Coffee as a hobby?

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TrlstanC
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Coffee as a hobby?

Postby TrlstanC » Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:50 pm UTC

I'm interested in how many people drink coffee for the taste/experience, as opposed to just for the caffeine? Not that there's anything wrong with caffeine, it's a wonderful little stimulant, but I think the average american coffee drinker drinks something like 3 cups a day, and my guess is that most of that is pre-ground supermarket coffee/dunkin donuts/starbucks, ect. Over the last few years I've slowly started to appreciate good coffee, and I'm learning more all the time. It's amazing to me the range of flavors that can be coaxed out of those beans, and I'm even more amazed at all the steps that it takes to turn the seed of some tropical berry in to my morning espresso.

So, do you have a favorite cafe, do you make your own coffee, and how? And most importantly, are you drinking anything especially good lately, and where did you get it?

While Boston isn't in the same league of coffee sophistication as Seattle or San Francisco (or even Chicago), I'm lucky enough to live near a couple really outstanding cafes, and even a great local roaster. However, I still find myself ordering most of my beans off the internet, and making my espresso at home. I've even dabbled in doing a little home roasting, which is surprising easy to try, and also surprisingly easy to screw up. I've been drinking a couple central american coffees lately, an El Salvador that was good by itself and in a blend. One from Panama that was very tricky, but rewarding when I got it right, and I'm looking forward to some more Panamas in the next couple months.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Hawknc » Sat Sep 24, 2011 2:15 pm UTC

I'm still learning how to make my own espresso coffee. Sometimes it turns out amazing, other times it's extremely average. Before I started I wasn't aware how sensitive the taste of coffee was to minor changes to temperature and time, but I certainly have a new appreciation for good baristas. Not up to roasting or grinding my own blends yet, but maybe in time.

Thankfully there is no shortage of excellent cafes and coffee shops in Melbourne; I was actually surprised how much trouble I had finding a decent coffee in Sydney when I went there, which I guess is a sign of being spoiled for choice here. Probably the best I've tried is actually an hour away in Geelong, a place hidden away in a side street called Coffee Cartel. They do some amazing single-origin coffees and roast their own beans locally.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby J the Ninja » Sat Sep 24, 2011 2:25 pm UTC

I'm from the Portland area, coffee around here is SERIOUS FUCKING BUSINESS. :P

We have tons and tons of great shops around here (although annoyingly none close to my campus!!!), and many of them will sell from very nice fresh beans as well. I don't have my own espresso machine, so I just use a french press at home. I love the taste of coffee though. Good coffee is fantastic, even if it's black/
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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby TrlstanC » Sat Sep 24, 2011 4:11 pm UTC

Hawknc wrote:Thankfully there is no shortage of excellent cafes and coffee shops in Melbourne; I was actually surprised how much trouble I had finding a decent coffee in Sydney when I went there, which I guess is a sign of being spoiled for choice here. Probably the best I've tried is actually an hour away in Geelong, a place hidden away in a side street called Coffee Cartel. They do some amazing single-origin coffees and roast their own beans locally.


I'd actually heard a couple news stories about coffee in Australia recently. The most recent was that McCafe was apologizing for how bad their coffee was, and was going to try and improve it for the Australian market. And the other was that Starbucks ended up closing a majority of their stores they had opened, and the press release was something like "we've underestimated the sophistication of the Australian palette" or something like that. The basic message from both being "we sell this swill everywhere else and no one seems to mind, but we can't get away with it in Australia."

Hawknc wrote:I'm still learning how to make my own espresso coffee. Sometimes it turns out amazing, other times it's extremely average. Before I started I wasn't aware how sensitive the taste of coffee was to minor changes to temperature and time, but I certainly have a new appreciation for good baristas. Not up to roasting or grinding my own blends yet, but maybe in time.
Espresso is certainly very tricky. The italians have it down to a science, but it's a very strict science. They've figure out how to make consistently good espresso by making sure that every step of the process is consistent. From the coffee, which is a similar blend, roasted a similar way everywhere to the grinders, machines and even cups. Even small changes though can cause problems. For example, when a cafe is busy they can make one great espresso after another, but when the machines sit idle most of them will end up a lot hotter or cooler then they're supposed to be (they're designed to hold a certain temperature when in constant use) and the first shot or two will be off.


But you can also play with all the different variables, starting with trying different coffees, but once you do you can't take anything for granted anymore. A small change in grind, dose or temp can have a big effect, especially when we start going more complicated brew methods or espresso. All things considered though, I would rather have good fresh coffee and brew it with whatever's available/easiest than try to use stale (or just boring) coffee with the best equipment in the world. However, I still think that a good grinder is a great investment, even if it's just a simple hand grinder. Fresh ground coffee just smells so good, it's got so many volatile compounds, and as soon as it's ground it starts to oxidize much faster, it just can't hold on to those flavors very long.
Last edited by TrlstanC on Sun Sep 25, 2011 1:54 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Nath » Sun Sep 25, 2011 12:58 am UTC

I tend to geek out about coffee sometimes. I live in Seattle, and my favorite cafe/roaster is Herkimer. Elsewhere, I've enjoyed Chicago's Intelligentsia and Portland's Stumptown (though I've mostly had stuff from their Seattle roaster).

As for preparing my own coffee, at home I use a cheap Melitta pour-over cone and a crappy blade grinder. The main advantage over a drip machine is that I can control the temperature of the water. The filter makes it more forgiving to the uneven grind than a French press would be. Right now I'm brewing a Costa Rica Tarrazu from Trader Joes -- I can't really justify pricier locally roasted beans considering how long a 12oz bag lasts me. But when I do spring for some single origin stuff from Herkimer, I find this method pretty good at showing off the characteristics of different beans.

At work, we have a commercial grinder and La San Marco espresso machine (yay gift grants). They ask us not to play with the machine settings, so the grind is often suboptimal, but I usually end up with a drinkable espresso or latte. By drinkable, I mean better than the large chains, but not great compared to decent local places.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Amarantha » Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:17 am UTC

If it weren't for the caffeine, I'd drink waaaay more coffee than I do. I love the taste, but I'm sensitive to the drug, so I try to stick to exactly one per day (in the morning). Usually it's bought from a cafe, but I make it at home inna moka pot or plunger on weekends if I don't go out.

As Hawknc said, we're spoilt for choice in Melbourne. Some mornings sheol and I drive in to work, and on those days we stop at Proud Mary for what in our experience is the best coffee in the area. If I get public transport I just go to some cafe near my work, where the coffee is drinkable, but nothing special. Nearer sheol's work there are some better options, such as Cup of Truth or Brother Baba Budan. Some weekends we go and try other recommended places such as Pope Joan, Seven Seeds or the Auction Rooms.

We didn't realise how good we have it here until we went travelling. Try to get a decent coffee in most of France; that was a bit of a shock. If anyone is going to Oslo, check out Tim Wendelboe; he has a micro-roastery right there in the cafe (and is from Melbourne). Also Sigfred's (sp?) coffee shop in Aarhus, Denmark. And that Monmouth place in London wasn't bad.
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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby TrlstanC » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:05 pm UTC

Nath wrote:At work, we have a commercial grinder and La San Marco espresso machine (yay gift grants). They ask us not to play with the machine settings, so the grind is often suboptimal, but I usually end up with a drinkable espresso or latte. By drinkable, I mean better than the large chains, but not great compared to decent local places.


ooh, that's a nice set up to have at work. And yeah, it's not too hard to make something better then the large chains if you're willing to put in a little time. Most of the big chains now have fully automatic machines, they just push a button and espresso (or something like it depending on the last time the machine's been adjusted) comes out. If I had to make espresso without changing the grind I'd probably end up with a little digital scale and measuring cup (depending on how many weird looks I was willing to get) so I could adjust the dose consistently - higher dose for a slower thicker shot, and lower for a faster lighter shot. I find it's very difficult to get consistent shots if I'm just dosing by eye/volume, maybe someone working as a barista all day would have better luck, but even small changes in dose (+/- 5-10%) can have a big effect on taste.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Nath » Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:53 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:ooh, that's a nice set up to have at work. And yeah, it's not too hard to make something better then the large chains if you're willing to put in a little time. Most of the big chains now have fully automatic machines, they just push a button and espresso (or something like it depending on the last time the machine's been adjusted) comes out. If I had to make espresso without changing the grind I'd probably end up with a little digital scale and measuring cup (depending on how many weird looks I was willing to get) so I could adjust the dose consistently - higher dose for a slower thicker shot, and lower for a faster lighter shot. I find it's very difficult to get consistent shots if I'm just dosing by eye/volume, maybe someone working as a barista all day would have better luck, but even small changes in dose (+/- 5-10%) can have a big effect on taste.

Well, I usually try to fill the basket exactly to the rim, and level it off with my index finger. For a given grind, this seems like a consistent way to dose. The two other variables I can control are the tamp and the duration of extraction. I usually give it a good, strong tamp (since otherwise water goes through too quickly), and run water through till the crema starts to look too light.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Sep 26, 2011 4:22 pm UTC

Nath wrote:Well, I usually try to fill the basket exactly to the rim, and level it off with my index finger. For a given grind, this seems like a consistent way to dose. The two other variables I can control are the tamp and the duration of extraction. I usually give it a good, strong tamp (since otherwise water goes through too quickly), and run water through till the crema starts to look too light.

I think that's the way most cafes in the states do it too, and with a big commercial grinder you'll probably get fairly consistent results since their grind is pretty consistent. But what's really interesting is that coffee grounds aren't homogenous: there are a lot of relatively big particles that are created by "slowly" grinding bits of the bean off, and they'll be about as big as the smallest space between the burrs in the grinder - pretty much what we'd expect. But there are also lots of "fines" that are created when pieces of the beans shatter when they break and there are lots of these, but they're so small they only add up to 10-15% of the weight of the grounds. These two types extract very differently, but the fines also end up slowing down the flow because they get pushed in to all the spots in-between the bigger particles. Which is good, coffee without enough fines in it doesn't really work for espresso, it comes out way too fast. But this means that small changes in dose can have a big effect on the taste of the overall shot. Not only does 10% more coffee mean that it's going to be a stronger shot, but it means that there are more fines, the flow will be different and you can get entirely new flavors showing up in the cup.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby coffeefrog » Wed Sep 28, 2011 1:26 pm UTC

Certainly I'd be ordering beans off the internet, whether from 49th Parallel, Intelli, Stumptown, Bluebottle, Klatch or a dozen other wonderful roasters. You could also check out Market Lane (Australia), Hasbean & Square Mile Coffee Roasters (UK).

Brewing espresso well is one of the most fiendishly difficult jobs there is - it's easy to do well but impossible to ever truly master. The beans change over time, roast to roast (green beans age too), with dose (weight), distribution profile (mostly you're aiming for a smooth, even layer), grind size (particle science) and extraction profile - try hooking up a really accurate temperature logging device to your machine group head and you'll be in for a shock.

If you're drinking coffee for taste, you could focus on high-end single origin coffees, and try brewing through siphon or pourover as well (Hario products rock for this).

Coffee tastings and cuppings are run at a number of quality establishments - it might be worth talking to all the local roasters you can find, expressing your interest and seeing what you can learn from cupping coffees with them. Coffee has ~1000 descriptors compared to wine's ~120 (in taste) - the reverse is true for mouthfeel, but we're on a taste topic.

Nath, if you've got a big commercial grinder (I love my large conicals - 68mm+)or even a decent flat burr grinder (Mazzer Mini/Macap M4/Breville Smart or better) and a solid espresso machine (Rancilio Silvia level or higher), it's worth getting a regular tamp pressure and standard extraction style worked out, then vary grind as the exclusive measurement. levelling off with a business card (and distributing into any dips) with a light shakedown tamp prior, that'll work well.

Tristan - you're kinda wrong about fines and kinda right. The double-peak is very common with many grinders, and this is generally best for espresso, but it's more of a grinder-to-grinder comparison than a scientific fact. Mahlkonig have done some nice research into this, but fines aren't necessary for espresso. A finer grind with the same dose will indeed slow flow and give different shots and new flavours with good coffee, but there's a mix of opinion and science in your post and someone with a better understanding of the science might explain it differently? Sieving out the fines and trying your shots again might give you some interesting results.

I'm still surprised Randall hasn't done a "3rd wave coffee" joke yet.

> If anyone is struggling with their espresso brewing, feel free to PM me - I'm a qualified barista judge & occasionally work as a barista trainer. Just don't tell me you have a blade grinder - go out and buy a good quality burr grinder if you do.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Black Dynamite » Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:46 am UTC

I live in Seattle as well, and I hate Starbucks. I have a little home espresso machine and I generally make better lattes and mochas than what I can get at Starbucks. I have been trying to be a coffee snob, but I'm not very experienced with it. Through research and pulling my own shots at home I have grown to greatly respect any competent Barista. What I have noticed is that most commercial coffee places don't have competent Baristas, though.

If I had the money an commitment, I would purchase myself some more sophisticated equipment for home espresso brewing, and also buy specialty coffee beans. For now, though, I do great just with what I have and my massive bag of Costco coffee beans (how many people cringed at that?).

I've been to the U-district here in Seattle, and I think that the Trabant coffee shop is great. Or if you happen to be in the little suburb of Burien, Burien Press is also worth it.
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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Nath » Mon Mar 05, 2012 3:19 am UTC

Black Dynamite wrote:I've been to the U-district here in Seattle, and I think that the Trabant coffee shop is great. Or if you happen to be in the little suburb of Burien, Burien Press is also worth it.

I used to be a fan of Trabant a few years ago, back when they used Intelligentsia. I'm not as fond of them now; their espresso tends to be quite sour.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby Annihilist » Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:16 am UTC

If I want just caffeine I drink an energy drink or black coffee. But otherwise I drink coffee just cause it's great. I love caffeine and coffee, so it's perfect.

I can make myself cappuccino's and latte's to my own (low) standards at home. I have a local cafe just down the road from my school that makes GREAT coffee.

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby mosc » Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:02 pm UTC

Just like whiskey, I find blends to be superior to single threaded tastes. Coffee, like whiskey, can be very focused in flavor. The rounder taste of a blend I find much more appealing. I personally like medium dark blends going after as much flavor as possible while staying short of a french roast burnt taste. This is generally called "Columbian style", even when it's made from other beans.
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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby majorbig4 » Tue May 08, 2012 5:24 am UTC

I cannot get over how complex and just plain tasty I have found espresso to be. Lately I have even finished making some major modifications to my machines. I also make a point to stop off at what I consider to be the only good cafe I have found in Florida whenever I am making a cross state drive. I would really say that I am quite a coffee geek :D

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Re: Coffee as a hobby?

Postby AntonGarou » Tue May 08, 2012 9:13 pm UTC

Over here in Israel coffee is a culture of its own. We're very finicky about our coffee, and each subculture and meeting has a way of drinking it- from straight exspresso , through the black turkish variety(with/without spices) and over to latte. We are one of the only two places in the world where Starbucks got kicked back out on its ear over their coffee, the other place being Italy(as a friend of mine puts it:american coffee isn't).

Each type of coffee carries social marks, i.e. turkish coffee is what you brew for army/work comrades when out together, especially "in the field", or drink if you learned to drink it in ME extraction home or the army(just to give one example). And good places of work can be ranked just by how many coffee options from these you have. In general what the Reverend Mother said to Paul in the beginning of Dune("Your father pours the best coffee to attract the best men" IIRC) makes instinctive sense to an Israeli.
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