Category Archives: Zoka

Meet the Roaster: Zoka Coffee Roasters

Zoka Coffee RoastersFounded in 1997, Zoka Coffee Roasters began with a small roaster in their now flagship café in the Tangletown neighborhood near Greenlake. Owner Jeff Babcock started Zoka because he wanted to create company whose purpose wasn’t about becoming a giant corporation, but whose goal was to create incredibly quality-oriented coffee. Jeff says, “We really wanted to focus on the quality of the coffee – because I knew it existed and I wanted to get there. I wanted to make a spectacular cup of coffee and I also wanted to make a great latte.” Jeff adds:

Just about every coffee company in the world says ‘we have the best coffee in the world’ but there is a lot to that, and if you really do have spectacular coffee, you have to go to the farm, you have to find it, you have to really know how to roast it right after you have found it, and then your presentation in your store as to prepare it right, and your baristas have to be very quality oriented and very customer friendly. So having all of those elements correct is the journey. And I guess you never quite get there, but we’re getting a lot closer.

In addition to continuing to learn about coffee, part of this journey has been becoming heavily involved in both the local and coffee community. In 2003 Jeff was invited to judge his first Alliance for Coffee Excellence Cup of Excellence (COE) competition, and has continued to judge them ever since. Likewise, Zoka consistently turns out fabulous baristas, and several of them have won barista championships. Finally, as Jeff mentioned previously, being on the ground and getting to know the people who grow, harvest and perfect the coffee Zoka roasts is a very important aspect to creating a spectacular cup of coffee. As such, Jeff makes frequent trips to origin to connect with coffee farmer around the world.

These reasons and more are why Zoka Coffee Roasters have become a much-adored favorite among coffee lovers over the years. In the last year Zoka was even named as one of America’s 15 Best Indie Coffee Shops by Fodor’s Travel, which is an impressive accomplishment. Here at SCG we’ve been fortune enough to work with Zoka quite a bit. Their talented crew members often stop by our stores for tastings and educational demos, so keep an eye on our calendar to make sure you catch the next one. We also were recently treated to tour of their roastery and got a chance to chat with their team. To learn more about Zoka Coffee Roasters and the wonderful small batch-roasted coffee they produce, check out our interview with Jeff Babcock himself.

Meet the Roaster: Zoka Coffee Roasters

Java Talk: Zoka Coffee Chemex Demo

Zoka CoffeeContinuing on our tour of local roasters, we recently visited Zoka Coffee in Ballard, Washington. While we were at the roastry, we were lucky enough to have our friend David brew up some Zoka coffee on a Chemex for us. We were also able to persuade him, which really wasn’t too hard, to share some of his brewing suggestions during the process In fact, if you’ve visited us at our Bellevue retail location, hopefully you’ve been able to pick up some of David’s tips firsthand at one of the workshops he has hosted. If not, here’s your chance to see what you’ve been missing!

One thing that made this demo different from others we’ve seen was that David introduced us to a relatively new filter to use when brewing; the Coava Kone. The Kone is made out of locally sourced steel and has laser precision perforation (say that three times fast!), which provides a really clean, crisp flavor. Even without the Coava Kone, David said the Chemex is Zoka’s favorite way to make coffee in general. This brew method is a little more forgiving than something like a Hario Cone and creates a lot of body like a French press but without being as sooty or oily. As a result, the Chemex is a great way to bring out the flavor nuances in single origin coffees and in coffee blends as well. David explained that the Chemex is used as a standard in Zoka’s roastry and they are beginning to implement in several of their cafes. If you’re interested in doing the same, or want to learn how to brew on the Chemex at home, check out David’s brewing tips in this video.

How to Brew Chemex Coffee Zoka Coffee Style:

In this brew, we used Zoka Coffee’s Santa Rosa 1900, a single origin coffee grown in the hills above Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

  • Measure out 48 grams of whole bean coffee and grind it to about the same size as kosher salt.
  • Place the grounds in the Coava Kone filter in the Chemex. This filter is the reason why your grounds should be a little coarser than what you would use with a traditional paper filter. If you use the same size grind, it will be too fine and you will have a thin layer of soot at the bottom.
  • Begin by saturating the grounds evenly with water that has been heated to 204 degrees Fahrenheit. Let saturate for about 30 seconds.
  • Continue to pour the rest of the water, using frequent small pours beginning in the center and expanding circularly to the outside. Avoid pouring down the sides of the filter to prevent water from getting underneath it, diluting the coffee.
  • The extraction process should take a little over four minutes, and use 720ml of water.
  • After your coffee has finished extracting, throw away the coffee in your filter, pour coffee into a preheated cup, and enjoy. You should have about 40 oz. of coffee, enough to serve three to four people.

Java Talk: Zoka Coffee Roasters Chemex Demo

Field Trip: Zoka Cup of Excellence Tasting

You may be wondering, what is the Cup of Excellence (COE)? How will my cup measure up? Will it give me an inferiority complex? I was first introduced to the COE on a recent field trip to Zoka Coffee Roasters, where Sam and I got a tour of the facility and the low down from head roaster Celeste Clark.

The COE is one of the most esteemed awards given to coffee roasters. Over the course of three weeks and at least five tasting rounds, coffees are rated based on the following criteria: cleanness of cup (can the coffee’s terroir show through?), acidity (does it have a brightness to it?), mouthfeel, flavor (a combination of taste and aroma), aftertaste, balance and overall score. Each round eliminates the lowest rated coffees, and the last ones standing that receive 85 points or higher are Cup of Excellence Winners. Among the highest quality coffees in the world, consider yourself lucky to get your hands on these beans.

Zoka is no newcomer to the COE and coffee roasting accolades, their founder Jeff Babcock having previously judged the Guatemala Cup of Excellence competition.  On our recent field trip, we tasted their Espresso Palladino Blend, Tuscan Blend, Colonel Fitzroy and Java Nica according to COE standards. We started the cupping process by experiencing the aroma of the ground coffee in each cup, three cups per blend to compensate for any inconsistencies. We then combined equal parts ground coffee and water, allowing the coffee to bloom and steep for four minutes.  While breaking the delicious brownie-like crust (see photo for action shot), we got to experience the aroma a second time.

Celeste and Dana, pros in the coffee world, then went to work removing the grounds from each cup, and we waited six more minutes before we had our first sip. Like tasting a fine wine, a loud slurp from the spoon was key to getting enough air on the palette to highlight various flavor profiles.  To prevent caffeine overload, it’s commonplace to spit post-slurp, rinse your spoon and repeat with the next cup. Slurp, savor, spit, rinse and repeat. As the coffees cooled down even further, different flavors began to shine through, and I tasted more cinnamon notes in the Java Nica, hints of pecan in the Colonel Fitzroy and the Palladino’s deep molasses undertones. It was a coffee revelation!

I’m often so eagerly awaiting my cup of java in the morning that I throw it back quickly to feed my inner-beast, but this experience reminded me to take the time to indulge in each cup. Savor your coffee as it cools from piping hot to room temperature – you’re guaranteed to taste more complexity with each sip.

Thank you to Zoka for sharing this meticulous cupping technique with us and being so generous with their time! If you’re a lucky Seattlite, stop by one of their cafes and treat yourself to an artfully crafted coffee beverage this winter.