Reminder – Manual Brewing Workshop in 4 days!

October 19, 2010 · Filed Under barista jam, Brewing, Coffee, Community, Events, How-to, Industry, Jam, Machines / Grinders · Comment 

Brown is hosting a workshop focusing on manual brewing by the cup, which continues to find an ever-wider audience. This is a free and open workshop for serious home consumers as well as coffee professionals.

The goals for this gathering are simple:

-To continue growing the coffee community in Texas

-To provide some outlines of popular manual brewing devices

-To help level-set baristas with best practices around manual brewing

-To introduce a game-changing device for the industry that’s soon to be on the market: the Luminaire Bravo-1

Hope you can make it out for a fun evening with great coffee, great coffee people and some of the latest and greatest coffee equipment around.


Manual Brewing Workshop, October 23, 2010 6-9pm. Brown Coffee Co. San Antonio, TX.

Crema – A perk, or a necessary evil?

October 6, 2010 · Filed Under Article, Brewing, Coffee, Espresso, How-to · 4 Comments 

Crema has often been believed to be a sign of a properly pulled espresso.  More recently, crema became loved as a sign of freshness of the coffee.  More recently still, a famous blogger declared that crema is rubbish.  Let’s move on to the lesser appreciated, but more commonly “understood” expression of coffee oils and gas often referred to as “creme”, but that I refer to as “bloom”.

French press fans have long been fans of what is often improperly called “crema” or “creme”.  It is referred to as “bloom” before poured into the cup, and it doesn’t change states between brewing and pouring, so I have opted to refer to it as bloom.  Nevertheless, it has then moved on to be an indication of how fresh a coffee is.  If it is “too fresh”, there will be unmanageable amounts of gas being released upon hot water contact, and the bloom risks overflowing its vessel.  More recently, an earlier World Barista Champion introduced the “cupping method” of French press brewing.

The question then being, “Does it make a difference?”  I have done a LOT of experimenting with French press brewing.  It’s the way that coffee is most often brewed in the mornings in my household.  It is full submersion brewing (read: even extraction) that you could teach a monkey to do.  There were talks of using a high dose and short brew time with a french press when the Clover was taken off of the independent market.  It can be used for cold brew coffee.  You can brew at double strength quite easily for Japanese method iced coffee, or to tide you over until you can afford that espresso machine that you so wisely passed up in order to blow all of your money on the best grinder you could get your hands on.

The French press definitely has it merits.  I would argue, however, that the single greatest contribution for the quality of home coffee brewing is the introduction of getting rid of that gorgeous foam before pressing the plunger down on your French press.  It makes that big of a difference.  Back to espresso.

Espresso, as we all know by now, is comprised of three parts: crema, body, and heart.  By definition, espresso is not espresso without crema.. but that would lead to a philosophical debate about ontology and semantics (so let’s just leave that bit out).  The heart is the concentrated solution of dissolved and undissolved solids in the bottom of your demitasse.  It is the reason for espresso’s being.  (I have found myself wiping clinging remainder of an espresso from the inside of my demitasse with my finger to get every last bit of flavor from one of the best shots I have ever tasted)  The body is the bulk of the liquid part of the espresso, which contains water, dissolved solids, and not a whole lot else.  The crema, they say, is a colloid of coffee oils and carbon dioxide gas.  The carbon dioxide is a known binder of aromatics.. which is something that most aficionados recognize as vitally important to a good cup of coffee.

It seems, however, that there is something else hiding in the crema, as well as in the bloom.  People have often talked about fine particles in the cup, but rarely do they blame the crema or bloom for that bitter tinge, when they are often the bulk of the cause.

Bloom lends texture to your French press coffee, and it is visually pleasing to behold.  Crema can tell you a lot about the espresso that was just served to you before you even taste it.  It also lends a texture, and a lasting persistence of flavor and aromatics long after the espresso is consumed.

The definitive question, however, is:  Is it worth it?

Leave your comments below.

Espresso vs. Other Brew Methods

July 15, 2009 · Filed Under Brewing, Coffee, Espresso, Industry Insight · 2 Comments 

This is less a comparison and more of a question.

Do you find yourself preferring any specific brew method for your coffee?

If you work in the industry, consider this a question based on a morning or afternoon coffee for pure enjoyment, and leave all analysis aside.

I’ve found myself being awfully fond of macchiati lately, regardless of the coffee used (be it a blend or single origin).  Of course, this falls under the Espresso category.

I still enjoy other brew methods immensely, but I find myself most satisfied with a small blast of flavor rather than taking enjoyment in the act of consumption itself. Which is something I discovered I used to enjoy as a reason to prefer larger drinks(cups of coffee, that is.. I’ve never been fond of lots of milk).  It seems like a strange contrast to make, I realize.

I have seen more and more references to Toddy (and other cold-brews) on the web and more people taking an interest in French Press here in Lubbock.  Some people are discovering the Abid “Clever” filter brewer.

What do YOU tend to prefer?  Why?  I always like reading the thoughts of others.   Leave a comment.

Coffee Maker by Tom Metcalfe: Artful Brewing

I’m not saying this is the ideal way to make a cup of coffee, but you can’t deny how cool it is.

It roasts.

It grinds. It brews.

Three operations. Three tools.

A 5 minute video showing the process. From green bean, to cup of coffee. All from one table-top design set.

COFFEE MAKER from tommetcalfe on Vimeo.


A Focused Approach for Tough Economic Times

black-coffeeAs the recession continues to loom overhead, and even progress further down, it has probably become obvious to many that the sale of higher priced ticket items are on the decline as more people try to economize by sticking with the less-expensive brewed options.

While this may seem on the surface to be a negative hit to retailers, it does not have to be so.

When recessions hit, the smart investors start buying up stock, taking over other companies, and the likes as have been seen recently, as well as what happened in the Great Depression of the 30′s. SOMEONE stands to profit from it. The trick is learning how to work it to your advantage as well.

In the world of coffee retail, many many people have worked their tails off trying to educate their customers, trying to get them to try new coffees, trying to push the COFFEE, rather than the ‘recipe’. Consider the retail phenomenon we’re seeing as a golden ticket of opportunity. If you show your customers that your shop is trustworthy, and is looking out for their best interests, you can survive, and even thrive.

Roasting companies are doing pretty well in these times. That’s been the word from the roasters I have asked about it, and I’m assuming that goes for most others as well, assuming they are doing a decent job with their coffees.

How can a retailer profit from this? Sell more whole-bean coffees, offer different brew methods, hold free classes for consumers, and offer affordable brew-at-home equipment in your stores.

Brewing up batches of coffee is awfully convenient, but when the rush slows in the late morning and into the afternoon, how much of it gets thrown out? If the answer is “none”, is it because it’s not being refreshed with fresh brews, or is it because it’s being sold? If the answer sounds something like the first of those two, then it’s time to change something.

If you have been reading Texas Coffee People for awhile, you may remember our piece about Bottomless Coffee, and why it may not be such a great idea afterall.  If you have read that piece, then what you’ve just read may sound like a repeat of information.  It is.

I am reminded of one famous roaster/retailer’s Black Week, in which no milk-based beverages were served.  The customer response?  POSITIVE.  Here’s a question:  Are we selling coffee, or are we selling “concoctions”?  If you are spending what seems like a lot of cash for your wholesale coffee, then the odds are good that you are trying to sell coffee.  (and that’s as it should be in any “Coffee retailer”)

If you are confident that the coffee you are serving is of excellent quality, I feel safe in assuming that you have more than just a couple of coffees on hand.  Every coffee has its own unique flavor profile, and every roaster has their own unique expression of that flavor profile.  The phrase “taste the world” has been used over and over again to refer to the array of specialty coffee origins, but the fact of the matter is that it’s still true.  Except that most people are now more aware of the fact that there is substantially more to it than “what country it comes from”.

Customers will return to a company they feel they can trust as the experts in their field.  You and your staff should be those experts.  Anyone who has ever gone through any amount of Starbucks training has probably been told that the customers expect the barista to be their go-to advisor for all things coffee (in regards to consumption, anyway).  The independents don’t have the Starbucks image to fall back on, and it seems that’s a very good thing.

Hold customer education events:

Give a class on cupping, on brewing at home, on proper coffee storage, on the differences between origins, on anything and everything that you think your customer base might find interesting.  If you are effective, they will come back to you for advice (and coffee).

Embrace “cup at a time” brew methods:

Sample coffees to customers before they decide on a whole bean to buy.  Does this cost extra?  Sure.. but less than throwing out half of an airpot in the afternoon, and it’s good customer service.  Include proper instructions for brewing, and carry a Bodum C-Mill, at the very least, so your customers can afford to grind fresh, even if they can’t afford a proper burr grinder.  And while you’re at it, you might consider retailing French Presses as well as Melitta Pourovers and Chemex brewers.  Learn how to use them well, and teach your customers.  Check with your roaster to see if they offer any of these.  It’s better than the extra profit would go to a link in your chain, rather than merely to the parent company alone.  If you’d like to carry an electric grinder, I hear from several sources that Baratza is very easy to deal with for retailers to become distributors(not to mention, their products aren’t bad either).

Sell whole bean coffee:

It’s cheaper for the customer, and it’s easy marketing for you.  Just because people are not eating out as much doesn’t mean they’re not getting together.  Wouldn’t you like the coffee being served to come from your store, with the answer to “ooo, where did you get this coffee?” be your company name?  The ecoomy is going to rebound eventually, and just like buying up stocks on the market while they’re cheap in hopes that they will yield a return, this is the time to buy stock in your customers in the prospect of future sales.  If you are like me, you get excited about new coffees, new flavors, and new brew technique discoveries or revelations.  Share this!  Wear your passion for coffee on your sleeve, ans share it with your customers.  (read: do not force it down their throats, but make it known and available for them to tap into)

Market events around the coffee:

Just like Tim Wendelboe held a Black Week, you too can hold a special event that focuses on a specific coffee, a specific region, or a specific brew method.  Keep it tight and focused.  Don’t wear out your arsenal of information on just one event.  Spread it out.  Spread the word.  This can breathe new life into your business, and spark new inerest in your customers.  Hold education classes, seminars, anything and everything to do with the coffee.

Do NOT try giveaway promotions:

Many people may be tempted to try to boost traffic by offering deals.  Like “buy 9, get the 10th free”, or the like.  This devalues the coffee, but more salient to retailers, it doesn’t do a thing for sales!  If it hasn’t become obvious by now, the key is to earn the business of your customers.  Not with freebies, but by honest customer service and education.  It’s simple.  If you invest in them, they will invest in you.  Win-Win.  Both parties are happy, and no-one is taking the hit.  The best marketing tool you have is Word Of Mouth.  This is how that investment in your customers pays off.

Invest in your business:

I have seen more than a handful of retailers eventually fail because they were not willing to give their business the extra financial push it needed in order to break through the line between “afloat” and profitable.  It’s scary, but so is entrepreneurship on the whole.  They don’t call them “risk takers” for no reason, but in a situation like this, it shouldn’t be too difficult to calculate the risk.  If you have a hard time stepping outside of the box when it comes to your own business, consider hiring a consultant to analyze the situation for you.  One of the surest ways to kill a business is to underfund it.  If new equipment is what you need in order to compete, then by golly, you should bite the bullet and take the debt to do what you need to do in order to stay afloat. (a word of caution:, nor the author, can be held responsible for a lack of research or common sense or the results of taking advice from this, or any other article on the part of the reader)  As much as I hate the notion that “tools are to blame”, the fact of the matter is that in a business like this, you simply cannot perform without the right tools.  Whether what is needed is training, equipment(scroll down), more staff, or any combination thereof.. any educator will tell you that the smartest investment is an investment in yourself.  Well, I’d venture to say that the smartest investment your business can make is an investment in itself.

Know When to Cut Your losses:

Some businesses are too far gone to continue, and while a failure plan should have been built into the Business Plan, this is not always the case.  This is the time to go back through the books, and start documenting if you have not done so already.  As much as we don’t want to see any business fail, the fact of the matter is that some do, and it’s better to guide it down before the fuel tank is all the way empty than to keep fighting until the engines die and it crashes.  This is about the financial benefactor of the business, and their financial health, and not so much about the business itself.  Without financial backing, no retailer could get off the ground in the first place.

Hold on Tight:

Watch the market, but don’t listen to the pundits.  Their opinions are.. well.. opinions.  The newspaper doesn’t know which way the economy will swing any more than you do.. becuase they are written by other people.  Sure, there are “experts”, and many “experts” have been wrong.  Use your own sound judgement.  It’s the American way. (at least, it used to be)  It may be a bumpy ride, but hold on if you can!  We here at hope this has given at least some insite or inspiration for ingenuity in surviving the economic recession as a retailer.  We’ve got more articles on the way.  Thanks for reading.

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