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Coffee Cupping

The Fix. Benzo's in Town.

The Fix. Benzo’s in Town.

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ImageThere is a whole world out there beyond espresso and drip coffee. It’s a place where the coffee tastes amazing, barely anything is electric, and all the cool kids are hanging out. This is the world of Manual Brewing.

Manual brewing methods emerged onto the coffee scene in the last couple of years, and they’ve caught on like wildfire. Why? These devices uncover and expose our palates to hundreds of flavour compounds we didn’t even know were possible. They’re easy to use once you get the hang of them, and, you know, in this day and age it’s nice to make something by hand without a lot of automatic machinery in the way. They also look cool and science-y and are really fun to play with (sometimes there’s even fire involved!).

We’ve had the Siphon, Chemex, Aeropress and V60 Pourover on the menu for some time now at Crafted, but we know they’re a little foreign and intimidating and some of you are a little suspicious of those beakers and butane burners. So, to bring this beautiful world of manual brewing to the masses, we’re starting up Brew Method Demos every second Thursday at Te Aro. You can watch your talented and delightful baristas prepare different brews step-by-step, and you can sample all the variations of body, flavour, and acidity uniquely highlighted by each different method.

If you really want to take your coffee know-how to another level, you can also come to Te Aro on alternate Thursdays for coffee cupping sessions led by the venerable Chris, one of our expert roasters, who can teach you how to evaluate body, aroma, acidity, and balance in our single origin beans, and how to talk about coffee like a legit connoisseur.

The next Brew Methods Demo will be led by Kyle at Te Aro on Thursday Feb 9th at 12:30pm.  No need to sign up!

The International Competition has started in Nicaragua.  I am 1 of 17 international judges this year – the other judges have come from the US, Asia, and Europe.

We’re staying up in the Northern area of Nicaragua in a beautiful spot called Matagalpa.

I’ll post some pics as the competition moves along.

Today we calibrated and over the next few days, we will be cupping 60 coffees.

Parts 1,2,3

Okay, there was no commotion, other than the sounds of the mill. Had you going though, didn’t I?

Now to the guns. At another part of the Serben compound we got to see their cupping lab. Inside were two vintage Probat roasters that looked awesome and steampunk. In this lab the staff roast, grind and cup the various coffees they receive in order to determine cup characteristics and potential defects. Just before we left I learned why there is so much security, though it should have been obvious by now: coffee is a hot commodity, especially in locations where a lot of it is concentrated, like a dry mill. It is not entirely uncommon for tractor trailers flush with bags of coffee to be hijacked by bandits brandishing assault rifles, the drivers shot and tossed by the side of the road. That stolen coffee ends up sold on the black market. In order to prevent such attacks, or at least to reduce them, mill owners have had to spend a lot on security. Now a lot of trucks are equipped with GPS, and if they are immobile for more than 60 seconds, the mill calls the drivers to inquire why. They travel in convoys of at least 3 trucks to better their chances of arriving at port alive. In response, the bandits (which some believe actually have the support of corrupt local police) have upped the ante and have started to raid the dry mill in the middle of the night, killing guards and stealing tons of coffee. This is why the mill looks like a maximum security prison from the outside; but rather than trying to prevent escape, they are trying to prevent people from getting in.

The final full day in Guatemala we visited the HQ of ANACAFE for an awesome lunch and a tour of their state of the art cupping facilities. Then we were off to one of Unitrade’s retail cafes for a pick-me-up, during which a short woman with a green t-shirt rubbed up against me and stole my camera (I was under the impression that I was hot stuff, but really it was just theft. Meh.). Not to be discouraged because everyone else on the trip has pictures, we departed to Unitrade’s offices for a tour and a cupping of regional coffees from Guatemala. For some reason there was some kind of caged owl in their parking lot.

And thus ends the overly verbose account of our trip to origin. Minus the theft, I would recommend an origin trip to pretty much anyone – not just coffee professionals. It is an altogether different and I think more enriching experience than a resort trip. With the dynamic locations, and dust, and coffee pulp, and wildlife, and education, and the kids, and the beer, and not to forget the discussions with our tripmates, I have grown and learned more than I thought possible; I also am hungry to learn even more and to continue to expand my horizons. The main thing I think I will take away from this trip? To not allow strange women rub up against me, in public at least. Kidding! It is the awareness that in coffee, and in specialty coffee in particular, we are all linked in a chain from seedling to cup; that we all, for the moment, occupy certain links in that chain; and that by increasing dialogue and education we can strengthen these links and even begin to transcend them – coffee drinkers, roasters and baristas become farmers, farmers become cuppers, roasters and coffee drinkers.  We are all partners in the process.

Continued from part 1 – The next day we had the opportunity to visit two wet processing mills and one farm in the Nuevo Oriente region. The first mill, El Boqueron, was a large, impressive commercial mill. They receive huge amounts of coffee and when we arrived the patios were practically overflowing with parchment, not to mention their mechanical dryers were going non-stop. In fact, we were told that they had too much coffee – some of it was beginning to turn all moldy and gross. Anyway, since we had already been to a wet mill, it was easier to understand what was going on, albeit on a much larger scale. Their mechanical dryers were housed in a very dusty, very loud building; in Guatemala most specialty coffee is patio-dried while commercial and domestic coffee is put through mechanical drying.

Next stop was an epic journey in rugged Toyota Hiluxes up the bumpiest terrain my ass has ever had the misfortune of encountering, past a beautiful and very stinky sulphurous lake to the heavenly El Retiro Estate, a villa nestled between 5 farms amongst mountainous forests and wildlife. After a brief tour of farmer José Herrarte Osante’s villa and a light lunch, we headed back to the pickups for a more leisurely trip to one of his “farms”. It is difficult to call it a farm because it looked just like a forest. The coffee trees were dwarfed by 400-year-old shade trees that provided a towering, lush green canopy. There is no “managed shade” here. Mr. Osante does not plant trees on his Rainforest Alliance-Certified farm – they grow naturally. If one happens to fall he does not have it moved; it will provide habitat for the creatures residing there and eventual fertilizer for other trees. In addition to this, he showed us quite a few coffee trees that have been in production for over 60 years! Most farms re-plant trees after about 10 years after their production drops off. What I

remember the most about this farm is how tranquil and quiet it was. Like stepping back in time to Jesus riding a velociraptor. Or Ferngully. It was like that but more awesome.

Then Mr. Osante took us to his very own wet mill. It was a much more modest operation than El Boqueron, but just as impressive. He had beans of differing quality on different patios, and it was quite illuminating. The specialty beans were a gleaming white-tan colour while the commercial beans were specked with black and green. Then he took us through the workings of his mill (he had started using more water-efficient eco-pulpers) and revealed that he was also in the process of building his own dry mill and applying for an export license. He seemed to be very eager to step up his game and to try new things in order to improve the quality of his coffee. He could be considered a good candidate for a direct relationship. A girl can dream!

On the way out we spied some more construction going on, in addition to the dry mill. In a clearing not too far from the drying patios I saw some raised African drying tables being constructed. Perhaps Mr. Ossante wishes to experiment with Honey Process or Natural Coffee? Only time will tell.

Stay tuned for part 3, where I don’t answer the above question but instead take you to a very special school in Acatenango.