Category Archives: Articles

Coffee in High Altitudes

It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were wondering in the store how brewing coffee or pulling espresso differs at higher altitudes. We’re basically at sea level here, but we’d been talking about the kind of coffee some of us have found in the higher elevations of Montana — more bitter and like ‘coffee water’ than what we make and drink here.

We found the answer in this interesting piece on coffee in Santa Fe, NM. A Qasimi discusses how the higher altitude affects brewing and roasting:

I don?t drink home-brewed coffee in Santa Fe. I?ve often found it sour and lacking in the depth, robustness and natural sweetness that makes great coffee great. How does high altitude affect coffee and espresso quality at home and with the use of commercial equipment? Drip coffee machines that merely boil are convenient devices but they deliver water to the grounds at below the ideal range of temperatures, leading to underextraction of the beans and a sour, dull or poorly developed brew.

Thus, the only way to compensate for altitude is pressure — and that means espresso — but pulling a proper espresso shot is not easy at this altitude either. Ironically, though the best coffee grows at higher altitudes, with water?s lower boiling point in elevated places, brewing can get tricky. Roasting, on the other hand, merely benefits from altitude: The best possible results come from roasting the beans at the same altitude as they?ll be used and particularly at high altitudes that allow for faster roast development at lower temperatures

Roasting Art

We found this great article on coffee roasting and it inspired us to think more about roasting beans at home. We carry three different models of roasters, and have been thinking about trying out the i-Roast 2 to get more familiar with the roasting process. Do you roast your own beans at home? Got any tips for us? We’d love to hear them!

Article reprinted here for your reading pleasure.

Continue reading Roasting Art

Cream, Sugar and….Salt?

We love to adulterate our favorite brew with all manner of sauces, syrups and additives — we’ve even been known to throw a little bit of cayenne into the mix. But salt isn’t something that comes readily to mind when we’re concocting a new espresso recipe.

Cut to the Taiwanese, who are going gaga over ‘Salt Coffee’ — brewed coffee topped off with two layers of milk and cream infused with sea salt. The craze was inspired by their current mass-love for all things sea salt because of its higher mineral content and improved health benefits over regular table salt. 85 Degree Bakery Cafe, Taiwan’s largest coffee chain, developed the idea and imbibers report that it’s not so much a salty brew, it’s just a heightened taste sensation…which makes sense, given salt’s uncanny ability to accentuate the positive in nearly every other flavor.

We’re heading to the testing lab to develop a salt coffee recipe of our own!

Health Watch: Caffeine & Pregnancy – Part Two

The most often used mood-altering drug around the world, caffeine has nearly an equal amount of advocates as it does detractors — it’s even moving into the holy ‘anti-oxidant’ status, previously reserved for the likes of broccoli and pomegranate.

But up for debate is how much should be consumed by pregnant mothers, and we found this interesting article that highlights different studies and their findings, with an overall recommendation that coffee consumption be either avoided or greatly reduced while pregnant.

Caffeinated Climate

In the hot pursuit of alternative energy sources, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, stumbled upon coffee grounds as a possible new basis for biodiesel.

After leaving a cup of coffee on the counter top overnight, lead researcher Mano Misra noticed the oil slick that had separated and floated to the top of the coffee. He decided to examine the process necessary for turning used coffee grounds — currently just a standard waste product that many non-composters just throw away — into a viable source of biodiesel.

They collected 50 lbs. of used grounds, determined that the mass contained between 10 – 15% oil by weight, went through the process of extracting the oil and then converted it into biodiesel using standard chemistry techniques. The result? Well?it worked, but they estimate that all the used coffee grounds in the world would make up less than 1% of the annual diesel consumption of the US.

So while it’s an interesting approach (that apparently smells fabulous!), it’s not totally conceivable right now that our used up coffee will save our planet. We did love one reader suggestion, however, which was to build a coffee maker that was powered by the previous brew’s coffee grounds — now that’s something we can buy into.

Cherry-Picked with Love – Part Two

A couple of weeks ago, we posted the first part of a series on Kona coffee farmers Jim & Sharon Skibby — writer Chris Smith has spent time learning about this small coffee plantation and offers up his experiences in learning how they care for and harvest their coffee trees.

Chris’ second installment was published last week, and it goes into more detail around the nurturing and harvesting practices that Jim & Sharon employ — as well as Jim’s tips on coffee flavors. It’s a very interesting read for those looking to learn more about small scale coffee agriculture.

Hot Blog on Blog Action: Coffee Like Wine

We spend a fair amount of time poking around the ‘net to find interesting information to share with you, gentle reader, and came upon the blog Coffee Like Wine that discusses artisan coffee and wine experiences had by its San Francisco-based writer.

Providing feedback on everything from different bay city cafes to cupping events to the flavors of single origin beans, this blog has a ton of great subjective information from an avid connoisseur. Check it out!

Colombian Coffee, Take 2

For many of us, the image of Juan Valdez is synonymous with coffee beans: The seemingly humble, weather-wizened old man donning a sombrero and a coffee-filled satchel who arrives each morning in your kitchen to fill up your Mr. Coffee. But Colombia’s posterchild has aged, slipping from his place as the 2nd largest producer in the world and suffering the ails of economic hiccups and hardships.

Out-produced by Vietnam about 8 years ago, a steady decrease in new farmers and an aging agricultural tradition, the Colombian government has decided to refocus and spur growth in their largest agricultural export. Economic influences unfortunately took down a number of plantations, and many families with an agricultural history closed down their farms because of an inability to support themselves on the meager revenues their exploits produced. Some went into new careers, such as working in a bakery, while others opted to plant a much more sought-after crop: Coca, the basis for cocaine. Over the past couple of years, however, the Colombian government has begun to invest capital in a renovation of sorts, setting up younger farmers on plantations with younger coffee plants in the hope of revitalizing their participation in the international coffee community.

They have a couple of challenges, however, that might keep them from ever playing ball at the 2nd tier again: They grow arabica, while Vietnam grows the much heartier robusta, and their sloped terrain makes it impossible for them to use machines in their harvest like the Brazilians. But with a reputation for rich bodied coffee and a growing international appreciation for the quality of handmade goods, Colombian coffee may well be on its way back to posterchild status.

Looking Lean on the Beans

Coffee Cherry PlantWe wrote recently about the environmental factors in India that may reduce that country’s crop harvest this season, and it’s looking like the current economic influences are making it hard for Brazilian farmers to get the loans required to fertilize and harvest their entire plantations.

What does this mean for us? Well, annual consumption of coffee beans per year is around 130 million pounds, but production is now estimated at around 122 million pounds of beans for the next harvest season, leaving us with a possible 8 million pound shortfall.

Hot Blog on Blog Action: Man Seeking Coffee

Written by a mild caffeine addict whose only qualifications are a passion for coffee and tons of wasted money on experiencing bad coffee, Man Seeking Coffee is a blog for lovers of the bean who are looking for tips, corroboration or debate.

The San Francisco-based writer has even come up with a rating system for beans so that you’ll come to understand his perspective on a truly quantitative level, but also talks about cafes and coffee culture…you know, just to round it out. Enjoy the read!

Ed. Note: The Man Seeking Coffee blog is currently on hiatus. You may want to try A Table in the Corner of the Cafe blog instead.