Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Frontiers in Coffee Research

Reposting a great note from Sweet Maria's about the next steps in coffee research, courtesy of the GCQRI. This sort of work is exactly what I was hoping for in my old post on a Coffee and Perfumery Radar.

The three big initiatives mentioned:

1. Use NIRS (Near Infrared Spectrophotometry) to develop a global "fingerprint" database of green coffees from various regions, chemically identifying coffees by region.

2. Another related project involves rapidly scanning the thousands of compounds in green coffee to identify those related to cup quality. No details on particular methods given.

3. Finally, a project called NextGen Coffee Sensory Evaluation will attempt to correlate specific flavor descriptors identified by a panel of tasters with particular compounds in the coffee, essentially combining human and electronic noses so we understand better why a coffee tastes like sweet cherries and how we can keep it that way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reflections on Brewers Cup

Last weekend, I had the privilege to participate in the first Brewers Cup competition. Here are a few of the thoughts I've been mulling since then, in no particular order.

1. Q graders? On the one hand I appreciate the sensitive palates that Q graders bring to the table. I really valued the feedback I got from the judges on my scoresheets. On the other hand, is it appropriate to grade a simulated slow bar with tools designed for the cupping table? I think some brew methods are going to have inherent handicaps with the current system. I noticed, for instance, that no aeropress brew made it to the finals, which were evenly stacked between immersion brew methods and pour over brew methods.

2. With a single, brief practice session and no pre-announcement of the coffee, the first round seemed to be all about how quickly a barista could dial in a strange coffee. This is a useful skill, no doubt, but I think a test of brewing skill would be more accurate with more practice time and publication of the chosen coffee ahead of time. The latter certainly simulates a slow bar experience more accurately.

3. It would be useful to have more guidelines for the presentation. It emerged the day before finals that this was supposed to be a simulated slow bar presentation to a pretend "customer," and sensory aids were discouraged. In particular, I found it unclear where I should or would be graded on things like origin notes. Is that customer service? Taste description? Overall impression? Maybe it's just me, but I find myself concluding from the score sheet that the quality of my chinaware seems to be weighted as heavily as my taste descriptors. This didn't seem to be the case in reality, but that just adds to the confusion. For reference, here is the finals round score sheet.

4. Staging was definitely a challenge for Brewers Cup, and throughout the event I got the sense that all of us were poor second cousins to the barista champions on the main stage. I'm not sure that lack of limelight is necessarily a problem, but I think defining Brewers Cup space more specifically as separate and distinct from the barista championships and the audience would be helpful. At the very least, let's put up a little stage and film competitors, and maybe use a separate room.

5. No siphons? Come on, one of us should at least give siphons a shot in Houston!

Finally, a note to myself: only use a coffee that has been singing for you in the finals! My chosen coffee behaved like a stubborn mule during dial in sessions the night before and the day of, and it kept on being uncooperative right through finals. Maybe I should have switched at the last minute...

Any other thoughts from competitors? Don't miss (awesome!) organizer Nick Cho's Brewers Cup Flickr feed.

Holes in my Coffee Catcher

It might be a good thing, and it certainly could be a blues song.

In the run-up to competition (upcoming post on that) I began to experiment with deliberately increasing interaction between the compressed bed and the pre-infused water in the double Coffee Catcher technique. Results were frustratingly inconsistent, but sometimes fantastic, bringing out more juiciness and body with some coffees than I could get with a non-perforated Coffee Catcher. About a week before Brewers Cup, I made one of my best coffees ever using a perforated double catcher technique with 49th Parallel's Blue Batak coffee.

The first-round coffee for Brewers Cup seemed to over-extract with a perforated Catcher, so I went with a fully-sealed top Coffee Catcher for the first round, and that was (obviously) a good choice. In the finals, I struggled to dial in my coffee of choice, and eventually went with a perforated Coffee Catcher. I didn't get the consistency I wanted between three French presses, but I think the extractions were still better with that particular coffee than I would have gotten with a fully sealed Coffee Catcher.

File this under puzzles I haven't solved yet.
The hole is longer and narrower than the head of a screw.