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Alright, let’s talk about EK43s then
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 12:51 PM - 8 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Alright, let’s talk about EK43s then
Dale Harris of HasBean wrote a post called “We Need to Talk About EK43s “, about the current wave of interest sweeping through our industry in Mahlkönig’s EK-43 grinder. I understand the sentiment behind the post, but I also disagreed with a huge amount of it. For an industry that proudly tweets about the importance of dialogue, we’re generally terrible at long form discussion of any kind. I want to make it clear that this is a disagreement of ideas, and not an attack on Dale or HasBean (both of whom I think are rather wonderful.) Further disclaimers: My company sells these grinders. We use these grinders for all QC, and have done for some months now. We did host Ben Kaminsky’s talks in London, but we did not profit from them in any way. Ben Kaminsky is a close friend and someone I spend a lot of time talking to about coffee, because he often makes me feel stupid. Which is good. I’d recommend reading Dale’s entire post, but I am going to quote heavily from it throughout. This is going to be pretty long, so either hit “Read Later” or let’s begin… At the WBC in Melbourne Matt Perger, a super smart guy along with his coach Ben Kaminski [sic] (also super smart) presented a routine filled with new ideas and demonstrated a vision of how the espresso machine could be used: by using a grinder not usually associated with espresso preparation and by allowing a different control of extraction parameters. Around the same time, a few people I have great respect for have embraced some of these new concepts, putting them on bar alongside or to replace their existing menu. Ben has run some training events in Europe, discussing the what, why, and how of these techniques and the drinks they create—I have not been to these sessions; I wish I had. My first concern is that Dale hasn’t attended these events, and is speculating about their content from 2nd degree sources. Some of these sources actually contain a few inaccuracies about the events, but that is by the by. It’s been proposed that the EK43, a grinder designed years ago for the spice milling industry which exhibits improved grind particle size distribution can be the solution for poor (or poorly controlled) extraction for both filter coffee and espresso brewing. Without giving Ben’s class away, I would disagree here. Using this grinder and techniques allows us to increase the extraction of well roasted coffees into areas of the brewing control chart previously considered negative (i.e. above 22%) while seeing an increase in quality, rather than a decrease. I have two issues with this: 1. Is it a good solution to the problem? 2. Is the problem really a problem? I am not sure the problem is ever really clearly defined here. Are we saying that underextraction of coffees is the problem? I would argue that with many conical burr grinders extraction is a problem if you prefer lighter, but developed, espresso roasts. Unless you’re roasting to tickle second crack you’re unlikely to easily exceed 19% extraction on a conical burr grinder. This seems something of a shame if there is more tasty stuff that we’re knocking into the trash at the end of each shot. Question No. 1: Is it a good solution to the problem? The innovators and early adopters of these techniques and set-ups are getting tasty coffee with the EK43. That’s great! But, if we’re talking about it as a “solution” for both filter coffee and espresso, I’m finding it very hard to buy into as an idea. Fair enough. However, I’d be more comfortable with the dismissal of ideas after testing, rather than reading about online. Before my own experimenting I had placed a hard limit on extraction at around 20%, and was extremely skeptical when told that coffee could taste good above that. Testing revealed I was wrong, and my parameters have changed accordingly. It is undeniable that the grinder achieves a different grind distribution and allows greater control over extraction % and different flavour properties in the cup–we can and should debate whether or not these results are improvements (only however whilst sharing the same drink, not different roasts of different coffees, brewed with different water in different time zones) but that doesn’t mean this grinder is a good solution. It isn’t just control. What probably hasn’t been made clear is that higher extractions simply aren’t possible with some grinders. You can keep grinding finer, and seeing an increase in extraction, but then as you get finer still you actually start to see a decrease again. There is a hard limit for many espresso grinders. I don’t, however, buy into the EK43 as a grinder for espresso preparation. Here’s why: New grinders are expensive – how many more cups of coffee do you need to sell (or how much more do you need to charge per cup) to cover a £1500 investment in a tool you happily lived without yesterday I’m not really following the logic of this statement. I lived without things in the past but their addition to my life has been an improvement, and I now consider them indispensable. As for the cost argument, you could approach this from an actual answer – assuming most cafes make around 10-13% pre tax net, then you’d need to sell between £14,000 and £18,000 worth of coffee (including VAT). Depending on cost per cup obviously, but let’s just say 8,000 drinks for now. This is before we factor in the reduction of waste. For most people 8,000 drinks would take about 160+kg of coffee. Most people’s coffee waste sits between 10-15%, and if that were reduced. This could be reduced to significantly less waste, increasing yield per kilo. You’d probably require 25kg less coffee to do the same amount of drinks (so multiply the wholesale price of whatever coffee you use by 25 for a bonus saving.) Now work out the savings over the course of 1, 3 and 5 years. I suspect the grinder paid for itself relatively early on. I’m aware the above back-of-a-napkin maths is massively oversimplified, and can be torn to pieces quite easily – the point is that in a well run business should be able to renew its equipment and invest in things that allow it to increase its efficiency and profitability. This grinder is not made for espresso service – we’re taking a tool designed for a different purpose and pushing to the limits parts of it that just aren’t made for high volume use – things will break (and will thus be more expensive) in the long run It isn’t made for espresso service, on this I absolutely agree. I think it is unfair to speculate on reliability without any data though. The blades are sharper and more expensive—they will dull faster. Let’s say burrs for a standard on-demand grinder are £80, these burrs are closer to £350, and likely to need replacing more often to maintain the virtue for which they are being prized I’d really like to see where the data on burr age is coming from, as in my experience the way a burr ages is a complex mixture of burr material, quality of cutting, size, volume of coffee used, grind setting used etc etc. If there is data that is available on this then I would welcome it. Using the grinder is labour intensive – it takes longer. Does the subjective quality of the shots produced add up to enough benefit to charge more per drink your staff make? Even if slower service is acceptable to customers, it still reduces the amount of drinks a person can make within a given timeframe Currently it is indeed more labour intensive. I haven’t done the maths on how the reduction in waste tallies against the increase in labour cost, and obviously every cafes relationship between price spent per kg and wage paid per hour is different. There would likely be some offset, if not a net gain. However, no one is really proposing this grinder in this incarnation as a final solution. It is simply a step forward. I can’t reiterate the above point enough, and it should be noted that those experimenting with it are pretty much alpha, perhaps beta testers. If you are not willing to participate with some risk, and a high incidence of bugs and errors then don’t buy a grinder yet. No one is selling this as a finished solution, and to make out like anyone is creates a logical fallacy best known as the straw man argument. These are incredibly boring reasons to supposedly write off the future of coffee preparation; in fact, I understand deeply the argument that cost should never be the deciding factor in a business focussed on delivering quality. However, it is still part of the equation: I don’t give a shit if you sold the best coffee in the universe if you’ve closed due to bankruptcy when I follow trip adviser to your door. Is £1500 spent going to damage an historic, famous landmark coffee bar of the speciality movement? Probably not, but it could be the margin between success and failure for a less established business, and slower service and insufficient capacity are not something customers are crying out for right now. The endemic financial unsustainability of serving coffee drinks is a problem, that needs more work for a solution. However, if you are taken out by a £1,500 hit then you are either grossly underfunded, terrible at cashflow management or (and this is frankly extremely rare compared to the other two) you aren’t sufficiently profitable. Expenses like this are inevitable in business, planned for or not. I hope I have made something of a case above about why thinking like this and experimenting like this can lead us towards increased profitability and an increased likelihood of customer engagement. If we want a more uniform grind size for espresso brewing, or even a fully uniform one, there needs to be better understanding of what’s causing higher uniformity of grind particle size (burrs, motor, direction/angle of burrs) and then the integration of those factors into a grinder body that allows on demand dosing so we can stop pissing around making coffee and focus attention on serving[1] coffee. Well, obviously. No one is arguing to the contrary here. No one is claiming this is a finished product for the applications we are using it for. Coming back to filter coffee and moving away from the grinder, to a topic I’m less familiar with – coffees shots: do we need to be brewing filter through an espresso machine? Are the flaws in manual and automated filter brewing so high that the solution would be to brew coffee exclusively through metal baskets attached to pump driven pressurised machines because at least that way temperature stability and pouring technique aren’t issues? There are obvious implications in using espresso machines to brew coffee to filter coffee style volume and TDS% goals: Time: whilst brewing filter coffee through many methods is slow, at least you can do it away from your espresso bar What is the advantage of that? Increased movement in a cafe is generally a bad thing, and economy of movement should be prized as a part of workflow in labour intensive operations. Water usage: cafes in many european cities using RO are quite aware of the effort it takes to produce perfect water for brewing[2] more water volume through your espresso machine means greater storage requirement of filtered water – there goes another cover This is incorrect. If you require 250g of water to brew a filter coffee then an RO doesn’t become more or less efficient depending on whether that water will be heated in a counter top water boiler or an espresso brew boiler. In fact, our tendency to rinse filter papers means that an RO would need to produce more water to brew a pour over. (I put most people’s rinse at around 100g of water). Pour over coffee uses more water than a coffee shot, and therefore produces more waste from an RO. The easier point to make here would be that in most scenarios the energy usage in the water boiler would be better, as they are generally more thoroughly insulated than espresso brew boilers (and the fact they are not properly insulated on so many machines drives me insane!). Using tools in a way they are not designed: I don’t believe the design of any modern temperature stable espresso machine has figured for regular output of 250ml shots – some of the older ones (pre 1940) were designed for it – but PID’s weren’t included This will vary dramatically from machine to machine, but I would argue it is significantly more repeatable and controllable than the water coming from a pouring kettle. Again – actually testing this (hard to do without messing around with your Scace device), combined with actually tasting the results, would be better grounds for dismissal at this point than speculation. I admit to having retained a hangover of skepticism around coffee shots, despite the fact that I’ve had several that have been exceptional and unique in certain qualities to that brew method. (In a good way.) As well as flaws, there are virtues to the way we currently brew filter coffee. I enjoy the clarity of flavour that reduced undissolved solids allow in my Chemex, and I appreciate the difference between my consistently well brewed 6l drip brewers output[3] and the cup profile I get from my Eva solo. In fact, I adore tasting a coffee a different way and finding a completely different reason to love it. Dismissing the clarity of a properly made coffee shot, without tasting one, is a little unfair. No one is proposing that these methods disappear, however I’m not really sure either is suited to a typical cafe environment. Personally - and I fight internally over this all the time - I don’t think I want every cup of coffee I drink to come from a box behind a bar, with the promise that it was ground at that point the only remaining nod to ‘prepared for you’ the same way as every other drink being served from there was. That doesn’t suggest to me great engagement between staff and their product and it doesn’t help me appreciate that making coffee involves knowledge and craft. In fact, pre-portioned doses ready for any possible menu item reminds me more of the McFlurry machine. I don’t care about how my coffee is made if it tastes delicious. Our continued fetishisation of brewers we consider fashionable, regardless of customer experience, often in the name of “craft” is a problem for us. Most of our customers really don’t care about the prep work, they care somewhat about the product and absolutely about the experience. If we can spend a little less time pouring self-absorbed swirls of water over coffee, and a little more time being nice to people, then that would be great. Question No. 2: Is the problem really a problem? I don’t want to be the guy who stands up for the status quo, for the good enough, and for the adequate – I don’t want to say that selling coffee is a numbers game that requires fast food style service and high volume to succeed in a market with high rent and low unit value… I am, however, going to question whether coffee made and served the way speciality cafes have been trying to over the last 10 years is that bad. Let’s start by clearly defining my bias: I’ve had delicious espresso, more than once I’ve had delicious filter coffee, more than once These seem like really silly things to write down – I would seriously ask why anyone would passionately drink, let alone sell coffee if they couldn’t say this – but bear with me, you’ll see why it’s important. None of these delicious drinks needed modal grind size, or low grind size distribution – they needed good coffee, and people working hard with the goal of delivering consistently something they thought was nice tasting and worthwhile. I have said this every year I’ve been in coffee, and every year I’ve worked to set myself a new benchmark. I’m interested in better in every aspect of what we do. This does not invalidate what I enjoyed in the past, but I have no intention of settling at any point. So I do not believe the above to be a valid argument against experimentation and innovation. I am arguing that we are able to serve delicious coffee if we so wish, and whilst different taste goals should and can be explored, there is value in what we’ve built so far. Another straw man I’m afraid, because no one is arguing that we’re not capable of delicious coffee now. No one is making a point contrary to the above. Question No. 3: Were We All Wrong? In separate discussions with two people working in bars who are using the EK43 in part of their service – individuals who I think talk a lot of sense about coffee and have served me many tasty things – words were said that caused an almost primal reaction within me.[5] Within one conversation it was suggested that, ‘the coffee tastes different, I’m not sure it always tastes better, but we’re selling it because we want to extract the best we can and this may enable us to do it.’ I can’t speak to other people’s quotes. I would be happy to go on the record to say that I have tasted shots and brews that exceed the quality of what I have experienced before on traditional equipment. Why would we stop selling something we enjoyed yesterday and replace it with something we’re not sure we enjoy – isn’t that what the back room/ R&D is for? As above – we’re beta testing. Those who wish to go live with it are welcome to make that decision, but they make it for their own business. No one is saying you have to do anything different from what you are doing now. This may solve something you consider a problem. It may not. Get as much information as you can and try to make an informed decision. Within another, ‘as part of adopting this we may need to develop our understanding of what good espresso tastes like’, that perhaps we’ve been apologising for or skirting over the fact that espresso was acidic, when in fact it was our inability to brew correctly. I don’t really understand this point clearly. Higher yields have resulted in increased balance and mouthfeel, and increased sweetness for me. (There are certain other attributes that wreck my head, and how I understand espresso, but I promised not to give Ben Kaminsky’s entire class away…) When I judge espresso as tasty it is a reaction to flavour and texture, not a filing of it against a context we’ve established as a movement. When espresso has acidity and we enjoy it, that’s because it’s nice. When it’s too acidic, too bitter, or even too sweet, we should adjust our recipe, adjust our technique, or not serve it. What we enjoy from coffee is up to us, and arguably some of our positions allow us to influence what some people drink and how much they enjoy it – but the market (or our chosen part of it) will always tell us what they really think in the long term. The invitation will always be open to come and share espressos with us here, and discuss what we collectively taste. Writing off how an espresso tastes from an EK, without ever tasting it, is a problem for me. ’m not saying that those using these new systems are wrong, or that it won’t be part of or inform our shared coffee future. In fact, I’m proud to work in an industry that has many people, trying many new things, and I can’t wait to taste them all—Innovation is good, taking (calculated) risks is good, following your nose, pallet, or gut is good. However, I’m shamed by our rush to embrace a silver bullet to fix our problems, by our desire to be the coolest kids on the block, and our fear of being left behind. Here is, for me, the real meat of Dale’s post. This is something that I absolutely agree with. Please don’t jump on the EK43 bandwagon without a thorough understanding of what is being experimented with, and what the potential ROI is. There is no rush. This is a new idea, this is early days. There may be competitive advantage in it (as outlined above), but that inevitably comes with caveats. Lets get this straight – if you buy into this now you will not be the first person to do this in a shop, there will be no first place prize, the novelty is not valuable – in 6 months lessons will have been learnt and the cutting edge will have moved on, possibly leaving scars, possibly some people gloating at my idiot naysaying and almost definitely some tidied up lessons that may or may not include aspects extolled today as progress. Agreed again. 100%. I’ve tried, repeatedly, to differentiate innovation from novelty (something we seem to struggle with as an industry). Doing something expensive, risky, and different because someone else thinks it’s the future of your industry isn’t clever—it’s certainly not innovation, taking a calculated risk, or following your nose. It’s playing follow the leader where the leader doesn’t know you, how your business operates, how your staff work, and who your customers are. I’m disappointed by our lack of faith in the drink we gave to someone yesterday, and I’m pissed off that we still think a new toy will fix everything when the proven reality, not just in coffee but in every industry, is that growth and improvement come with small, boring improvements and an aggregate of marginal gains, not an old deli grinder. Again, more agreement. However, I believe that it is also disappointing to see something so thoroughly dismissed without proper testing or hands on time. I agree with so much of the sentiment, but I believe it is absolutely healthy (and essential) to be dissatisfied with what we are doing now – if our businesses are focused on quality. When that goes away we start doing stupid things like talking about “the perfect cup”, and we discover all too late that we’ve been left behind (something we see in this industry often, as well as many other industries.) Summary: Some of us are playing with the grinder. It is being used in a way it is not designed to be. We believe there are commercial and qualitative upsides to this. We do not think we have a market ready solution to various problems. We are excited. We believe that we have access to a higher tier of cup quality, with a few caveats and challenges along the way. If you aren’t ready to suffer through alpha and beta testing: please wait. Doing this without an an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve will decrease your quality and consistency. I will welcome any rebuttals, arguments or otherwise. I would like to thank Dale for starting a conversation that I hope continues. I like that he writes in long form often, publishes independent thoughts, and has his own voice and opinions. I look forward to the continuing discussions he will doubtless generate. Related posts: An experiment to determine freshness Freshness is one of those difficult terms in coffee because it is often considered quite subjective. However I was thinking about brewing stale coffee as espresso, and then thinking about... An experiment with grind size My experience with the ExtractMojo has so far resulted in one recurring realisation: I often wasn’t grinding finely enough. The purpose of this isn’t to rehash the whole underextracted thing.... My current iced coffee method A few people were asking on twitter about my iced coffee method (technique seems a little too much promise for something so simple). I’m still trying to work out cold...

Cafe Imports and Roast Profiles
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 02:07 PM - 8 months, 1 week ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Cafe Imports and Roast Profiles
I seemed to spark a little discussion on twitter1 when I said that I didn’t like that Cafe Imports were starting to publish roast profiles for the green coffees they offer. I’d like to reiterate, here at the start, that I said I didn’t like it, not that it was wrong, or bad or stupid. I said I didn’t like it at all. I’d like to explain why, and hopefully take into account all the reasons people think they are a good thing. Roaster to Roaster Probe type, probe placement, probe depth in drum and percentage of full load will all yield different temperatures on a display for roast’s actual temperature. We call them bean probes but that’s mostly a lie. They very rarely are giving us an accurate picture of the bean temperatures – you can get pedantic and argue that all roast graphs should start with the bean temperature at room temp, instead of having a 60-80 second period of decrease before it bottoms out and starts to increase again. Even the general shape of a profile – something you could argue is mappable from Cafe Imports’ roast profiles – will be different on different roasters. I don’t really know how to translate the profile from a full batch 5kg Probatone to a Loring running a half batch, let alone to something like a Sivetz fluid bed roaster. This is why I think that giving someone roast profiles is completely different to giving coffee brewing recipes. In an espresso machine, with a properly machined basket, at 9 bars and at ideal temps, a brew recipe for espresso should produce a repeatable and desirable result. (Unless your grinder sucks). I can say with some confidence what will work and what can be replicated easily, and measurably. Profile to Profile Profiles are very rough guidelines in my experience. People don’t really talk about this much but exactly replicating a roast profile does not produce an identical result. You will see variations (though relatively small) on external and internal colour, as well as roast loss and variations in the cup. It’s maddening, and most roasters (as in individuals) don’t really want to talk about this as many feel confused, frustrated and somewhat worried that this might be their fault or something that they’re doing wrong that everyone else obviously does right. This isn’t really a super important point, but one that I felt appropriate to bring up. The contentious point Cafe Imports are providing a service that lots of their customers are asking for. Firstly, I hope that if you’re buying interesting and delicious coffees at a premium, that you are doing so because when you tasted the coffee something in it appealed to you. You had a vision for how you wanted to present that coffee to your customers. This aesthetic is something I’ve written about before, and something that I think is very important to the health of speciality coffee. You could give the same coffee to various roasters and they’ll present it differently. Heart have a different aesthetic to Stumptown, Tonx to Tim Wendelboe, Counter Culture to George Howell. No one roaster is right about how to roast a coffee. They like the coffees they present, and grow legions of fans who agree with them, to whom that particular aesthetic appeals. The demand for roast profiles makes me a little sad. It is a stark that people are buying coffees just to fill holes in offering lists. They just need a Guat, or El Sal. They want one that is traceable, with a good, saleable story (nothing wrong with that, I should add!). They want a shortcut to make sure they get reasonable value for money, but in many ways it is an admission that cup quality isn’t the most important thing. You might even be more successful working this way. Focusing on selling a story, a product, a service rather than just focusing on the experience in the cup. The coffee industry suffers because its largest workforce (baristas and service staff) are often employed by the least experienced in the industry. We make it very easy for people to start cafes simply because they want to, rather than expecting them or demanding they at least know the basics of what they do. I worry we continue to set the bar too low to enter the commercial roasting business. I’m all for people being passionate about their product. I’m also passionate about people investing their energies in developing their skills before they try and leverage them in return for people’s money. I’m willing to have that finger pointed back at me. Looking back at the start of SQM I would consider us relatively inexperienced, but we could both cup critically and analytically and we were willing to throw away a lot of coffee in order to try and understand how to achieve what we wanted in the cup. That process (sadly, including the waste and mistakes) continues 5 years later. At no point did it cross our minds to ask the people we worked with on green coffee to tell us how to roast. It wasn’t their job, expertise or responsibility; it was ours. Speaking of that responsibility, I don’t think I’m being controversial if I say that it is in Cafe Imports’ interests to increase the number of people who buy green coffee (i.e. people who roast). Roast profiles may well tip those on the fence who lacked the confidence, experience and perhaps cupping skills to roast competently. These people may already have cafes and be buying interesting, and well roasted coffees from established roasters and are now looking for a point of difference. Whether this is good or bad for the long term sustainability of speciality coffee is up for debate. This isn’t really criticism, as I think it is good business sense. I expect to see the argument waved back at me that I’m just protecting my own interests, that I am trying to decrease competition by discouraging people from roasting, or trying to discredit good information somehow. I assure you this is none of the above. However, we’re drifting off topic and I should come to the final point: Education and Sharing Information Most of the responses I got were that it was good that someone was willing to share. There is a painful absence of information regarding roasting coffee available. There is nothing of value in books, or online bar a few interesting home roaster discussions. Most of the best roasters in the world have gotten there through a process of trial and error, guided and accelerated by their ability to taste and to be self critical. These profiles are reasonably intentional, but I would argue that no roast profile from any great roaster could or would be considered proprietary information. I certainly wouldn’t treat any one of our profiles as proprietary or something to be secretive about and we regularly share them with customers who ask – mostly to be open and transparent. However, in the past when I’ve shared profiles on the internet in various forums, it has been frustrating to be met with comments like “those temperatures are clearly wrong!” or “those roast times don’t seem possible to get fully developed coffee!” Sharing like this just generated confusion and frustration, hence my reluctance to continue in the past. For the reasons above I don’t consider a roast profile to be particularly educational, without a few critical factors but most importantly it means nothing without cupping the roast that generated the profile. I happen to consider Joe Marocco, he who is producing the roast profiles, an experienced and talented roaster who rubs his excellence in further by being an all round splendid chap, and exceedingly pleasant every time I’ve encountered him. At no point am I criticising what he has published or questioning his skills or intentions. I just think a much more effective way for people to learn from him would be to roast and cup with him. That’s difficult, time consuming and expensive. I suspect that these profiles will have the effect of bringing a few folks back from strange and isolated places in their roasting. I’d be more comfortable with a publication of a general profile development plan. It will prevent certain car crashes and people doing very odd things. Footnotes:I would say controversy but that makes it sound more interesting than the truth Related posts: Having a Hottop Roaster at home… Over the last few days we’ve had a little Hottop roaster in the kitchen, busily working away as Anette roasted up lots and lots of coffees for her folks to... Why I’m not a roaster Whoever is doing the PR work for the position of production roaster deserves a bonus. I can’t think of another position that is as widely coveted within our industry. Roasting... An Aesthetic We often talk about coffee roasting as being a combination of art and science. This phrase annoys me immensely, as it feels like we’re using the term “art” as our...

NYC Lecture 2nd July
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 08:16 PM - 10 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
NYC Lecture 2nd July
I shall be joining Ben Kaminsky for a lecture on the 2nd of July at the Joe Pro location and, if you are able, I hope you will join us. It starts at 6.30pm, and will end around 8.30pm (or whenever the Q&A stops – I suspect it may end up being a pretty involved session). Some info on Ben’s part: Ben will be presenting some of his research on coffee and espresso brewing, grinding, and roasting, that are sure to answer some long standing questions (e.g. Is espresso brewing inherently flawed? What actually constitutes an espresso roast?). He will also be outlining how to produce a “coffee shot”, the new way for brewing filter coffee that he thinks will likely replace the industry’s best and fastest brewers to date. Ben recommends you understand the basic elements of extraction, including practical use of an extract mojo if you want to get the most out of the class, though beginners are also welcomed. I will be talking about how some of this fits into the wider picture, where I see speciality going and the challenges ahead. I’ll discuss wages, careers, profitability and how that all fits in with actually having a passion for coffee. I will also get to talk about the stuff that I’m generally not allowed to do at things like the SCAA. Tickets are $75. They are available here . Side note: I’d recommend grabbing a ticket in advance, rather than aiming to get one on the door… Related posts: Brewing outside of Gold Cup This isn’t really supposed to be a contentious or confrontational post. It is just something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Lots of people now have sufficient equipment to... Back to the mysteries of the bean I was involved in a training session under the broad title of advanced barista. It was just one person so we were able to tailor it to exactly wha the... SCAE Brewmaster Certification In the world of Speciality Coffee filter coffee isn’t very sexy. One criticism leveled at the SCAE is that it seems obsessed with espresso and yet espresso only makes up...

End of The Other Black Stuff
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 07:53 PM - 10 months, 1 week ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
End of The Other Black Stuff
Sad to see that David is going to stop writing. I hope he, or someone else, archives it using a free service. It resonated with me, as I have considered stopping writing here several times over the years. This part particularly stood out: As a collective (coffee geeks/specialty industry talking heads / starfuckers and starfuckees) we lend too much credence to unbridled theorists. The positive reinforcement from comments, retweets, attention perpetuates this kind of malignant behaviour. It becomes self-fueling, and unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) it can be rewarding in a roundabout way. Thought is cheap though. Developing a compelling, yet ultimately shallow narrative is also cheap, and easy (see most TED talks). Action, work, making something, creating change is much more difficult and often less heralded. I hope to do more of the latter and less of the former. ”Fin” by The Other Black Stuff Related posts: The problem with the blend…. Inevitably we are moving closer and closer towards controlling certain aspects of espresso. Be it experimentation with brew pressure from the folks down at Versalab or Andy Schecter, we are... Writing responses From time to time I’ve suggested to people that instead of commenting, that they instead start a blog and post a proper response that is entirely their own. The hypocrisy of this... Off to Colombia tomorrow Really looking forward to it. Will try and post from there – depending on connection of course. Memory cards emptied, camera batteries charged and a few barista bits and pieces...

Ingredient Or Product
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 01:43 PM - 10 months, 1 week ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Ingredient Or Product
I had a vague realisation recently, though don’t know if it actually means anything. I think there are two different ways that roasters think about the coffee they sell. Some, typically speciality and smaller roasteries, tend to think of the coffee they sell as ingredient. Similar to any other ingredient that a chef might buy in, sourced based on a combination of its provenance, its flavour and its price. I think many of us quite like this idea, of coffee as an ingredient that can be used skillfully – though as we’re quality focused we’re probably pleased there aren’t many techniques (like brining, for exmaple) that could be used to improve cheaper cuts. Then there are coffee roasters, who we might think of as being much larger, more commodity, who don’t really sell coffee as ingredient. Instead they create products. They have research and development teams, product development budgets and protocols. Both sell bags of roasted coffee. The mindset is vastly different, as is the methodology. It is pretty hard to find a way for R&D and product development thinking, if what you are selling is a simple ingredient. Maybe there is nothing in this. Maybe I’m just wrong and simplifying everything to the point of meaninglessness. However, I think that if you want to innovate in coffee then it is important to look for different viewpoints and mindsets to see if they take you to new places. Related posts: Aida’s Grand Reserve I am very much aware that promoting my own products or business on a personal blog very quickly spends any currency of goodwill that I might have built up. There... Doing your coffee research I think it is fair to say that the coffee industry shows an interest in the science of coffee. Up until this point most of this science has been more... About My name is James Hoffmann, and this is my personal blog about coffee. I am the World Barista Champion 2007, having won the UK Barista competition in both 2006 &...

The price of espresso in London
Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - 11:38 AM - 10 months, 2 weeks ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
The price of espresso in London
Looking through the Allegra London Coffee Guide, I noticed that each of the 125 places inside has the price of coffee listed for most drinks. 124 of them served espresso, so I thought it would be a little interesting to have a look at the distribution of prices charged. Essentially this the price for a double espresso – many places serve doubles as standard (mostly due to naked portafilter use), and so if two prices were listed for espresso I used the higher of the two. Prices range: £1.30 – £2.60 The average price charged: £1.89 The mode price: £2.00 The distribution: via chartsbin.com Anything meaningful to take away from this? Well – pricing that has 5p increments isn’t very popular. (May as well round up.) The mode is more interesting to me than the average. I’d say that the lowest pricing is probably bad data, and is for a single espresso (or at least I hope so). One could dig further into the data, map out average price by part of the city – see the impact of rent on the price of coffee. You could go further and split out the outside/cart operators from that too, though the takeaway would likely be that they stand a higher chance of profitability (but maybe not high turnover). Does the pricing itself mean anything? Is it expensive? Is it cheap? I can’t really comment. All I would say is that if I were planning to open a shop, and focused on serving high quality drinks, I’d know with some confidence that the market can bear at least £2.00 quite comfortably. I would also add that as a consumer my expectations do change with the pricing. I’m extremely unlikely to spend £1.30 on an espresso, because I would suspect it wouldn’t be good. However, I’d expect that a £2.00 be pretty damned tasty… Related posts: Pricing This is the second post in a series that I started with Trust. I want to examine a bit more closely what we communicate and can accomplish with pricing. I... The price of coffee at home There have been two great posts from Coffee and Conservation recently, detailing Julie Craves’ year of consumption. I buy a lot of really high-quality coffee. The average price per pound (not including... Trust This is the first in a series of posts on quite a broad topic within coffee, that covers not only elements of brewing but sales, consumption, successes and failures and...

The problem with quality
Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 08:17 PM - 10 months, 3 weeks ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
The problem with quality
The problem with quality is that it is neither a requirement for, nor a guarantee of, success. I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this is, to some extent, a believer in the importance of (product) quality. Be it green coffee, roasted coffee, or cups of coffee – we all value the quality of it with respects to our time and resources. However, it often seems to me that we spin this tale around ourselves; that as long as what you do is of excellent quality then the rest will take care of itself. I wish this were true, but every day it becomes increasingly apparent that it isn’t. Just because your cafe serves great coffee, doesn’t mean it is going to be a success. It seems blindingly obvious when written like this, but all too often I feel like our message is the opposite of that. You might argue that your definition of success is different than mine. You might argue that your passion runs so deep that you see no other choice than to pursue quality, and to offer anything else is morally repugnant, or failure. If this is the case, then I might ask why you chose to commercialise the thing you love? You might be chasing quality as a route to recognition – though this is something that is difficult to sustain month after month, year after year. Back to the context of cafes – we often talk about how quality can overcome location, you can become a destination cafe. Or quality might turn a tiny location into a viable business. Quality above all else. I held this view for a long time, but “the foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.”1 Now I see the capacity and ability to achieve quality as success. Everything else is a hurdle in the way of doing what I want to, which means that profitability, marketing, efficiency, systems and structure must be achieved in order to get to a place where quality is possible (and even enjoyable). This isn’t just semantics, it is more about a mindset and prioritisation of goals. Starting by trying to achieve great quality regardless of these hurdles is a very painful path, from which few emerge unscathed. Quality is not the means to an end. It is the end. Footnotes:James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891), My Study Windows,1899 Related posts: Le Coffeeing – Some thoughts This post is a result of the rather excellent post on Chemically Imbalanced. I’m grateful to Ben at CI for consistently writing such good stuff, even if it takes three... Thank you I just want to write a very short thank you to everyone who has contributed recently. I genuinely did think about packing the blog in, but decided to keep writing,... A little project I am not one for New Year resolutions. I certainly have some goals for this year, but that doesn’t feel like the same thing. However, I have embarked on one...

Response: The Sprudge Barista Pay Survey
Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 10:55 PM - 11 months, 1 week ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Response: The Sprudge Barista Pay Survey
Like many people, I was intrigued by the results of the Sprudge barista pay survey . Mostly people are talking about how high the wages are in Australia, and there was some comment about the low wages in London/UK. A few concerns about the survey – I’m generally not blindly trusting of self reporting of wages (in any industry). I saw numerous tweets from Australian coffee people stating that the numbers looked somewhat inflated, and that fits with the discussions I’ve had with various people over the years. I’m glad Sprudge are investigating this further too. There may well be high outliers, but I don’t believe it is representative of the industry there. I do hope Sprudge keep these sorts of polls coming and I’d love to see a future poll talking to cafe owners about this, and having them submit anonymous data would be super informative. The incentive for the cafe is they get to see how they do compared to their competitors, something almost all would find valuable. Secondly – these numbers are both gross wages (before taxes are taken out) and converted to US dollars. (Currency exchange therefore playing a role). In the case of places like Norway the tax rates are very high, while a barista’s paycheck in London will have a little less tax taken out than one in NYC (though the undeclared and substantial portion of tips may make up for this). Finally, there is no factoring for cost of living. Numerous articles recently have highlighted the increasingly high cost of living in Australia, fuelled by a mining driven economy that didn’t suffer particularly in the global financial crisis. These criticisms are not particularly relevant to the point that I want to make: there is no magic Australian bullet. I would wager (and please shoot me down if I am miles away) that the financial model of an Australian cafe looks very similar to a London one or San Francisco one. This seems like a confusing statement at first, considering the apparent vast differences in wages, but I really think it is true. If we consider wage cost as a percentage of turnover (which we should) then I would be astonished to find that cafes in Australia are outside of the 25-35% range, which I believe most healthy cafes operate within. Higher than this and the cafe will likely lack sustainable profitability, lower than this and you’ve likely got an owner (or owners) working way too many hours on the floor. If we put wage costs of 25-35% another way – if a staff member earns $12.50/hr, then you need to bank approx $35-50 for every single hour they are paid. ($280-$400 per 8 hour day, per employee.) If you have 4 full time people on each day then you need to be pretty busy – and this is counting every staff member, not just those making coffee. For an Australian barista to earn double this then they simply need to bank double the cash per hour/day. This may be possible in places where drinks are expensive – $5 to $7 flat whites seem to be popping up in the Australian media more and more. The other option when trying to find more cash to pay staff is that you could sell higher margin products, allowing the staff cost to come up to the mid thirties, without damaging the bottom line. However, I don’t think margins in most cafes are enough to allow a staff cost of even 40% to be viable long term. I think of things like $1 refills on drinks, and get depressed about how this affects a cafe’s ability to pay its staff more. The challenge and frustration of coffee is that espresso isn’t hugely scalable. To do more drinks quickly requires more people, more labour, more wage cost. Baristas could earn more if they were (in traditional terms) more productive. When designing a bar it is worth bearing in mind how it will scale from a labour perspective. How many staff to do 200, 350, 700 or over 1000 drinks? Cafe owners ought to be interested in technology that allows a barista to make more drinks per hour, as this could have a huge impact on their profitability. I think what is likely is that Australian cafes are typically a combination of productivity and better margins overall. Many people comment on the amount of food sold in Australian cafes, and with a good head chef you can have low wastage, and good cash and percentage margins on the food. Coffee, on paper, looks like it has great margins. In reality this doesn’t turn out to be true, and even when a super tight ship is being run – it is still a low cash margin product. You often need to make hundreds of drinks to pay the rent, overheads and staff before you start making any money. Lots of cafes in London don’t do a lot of food, and what they do sell is often relatively low margin food. (Items bought in each day for example). New York cafes also typically do minimal food. This isn’t a plea that we all return to food heavy cafe models, but I did want to highlight the fact that pay is typically constricted by the financial model of the cafe. The higher the costs of goods – typically through uncontrolled or unmeasured wastage (something baristas are typically directly responsible for) – the less money left over to pay them with. Increasing drinks prices to create better margins is another option – though the pressure does ultimately fall back on baristas to deliver more value due to the higher price point. I’m not really trying to offer a solution. I just thought that the Sprudge post merited some discussion and, I hope, a little explanation. I think the instances where owners are paying staff a pittance and then going home to roll around on a bed of money are incredibly rare. I want baristas/coffee people to earn more. I want owners to have successful businesses. We face a challenge as an industry, to work towards models (because there are more than one) that pays sustainably for both the payer and the payee. I hope more people throw in some thoughts on this, and I hope my explanations above make sense to people. Either way – feel free to let me know on twitter . Related posts: Cafe Review: Flat White Flat White 17 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0PT Map I’ve been visiting these guys since they opened, and make no secret of the fact that I get on well... The apathy of the barista Its something that has been on my mind quite a lot lately. I have no idea how many people work as baristas in the uk, but there must be thousands... Italian coffee culture in the UK This morning I spoke to a journalist on the phone who is writing about coffee in London, as well as the antipodean influence on our coffee scene. One of the...

Arabica: Origin to Extinction
Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - 04:54 PM - 11 months, 2 weeks ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Arabica: Origin to Extinction
One of the best bits of my Symposium this year was working with some of the speakers in the run up to this. My role on stage was to introduce and to host a couple of panel debates, and also try to offer some insight into the Symposium to those talking there for the first time. I had to try to understand the topics sufficiently to ask pertinent questions on stage. Conveniently, Professor Aaron Davis is in London and I was fortunate enough to host him for an afternoon of coffee drinking and talking about various coffea species. He’s the Head of Rubiaceae Team at Kew Gardens , and an incredibly approachable expert in his field. I learned a staggering amount that afternoon, and I was excited to hear him give this talk at Symposium. I cannot recommend enough that you put 20 minutes aside to watch this video, it is a really, really great presentation – and if you pay attention I guarantee you’ll learn some fascinating things: Keep an eye on the SCAA’s Symposium Youtube Channel for new videos that they’ll be releasing over the next few months… Related posts: The evangelical nature of training talking rubbish Originally uploaded by King Seven. I was doing a demo seminar at the Bar Show in Earl’s Court last week and as I stood before the little theatre... How to make coffee a viable career I have just returned from this year’s Nordic Barista Cup in Copenhagen, and I have to say it was a great event. I was honoured to be invited back to... UK Cupping Competition Just a quick post really about entering the Cupping competition today. I initially was told I couldn’t enter because they had 8 entrants and couldn’t possibly accomodate a 9th. Thankfully...

Complaining about restaurant coffee
Saturday, March 30, 2013 - 02:32 PM - 1 year ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - WBC 2007 World Champion James Hoffmann's jimseven
Complaining about restaurant coffee
I know there are all sorts of conversations swirling around restaurant coffee kicked off by Oliver Strand and then intensified/exacerbated by Kevin Knox . I don’t really want to dive into that particular discussion head on, instead hoping to run parallel to this. I try not to post too much about the specific experiences I have in my working life on here, because this isn’t really a blog about my business. I must confess, however, that after nearly 5 years of wholesale coffee roasting and working with businesses across London and the UK I feel no closer to “solving” the restaurant coffee problem. As an industry we’re pretty resentful of how restaurants treat coffee. I still cringe at the memory of the NBC audience ganging up to pick on someone from a restaurant who dared to think they weren’t doing that bad of a job. Let’s look at this from a difficult angle, perhaps one that isn’t our own. Coffee isn’t important to restaurants. It doesn’t have a great cash margin, and there are other items that might be ordered. A brandy makes more money, has near zero wastage and my staff training is pretty minimal. Restaurants treat coffee that way because it simply isn’t important to them. People are booking tables because of the coffee service. The fact that, on the one hand, the coffee industry often complains that restaurants don’t take a culinary approach to coffee while, on the other hand, we’re slinging out our best tasting products in paper cups… Restaurants serve coffee because they are expected to. “Get rid of espresso!” we tell them. In the USA this may actually be viable but in cultures where espresso was used to make coffee expensive and desirable that is more difficult. I once got incredibly excited because a restaurant here got rid of espresso. They did french presses. The staff trainings were incredibly enjoyable because it was just tasting and conversation. The presentation was beautiful and the coffee tasty. For their customers, who visited relatively rarely, this was an oddity in a dining world that still proclaimed espresso to be the best. The restaurant eventually felt that the risk reward ratio wasn’t working and added espresso back to it menu. I don’t blame them at all. This restaurant had previously recognised that espresso was really hard. Staff training for a restaurant poses a challenge. Consistency is difficult. Execution is hard. Even businesses who basically just work with coffee struggle to execute consistently to a high standard, and yet we’re incredulous that a restaurant – that deals with so many ingredients and preparations – might struggle to brew a good cup. This is where Nespresso comes in. They turn up, and they understand that espresso brewing is difficult. The difference is they come with a solution. We might argue that the product quality isn’t there, but it is still a better solution than one we have. So we continue to berate the restaurant industry. We mock them for taking free equipment, instead of laying down thousands upon thousands to brew a relatively small number of low margin products. We mock them for doing a bad job with a setup that most of us already struggle on. We continue to offer the same solution to their problem, despite the fact that all and sundry can see that this solution doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t work. No matter what we do most espresso in most restaurants brewed on traditional equipment will have quality issues. How much work have we done on looking at a solution that bridges some of the challenges around ease, while retaining the characteristics of the coffees we are so excited about? None. Perhaps we ought to start… Related posts: Restaurant Coffee I don’t usually post much work related stuff on here, but taking this photo it struck how ludicrously easy it can be to do a great coffee service in a... I’m not in it for the money You hear this a lot among passionate people who start businesses, particularly coffee ones. For many of us coffee is compelling, fascinating, satisfying yet frustrating in equal measure. It is... Trust This is the first in a series of posts on quite a broad topic within coffee, that covers not only elements of brewing but sales, consumption, successes and failures and...

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