Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Tale of Two Coffee Makers

Fresh off the presses from Sprudge, the coffee hipster's National Enquirer, come two posts in succession about coffee makers. Far be it from these guys to notice any irony about the juxtaposition, so allow me...

The first is an interview with the creator of the Ratio, an admittedly beautiful appliance that for a mere $580 (or $640 equipped as shown with its de rigeur Able filter) brews almost as good a cup of coffee as you can with a hot water kettle and a Chemex.

The second is a lovely Vimeo profile of Alan Adler, inventor of the Aeropress, which costs $29.95 on Amazon. It brews a much better cup of coffee than any drip brewer, electric or manual, makes extra-strength coffee that while it's not espresso is certainly delicious in a cappuccino or caffe latte, and is the ideal travel coffee maker. Plus you can buy twenty of them and still have enough money left over to buy a bag of obscenely overpriced Third Wave beans to brew in it. 

I highly recommend checking out the Ratio coffee site and its videos, reading the interview with the inventor if you're a glutton for punishment, and then contrasting the lifetime supply of precious pretentiousness you just ingested with the humble warmth of Mr. Adler. Derivative drip dreck for $600 or versatile originality for $30....geez, I just can't decide. 

If the Ratio videos and website style seem eerily familiar, it's because they're clearly using the same PR firm as The Timmy Brothers, whose priceless video can be seen at the link. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Is it The Onion or is it Sprudge? Who knows? Who can tell the difference?

It's truly impossible to discern reporting from humor when your entire website is self-parodying, but the hipsters at Sprudge have certainly offered us coffee gold with this gem of a post. 

Pan-roasted coffee in Alaska on a bus makes at least as much sense as what's on offer from the site's better-known sponsors, but what I especially loved was the photo above. If my eyes don't deceive me that's gotta be Allegro Kenya Grand Cru (or is it Water Avenue whatever?) blended half-and-half with Peet's French Roast. 

Ebony and Ivory? 2nd wave-3rd wave coffee peace treaty? Surely this is what's next. I'll await the IPO and infusion of venture capital money (not to mention the "Black & Tan Nitro Cold Brew") with bated breath. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Full City Roasts: An Endangered Species?

I just returned from a trip to Northern California and Western Washington to see friends and family. We were in our old hometown of Boulder, Colorado on both ends of the trip where I had occasion to try to find coffee worth drinking at the local Whole Foods (with no success despite - or rather because of? - it being the home of Allegro Coffee). 

Everywhere I traveled this trip the coffee choices seemed to be either screamingly acidic, underdeveloped cinnamon-city roasts from Third Wavers or carbonized stuff from Peet's. Thankfully there was finally an exception when we got to Seattle: Cafe Carmelita from Tony's in Bellingham, which is not only advertised as a medium roast but comes complete with an Agtron number (67) to prove it. It's a lovely blend. 

Sweet Maria's has an excellent roast color chart (I'll post the photo below, but the detailed description is well worth reading. 

What I'm seeing in the hipster places are mostly roasts in the #8-10 range, and of course Peet's and Charbucks, with the exception of their token (and silly) new medium and light roast efforts are all in the #14-16 range. That leaves the entire world of balanced, nuanced, fully-but-not-overly developed coffees pretty much unrepresented at retail, unless you're lucky enough to stumble on just the right, rare Blue Bottle, Counter Culture or Tony's offering or, on the darker end of the spectrum, an old-school Northern Italian espresso blend (~#'s13-14) from the likes of Mr. Espresso or Illycaffe. Of course there are other regional roasters (Broadway CafĂ© and Roasting in Kansas City comes to mind immediately) still offering balanced coffees, but based on the Agtron numbers I'm seeing in Coffee Review for every such roast that's out there there's either a new player doting on the "tea like" flavors of their cinnamon-roasted direct-trade Yirgacheffe or an old-line roaster like the aforementioned Allegro abandoning balance in favor of trendiness. 

I noted with interest that Tom at Sweet Maria's (as reliable and unbiased a guide to roasting and to coffee in general as I've ever read) lists the bean temperature correlates to Full City (#11) and FC+ (12) as 444 and 454 degrees F. respectively, and it reminded me of a roasting seminar taught by Agtron's Carl Staub I attended many years ago, during which he referred to 450 degrees as "the death of fruit." 

I think that's accurate for coffees intended for drip or vacuum pot brewing, but espresso extraction reawakens and emphasizes acidity so strongly that optimal roasts - at least if the blend contains a fair amount of dense, high-acid coffees - can go slightly darker. What goes unsaid though is that cinnamon-to-city roasts are underdeveloped and just as imbalanced as the murky Starbucks stuff everyone is so determined to rebel against. 

It seems like much of what's going on these days is that a roast that's only fit for evaluation purposes (#9) is not only being offered for sale and brewed in pour over bars but also routinely finds itself into espresso machine doser-grinder hoppers. This is something truly unprecedented, and it's unprecedented for good reason: drinking such coffee is an exercise in masochism. We've arrived at a retail landscape that, in fruit terms, offers nothing but green bananas or black ones useful only for banana bread: fully ripe has disappeared. 

With bland and burnt now thoroughly explored, it will be interesting to see if the next (Fourth?) wave brings an interest in nuance and balance...the very things the best second wave companies, from Schapira's to Kobos to Freed Teller to Illy - tried to teach us about so deliciously decades ago. Here's hoping there's more to progress than applying a Folger's roast to good green coffee.