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May 2014 Newsletter

I copped a fair bit of stick for last month's newsletter, most of
it from the fine purveyors and purchasers of some of the devices
mentioned. Some of it was probably deserved, and a number of people
have told me I was too harsh with VST. However, in a weird bit of
mental synchronicity head Coffeegeek Mark Prince posted a topic
saying more or less the same thing. Mark is a lot higher profile
than me, so thankfully all the fuss turned to him.

The objections to my VST statements centred around 2 things, first
the lack of scientific evidence for a "perfect" extraction range
and corresponding taste evidence, and second my questioning its
general usefulness. People were quick to point out that research
done in the 1950's and 1960's had already determined that
extractions between 18% and 22% were in the optimum flavour range,
and that the VST company had tightened up the original research and
had recent results showing that the same sort of range applied to

Fine, I accept that the range is pretty wide but relevant, but ..
does it apply, for instance, to Robusta beans? Very high or very
low temperatures? Ultra fine grinds? And when it comes to formal,
published in The Journal of Food Science, research, there isn't
much that I can find, and nothing from VST.

The usefulness of the VST refractometer is another matter. Yes, it
can be used to identify extraction problems, and yes, it makes a
great quality control device for high end roasting and brewing. It
should definitely be compulsory for every manufacturer of
superauto, pod and capsule espresso machines, and it's a great tool
for winning barista competitions. It should certainly be used to
address the lack of published scientific research into coffee

What it is not is a device for everyday consumers. Apart from
anything else, using it involves pipettes and filter papers. I
don't think that "Bringing my customers into 21st century coffee",
as one of my critics put it, requires teaching them the basics of
physical chemistry.

The other part of Mark Prince's post was more relevant to something
that's been irritating me for a while now, and that is the
glorification of excessive acidity in coffee. As I said in my
October 2012 newsletter, if that's "Third Wave" coffee I'll avoid
it. The whole ultra-light roast, ultra-acidic push appears to be
more a product of jaded palates looking for the next big thing than
anything else.

The theory that ultra-light roasting allows you to properly taste
the coffee's real flavour is frankly junk. All I can taste with
those roasts is grassiness and acidity, and the occasional
processing fault.

The good news this month is that this year's new crop coffees are
starting to arrive, which means that this months special is:

Costa Rica Tarrazu Miel
Rich coffee aroma, with sweet acid, smooth fruity mid palate and
creamy body, the coffee-est coffee you'll ever taste.

I'm taking a working break this month, so I'll be overseas from the
14th to the 29th of May. As usual, coffee shipments will continue
with sometimes a day or two delay compared to normal, but no major
disruptions. I should be available via email the whole time we're
away, so most customers probably won't even notice. Our remaining
machine stocks are in single figures so I don't think the break
will cause too many problems there either.

Until next month