Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Fine Grind - Guatemala 'Chajul'

This week's coffee: Guatemala 'Chajul'

This past weekend I recieved a note from my friend Eric, who had ordered a pound of our coffee online. He told me that he had decided to go with one of our lighter roasted, Full City selections, the Guatemalan 'Chajul' Organic/Fair Trade. As Alexander roasted up a fresh batch, for Eric and a plethora of our wholesale accounts, I realized that I hadn't brewed up the Guatemalan in at least two weeks, and I was dying to taste it again.

The Brew

The standard brew, here at the shop, for tasting coffees is done in a Melitta cone brewer. This is a low-tech method that requires a Melitta cone, a two cup pyrex pitcher, non bleached coffee filter, and 33 grams of Full City coffee ground at a 'drip' level (more coarse than espresso, more fine than French Press). Once I had all of my tools and ingredients, I began to boil my water. Here at Mocha Joe's, we boil the water to 198 degrees, as we have found that this brings out all of the flavor without scorching the grounds.

While I waited for the water to boil, I threw on some good coffee tunes – Leonard Cohen's 'Chelsea Hotel', and googled Guatemala for some fun facts. For instance, did you know that the name Guatemala comes from a Mayan word for 'land of the tress'? I sighed and thought of how much I'd like to put Guatemala on the list of countries I've been to on my travels.

I heard the water boiling, and checked it with my old-school mercury thermometer – I was close to 198, so I dumped my grounds into the Melitta cone and, once I reached temperature, I poured.

It's important on the initial pour to cover all of the grounds evenly and let the water slowly work it's way through the coffee. Only pour once, then wait for the grounds to expand and foam a bit, this is called 'the bloom'. After the bloom, and once all of the initial pour has gone through, pour again and continue until you reach 2 cups.

The Tasting

The first flavor that I tasted was a subtle dark chocolate with a touch of caramel, alongside a bright and tingly mouthfeel. As it began to cool, the fruity acidity of the brew jumped out at me. The fruit flavor was, at first, hard to place, but then I realized it actually tasted like coffee fruit. For anyone who has never had the chance to taste a coffee cherry, you can always come and snag one off of our coffee tree here in the roasting shop. The taste, to me, is like a cross between a nectarine and a sweet Michigan cherry.

I decided to finish my cup on the porch, overlooking the scenic Connecticut River and the majestic Mount Wantastiquet. I gazed out, inhaled the crisp Vermont winter air and sipped the next bit of coffee. At this point I noticed heavy chocolate and nut flavors coming out. The diversity of flavor from when I first brewed it was astounding. Great coffees, such as this Guatemalan, can have dramatic flavor changes as they cool and this one had gone from chocolate to fruit, and then did a complete 360 back to chocolate, but now with a hint of macadamia nut. The last sip was sweet and savory and left a brilliant flowery and nutty aftertaste.

Final Notes

This 100% Organic and Fair Trade selection consistantly pleases the pallate and is ideal for those who want a medium bodied, light roasted, Central American brew. This is an ideal morning brew which would be complemented brilliantly by a chocolate filled croissant.

Kudos to my pal Eric M. in Michigan, for picking a great coffee and inspiring me to brew it again!

-Ari Reis

January 2012

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Introducing... TEA!!!

Hello to all of our mail order customers in cyber-space! After making an announcement in the Fall of 2009 that we were considering adding a tea line to our product mix, I am pleased to announce that as of this week, in the Fall of 2011, we have indeed added a tea line to our product mix! We at Mocha Joe’s feel that it’s important to take time to make important decisions. It’s never a good idea to rush into things.
In order to choose a tea company we tasted A LOT of different teas from A LOT of different companies. We tasted black teas, green teas, white teas, yellow teas, and flavored teas. We tasted herbal teas, blended teas, single origin teas, and rooibos teas. We tasted yerba mate, matcha powders, and chais. We infused in paper filters, fancy teapots, and gold mesh filters. In milk and in water. With sugar and without sugar. No wonder it took us so long!
            After much (and I mean much) deliberation, we have decided to partner with Rishi Tea, a company with an excellent reputation that we feel shares our vision and our values. Their teas won blind tastings on our cupping table again and again. Rishi carefully selects and sources some of the finest teas from the most talented artisans in the world. These farmers and their families have been harvesting and processing teas for generations, and Rishi’s commitment to honoring the wisdom of ancient tea production, while introducing modern, efficient manufacturing processes has allowed many of these artisans to keep their traditional methods alive. Additionally, most of their teas are certified organic, kosher, and Fair Trade, which is important to us, and we know is important to you.
            We have tried a lot of Rishi’s offerings and have chosen a group of products that we feel really stand out, either for their excellent quality, their unique flavors, or (more often) both. I personally am a big fan of both the “Iron Goddess of Mercy” Oolong, a sweet, light bodied black tea, and the Sweet Matcha powder, which makes a really great latte, as well as an interesting ingredient in many foods, from cookies to cocktails. All of these teas come in attractive retail tins or pouches, and make excellent holiday gifts – just don’t forget to order some for yourself as well! 

Monday, January 31, 2011

What Happens After Coffee Is Exported From Its Country Of Origin?

So in the last couple of Nicaragua blog posts about coffee farms, Beneficios and transportation, I wrote about what happens before the coffee even makes it to the roasting shop. In the next couple of blogs, I'm going to take a look at what happens when the green coffee gets to Mocha Joe's. Coffee is almost always transported on a cargo ship. This can cause a lot of problems if the transportation doesn't happen quickly. Sometimes coffee will get stuck in a shipping container at some port and the humidity can damage the quality of the coffee because coffee has traditionally been stored and transported in natural fiber bags, such as burlap or jute. Most of the time there is no problem with these natural fiber bags and most coffee is still packaged that way but when there is a problem, a whole shipment of coffee can be lost.

Natural Fiber Bags
One way of addressing this problem is the use of GrainPro SuperGrainbags. These "hermetically sealed" bags create a low oxygen and high carbon dioxide environment, so that the coffee can be as fresh as possible when it reaches the United States and can be stored for a significantly longer period of time without organic degradation. GrainPro and other special bags have saved many coffee shipments from spoil and eliminate the "baggy" quality of some cups of coffee that have been sitting too long. They are usually used inside the traditional natural fiber bags.

GrainPro Bag Inside A Natural Fiber Bag
Once the coffee makes it into the United States, it is often stored in special facilities with controlled climates. A lot of smaller roasters don't have the space to store the amount of coffee they import or even the means to import coffee on their own. Companies like Cafe Imports get the coffee into the United States and store it in their warehouses. Coffee Roasters can either purchase coffee currently available in the warehouse or place an order for a future shipment. I honestly don't know much about the export/import process but it does involve a lot of bureaucracy, legalities, logistics and documentation. Coffee import and storage companies are a must for coffee roasters that don't have the tools necessary to do it themselves.

Our green coffee arrives by truck and we unload it by hand. We usually get a couple of bags of each coffee at a time and store it in our roasting shop. That's one way that we make sure that the coffee we roast is always fresh and constantly rotating. Next up, sample roasting, cupping and production roasts!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Burning Down the House" or, Firefighting 101

Yesterday, I experienced the right of passage for all coffee roasters. I have crossed the threshold from simply a man loading and roasting coffee and now feel confident calling myself a real coffee roaster. I have fought, and beat, my first fire.

For members of the roasting industry, this is old hat. Fires are less a matter of if and more of when you’ll experience one. For everyone else, well, its a fire. And fires are scary. Here’s how it happened.

Our fantastic old Probat broke a belt yesterday. This too, is a more common than not occurrence. I dumped the beans I was roasting and Jackie, Jocelyn and I surveyed the situation. After deciding that, ‘Yeah the belt is broken. The machine should cool down and we’ll put on another belt,’ I began to shut the old girl down. When I opened the chafe collector to vacuum out the excess, I saw it. The collector was filled with smoke and swirling embers. I called out for Jocelyn, in an initial freeze of panic. The next thing I knew, Jackie and Jocelyn were in the first stages of fighting a fire raging in the air ducts. If you ever find yourself fighting a roaster fire, pray that its the day of a morning snow storm. Jocelyn valiantly got on the roof and started throwing snow down the white hot pipes. Which did a great job of putting out the fire, in combination with the water Jackie and I used to fight the fire indoors. A note on using snow to fight a fire: it actually won’t completely melt, leaving you with pipes packed with icy, creosote-y, pretty gross snow. And somehow, that snow needs to come out. After poking at it, trying to scoop and vacuum it up (hooray for wet/dry shop vacs!) we finally settled on pouring boiling water down the pipes from the roof. Success came, in a steamy, stinky fashion.

To say the fighting a roaster fire is fun is foolish and tempts fate. It was exasperating, smelly, ridiculous and exciting. After the fire was out and clean up had begun, it was possible to take a few steps back and laugh at the whole situation. Yes, roaster fires happen. You can’t know how to fight one until you’re in the middle of it. Sure, I knew where the hose was and I knew to turn off the gas and open the windows, but in the moment, you see a whole different picture of immediate problems that need to be taken care of.

Coming into work today, you’d never know we had a fire yesterday. But now, I have my first fire story. It won’t be my last, but I’m sure it’ll be the most memorable. Until the next one comes along.

Stay strong.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Pairings: Food and Flavor

One of the best ways to really begin to understand coffee and the myriad of flavors found in any specific roast or origin, is to taste. When I was a barista, one of the biggest thrills I got was recommending a pastry that brought out flavors in a specific coffee and watching the customer put these ideas together. Today, in the roasting shop, we tasted some of our favorite coffees of the moment with some delicious snacks from The Brattleboro Co-Op. Easy, delicious and educational - coffee pairings are a great way to spend an hour or so with friends.

We chose four different coffees and the referred to the descriptions we had developed previously for use on our website. We stuck to one or two flavors per coffee . . .

Guatemalan Guaya’b, the flavors we paired for were chocolate and 'red fruit' (in this case, we used cherries)
Nicaraguan Maragogype, we chose the apricot and plum notes to match with this coffee
Nicaraguan Cattura, cherries were chosen for munching with this stellar bean
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, this African coffee is known for its bold lemon flavor, we also tasted apricots

There are plenty of website out there that talk you through the act of tasting and pairing. I'm not much a stickler for following somebody else's rules so we just sipped our brews and nibbled our snacks, discussing what we noticed. By and large, the Ethiopian was the stand out. Back in my barista days, this was true as well. Give a customer a piece of lemon shortbread and a cup of Yirgacheffe (or Sidamo, for that matter) and they'll be talking about it for a week. Its like they were made for each other. In our case, the apricot was what really shone through with this particular coffee. The Guatemalan as well, was a super star. We chose a 72 % Cocoa Supreme Dark chocolate bar to taste with it. Generally, I'm a milk chocolate person, but I didn't find this overwhelming - all I needed was a tiny bit to really enjoy the flavors from the coffee.

With the Maragogype we took a risk. There are no plums to be found in January in Vermont, so we paired with a Plum Nectar. Foolishly, we didn't check the ingredients before buying the bottle and it was only after we had everything set up that we noticed it was not pure plum. This may have had some effect on the pairing. What came across in the tasting was not that the Maragogype tasted like a plum necessarily, but it reminded us of biting into a plum. There's a big difference there, when you take into consideration the tartness of the skin versus the pure sweetness of the fruit. The apricot was a good match, once again. With the Caturra we discovered something similar; that the fruit taste in the coffee was not necessarily cherry flesh. After some discussion we decided it was closer to the tartness of a dried cherry. With our fresh cherry pairing, the idea came through but it wasn't exactly spot on.

I can't recommend this exercise enough. Pairings are so much more accessible to the every day coffee drinker than a traditional cupping and you get to snack while doing it. A win / win situation all around.