Category Archives: Coffee & Tea

New! Seattle Coffee Gear’s Commercial Espresso Equipment

We have a deep love for and commitment to the home espresso enthusiast, but as our passion for making excellent espresso at home has grown, we have been exploring commercial-grade equipment, too. Obviously, comparatively few of us can afford to drop $15k on an espresso machine for our homes, but if you’re looking to either upgrade your business’ existing setup or thinking about launching a new espresso-based business, we have a wide selection of machines that is going to continue to grow.

Currently featuring primarily La Marzocco and Nuova Simonelli and Rancilio commercial-class espresso machines & grinders, we’ve also included a few of the prosumer class of machines that could work well in a smaller-scale business that has espresso as a complementary service — such as a bookstore or an art gallery. We also have tons of quantity discounts on accessories and wholesale pricing on coffee and syrups so just ask.

We’re excited to venture into a new realm within the coffee world and look forward to talking with you more about it! This blog will also expand as a resource and start offering up information that may be of interest to cafes and other small coffee businesses, so stay tuned.

Recipe: Turkish Dee-Lite

Inspired by reading about the preparation and practice around Turkish coffee, we decided to take a stab at creating a drink that incorporated the flavor of the traditional pairing of Turkish Delight. This is definitely an exotic flavor — one that the crew here found surprisingly tasty!

Ingredients

Directions
Combine the syrups in the bottom of a warmed mug. Add espresso and mix thoroughly. Top off with hot water to taste.

Coffee: The World in Your Cup Lecture Series – First Lecture Update

Last night was the kick-off of the Coffee: From the Grounds Up lecture series that is being held in tandem with the Burke Natural History Museum’s Coffee: The World in Your Cup exhibit. The series was kicked off by Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds, and was quite enjoyable. He discussed a lot of what is in his book, but here are some bits n’ pieces we picked up that we thought were interesting:

  • Caffeine is likely a natural pesticide that exists within the cherry to keep it from being decimated by tropical pests. This is similar to how coca leaves have a small amount of the chemical used to produce cocaine.
  • There is a resounding myth around the discovery of coffee — replete with dancing goats and monks — but there is some evidence that, at some point, nomadic Ethiopian people discovered that grinding up the beans of the cherries, placing them in fat and then ingesting the mixture would help them travel long distances…and this practice is still in existence among nomadic tribes in that African region today.
  • Brazil became such a big player because of two primary reasons: They had a lot of land and they were poised to take over the crop when the coffee rust disease nearly wiped out all of the bushes in Indonesia.
  • Americans have a very emotional relationship to coffee and kind of act like it’s our birthright that we should have access to cheap beans, regardless of market, environmental or political forces. There have been several times that frosts in Brazil resulted in an increase in bean prices — which then spurred congressional hearings to discuss the cause of the prices and find a way to resolve it! Communism was listed quite often as a cause during much of the cold war, and in 1962 there was an international coffee price agreement that was in affect until 1989, when the cold war ended. It was in our best interests politically to support the large coffee growing regions of the world, lest they fall pray to the evils of communist ideals! :)
  • There has always been and always will be a boom/bust cycle in coffee agriculture, due in part to the economic drivers of coffee growing regions as well as the basic growing cycle of the bushes themselves. They take a few years to produce quality cherries, so a time investment can be lost if too many are grown or not enough, etc. Around 2001, there was a huge bust due largely to an overproduction of robusta coming out of Vietnam, which was being grown to the detriment of the native highland peoples there that were being systematically and forcefully removed and persecuted in order to make room for coffee plantations. This is something that hasn’t been talked about much that we’re going to look into more.
  • Haiti was the site of the first and only successful national slave revolt, which included the burning down of coffee plantations and tons of the native trees. There are some theories that posit that the heavily denuded nature of Haiti and the removal of the colonial structures could play a part in the fact that hurricanes ravage it so often and it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere to this day. Another interesting topic for further research.
  • Because carbon dioxide is produced during the roasting process, coffee has to be a bit stale to begin with if it’s going to be packaged for export; this makes it not an easily manageable product for mass production, because the packaging can explode if the coffee wasn’t allowed to sit long enough. With the invention of the one-way release valve that is seen on many high end coffee bean bags these days, however, the coffee can be packaged more freshly and this could mean that roasting could take place in the growing country instead of after it’s exported to the consuming country. This could mean that there is room for future economic benefit in the growing countries, who could start roasting the coffee as well and then ship it out in bags with release valves.

Next week’s lecture is on direct trade and we’ll provide a similar synopsis of our thoughts here then. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or comments on what we shared here.

Brew Tip: Some Like it Hot

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Temperature, temperature, temperature. For truly great espresso, there is a fine balance between too hot and not hot enough — and maintaining the temperature from portafilter to lips is very important. Oh yes, yes it is.

The first step is to let your machine warm up all the way; often, folks think that as soon as the light goes out (generally around 1 – 2 minutes after turning it on), the machine is ready to rock. Not so! In fact, all that means is that the machine has reached ideal boiler temperature, but all of the other parts of the machine have not, so if you pull espresso right at that time, the water is going to cool significantly as it travels through colder apparatus to reach your cup. Depending on your machine, we recommend waiting anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes to allow your machine to reach an even heat.

Next step is to pull some water through the system to warm up the brew head, the portafilter and — if it’s a heat exchange — the copper tubing that pulls water from the reservoir to the brew group. Let it run through and fully warm up all the metal components.

Finally, make sure you’re pulling into a preheated cup; you can easily preheat by using the cup as the container to catch the water you just pulled through the brew group, or you can keep your cups on top of your espresso machine and let them toast as your machine warms up.

Do you have any tips on how you maintain ideal temperature for your espresso extractions? Drop us a comment here if there’s something we didn’t cover that you think is essential.

Une Tasse Savoureuse de Cafe

Look, we know that we spend a lot of time with fancy high-end machines like the La Marzocco GS/3 or the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler, but we’re not ashamed to fess up that our deepest appreciation for coffee has always come from the more than capable spout of a French press.

It’s lo-fi, fast, easy and you can take it anywhere — just like us! We have had a few people ask for tips on making the best pot of french press coffee and so we decided to record the method to our madness here for posterity, etc.

There is a growing movement toward single-serve press pot coffee in the cafe industry, similarly to what you see with individually potted tea, and there’s definitely an art and science around that as well — how much coffee, what temperature the water, how long it should steep, etc. Like all things, you can probably get as obsessive about this as you’d like, and there’s going to be differences across the board; the process outlined below is what works for us — if you have differences in opinion/experience, we definitely want to hear them!

Water Works

We could spend a few days debating which type of water to use, but the most important element is to choose water that you think tastes great by itself. Definitely filter out any chemicals like chlorine or fluoride that might be in your tap water, but if you’re working with a highly mineralized water supply, we totally recommend sticking with it. That could just be our preferences talking, however, because we dig the flavor minerals add to the end product. Regardless of your water source, set the kettle on before you grind your coffee, as you want the water to sit a bit after boiling to reach the ideal temperature. We think bringing it to a boil and then allowing it to sit for a couple of minutes works well.

The Grind’s the Thing
You’re probably sick of hearing us chastise you about your cheap grinder, so we’ll stop nagging and just tell you this: As with all things coffee, the more uniform the coffee particles are, the better the flavor. French press is no different than espresso in this regard — consistent, uniform particle size is essential, it’s just the particle size that’s different. You’re going for a coarse grind, and if you have a metal mesh filter on your press pot, your grind should be a little bit coarser than if you have a nylon one. Uniform and coarse grounds = no muddy sludge at the bottom of your cup.

The Measure of a (Wo)Man
Now that you’ve got your freshly ground coffee and your water’s on the boil, measure out 2 rounded tablespoons for every 6 oz. of your press pot’s brewing capacity.

Islands in the Stream
There really is no end to the cheesy puns we can spin utilizing bad song titles, but feel free to challenge us. Now, your water’s just below boiling, your coffee is in the pot and it’s time to pour. The key here is a steady stream that thoroughly moistens all of the coffee. Your water level needs to take into account the space required for the filter, so leave room at the top. Stir up the grounds and water to release the “bloom.”

Steeped in Tradition
Now it’s time for a little patience — but not much! — as you allow the coffee to steep. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes for a smaller pot to 4 minutes for one of the larger ones. We dig multi-tasking, so use this time to warm our cups by pouring in some of the excess water we boiled. Let the warm water sit in the cups until you’re just about ready to filter the coffee, then toss it and wipe any lingering droplets out so that’s it’s nice and warm and dry for your perfectly brewed java.

Take the Plunge
Slowly and steadily, depress the plunger — too fast and you could let some grounds escape (resulting in the aforementioned mud) or you could end up spilling some over the side. Once you’ve fully depressed the plunger, serve the coffee into your warmed cups, taking care to keep the lid and plunger stable as your pour.

Sip and enjoy!

Coffee, Live and Direct

If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you know that coffee is the 2nd highest traded commodity in the world, which certainly translates into its high impact — both negatively and positively — on the communities in which it is grown. Generally, a farmer sells to either a distributor or a large roaster, who then resells to smaller distributors for direct sale or to retail locations, which then finally sell to you. Each participator in this chain is leveling some profit margin on top of what they paid, so $1.25/pound paid to the coffee farmer ends up as your $12/pound bag of coffee in your home.

The idea of fair trade is often bandied about with regard to several commodity goods, and fair trade establishes a minimum price that, despite market fluctuations, participants will pay for a specific product. Many large scale roasters are taking a different tack: Going directly to the source itself. Perhaps in the past they were working with a distributor who would levy a profit on top of what they paid to the farmers and the costs of importing. The roaster may have been paying $4.00/pound for the beans, but the farmer was only seeing $1.25 of that, so a movement toward direct trade is burgeoning amongst larger roasters such as Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown in Portland or Counter Culture in Durham.

What is direct trade? Well, instead of dealing with all the middle men that add cost onto a pound of coffee, these roasters are developing relationships directly with farms themselves. This means they can contribute to an increased quality of life by paying a higher price that doesn’t affect their overall retail price. It also means they’re able to understand at a more detailed level the quality and origin of the coffee they’re roasting and selling. This gives them the ability to delineate between single origins and to perfect blends based less on generalized bean profiles and more on an understanding of the agricultural product, its environment and how it’s processed.

China Millman wrote this great synopsis of the specialty coffee movement toward direct trade. It urges us to be cognizant of what we’re buying and who we’re buying it from — especially in the context of the current international financial market reset. To skimp and save is on everyone’s minds, but it might just be more about spending wisely than not spending at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that beyond flags, borders and politics, this planet is more interconnected than we sometimes give it credit and something as simple as coffee can make a huge difference in the lives of families on the other side of that planet. To stop and make a choice to do business with someone who is cognizant of that connection and choosing to shift the economic and power balance out of the hands of brokers and into the hands of farmers is a powerful decision that will make every cup of that coffee taste all the better.

Recipe: Coffee & Cardamom White Chocolate Biscotti

This recipe sounds absolutely delicious! The creator states they’re a little on the cardamom-side, so if you dig that, you’re going to love these — and they taste great dipped in coffee. This recipe yields about 50 small cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp cardamom, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 tbsp ground espresso beans
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4-500 ml flour, spelt is fine if you’ve got it or use regular all-purpose
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions
Heat the oven to 180C/355F. Mix the eggs, sugar, cardamom, coffee and salt. Add 300 ml of flour, and the baking powder. Add the chocolate. Gradually add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle – don’t use so much
that it gets crumbly, but it needs to be firm enough to be shaped.

Form ropes, about 2-3 cm, and place on a lined baking sheet.

Bake at 180C/355F for about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet, and when the ropes are cool enough to handle, cut them diagonally into biscotti and place them back in the oven at 100C/210F for about 20-25 minutes to dry out.

Zombie-Proof Film Developing

It’s important for all of us to take a step back, assess our particular activities in life and try to plan around how to handle them in the midst of a zombie attack. You might think we’re joking, but we’re not.

First on our list is to make sure that, should said zombie attack take place, we’ll still be able to develop the film from our trusty 35mm SLR camera. After all, how else will we be able to fondly look back at fighting off zombies and putting our loved ones out of their crazed misery if we don’t have any snapshots that document the experience? Sure, most of you might use digital cameras these days, but we have a special throwback love for SLRs that will probably never die — zombie infestation or not.

So you can imagine our glee upon reading about the chemical reaction qualities of instant coffee and vitamin C and how they can be used to develop film. Sure, we generally leave instant coffee related items off this blog because they’re comparatively gauche, but we have to admit that any aforementioned zombie attacks may separate us from our beloved espresso machine(s) and we might have to rough it a bit. Thankfully, now we have a handy guide to refer to whilst developing our bloodcurdling film.

Maui Coffee — Back on the Map?

We all hear about the fabulously delicious Kona coffee, grown on mostly boutique plantations located on the Big Island of Hawaii, but a renaissance in Maui-grown coffee has begun, with MauiGrown Coffee’s record-setting 2009 harvest.

The plantation in western Maui is cultivating four different types of coffee plants: Typica, Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra and a Maui-specific strain called Mokka. Once the holy land of pineapple and sugar, the commodity trends for these products have suffered quite a bit, making room for the reintroduction of coffee agriculture on Maui. Visitors to the island can arrange for a tour of the plantation, or just taste the different blends that are served up at the company’s store, located in Lahaina.

News from the Front: Gail at The International Home & Housewares Show

We sent Gail out on a little recon this past weekend, to the International Home & Housewares show in Chicago. Here’s what she’s reporting back:

Delonghi: Charity Auction
Delonghi had a few artists design different front panels for a limited edition Artista machine — only 5 of each design will be made. They plan to auction these babies off on eBay, with the proceeds benefiting Oxfam International. We’ll post an update here with photos and details once this goes live.

Hourglass Coffeemaker
We wrote about this machine last week, and Gail had a chance to meet with this group at the show. No samples yet, but it is one of only two products at the show that are made with BPA-free plastic.

Handpresso in Color
One of our favorite gadgets for delicious espresso on the go, the Handpresso team has now added different colors to their available models, plus they’ve developed a travel pack that includes a thermos for hot water, 4 demitasse cups and a carrying case — we’re looking into adding some of these to the store.

On Chicago, and Her Cheap Date Ways
“I did go to a pub called Dublin last night and experienced quite a few characters. It was one of the local hang outs. Does that count?  One guy bought a round for the bar, myself included. He was well lubed up.  I had already had one beer and was quite full from that, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to choose my second poison. I hadn’t had much food all day so wandered out for chow.  It was interesting and Chicago is pretty cool.”

The show ends tomorrow, so we’ll post a follow-up later this week with Gail’s final notes on the show and possibly photos of the grand event.