Machine Cleaning Report Card: Are You Among the Failing?

In this month’s CoffeeTalk, I discuss the importance of machine cleaning. Having encountered layers of “antique” coffee in machine innards like what’s pictured here, on more than one occasion, I could no longer remain silent(!) Get the whole story – what needs to be cleaned and when, the scoop on detergents, more — in September’s CoffeeTalk or visit here and flip to page 20, zoom in and start reading.  And cleaning!




1. Place 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream
into a blender.
2. Add 2-3 good quality lady fingers.
3. Prepare 1 espresso and add to blender.
4. Blend for 30 seconds.
5. Pour into serving glass.
6. Finish with a dusting of cocoa powder.
Optional: Add 1 tsp of sweet marsala.

Home Blending

With an extra day to try something new this long weekend, how about creating your own, signature blend?  It’s may be easier than think, depending on how complex of a blend you want to make, and it’s a great way to explore coffee deeper.

Creating a good house blend takes some basic knowledge of coffee biology, chemistry, and geography.  Understand what characterizes each bean—those single notes, and how they play together—and you’ll have what it takes to start blending at home.  Give yourself time to experiment, since some factors are tough (if not impossible) to control at the micro level, like lot-to-lot variations and roasting and freshness dynamics. Consistency is going to be your biggest challenge: something that larger-scale blend makers work endlessly to perfect.

Blending is about the right ingredients in the right proportion. Try this formula to start: 50 percent natural Brazilian or similar, 25 percent washed Central American, and 25 percent washed East African. Give it a taste, and then start refining, dialing up and down components to find your own, personal blend bliss point. As you get more comfortable, start substituting other beans with similar profiles, adjusting proportions to fine-tune balance.

When getting more experimental, research your favorite beans’ aromatic and flavor characteristics. The more science-minded can go further, exploring genotypes and growing environments. Either way, go for a variety of characteristics—the symphony effect—instead of amplification of one favorite note.

Roast level is critical.  Be afraid of the dark, because over-roasting produces excessive bitterness that masks coffee’s best aromas, upsetting the very balance that blends should provide.  Look for medium-to-dark roasted natural coffee, and light-to-medium roasted washed coffee. Read labels carefully, or talk to a barista or counterperson you trust. 

Most of all, have fun!  And tell me about your adventures.

*Visit here to see my full piece “A Symphony of Coffee: Creating Your Own House Blend” on The Atlantic.

Giorgio’s Coffeepedia: D

You may be wondering why I skipped a letter.  I’m holding out on “C” for a very special holiday, on September 29.  Check back in that Monday to see how I define one of the most important words in my coffeepedia.  Now on to “D”!


My Five Favorite Coffee Books for National Book Lovers Day

As many (OK, maybe just a few) of you may know, August 9 is National Book Lovers Day.  What better time to share my favorite books with you? All about coffee, with one notable exception.  So many of us love reading while enjoying our favorite beverage, so why not combine those two passions? I’ve pulled together some thoughts on my five favorite books. There’s something for all coffee lovers, from the newly infatuated to old pros.  Enjoy! 


1. Coffee: Philosophy for Everyone

Scott Parker

Parker approaches coffee by looking for deeper meaning inside the common cup of Joe.  Read this book and feel your passion for coffee reach new highs by exploring common coffee from a new point of view.  Parker’s philosophical approach opens up a completely new world of coffee.

2. L’universo in un guscio di noce - The Universe in a Nutshell

Stephen Hawking

Time to wake up the brain! Going yet deeper, one of our generation’s greatest theorists explores the science of theoretical physics, wonderfully putting abstract concepts in layman’s terms.  Let Hawking take you on a beautiful journey through time and space, rich with images. About coffee per se?  No?  A must read?  Yes! Just make sure to have a coffee in hand to keep your focus! (This book is available in both Italian and English. I prefer the Italian version for obvious reasons, not everything translates as well for me.) 

3. Espresso Coffee, The Science of Quality

Andrea Illy & Rinantonio Viani

This is my coffee bible.  Written by my boss, Andrea Illy, along with Rinantonio Viani, this book covers all aspects of the world’s favorite elixir, including espresso chemistry and technology. This is for the advanced coffee reader. Parts of the book include chemical formulas, so if this scares you, just skip ahead and keep reading; they’re not necessary to complete the book. An essential volume for coffee aficionados. 

4. The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee

Stewart Lee Allen

If you’re an aspiring world-traveler, this one’s for you.  Allen journeyed three-quarters the way around the world to answer his own deep questions surrounding coffee, proving that the world was wired long before the Internet.  A must read for any coffee enthusiast…and travel buff.

5. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

Mark Pendergrast 

</font></font>«Pendergrast, a frequent writer on coffee, explores the dramatic changes in coffee culture over the past decade.  The crisis that caused a global drop in coffee prices, the rise of the Fair Trade movement and the third-wave of passionate coffee connoisseurs are just a few essential developments Pendergrast explores.  This is a deeply entertaining and informative guide to our favorite beverage’s recent past.

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&#8230; 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)


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


2oz espresso shots (2 shots of espresso)

2oz hot whole milk (Warmed, not steamed)

5g white sugar (2 illy sugar packets) 


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. 


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!