Tech Tip: Superautomatics and Oily Beans

We have written before about the no love lost between superautomatic espresso machines and oily, dark roasted coffee beans, but when we got a machine in the repair center last week that was caked to the gills with coffee cement, we just had to film it and show you what we’re talking about.

Watch Gail take apart the grinder of a Saeco Vienna superautomatic espresso machine and show what happens over time to the internal grinders on these machines if someone is using super-dark and oily beans. We definitely recommend sticking with a lighter, drier roast for the long term health of your machine — and now you’ll see why!

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

This past Tuesday, we headed into the third lecture of the Coffee From the Grounds Up series, being held at the University of Washington in conjunction with the Burke Natural History Museum’s exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup.

Unfortunately, we had a last minute scheduling conflict, so weren’t able to attend last week’s lecture on Direct Trade — very bummed about that. Tuesday night’s lecture was from an anthropological perspective and was entitled Why We Love Coffee. The speaker was professor Eugene Anderson and covered the social, cultural and economic factors that make caffeine-based drinks such an essential element of so many societies. Professor Anderson explores the impact of all types of drinks that contain caffeine — from coffee to tea to yerba mate to even cola — and it was quite fascinating to hear about the importance these stimulant-based beverages have in different societies.

Some of our notes from the lecture were:

  1. Purchasing shade grown coffee is one of the most powerful choices we can make as consumers because they’re promoting fabulously diverse nature preserves around the planet
  2. Caffeine works by preempting the adenosine receptors in our brain which regulate our sleep cycles and the acclimation process inspires our body to create more adenosine receptors, which is why we need more caffeine over time to experience the same result — your body will keep producing these receptors because you need to sleep, eventually
  3. Chocolate was used historically in a similar method as coffee, but the chocolate houses around the world slowly transitioned to coffee houses because it takes less coffee than chocolate to produce the same result, and coffee has little-to-no calories, whereas chocolate will make you feel full after awhile because of it’s high caloric composition
  4. The UK and other members of the Commonwealth are so tea-centric due to the coffee rust blight that wiped out the coffee plantations in India and Sri Lanka — after this happened, the plantations replanted with tea instead, which is why these societies became such renowned tea drinkers
  5. Coffee houses were historically notorious hotbeds of rebellion — the American Revolution was born out of coffee houses, and it’s no secret that the Beat generation, which fed into the 60′s hippie movement in the US, spent a lot of time fomenting their resolve in coffee houses (Cafe Trieste in San Francisco is one such legendary place where the likes of Alan Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs wrote/read/ranted)
  6. Feminist politics were also born from coffee, although more so in private spaces, the coffee klatches of yesteryear were spaces in which women could get together in order to discuss their own version of what many considered subversive politics — that is, equal rights
  7. The rise of what some consider ‘yuppie coffees’ — ie. Starbucks gourmet lattes, etc. — has turned the coffee house from a place of the working classes to the haunts of the leisurely, privileged class
  8. There is intense ritualization of coffee and caffeine-based drinks around the world; the highest per capita coffee intake is in Finland, which has an incredibly sacred, detailed and intricate ceremony that developed over hundreds of years and involves the evolution of the bread that was adopted/adapted by several different cultures — one notable evolution is Jewish challah
  9. Many of the aforementioned ceremonies were developed as a method for creating community or celebrating the sacred. For example, the Sufis developed a ceremony that involved coffee simply because it helped them stay awake for the other aspects of the ceremony
  10. The explosion of coffee consumerism over the last 300 years can be tracked to an increased adherence to time/alarm clocks (something driven largely by the industrial revolution), work discipline trends and the gourmetship/connoisseurship of the bean
  11. Coffee houses were also historical places of business. We’re used to seeing folks working on laptops at the local cafe, and this is a natural evolution of what used to be considered the poor man’s or working man’s office. Establishments such as Lloyds of London began as a coffee house, frequented quite often by members of the maritime industry, which eventually developed into an insurance/bonding firm that is now famous for some of their more unique insurance policies. It was quite typical that community or labor leaders would have their specific hours at a specific table and the locals could find them there during those ‘office hours’ at the local coffee house
  12. Coffee houses — and all houses that serve caffeine-based drinks — serve the very vital function of the 3rd place. The 3rd place refers to a non-work, non-home environment that allows for community, society and brings people together — they are intrinsic locations for humans and the societies in which they live, as they help them to both adapt to and survive the system

Overall, the lecture was very involved and the above notes are just a selection of what we gleaned from Professor Anderson. Wonderful food — and drink! — for thought.

Nerdy Birds: Portland’s Micro-Roasters

The double-edged sword of many small start-up companies is that growth can often come at a price — sometimes that price is the culture, sometimes it’s the product and, if you’re a small company hailing from Portland, OR, it can come at the price of cred. With homegrown independent roasters such as Stumptown expanding into the burgeoning NYC espresso market, what was once considered an alternative to the big boys is slowly becoming a big boy itself.

So how does DIY and indie-heavy PDX keep it real? It becomes a breeding ground for the next wave of small independents that might develop into something larger down the line. Peopled by young couples with toddlers and folks exploring the next chapter in their lives, the growing swell of micro-roasters in the Portland area speaks to that region’s history of upstarts, rebels and creatives.

In this fabulously descriptive profile, Kathleen Bauer discusses the trend and poses questions about the Portland roasting scene to five of its stars. One aspect we really loved about this article was the discussion of the volatility of coffee — that dialing in the scientific elements is not actually a science at all, and that every batch of coffee is different. This extends into the brewing space, as well, and is something we often find ourselves reiterating to new-on-the-scene espresso enthusiasts who are in search of the Ten Steps to Perfect Espresso how-to guide that, honestly, can’t possibly exist.

The creativity, artisan craftmanship and just plain nerdy obsession with delicious coffee that these roasters embody is something we love — and something that makes us love the coffee they produce all the more.

2009 World Barista Champion: Gwilym Davies

The UK National Barista Champion, Gwilym Davies, took the top honor Sunday at the World Barista Championship! Held this year in conjunction with the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s exposition in Atlanta, the competition featured four days of trials and eliminations with participants from 52 countries. Throughout the course of the competition, Gwilym created four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks, coming out ahead of finalists from Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Korea and the US.

In addition to the super-tight title of World Barista Champion and a hefty trophy, Gwilym also walks away with a Victoria Arduino Athena espresso machine and Mahlkonig K30 grinder. He’ll reign supreme until next year’s competition, scheduled to take place at the June 2010 Specialty Coffee Association of Europe’s exposition in London.

Congrats to Gwilym!

Ask The Experts: How Should I Clean My Grinder?

Your grinder may have a few nasty habits it’s not too proud of: Namely, it’s clingy and has difficulty getting rid of things. While we appreciate the packrat sentiment, it’s important that you motivate your grinder to regularly clean up its act — and since it’s an inanimate object, you’ll have to take the lead.

Depending on how much you grind, you’ll want to remove excess grounds from the burrs on a regular basis — home grinders should do this monthly, while cafe grinders will need to do it weekly. If it’s easy for you to pop out the burrs on your grinder, do so and thoroughly brush the burrs free of any built up coffee grounds. If you can’t easily get at the burrs, you can use a product such as Grindz, which is a hard, starchy product designed to clear out the oils and lodged particles from the burrs.

We have heard that some people use raw rice or wheat to achieve the same results as Grindz, which is a wheat-based food-friendly product. However, we haven’t tried this out and don’t know how successful or safe it is for your burrs.

In addition to the maintenance on the burrs, we also recommend wiping out the hopper regularly to cut down on oily build up that could become rancid over time.

Hot Blog on Blog Action: Spronomy

Spronomy coffee related blog We just ran across this blog, launched in late March by a barista in Pennsylvania, and got lost in the tales and photos of his recent trip to a Guatemalan coffee plantation with which his cafe directly partners in trade.

In addition to a detailed discussion of the coffee process, Spronomy also talks about mod’ing his cafe’s Mazzer grinder to work around that annoying left tick the grounds seem to take and examines the success/failure of smaller cafes in the Pittsburgh area. While this blog is just getting started, we will definitely be keeping our bookmark on it and checking in regularly!