MonoArabica pour over station at Marriott meeting in NYC. Plus espresso bar and Brazilian cold brew!

MonoArabica pour over station at Marriott meeting in NYC. Plus espresso bar and Brazilian cold brew!

Cold brew (steep) coffee experiments… Different coffees, different ratios, different steeping time, different grind. I love my job!

Cold brew (steep) coffee experiments… Different coffees, different ratios, different steeping time, different grind. I love my job!

Hot Time for a Cold Brew

(as told in this month’s CoffeeTalk)

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With the HHH kicking in and summer officially launching next week, it’s a great time to dig into the cold brew method.  For one, how a related method, called cold steeping, is often confused for it.  So let’s get down to it…

Cold Brewing
Cold brew­ing is some­what akin to fil­ter cof­fee, and it requires spe­cial gear rang­ing from $45 to the hun­dreds of dol­lars and beyond. The other invest­ment: cof­fee, where you’ll need twice the typ­i­cal amount per ounce of water for typ­i­cal drip cof­fee. In a nut­shell, ice-cooled water drips from the upper part of a glass tower. A valve reg­u­lates its speed, which is ide­ally one drop per sec­ond, and a spiral-shaped pipe before run­ning over ground cof­fee housed in a clear cylin­der cov­ered by thin tis­sue or fil­ter paper. From there, a sec­ond fil­ter pre­vents the grinds from enter­ing the next sec­tion of pipe, from which fin­ished liq­uid drips and col­lects in the tower’s base.

Expect to invest 12–16 hours in cold brew­ing, mak­ing it best done overnight. You can shave a lit­tle time by using a very coarse grind, but it is at the risk of los­ing some nice aro­mas. Practice makes per­fect, so if you are just start­ing out, then give your staff time to get it right. With the July and August heat still to come, there is plenty of time to get ready and reap the rewards of the higher mar­gins that cold brew typ­i­cally commands.

Cold Steeping
Cold steep­ing, on the other hand, is extrac­tion by infu­sion. This method does not take much in the way of fancy equip­ment. Simply mix cold water and ground cof­fee, stir gen­tly, and let it steep in the fridge or at room tem­per­a­ture. For fridge prepa­ra­tion, steep for the same 12–16 hours as for cold brewing.

Room tem­per­a­ture steep­ing opens up the door to high vol­ume prepa­ra­tion when it is done in con­tain­ers up to five gal­lons, such as com­mer­cial size Toddy, oth­er­wise it may be unfit for well-stocked, non-walk-in fridges. This sub­set of steep­ing extracts fla­vors a lit­tle more rapidly, bring­ing prep time down closer to 12 hours, per­haps slightly less.

After cold water or room temp steep­ing is com­plete, sim­ply strain, and fil­ter. If it sounds akin to French press, indeed it is, and press pots are well suited to the task. Accordingly, use a coarser grind and do not stint on the beans. You will need about twice the amount than the basic one-gram of cof­fee per ounce of water rec­om­mended for hot French press prepa­ra­tion. The Toddy device that I men­tioned ear­lier works very well and it is a great value at roughly two dol­lars per jar.

What About the Beans?
You many have noticed that I have not made any dec­la­ra­tions about beans. And that is because, crazy as it may sound from a barista, for cold brew­ing and cold steep­ing bean qual­ity and type are not nearly as crit­i­cal as in hot cof­fee. Cold water does not extract com­pounds to nearly the same degree as water almost at a boil, so by def­i­n­i­tion, many fewer good aro­matic com­po­nents will be extracted. What this means is that you get to save your best beans for hot meth­ods. For sure use good qual­ity, not overly roasted Arabica, and enjoy the extra mar­gin you will earn.

Thirsting for More?

Grab the June issue of CoffeeTalk or visit here to read my piece online.

Recent News: Coffee Rust Crippling Coffee Production Throughout Central America

Many of you may be aware of the “coffee leaf rust,” or “roya” in Spanish, fungus causing widespread damage to Central America’s coffee crops.  The implications are serious and far-reaching, spanning farmers’ livelihoods to retail prices.  For those who want to learn more, here are two worthwhile articles:

  • In Elisabeth Malkin’s “A Coffee Crop Withers” (The New York Times) explores the crisis’s impact on four million people in Central America and southern Mexico who rely on coffee for a living.  The story includes a video interview of Luis Antonio, a farmer who shares how the fungus is threatening his livelihood.
  • Victoria Cavaliere’s “Coffee Rust Battle Intensifies” (Scientific American) discusses the distinct risks to high-quality Arabica plants.  A spokesman for the region characterizes the outbreak as, “the worst in Latin America’s history,” estimating that that production will decline from 15-40 percent over the coming years. 

This epidemic offers (in this case, sad) proof that there’s much more to coffee than meets both the eye and taste buds. If any good comes out of this crisis, it will be better understanding of coffee’s delicate ecology, and more compassion and appreciation for those who nurture coffee from seed to bean.

NYT: Artisanal NYC Coffee Climbs Northward

Hats off to Oliver Strand and NYT for today’s big story on serious coffee shops opening in Midtown and beyond, climbing north from their Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan bases.  I’ve been to many of the places mentioned in the story and, for the most part, admire their work – Toby’s Estate in particular.  

I was also glad to see Oliver note how customer service at third wave shops is warming up, a topic I just addressed in a my monthly CoffeeTalk column.  (Flip to page 18 here.)

Happy hunting!

illy El Jefe

The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival started this week, and I am honored to have been asked to create an original coffee drink on behalf of illy, the festival’s official coffee sponsor. Fittingly it will debut at the first screening of the film Chef on April 22, starring Jon Favreau and an A-list group of co-stars. My drink creation, the illy El Jefe, turns the famed Café Cubano into another coffee art form. 

The classic Café Cubano adds sugar during brewing to balance the bitter, more astringent flavors present in the Robusta beans traditionally used to make Cuban coffee, along with ultra-high-temperature milk. The illy El Jefe substitutes 100 percent Arabica beans and fresh organic whole milk. Stay-tuned next week for more about my experience at the Tribeca Film Festival.  And here’s the recipe.

illy El Jefe Recipe 

Total drink volume 4oz

Serving: Cappuccino cup 5.5oz + saucer. Spoon optional

Ingredients:

2oz espresso shots (2 shots of espresso)

2oz hot whole milk (Warmed, not steamed)

5g white sugar (2 illy sugar packets) 

Instructions:

Put sugar into cup

Pull a double shot over the sugar

Steam milk no foam

Pour milk gently into cup

A Global Coffee Road Trip…With Just a Few Bumps

Cheers to CheapFlights in the UK for putting together this coffee world tour, in the form of an eye-catching infographic.  Hop onboard to see a variety of preferences: 31 preparation styles spanning Malaysia, Columbia, Ireland…the good ole USA…and nine other coffee loving countries in between.

I do, however, have a few bones to pick about the Italian stop. 

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For one, there is no difference in the amount of milk used by baristas in the north and south in the same coffee drinks.  Rather, it is the volume of espresso that varies.

Italians drink coffee with milk only in the morning?  Not so!  We like cappuccinos until about 11 a.m., when another milk infused classic,  the macchiato, takes over.

Contrary to the detail near the bottom, it isn’t “customary to drink coffee standing up” in Italian bars, nor is it unusual to linger in a coffee bar.  Customers on the go can choose to stand, and there are ample tables and chairs for those who want to chat, or spend quiet hours solo paging through a newspaper or iPad.

Still, I applaud these guys for their ambition, and for what is, on balance, valuable info for globetrotting coffee lovers.

 

Five Cites, Five Top Spots for Coffee

I’m away from home a lot, not always able to start my day in my favorite way: making my own coffee.  While other road warriors jot reminders of go-to bars and hotels away from home, my ever-growing list is of cafes that get it just right.  Here are five such “diary entries,” starting with one from my NYC home base.  Stay tuned for more cities and more cafes!

1. New York City, 2Beans

100 Park Ave, NYC

This place really gets it about providing a total sensorial experience. The look is elegant, contemporary Italian (they had me right there), with an expertly curated coffee and chocolate (the two beans!) shop that will blow you away. Chat with the friendly, expert staff, order a master crafted espresso or specialty coffee drink, and choose from the vast selection of high quality chocolates: ideal partners for fine coffee. Relax in the comfy upstairs lounge while that coffee and chocolate work their special magic on your palate, brain and soul. You’ll find a good selection of savory items for lunching or snacking.

2. San Francisco, Prima Cosa Caffe

One Embarcadero Center (street level), SF

This is a beautiful, traditional Italian café right in the heart of SF, with expertly crafted espresso and espresso-based drinks. The knowledgeable and friendly staff understand how a smile is part of great coffee experience.  A full menu of savory foods and pastries adds to the experience, as does the nice outdoor seating, ideal for relaxing solo, meeting a friend, having a business meeting, or my favorite past time…people watching!

3. Miami, Intermezzo Café

1109 Brickell Avenue, Miami, FL

This is a case of follow the crowds, as in the big ones that congregate at this Downtown café gem mornings and lunch times. The big brother of the Intermezzo Café at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel (just a five-minute stroll away), this beautiful Italian like café (OK, so I love my country!) seamlessly integrates a great American food concept, delighting hotel guests and passersby alike at the JW Marriott Hotel.

4. Long Beach, Portfolio Coffeehouse

2300 East 4th Street, Long Beach, CA

Awesome coffee and even more awesome food!  This is the place for an outstanding breakfast or a delicious lunch or snack.  Uber-talented baristas and chefs work hand in hand here to perfection, entertaining and engaging you with conversations about coffee (if they’re are not too busy!).  Nice and cozy seating area, nice fellow customers.  Come for the food, stay for the coffee…or vice versa!  

5. Chicago, Bar Toma

110 E Pearson Street, Chicago, IL

Looking for that place with great food, fine wine and an ideal coffee experience all under one roof?  The Windy City’s Bar TOMA is the place to go. The vision of famed chef/owner Tony Mantuano of restaurant Spiaggia, Bar TOMA is an awesome pizzeria (one of the best pizza in US…trust me, I know the real thing!), an excellent restaurant and wine bar with fresh, house made products (mozzarella, for example) and café serving the highest quality coffee. The espresso is one of the best in town, very well executed by knowledgeable barista.

And I couldn’t help but sneak one more on my list…

6. DC, Artisti del Gusto illy Caffé

1143 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC

This little café connected to the Renaissance Hotel in Dupont Circle is recognized as the finest Artisti del Gusto illy coffee and tea service retailer in the area.  A major part of this high-quality experience is the staff. The baristas who work there are fabulous; always ensuring that your coffee is perfectly crafted and an experience rather than just a cup of Joe. It’s no surprise that people will walk miles to experience the beautiful atmosphere and top-notch quality of coffee!  

Coffee’s Bright Future

Did you know I moonlight as a writer for CoffeeTalk magazine?  I’ve had the gig since January.  I thought you might like a peek at the March column – a fun one on two teenage barista prodigies, right here in NYC.  And who just happen to be brothers.  Here are a couple of sips…

Our tale starts one warm June morning last year, at the start of the two-day illy University of Coffee class I teach at the International Culinary Center in Soho.  Among the hotel executives and coffee entrepreneurs enrolled were two young guys sporting the title “Coffee Enthusiast” on their nametags.  “My brother and I had a couple of weeks to kill between school and camp, so instead of watching non-stop Netflix, we went looking for a coffee class,” recalls Maxwell, speaking on behalf of older brother Lucas, currently away at college.  After breaking the ice with (what else) a warm espresso, the stories started flowing, of the well-equipped barista stations each brother maintains at home, of preferred preparation methods – for Maxwell, make that espresso and French press – and of the friendly competitions these barista brothers regularly wage, and use to hone their skills.

Fast forward to present day…

Maxwell says University of Coffee opened his eyes to coffee’s bigger picture – its rich history and farm-to-cup journey, and to two colors he never knew were part of its palate: red (cherries) and green (unroasted beans).  He came to see and appreciate the global community that coffee inhabits and influences, not least the local growers who beat at its heart.  As for the pleasure of consumption, “I discovered tasting notes I couldn’t believe existed in coffee,” Maxwell said.  “And I know my palate isn’t fully developed, so I’m bound to discover more.” 

Grab a copy of CoffeeTalk to read more about Maxwell’s and Lucas’s remarkable skills and passion for coffee.  The March issue will be online soon here.  Scroll down just a little to find the issue. 

Coffee & Wine: Deep-Rooted Connections

Coffee professionals often equate their trade to the art of making and enjoying fine wines. So I read with great interest a story about just that in The Wine Enthusiast.  Overall, it’s quite interesting and informative, but gets certain facts about coffee wrong, and leaves open some holes to fill.  Spade firmly in hand, here I go – with zero apologies for the author’s (i.e. my) many biases!  

The story does well by highlighting major coffee growing regions and listing general characteristics associated with each. However, to assign a general set of taste attributes to a huge growing region like Africa, as the piece does, is like saying all wines from Napa have the same exact characteristics.  (Interesting, because the writer goes on to note that altitude and other factors play a role in bean characteristics, just as in wine grapes.)  Coffee speaks many regional dialects throughout each country where it grows, owing to the varying climates, soil types and other growing conditions – or terroir, in coffee and wine terms – from region to region.  That in turn creates coffees from the same country with sometimes completely different aromatic and taste profiles.   

I liked how the story guides readers to coffees from certain regions based on their wine preferences.  For example, the author equates an off-dry Riesling to Ethiopian-grown coffee, the two sharing white flower aromas and citrusy flavors. The only wine-coffee connection made in the story that I would challenge is Syrah and Dark Italian Roast.  I would more closely connect a Syrah with a Brazilian Cerrado Minerio.  Both are bold and have dark chocolate notes.  Further, in that same case, the author incorrectly equates a wine varietal to a roast, instead of a bean, as he correctly does in the other pairings.

If you follow me regularly, you’ll know my last issue well.  The piece urges readers not to be afraid of the dark, as in dark roasts.  My friends, be afraid.  Sometimes, very afraid.  A darker roast in itself isn’t bad, but there is too much over-roasting going on, which produces unpleasant bitterness and masks the desirable flavors present in any good bean.

Let’s keep this coffee-wine dialogue going.  What do you think?

robl3k asked

Any suggestions for cleaning a stainless steel Bialetti mechaneto? I've avoided using soap on all parts. Good idea?

This is the way to go but once in a while (weekly if you use it every day) you need to use neutral soap to remove the oils. Water is not enough… 

Valentine’s Day Latte Art

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Ingredients:
1 shot espresso
4-5 oz whole milk

Instructions:
1. Steam the milk until it’s thick and creamy, with not too much foam.
2. Pour espresso into a coffee cup, keeping it slightly to one side.
3. Sword the milk (swirl/spin) in the pitcher until the milk surface shines.
4. Pour the steamed milk in the center of the espresso slowly at first, then increase speed.
6. When the milk is halfway gone, keep pouring, but gently move the pitcher right-left to facilitate the foam-pour.
7. When the milk is almost gone, and the “apple” shape appears, reduce the pouring speed and move the pitcher over and across the surface. The small, remaining trail of foam will pull a line through the center of the apple, creating a heart shape!

To read more, visit Refinery 29: http://www.refinery29.com/latte-art

Coffee: Even Better with all Five Senses

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Life rushes by so fast, we don’t fully appreciate its simple pleasures. In coffee’s case, make that taking time to savor the beautiful complexities and possibilities within something so remarkably simple to enjoy. Coffee is so much more than liquid meeting tongue. All five senses play a distinct role, some in entirely surprising ways. Let me show you how.

Sight

Sight is our fastest-acting and most powerful sense. The shade of brown in your cup should directly correlate to preparation method, setting up the taste experience to follow. Well-made brewed or pour-over coffee should be lighter brown relative to espresso, almost reddish. French press and espresso done right occupy the other, darker end of the spectrum. Espresso actually sports two shades of brown: very dark liquid underneath, capped by the lighter crema on top — ideally a rich, caramel brown, painted with tiger stripes.

Hearing

The melodic, rhythmic sounds of grinding, tamping, and each machine’s own natural melody can be relaxing in a ritualistic way, whether heard at home or a favorite cafe, where the simple power of a nice hello can further heighten your coffee experience. Find your “happy coffee listening place,” can’t find it?  Pop in those ear buds, and let music take you there.

Touch

For coffee, touch equates to mouth feel. It is often said that a great espresso “paints the tongue,” and indeed, it does. Body, temperature, and astringency are coffee’s tactile markers. Also, just holding a warm cup of coffee provides many with a sense of comfort – especially when cradling porcelain, not paper.

Smell

I urge (make that, plead with) –you to sip, never guzzle coffee or any other fine beverage. Go slow and give your sense of smell ample time to do its good and necessary work. The olfactory sense has two facets: aroma and flavor. Aroma, or odor, is the olfactory sensation created by breathing. Strong aromas are present in roasted whole beans and freshly ground coffee, but the prepared beverage itself doesn’t release many volatile compounds — particularly espresso, where the crema acts like a lid.  (Interesting fact: the sensation is stronger while exhaling.)  Among the most prevalent flavors to enjoy are jasmine, red fruit, berries, nuts, oranges, flowers, chocolate, caramel, and vanilla. The level at which each occurs varies by bean origin and blend composition.

(And Of Course) Taste

Our taste receptors, located on the tongue, pick up but four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and acidic. While certain regions of the tongue are more attuned to sensing one taste or another — salt, for instance, by the center region — all of our taste buds can perceive all four tastes. As a rule of thumb, lighter roasts are more acidic, while dark roasts are more bitter.

Now go experience coffee with all five senses, and take your coffee ritual to new places!

*Visit here to see my full piece “Coming to Your Senses: How to Really Taste That Cup of Coffee” on The Atlantic.