The Third Grinder (or The Case for Single Origin and Guest Espresso)

June 29, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

My SO (not Single Origin) and I dropped into our local gem of a shop: Sugar Brown’s Coffee to grab a cup, play some cards, enjoy the live music and atmosphere, and to just have a good time.

Being past students of mine, they are always excited to tell me of news going on. There is much to tell about their journey, but this is not about their shop, so much as of their latest step forward.

They acquired a third espresso grinder.

Most shops are content with a Decaf grinder and a Non-Decaf grinder for their espresso bar. That’s all you really need, they say, and they are right. You don’t need more than that to run a successful retail store.

Let’s back up a bit, and remember why we got into this whole coffee business to begin with.

It’s About The Coffee

I can’t speak for everyone, but there are many people who started into the coffee business because they love coffee. Sure, there is profit to be made, and yes, we love our customers. But before those factors were a reality, the coffee was there, and we learned to love it.

If, as retailers, our roll is to represent the coffee in such a way as to “let it speak for itself”, and if our love for coffee included the excitement of the exploration of flavors and new taste experiences, shouldn’t we offer these experiences to our customers?

Enter the case for the Third Grinder.

Having a third espresso grinder opens up possibilities for short-run single origin espresso offerings, and room for a limited time guest espresso from one of your favorite roasters.

Keeping things like these on a regular schedule can give your regular customers something to look forward to. Just like in the blog world, regular scheduled updates does more for harboring visits than anything else. (that, and high quality content.. or high quality products, in this case)

Is it expensive? It can be. But so is your espresso machine, and so are your other two grinders. Would you say you get your money’s worth out of your decaf grinder? I bet most would answer “no” or “barely” if they were to crunch the numbers of average decaf sales matched to the purchase price of their decaf grinder when it was new. So why do it? It’s a service to your customers.

The third grinder is a service to not only your customers, but to the coffee itself, and those who grow it. It increases awareness of the diversity and journey of coffee into your customers’ cups. This increased awareness focuses demand, which, in turn, helps to promote the quality driven people in this fine industry, from baristas, to roasters, to green coffee buyers, to processing mill workers, to those who grow and harvest the coffee. The end result is a higher standard across the board.

All this from buying a third grinder? Not exactly, but it is another way to help work towards these goals.

I understand that there are folks out there who consider single origin espresso to be a non-worthwhile endeavor. While I disagree, this is a discussion for another post.

Kudos to Sugar Brown’s Coffee for another step in the right direction. Kudos to others who have done the same. And Kudos to those of you who now have plans to implement such a program into your retail plan.

Chemex Sale: Brown Coffee Co., San Antonio, TX

June 12, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

Chemex Sale!

We have 30 oz Chemexes in stock with filters (oxybleached white half-moons…least pulp taste). $38 for both plus FREE SHIPPING for TXCP folks…email me if you’re interested. That’s like 25% off, folks.

aaron [AT] browncoffeeco [DOT] com

Aaron Blanco posted this in the forums, and I thought it might enjoy a few more eyes.

If you’re not familiar with the Chemex brew method already, you acquire familiarity soon.

Heart Beans (It’s Freakin’ me out, man!)

June 4, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

A critical design piece, aimed to criticize society’s consumerism and our consumption culture

Okay, let me start by saying I love good design and innovation. Upon first glance, this nifty little object looks pretty cool.

And then you read the description about what it is, and what its intentions are. This is when I started feeling a little… weird.

It would seem that with time, we develop a certain numbness for the true needs of every person, and get carried away by the material world. Heart-Beans encompasses this formula, incorporating elements that its developers deem as basic needs – touch, and communication between a person and himself. To use this object, you must caress it and hug it, much like as a baby is held, the user inevitably bonds with it, emotionally.

Ultimately, Heat-Beans is a coffee-grinder, set to operate according to the user’s heart-beats.


Interesting indeed. I guess this is for those folks who don’t love coffee as much as we do. (lol)

This grinder really gets to the heart of the matter. (bwap)

Okay, but really, what do you think? Is this totally pointless? Is this just the result of a really slow day at the design studio? Who knows.


Cold Brewing With Style: Coffee Snob Cold Brewer

May 27, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

I saw a picture of someone’s home espresso shrine, and noticed a cold brewer that looked very similar to the larger version I saw in pictures of Blue Bottle‘s “$20,000 Coffee Brewer” (which is really a very very expensive heating element paired with some normally priced vac pots)… the cold brewer is made by the same company, and thus, it matches the vac-pot bar.

This smaller home version of the elegent design got me curious, and so I started hunting, and came across this little gem.

This is the Coffee Snob Cold Drip Coffee Maker.

You may already be familiar with the Toddy style brewer, which differs in design just a bit.

With the Toddy brewer, ground coffee is steeped in cold water overnight, and then filtered through a cloth filter.

The Coffee Snob brewer drips cold water ever so slowly through a cup containing ground coffee at the speedy rate of about 1 drop per second. (yippie!)

The result (like the Toddy) is a concentrated brew unlike any brew method relying on hot water for extraction.

While Cold Brewing has many fans, the previously available home versions have left much to desire in visual appeal.

The Coffee Snob does the job in a roughly 2ft. tall package that adds elegance and miles of style. Guaranteed to spark a little conversation for converts and future converts alike.

And best of all, Coffee Snob is a company located here in Texas. Manchaca (near Austin), no less.

They are available for purchase online, or at Monkey See, Monkey Do located at 1712 S. Congress in Austin.

I just couldn’t resist sharing this with you. A new discovery for me, possibly not for some others, but certainly interesting nonetheless.

What are your Tamper preferences?

May 21, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · 2 Comments 

realize this is a subjective of a topic as any, but I’d like to see some discussion.

There used to be only one option. Flat base. Most of them were one-piece aluminum or stainless steel, and were not entirely ergonomic, but weren’t all that uncomfortable either. Rarely did they ever fit the basket like a glove.

Now days, we have several options to choose from. There are a wide variety of manufacturers of quality tampers, each with their own ideas.

There is massive range of styles of tamper handles. From skulls to giant sticks. From ergonomic form, to rubber handles. But really, the only part that has any impact on the espresso is the business end. The piston, or base.

(click for larger version)
There are plenty of opinions and ideas about why each is better or worse than the others.

The original style was the flat base. Then came the convex base, now known as “euro curve”.

Then along came the milder “american curve” to serve as a bridge between “flat” and “convex” bases.

Well, Reg Barber decided that this just wasn’t good enough, and designed what he calls the C-Flat base. The ultimate hybrid design. Curved edges, and a flat center.

I have personally done a lot of experimentation with the different tamper styles, and the results are about what one would expect if they felt they had a good intuitive understanding of espresso preparation.

There are also ideas floating around about how the tamper base should be paired with the shape of the shower screen on your espresso machine. For example, if the shower screen is flat, you should get a flat tamper. If the shower screen is curved, you should try to match that curvature with your tamper. A more aggressively curved shower screen needs a euro-curve tamper, a flat shower screen needs a flat tamper, and so on.

There are other ideas going around about how the tamper should be based on whether or not your filterbasket is tapered or straight-walled. The degree of curvature should, in theory, be determined by the degree of inward tapering found in the filterbasket. There is a theory that states that the supposed benefits of a convex tamper base are only applicable if the filterbasket has an inward taper. Unfortunately, the theory doesn’t go into many details, but I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

I tend to prefer an American Curve base, for all filter basket applications, personally, althought I used a flat base in competition, and I tend to vary between them from time to time, just for taste or observational purposes.

But this blogger is curious. What is your preference? Whare the reasons you think your preferred base is beneficial?

Leave comments below, and let’s get this discussion rolling. Houston, TX

April 20, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

Texas Turner

I received an email from Mr. John Van Domelen.

He wanted to let everyone know about his line of wood-turned espresso tampers.

John writes,

I am a Houston based wood turner. One of my product lines is hand crafted espresso tampers.
If you think it would be of interest, please consider placing a link on one of your info pages.
I would be happy to place a back to your site on my links page.
Espresso tamper link:
Thank you
I browsed over some things and found this image from the website.
Looks like a fair variety of styles to choose from. *(see bottom)
The website states that custom tampers are available.
A larger view of one of John’s tampers (image taken from ebay):
If you’re curious, here is some material taken from the “Artist’s Statement” from John’s website:
Many years ago my grandfather Paul R. Smith introduced me to turning on the lathe. I am at the point in my life that I have the time to rediscover the joy of creating handcrafted wood items.

I use the lathe as the primary tool in the creation of my art and craft. Further work is sometimes done off the lathe. I may carve, burn, texture and dye some pieces in order to further bring forth the beauty in the wood.

I enjoy sharing the process of creation and hope that by sharing it another generation will carry on the art and craft of wood turning.

I love working with wood; how it feels, how it smells. Above all, I derive great joy in taking this gift of nature and adding the human touch to create beauty.

A Note on Wood

I use many rare tropical hardwoods in the creation of my items. When possible I buy small pieces of wood and cutoffs that otherwise might be discarded. I feel this best uses this natural treasure. I also use a substantial amount of what I call reclaimed lumber. New housing developments and tree trimmers have been great sources for this wood that would otherwise clog our landfills. I have a vested interest in forest conservation and work toward a balance in the stewardship of this resource.

– John Paul Van Domelen
*All readers receive a 15% discount from Texas Turner on custom orders. Free shipping and handling offered on all ebay orders (an $8.00 value). Just mention that you are a reader along with the discount code TXCPto receive your discount.
Texas Turner on E-Bay

Texas Coffee Grinders Deal for readers

March 30, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

I received an email from Tom Kurys, owner of He makes hand-crank coffee grinders by hand.

He writes,

Hey guys,
Just a note to let you know that I am offering your customers a great deal on grinders right now! As you know, I get $149.95 during the buying season before Christmas…right now your customers can get one for $109.95! Please pass this info along.


Starbucks to Acquire The Coffee Equipment Company

March 19, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

Starbucks entered into an agreement today to acquire The Coffee Equipment Company, inventor and producer of the famed Clover™ brewing system.

Starbucks had already acquired at least two or three Clovers to be used in test locations like Seattle and Boston.

Some speculated that Starbucks may possibly opt to purchase several more for larger scale use. No-one that I know of speculated that Starbucks would pursue the acquisition of the company that makes them.

Maybe we’ll see more of these brewers popping up in Starbucks locations. With just a little more luck, maybe we’ll see their baristas learning more about coffee extraction as well.

Wall Street Journal article. article.


Is Bottomless Coffee Really a Good Idea?

February 19, 2008 · Filed Under Uncategorized · 1 Comment 

bottomless.gif All humor aside, sometimes I really do wonder.

Although offering bottomless cups of coffee can be quite popular with patrons, it may not be the best solution to getting paying customers inside your doors.

Consider this:
Your coffee costs you probably anywhere between $4.50 and $9 per pound wholesale. This is not commodity grade stuff. Why bother to source Specialty Coffee suppliers in the first place if there is no emphasis on the quality of the coffee in the retail environment?
Let’s discuss this in terms of perception. A customer comes in. They pay their $1-$2. They get their cup, and head to the air-pot… again… and again… and again. At this rate, what is it they’re paying for? Are they paying for the coffee, or are they getting free coffee when they rent some table space for hours on end? Even if they do perceive that they are paying for the coffee, what kind of a message does this send out about the caliber of the coffee being sold?

The point being made is that coffee sold this way is perceived to have little to no value at all. Obviously, if you are a Specialty Coffee retailer, your coffee is far from worthless.

Now, then. I am assuming that part of the reason we all got into this business is to share our love for great coffee with other people, and to help boost the overall appreciation of what it is we do. Does selling coffee for practically nothing contribute to this cause? In a way, yes. But what’s the result?

Tossing out bottomless coffee as a menu item has its benefits. For one thing, less waste. You don’t need to brew an entire air-pot because a bottomless coffee customer needs a “warm-up”of a coffee that just ran out… half an hour to closing time. (If this happens, and you DO sell bottomless coffee, it is better to serve the customer than to attempt to conserve another pot of coffee).

Better still, is brewing by the cup. There are many solutions to accomplishing this goal, such as a Pour-over Stand, French Presses, Chemex (another pour-over), Siphon Brewers (aka vacuum pots), or the gigantic investment of equipment known as Clover.

There is more than one benefit to the cup-at-a-time concept. For one thing, the perceived value of a cup of coffee increased, and thus, so does the potential pricing. Second, how does “no wasted coffee” sound? Everyone in this business knows that a cup of coffee costs change to the business, but what does this add up to if you compound the average volume of coffee thrown away in just one day? Don’t look at it in actual cost, look at it in terms of potential income costs. For most retailers, this is quite a number! Last in this rather short list of benefits is the quality of the coffee. In a hands-on approach to brewing coffee, the barista can actually manipulate various factors to brew a better cup of coffee. With an automated drip brewer, you’re pretty much limited with the barista’s interaction in the process.

This hand-crafted cup of coffee that tastes divine is certainly something worth paying for. This is not your average off-the-shelf cup of Joe, and your customers will be able to see and taste that with their own senses. Higher profit margins per cup, less waste, and a higher perceived quality of the products being sold by your company. Sound like a winning combination? You bet it does.

Now let’s have a look at the other side of this coin. I know there are many retailers who offer bottomless coffee because it encourages their customers to stay for longer. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to buy other items like pastries, bottled water, and food items like panini (or other sandwiches), soup, or salad (if these items are offered). The money is not made on the coffee in these situations, but on the mark-up of the various consumables that a “camper” is likely to purchase during their stay.

When this is the case, then the time has come to ditch the title of “coffee retailer” in favor of something along the lines of “Cafe”. At this point, you are no longer selling coffee. You are practically giving it away in an effort to attract more customers to your company’s focus: food. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s best to know where you stand, and to be honest with yourself, and your customers. If you are not primarily a Specialty Coffee retailer, make this reflected in the name of your business, and your company’s presentation to the public.

How about another perspective. Starbucks does not sell bottomless coffee, nor do they offer refills at a discount (or even at all). You have to wonder if there’s a reason for this. If nothing else, please realize that if Starbucks can do it, so can a quality focused independent retailer. The difference is that the independent retailer has more flexibility to really milk the single cup pricing for all its worth.

What’s best for your bottom line may not line up with real possibilities. What’s best for promoting coffee and its producers is probably not best for drawing customers in to purchase food items, and visa versa. Your coffee is special, and deserves to be marked according to its value. I encourage you to find the courage to promote the coffee for the sake of great coffee. There is profit to be made in doing so, and the industry as a whole can only benefit from an increased consumer awareness of quality coffee.

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