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August 2016 Newsletter

I've had a few questions  lately from customers asking me things
like what brew temperature I'd recommend or what extraction
percentage was best for particular coffees. My standard answer is
usually "Buggered if I know!" which for some reason doesn't please
many of the questioners, especially when I follow it up with "How
does it taste?"

Apart from being a curmudgeonly ancient luddite, there is a reason I
can't answer these questions. I don't normally use scales,
thermometers or refractometers when making a coffee, be it plunger,
syphon, espresso or drip. Most of the time the only instrument I use
when brewing is my mouth. For some reason, it seems to be all
purpose. It tells me when the coffee is too hot or too cool, too
strong or too weak, over or under extracted, and whether or not it
tastes good.

That's not to say that there isn't a place for high technology in
coffee brewing, but I my view is that it's there for when things go
wrong. For when you know you have a great coffee, but for some
reason you're not getting the taste you want in the cup. Then it's
time to go back to basics, starting with grind, then dose, then
temperature and extraction parameters depending on your brewing
method. This is where precision measurement of your various brewing
inputs and outputs can make a difference in getting the right taste.

The availability of all this measuring technology at the consumer
level seems to lead some people to think that it's possible to
simply hit a set of numbers which will always give superlative
results. All too often it seems that they get the numbers and forget
about the flavour. If all it took was the right program, then a
robot (or a superautomatic machine) would make perfect coffee every
time. In the real world, acceptable to good seems to be about the
best that automation can produce.

This is because the coffee itself remains the ultimate variable.
After roasting it changes on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, and
so far the best way to track and accommodate the changes is still
the sense of taste. It seems to me that some of the overly
mechanical coffee hobbyists are afraid to trust their own tastebuds.

Anyway, in other news, I have started to see the first trickle of
Maragogype beans returning to green coffee importers' lists. I have
tried 4 samples so far, two from Colombia, one from Nicaragua and
one from Guatemala, and so far not one of them has come up to the
quality level that I expect. I don't know if they are being produced
in different climates or soils or with extra fungicides, but all the
cuppings so far fail to measure up.

Muted acidity, hollow mid palates and indifferent body, with a
couple of the samples showing some truly funky flavours, and all at
prices three times more than the last bag I purchased. Thanks but no
thanks. And then I got to a coffee that looked, smelled and tasted
like a maragogype, but wasn't one. Best of all, it wasn't priced
like the maragogypes, so here it is:

Nicaraguan Criba

Shimmering front palate acidity with a creamy soda mid-palate taste,
finishing with a smooth body and malty aftertaste.

This coffee is grown from Typica varietals (Caturra and Catui) from
the Matagalpa region of northern Nicaragua, and is sized as a
"screen 20+" bean. For comparison, standard Costa Rica Tarrazu is
"screen 15+".

Until next month


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