with foam, and look at the difference in foam color and structure before and after pressing. Where did the brown color go?) are safely removed from the brew and from your cup.

So how does the Coffee Catcher - a physical fines filtration system at the bottom of the press - compare or contrast with the chemical scrubbing process that I've suggested lies behind the Wendleboe/Hoffman technique? I've been tasting both and thinking hard about both - and the results are for another blog post!

This post depended heavily on a number of sources, particularly James Hoffman's excellent 2006 post on coffee chemistry.

Here are a few further reading links:
Sterols article at Wikipedia
Sterols and their Conjugates, at the Lipids Library (useful for understanding esters of sterols)
Cholestane stub at Wikipedia
Discussion of the Wendelboe/Hoffman technique at
Chemistry of Soap at (soap is also amphiphilic)

Finally, one interesting theoretical question for extra credit: esters of sterols make up another 3.2% of coffee lipids. Esters, in my very limited understanding, tend to be inert. If so, does the brewing process break down these esters, releasing free sterols that form foams? If not, do esters of sterols contribute to bubble formation regardless?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Five French Press Faux Pas

I love that rhyming title! The French press is a relatively undemanding coffee brewing process. It's hard to screw it up. That said, there are a few sure-fire ways to extract bitter coffee from your press.

Here are my top five:

1. Leaving coffee to sit in the carafe after the plunger is pressed down. Coffee will keep brewing through the screen, resulting in a bitter and over-extracted second cup.

2. Brewing with boiling water. You'll burn your coffee. It won't taste good. Don't do it. To be safe, let boiled water rest for about a minute before brewing. Advanced brewers may wish to tweak brewing temperature by adjusting the height and thickness of the poured water column. Pouring higher and thinner cools your water faster, and vice versa.

3. Over-brewing. The French press is forgiving, but it's patience is not infinite. Over-extraction will occur if you let the coffee sit. A good rule of thumb is to aim for three to four minutes contact time between grounds and water.

Some tired drinkers over-brew in a misguided attempt to jack up caffeine content. Proper brewing extracts the vast majority of the caffeine in the bean so brewing super-long only makes your coffee taste bad. If some morning (or evening) you do need an extra jolt, simply increase your grounds-to-water ratio at the start of the process. Dark roasts, by the way, do not contain more caffeine than light roasts. Since roasting does not destroy caffeine, the jolt per bean remains the same.

4. Using too little coffee. Home-made coffee bought from a local roaster costs less than a dollar per cup, so don't skimp on the coffee! Most presses ship with little black scoops that hold seven to eight grams of coffee at a time. Use about eight scoops for a 32 oz press, or four scoops to make a half press. A low coffee-to-water ratio yields an over-extracted, bitter cup -- even at a regular four minute brew time!

5. The microwave. Never re-heat coffee! It tastes terrible and savings are negligible. Instead of making a large batch of coffee in the morning, take a mini coffee break and brew by the cup. Your coffee will be tasty every time, and the mini breaks will help to keep your head clear as well.

Friends Don't Let Friends Reheat Coffee!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Doesn't It Taste Like It Did in the Cafe?

If the coffee you enjoy at home just doesn't taste like it did in the cafe, it might be your grinder. I've owned four home grinders over the past decade. All of those grinders have produced a substantial variety of particle sizes, and that's made it very hard to brew good coffee at home.

Particular brew methods are designed to extract desirable soluble and insoluble flavor compounds without extracting undesirable bitter flavors that leach out of the bean later in the brew cycle. If coffee particle size varies significantly, then your brew will be extracting at substantially different (and unpredictable) rates, resulting in a coffee that is partly under-extracted, partly brewed right, and partly over-extracted. Flavors that popped in the cafe are fogged, and your brew may taste a somewhat flat or bitter due to over-extraction of particles that are too small for your brew method.

An ideal (non-existent) grinder would grind 100% of the particles to exactly the size. Professional quality grinders are developed to grind as many particles as possible to the same size. Ordinary home grinders are designed to break up the beans into small pieces, but not necessarily accurately. Here's what the difference might look like:

Wealthy home aficionados can tighten up that bell curve with a shop-quality grinder at home ($1000+). Depending on the state of your palate and your wallet, a slightly less accurate home grinder might also do the trick (about $200). The rest of us must make do with the grinders we have. Here are a few tricks:

  • If you have a blade grinder, and the grinding chamber floor is flat, tilt the grinder as you grind to avoid re-chopping already ground particles. Here's a blade grinder pictured in a great grinder review over at Gimme! Coffee. 
  • If you have a hand burr grinder, keep an eye on the wobble in your handle over time. As you crank on that handle morning after morning, you'll start to put pressure on the metal axle itself and on the fittings that align that axle. Over time, your burrs will wobble more and more, generating an increasingly erratic grind size. has a great article on maintaining the axle of the popular Hario hand grinder.
  • Alter your brew methods to suit your grinder. It sounds odd, but if your grinder can produce a decently consistent turkish coffee grind, but only pebbles and dust in the French press range, learn to brew turkish!
  • Finally, cheap grinders wear out. Replace your grinder when you can't stand it any longer!
Other tips? Please below and let the rest of us know!

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    N’Orleans Coffee Comfort in Seattle

    One of the perks of launching a new product (cue: The Coffee Catcher) is anticipating the day when a stranger on the street starts telling you about “this handy new gadget” they discovered - and you wait a couple extra seconds to tell them that it’s your gadget and yes, you agree that it’s handy.

    That day arrived recently for one of our Kaffeologie cohorts as she visited Seattle’s new Creole-style soul food truck,“Where Ya At Matt?”  Alongside their (delicious) Po’ Boy Sandwiches this mobile-eatery features made-to-order beignets doused with a healthy amount of confectioner’s sugar.  Of course, as a native of New Orleans owner Matt Lewis knows that beignets aren’t complete without the proper brew.  Enter Herkimer coffee.

    Thanks to Scott Richardson at Herkimer, WYAM is brewing up a smooth yet fierce cup of coffee that, sitting next to a bag of beignets is enough to make you homesick for New Orleans - even if you’ve never been.  We tried sipping the coffee black and also doctored it up cafe au lait style - both ways it’s delicious mellowness finishes with a bit of bite.  (The bite is really what makes the brew fit so perfectly next to the beignets’ sweetness.)

    Delicious beignets. Photo from Seattle Met.

    Naturally when considering coffee + New Orleans, the French Press came up in conversation...and it was only moments until: “Have you heard about this new gadget...”

    Oh yes.  Yes, we’ve heard about it.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Own a Cafe? Integrate the Coffee Catcher Without Changing Workflow..

    I (Nate) had the opportunity to attend the Barista Round Table on cup brewing today, led by Sarah Dooley and Jared Mockli. The session included a free experimentation time, and I took the chance to brew a few French presses of delicious Kenya coffee from Water Ave.

    I also got the opportunity to clean a press with a Coffee Catcher using Visions' faucet and rinse basket, which is very similar to cafe cleaning setups I've observed around Seattle. It turns out that the water jet from the open faucet did a great job pushing all the fines and grit that had been trapped under the Catcher back out of the press in the rinse water. The result was a sparkling clean carafe - even under the Coffee Catcher (see pictures below).

    I think this discovery has significant implications from a production perspective. Now, it seems, the Coffee Catcher can perform a filtering function without being removed from the press from brew to brew. This makes the Coffee Catcher very easy to integrate into traditional cafe workflows. It seems to me like a cafe can brew with the Coffee Catcher exactly as normal, but serve a cleaner cup to customers.

    Quality improvements can also be fine-tuned to a particular cafe's trade-off between labor efficiency and quality. At one end of the labor spectrum, a cafe could go the whole way and train baristas to remove the Coffee Catcher and clean it after every brew. At the other end, a cafe could simply leave the Coffee Catcher in all day and simply add Puro Caff at the end of the day. I suspect a lot of cafes will want to fall in the middle, giving a thorough rinse when the roast changes, but otherwise leaving the Coffee Catcher in from brew to brew.

    For the record, here are pictures of a Coffee Catcher after brewing and rinsing and swishing just as normal with the press. This was three rinses.

    Side View
    Bottom View

    Top View

    Of course, most home users do not use filter baskets in their sinks, and so I expect most home coffee lovers will continue to find that hooking the Coffee Catcher is the easiest way for them to remove grounds from the press. That said, this discovery does allow those who do swish out their coffee to continue to do so while enjoying a cleaner tasting cup.

    Returning to the cafe, there are plenty of other ways to integrate the Coffee Catcher into the production environment. I've been thinking a lot about different ways to add unique value to the customer in terms of menu items that go beyond a commodity ("cup of drip") to a value-added experience for the customer. A lot of new drinks territory to explore here, I think.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Multi-Bed French Press Brewing Part 2

    Part 1 of the series is here.

    Success! I (Nate) visited Seattle Coffee Works on Thursday to start testing out my multi-bed brewing hypotheses. Owner Sebastian was gracious enough to give me the run of his slow bar for an hour and that gave me a chance to select a particular combination of beans and start tweaking brew variables with that given combination.

    For this experiment, I selected 6 grams of the Colombia Huila Monserrate and 22 grams of the Tanzania Blackburn Estate. I brewed with water at about 205, and water dose varied between 453 and 478 grams. My target water dose was 454, and I got better at judging water cut-off times over the course of the experiment. Coffee was ground in Sebastian's Bunn Grindmaster. The press pot was a 32 oz polycarbonate. No one at SCW had tried these coffees together before.

    Brew 1 - Huila placed on the bottom Coffee Catcher and Tanzania on the top Coffee Catcher. Grind setting at "regular" for both. Brewed 2:45 with top off and bloom. Shook in bloom (there was some bubbling, probably from trapped air) and let rest. 3:05, pulled the first Coffee Catcher with the Tanzania and set aside. Floaties from the Huila bubbled up. At 3:45, I pressed the pot with the bottom Coffee Catcher still in and immediately decanted the contents.

    Tasting notes: LOVED it! The coffee just sparkled. There was black pepper, a little nutmeg, hints of blackberries. Just a delicious combination. Sebastian and I thought it was the best of the three. Others thought that a slightly longer extraction might have brought out more of the flavor profiles of the coffees. Pulling the 22 g at 2:45 may have been a trifle early.

    Brew 2 - Both coffees mixed and placed on one Coffee Catcher. Brewed to till about 2:45, shaken and pressed at about 3:45.

    Tasting notes: There was much less brightness in this brew. The coffees felt very thoroughly blended. The high notes of each one were just muffled. Very smooth. I felt like the unique properties of each coffee got a bit lost in this blend, but some of the tasters that felt there was some under-extraction before thought there was progress in terms of extraction. Certainly the full dose was kept in the brewing chamber for the full 4 minutes.

    Brew 3 - Back to two Coffee Catchers, with Tanzania on top again. This time the grind setting for the Colombia was adjusted to a finer setting.

    Tasting notes: This was just a bad idea, and I was worried about it when I was grinding. Grind setting adjustment has potential, but it doesn't make sense to fine up the bottom dose, which will be in the press longer anyways. Next time, I might fine up the top dose instead. The result was noticeable over-extraction. Still some signs of life underneath, but not deliciously sweet and drinkable like Brew 1.

    My conclusion: this is a REALLY cool way to brew in the press, and I want to try those coffees - and others - soon. Brew 2 and Brew 1 were significantly different, and my conclusion is that the physical separation of the second Coffee Catcher disc produces semi-layered brewing, as I had predicted. What other great coffees should be combined?

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Multiple Brew Beds in a Single French Press?

    This post is really a question, with some initial answers coming soon. After getting the idea from Josh of Seattle Coffee Works, I've been thinking about the possibilities of brewing multiple coffees simultaneously in a single press.

    It's always been possible to mix beans or grinds from different coffees and throw them in the press. The Coffee Catcher may make it possible to layer and adjust that brewing process to bring out the best in both coffees. Blending is not tried often, and for good reason. There are many ways that this could go horribly wrong from a flavor perspective. That said, the possibilities of brew layering are fascinating, including tweaking temperature profiles down the press, incorporating a pour over effect involving multiple coffees, adjusting grind size for different brewing conditions, and even adjusting brew times separately.

    I don't know if this would work. I'm still looking for a pair of interesting coffees that I want to combine in the press using two Coffee Catchers. Any suggestions?

    Bonus Question: What would we taste if the separate components of an espresso blend were brewed this way?

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Reflections on Coffee Iced / Cold

    Since Seattle's mini heatwave of last week, I (Nate) have been musing on various delicious ways to consume cold coffee.

    After poking around the net, the most useful post I've found on the subject is an August '09 post from Daniel Humphries' blog. Relevant post here.

    I can't improve on Daniel's lazy man's cold brew, so I'll repeat it here verbatim:

    1. Brew a pot of French press at 140% strength (that's 84 grams to the liter, or exactly 12 standard seven gram scoops in an 8 cup press)

    2. Pour immediately over ice

    I like that Daniel's method allows a quick 4 minute iced coffee preparation and allows the coffee to cool quickly without becoming diluted. The strongest part of the blog post, though, is Daniel's description of the volatile organic acids that extracted from the grounds during a hot brew process. These are a subset of the dissolvable flavor compounds referred to in my recent 2 part post on brew colloids and the Coffee Catcher (1 and 2). Organic acids in coffee tend to stand out as flavor highlights on the palate, but are fragile and decompose rapidly. Decomposed acids taste bitter, and this is why Daniel recommends a hot brew followed by very rapid cooling to preserve that fleeting complexity in the cup.

    The other major cold brew school is toddy. The moniker comes from toddy equipment maker Toddy Cafe. Making toddy is easy: mix a relatively high dose of coffee (at least double normal, Toddy Cafe recommends a quad dose) with room temperature water and brew for at least 12 hours. Dilute to taste and serve. Because temperatures never approach those needed for organic acid formation, toddy coffee remains smooth and approachable regardless of brew time, although the trade-off is significantly reduced flavor complexity.

    Here's my question. Why does a toddy brew require a massive updose? Extraction may be slower, but total extraction of coffee compounds during the cycle seems comparable to a hot brew. Caffeine content is certainly there, as I can attest after a recent cup of Toddy at Aster - and that's after dilution. Ice dilution should be even less of a factor with room temp coffee than with a hot brew, so my intuitive sense would be a dose in the 120% range. If extraction rates and dilution aren't in the picture, what else is going on to justify double to quadruple doses?

    I'm a card carrying advocate of the "if it tastes good, it is good" school, so if it just tastes better, that's a good enough reason for me. My question, though, is why? And also, has anyone tried brewing toddy at normal strength for comparison? Comments welcome.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Blog Highlight: "The Average Seattleite"

    I'd like to start this short week by pointing out an interesting emerging coffee blog on the Seattle scene. Michael Frank, a local SPU student, is making the rounds of Seattle's coffee shops, Disloyalty Card in hand.

    I found Michael's writing to be refreshing, upbeat and frank. His reviews go well beyond the annoying "no outlets by my seat!" type and are satisfyingly focused on the coffee served. It's also refreshing to see someone blogging as they go - and as they learn. Reviews up so far include Aster, Trabant, and Fonte. Before Michael discovered the Disloyalty Card, he also covered Bedlam and Roy St.

    Disclaimer: Michael Frank also mentioned the Coffee Catcher in an early post about learning the French press at our recent launch party. Always glad to see new FP fans!

    Keep up the good work Michael! Looking forward to reading more reviews soon...

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    creative uses for the French press?

    This blog post from sure got our brainstorm wheels a'churnin

    Q: This question is about French press coffee makers. I'm sure that I've seen these used on Iron Chef (or other places?) for purposes other than coffee, such as infusing broths with aromatic herbs.
    I'm sure there are other ways to infuse a broth with a particular flavor, but this just appeals to me on a visceral "that seems pretty awesome" level. What's out there in terms of alternative uses for my French press — uses other than tea or coffee. Any ideas?

    Everyone else, have you thought of this? Talk about outside the box...

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    thoughts on a controlled study of brew times

    Last month a new controlled study of brew times in French press coffee was released.  Conducted by Daniel Drazenovich, Chief Technical Engineer for the micro roastery Old Wwworld Cafe, the process and findings were quite interesting and worth a read. (See, "Perfectly Timed French Press Coffee".)

    The Coffee Catcher's Nate Jones had the following thoughts on the study:
    "It certainly makes intuitive sense that the surface area of grounds exposed to water coupled with the total volume of grounds should affect the timing of coffee brewed.  Personally, I think the 200 degree pour is a bit on the low side, but I have no reason to supposed that that would comprehensively skew the results.

    "This reminds me of an all day experiment I've been wanting to do involving brewing French press coffee by visual cues. I do it, and John [Custer] does it, but I haven't had a chance to figure out exactly what I'm reacting to in terms of sight, smell or perception of time that tells me when to press.  I think the color of the crust on the top of the coffee does change as the brew continues, perhaps as oil extractionslows, but I can't quite verbalize those cues yet. Anyway, this chemistry-heavy approach reminded me that sometime soon I'd like to do a controlled direct-perception series of brews and evaluate the results."

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Caffe Culture & WB

    Nate just boarded a flight from Seattle to London for Caffe Culture, 2010 & the World Barista Championship.  Catch him - and the Coffee Catcher - in booth P8, where he'll be demonstrating hte product and dishing out oodles of information.

    We look forward to seeing you there!

    Track Nate's progress on Facebook or Twitter

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    The Coffee Catcher Launch Event

    The Coffee Catcher Launch last Friday was not only an amazing event in the fact that it brought together some of the biggest names in Seattle coffee, but also the Coffee Catcher-sponsored "French Press Throwdown" was a huge success.

    In addition to launching the widely-anticipated Coffee Catcher, we also unveiled the new logo for Kaffeologie, the company behind the Coffee Catcher and the upcoming Kaffeologie French Press.

    The Coffee Catcher launch featured amazing local sips & fare, including crepes from Mobatta Crepes, beer from Mack & Jacks's, 25 paintings by artist Charity Jones (who painted portraits of locals from coffee-growing countries from around the world), and locally roasted coffee from several outstanding roasters including Kuma Coffee.

    The event was thrown in partnership with Agros International, who has been helping families in Central America and Mexico build self-sustaining communities since 1982.  We were very pleased to pair with such a hard-working organization whose approach encourages sustainability and includes land-loans, micro-loans, and training.

    Visit our Facebook Page to view more photos from the event.


    Thanks to everyone who came out on Friday, and to all of our gracious sponsors for their support.