Category Archives: Articles

Cherry-Picked with Love

A thousand feet up in the hills behind Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jim and Sharon Skibby grow top-notch coffee. Theirs is a small-scale operation, a labor of love. From 75 trees they harvest about 700 pounds of cherries (coffee fruits) — enough to make 100 pounds of finished coffee.

Read all about how this pair of boutique coffee farmers harvest and process their beans each year — quite interesting!

Put Your Face On It

Don’t care to learn the finer points of steaming milk with microfoam or pouring the latte art favorites of hearts and leaves? Now you don’t have to! Just hack together an 80’s era Kodak inkjet printer and a flatbed scanner, load it up with caramelized sugar and you’re in! At least, that’s what these guys think — hope, actually — and they’ve built a prototype to sell to your neighborhood Sbux.

Just think of all the fun variations you could have with this. Sure, you don’t need a logo on your latte, but if you’re feeling a little bit vain, how about a cameo-style portrait of yourself? Get hardcore with your inner crazy cat lover by imprinting your feline companion’s visage on your latte. Or, if you’re hoping to smooth out some family ties, put your mother-in-law’s smiling face on there as a ‘tribute’. Really, the options just might be endless.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Skin Cancer

Sun exposure and skin damage may not be a concern for those of us in more northern climes right now, but if you’re wintering in Rio or snowbirding in Santa Fe, you might be interested in this interesting study on the positive effects caffeine may have on post-sun exposure skin.

Based on a study conducted a few years ago that indicated women who drank more than 6 cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a lower incidence of skin cancer than those who drank less, researchers at the University of Washington exposed mice to UV rays and then rubbed them down with a caffeine solution.

The result? Well, preliminarily, it appears that the mice who received the caffeine solution on their skin had a lower incidence of damaged skin cells than the mice that did not and they’re hypothesizing that the caffeine helps the body eliminate the damaged cells more easily.

While more testing is needed to determine how caffeine can help with skin cancer prevention, you might think about adding a little extra protection to your sunblock by cooling off with an iced latte while you’re relaxing on the beach.

Space Joe

If the inability to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in space has kept you from pursuing your cosmonaut dreams, last week’s invention of the zero-G coffee cup by NASA astronaut Dave Pettit is sure to make you tingle.

Pettit is known for funky space inventions, but when he arrived at the International Space Station, he had one goal in mind: Find a way to enjoy his beloved joe from a cup, rather than a bag & straw. Liquids in space can be a messy proposition, and hot coffee introduces an element of risk as well, but that wasn’t going to stop Pettit from devising a method of enjoying his java from a cup.

Using a piece of his mission book, he formed a vessel with a tear-drop shape that is closed at one end. The surface tension within the cup keeps the coffee inside instead of floating about the station. He suggested that his invention could apply to more than just coffee — future space colonists could utilize this kind of cup for celebratory toasts.

So now that the coffee cup question has been answered and you’re back on track to becoming an astronaut, you’d better hit the books — time to learn Russian.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Training

Are you a cyclist looking for a quicker way to regain your energy stores after a long distance ride? Well, this interesting study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology indicates that caffeine has a significant positive impact on helping you to rehab more quickly after a long ride. The catch? You have to drink a lot of it — which may not be a negative thing for us caffeine maniacs.

At the School of Exercise and Sport Science in the University of Sydney, researchers found that study participants that drank caffeine-supplemented high-carb drinks after long rides restored much more of their glycogen stores (which gives the primary energy for endurance activities) when compared with participants who drank just a regular high-carb drink.

Caffeination Time — Come On! (It’s Time for Caffeination)

OK, so it might not necessarily be as age-old as the chicken vs. the egg debate (wait, didn’t they solve that?), but the argument over which has more caffeine — drip coffee or a shot of espresso — is often kicked around the ol’ coffee shop. Obviously, like any good debate, the answer varies almost as widely as the number of preparations for caffeine-carrying plants around the world.

The first thing to keep in mind in this discussion is the plant: Are we talking Robusta or Arabica? Arabica has less caffeine than Robusta, so the bean blend is important to know before you guesstimate your caffeine intake. Secondly, what’s the roast look like? A super dark roast eliminates a large portion of the caffeine content, sending those molecules up in smoke. Lastly, take a look at how much you’re consuming, because quantity matters: If you’re drinking 4 oz. of espresso vs. 7 oz. cup of drip, your intake will be a lot different  than these standards:

  • Percolated (7 oz): 140mg
  • Drip (7 oz): 115 – 175mg
  • Espresso (1.5 – 2 oz): 100mg
  • Brewed (7 oz): 80 – 135mg
  • Instant (7 oz): 65 – 100mg
  • Decaf, brewed (6 oz): 5mg
  • Decaf, instant (6 oz): 3mg

In general, the longer the coffee grounds are in contact with water, the more caffeine will be extracted into your brew. Caffeine is largely responsible for coffee’s bitter taste, which was one of the motivations behind the development of espresso: The relatively short brew time results in a significantly less concentration of caffeine, allowing you to taste other flavors in the coffee.

(Caffeine concentration amounts and molecular image courtesy of Erowid)

Meet the Real Juan Valdez

On a visit to the coffee-growing hills above San Lucas, Rice cultivated what would later become the American fair trade movement. Founded in 1998 in a converted warehouse in downtown Oakland, TransFair USA began as a bare-bones operation with an unusual premise – put more money in the pockets of farmers in the developing world by persuading consumers thousands of miles away to pay a premium in the name of social justice. Modeled after organic produce and dolphin-safe tuna, Rice started the organization with the stark black and white label that told shoppers their coffee came from farmers who received a “fair price.”

The San Francisco Chronicle just wrote this very interesting profile of the man who founded the Fair Trade movement for coffee, Paul Rice. We highly recommend the read!

Tech Tip: Backflush Flashback


If you have a semi-automatic espresso machine with a 3-way pressure release, or solenoid, valve, you need to backflush it on a regular basis to keep the machine in fine working order. Backflushing will clean up behind the screen and into the brewing system, cleaning out coffee or grounds residue and reducing the potential for clogs.You can watch Dane as he cleans a Rocket Giotto, or follow these steps:

  1. Replace brew basket with a blind basket in the portafilter (or you can use this universal insert in your existing basket)
  2. Place 1/2 teaspoon of a backflush detergent such as Cafiza or Joe Glo (Important: make sure it indicates backflushing as its primary use on the label — do not use Dezcal or any other standard detergent here!)
  3. Insert the portafilter into the brew group and initiate a shot
  4. Allow the pump to run about 4 – 5 seconds maximum
  5. Turn the pump off and allow the water and suds to release through the valve
  6. Repeat this process until the water coming out of the valve is clear and suds-free
  7. Remove the portafilter, rinse it in cool water to cool it down and then switch out the baskets again
  8. Before you pull your first shot, run a blank shot through the system to make sure there is no residue leftover

Health Watch: Aluminum Boilers & Alzheimers

One of the more controversial topics within the discussion of Alzheimer’s is whether or not aluminum has a causal relationship to the development of the disease. Since the first study in the 1960’s that found higher concentrations of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s than in the brains of people without the disease, scientist have been exploring the influences and attempting to correlate the two, with contradictory results. To this day, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, and the medical community is still very uncertain about whether or not the aluminum found at the center of the plaques which they believe to be the cause of the disease are the cause of the plaques or simply a harmless secondary association.

What does a discussion of neuroscience and disease have to do with coffee? Well, many people are concerned about the uncertain and contradictory information on this topic — one that might be close to home to any of you with an espresso machine or stovetop espresso brewer with an aluminum boiler. Since aluminum is part of the earth’s crust and used in tons of products, from toothpastes to antacids to cookware, it’s difficult to avoid it altogether. But the amount of aluminum that might leach into your espresso during the brewing process is relatively minimal, if any, than you would intake normally, so it’s likely not much of a concern.

While the jury is still out on whether or not aluminum is a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer’s, or just coincidentally happens to be along for the ride, you’re probably pretty safe to continue enjoying your delicious espresso — aluminum boiler or not.

Brew Tip: Got Two Turntables and Microfoam

If you’re looking to rock like a pro barista, you need to perfect the art of microfoam — that glossy smooth steamed milk that makes latte art possible. It’s really not that difficult to pull off once you know the step-by-step process:

  1. Keep your steaming pitcher in the refrigerator/chilled
  2. Start with icy cold milk (about 34F degrees)
  3. Begin steaming by getting the milk to spin rapidly clockwise, then
    work the surface of the milk for about 15 – 20 seconds in one of the
    following ways:

    • Standard Steam Wand: Bring the tip of the steam wand to the top, so that it just barely breaks the surface to suck in air and milk
      simultaneously
    • Panarello Steam Wand: Submerge the wand so that the top of the
      milk and the air intake slot or hole are even, allowing milk and air to
      be drawn in evenly — if you submerged it above the air intake, you’ll
      just steam the milk; if you submerge it well below the intake, you’ll
      end up with fluffy, bubbly foam
  4. Plunge the steam wand all the way into the milk and then roll the milk for the remainder of the steam
  5. Temperature-wise, your milk should measure between 140F – 180F
    degrees — if it’s too cold, it will be chalky; if it’s too hot, it
    will be scalded
  6. Tap the pitcher on the counter to settle the milk and force any air bubbles to the top
  7. Prior to pouring, roll the milk slightly around the pitcher to
    incorporate the foam and the milk. The milk should have a shiny, glassy
    smooth surface that is free of any bubbles
  8. Pour to make your favorite latte art

More visually inclined? Check out our video.