Pencil Icon

Controlling quality control.

As you do with coffee, I’ve experienced steep learning curve for the past 6 months, so steep I’m still trying to digest, and have a lot more to digest to fully grasp, apply and understand, so this post is just the tip of the ice berg of what I’ve learnt and can share right now, and I’m still in the process of learning.

I want to talk about Quality control. What is quality control? When you receive a business card and that person is in charge of QC, or you see it on a twitter handle, what does that person do? How do you control quality? I’m not pointing my fingers to anyone, because I carry out QC too, and probably, everyone will have a different methods to carry out QC, and different agenda and reasoning behind what they do. The question of ‘what is quality and how do we actually control it’ has been hurting my head for some time, if you ask 10 person what quality is, you’ll get 10 different answers, but we’re all trying to achieve the same thing though, which is consistency in quality. 

Before we talk about the QC programmes that are carried out in cafe’s or roasters, we need to talk about quality in origin, because that’s where the quality starts. I was in Costa Rica few months back, and I was at a exporters office cupping unto 75 coffees in short amount of time, and by using SCAA cupping score sheet, I awarded points and evaluated the samples by tasting them. What I saw myself doing was I was only using the points scale of 7-9, out of 6-10 that was available, and the difference between scores were only like 1 or 2, the difference between lowest and highest was 6.

Coffee that scored 84.5 and 85.5 doesn’t seem that different, but it does on price, and when the mass of green adds up, we’re talking about considerable amount of money. It’s so easy giving 1 more point on SCAA cupping scoresheet, I do partially point the finger on the scoresheet and to us too. We are not a reliable taster, fact. The only few reason why we are okay with tasting is because we give fast response, and we can give qualitative and quantitative information fairly quickly, and we are quite easy to train, and learn how to taste, we pick up things quickly. Our sensory experience can be manipulated so easily, this is something everyone probably knows, but when you research deeper into this, you realise the scores that you give, the descriptors that you give, might actually not be true, and that human to human calibration is actually impossible. Variability and bias can be associated with the cuppers themselves, or the methodology, the coffee it self and of course, the environment. We can never be objective when we are tasting and when we you are tasting your 50th sample in few hours of time frame, you’re probably not scoring objectively because you’re palate is so fatigued. I’m not being sinister and saying we are useless, but we can be better tasters overall, if we take more precautions when we are cupping, even just palate cleansing and eating flavourless crackers help you so much. 

Okay, its something I understand at origin, you have 100’s of sample to cup, and score, and that scoresheet has been ‘designed’ to grade the quality of the green. Then why am I seeing cafe’s and roasters using SCAA or COE cupping scoresheet or other scoresheets that has been designed for something specific? Why use them for our QC process? Yes, everyone wants delicious, but every roaster and baristas have different definition on what delicious is, and the approach to achieve that. Then why are we using a meat cleaver as a butter knife? You’d probably get the job done, but you are being super inefficient at it. If you have a specific objective, you need to have the necessary tools that suits what you are trying to achieve. Having a scoresheet or a feedback form that actually fulfils what you want, and what you are looking for, is something we need to think more about, when you really think about your own ‘philosophy’ of roasting and brewing again, you’ll find the scoresheet now you use pretty useless. 

In my opinion, you can never control quality, we are the slave to quality until we actually know what we want to achieve, the term quality is so broad, and can be translated into so many meanings, everybody will not agree with you. In addition, we need further training on tasting, specifically, tasting objectively. There needs to be vigorous screening and selection tests to see where your evaluators are sitting at. Slowly, I’m losing my faith in cupping, call me stupid, or what ever, but cupping is a very flawed method to gather proper sensory data. I’m going to carry out few test to prove this, and there will be more on this, but I’m just throwing it out there. 

The hardest part, where we find what we want to do, and trying to build something specific for the objective you set. We really need to think twice on the data that we collect, because data is good, but is that data actually useful? And actually, using statistic properly to analyse the data that you obtain, either from roasting or scores from the cupping table to fully interpret and magnify the result you get, and this is the exciting shit right here, when you start to obtain datas that are statistically tested, you can prove something. You reduce the guessing and trial and error. You can be a good taster, and be confident about a theory you might have, but your palate never beats figures. Everything can be better than what you’ve done yesterday, and to do that, we need the right data, the specific tool to measure what you need to change. We carry out ‘quality control’ for feed back, so we can roast and brew better and the constant procedure of control and feedback needs to be in loop, and synced. In the long term, we need to able to give useful feedback to the farmers either from the exporter or the roaster, after a year of hard work, I think they would want to hear more than ‘you’re coffee is tasty’, rethinking how we interpret and analyse the data we collect, and using the right tools to do so will I believe have an effect from the farm to the bar.

Valid data ->  valuable feed back  -> increase in quality. 

Even though I’m studying sensory science, rather than obtaining answers, it has given me more questions I can’t answer, but I think we should really be thinking about this as an industry. We’ll never get the answers unless we tackle it, and we really need to push ourselves to raise the quality. 

Oh, and I really don’t like the term Quality control any more. What’s quality again?

Pencil Icon

No more fines in your 8oz Espro press.

French press isn’t my favourite brewing method, one of the biggest reason is the fines that goes through the metal filter which ends up in your cup, giving a tasty coffee,a gritty, sandy mouthfeel and a bitter finish. Then the Espro press came along, and changed the perception on brewing with french press. With their double filtration system, the fine mesh on the double filters does wonderful job removing fines and sediments, hell of a lot more than your average french press, but it doesn’t remove 100% of the fines. Now, one way of removing all the fines is filtering it through a paper filter, for example a V60, but it involves having another decanter, alot of faffing about which isn’t ideal. 

image

I think I found a way to remove all the fines using a 8oz Espro press, without involving v60 paper filter, with much less work involved. I don’t want to say I’m the first person to have found this way, i’m sure there’s someone out there who’s tried this, I just wanted to share it.

Firstly, you’ll need a syphon paper filter. 

image

The method is simple, just open the 2 part filters on the espro press, and then place one of the syphon paper filters on the middle of the round filter. 

image

Then place the bottom half of the espro filter on top of the paper filter and push in to the other part of the espro filter, it should fit in nicely.

image

Now, we need to make sure that the paper filter is secure, we don’t it to rip during the plunge. The espro press has a big rubber ring around the plunger, use that to keep the paper neat and secure, like the picture below.

image

And that’s it ! Start brewing as you normally would , take note that when you plunge, it will require more force due to the resistance from the paper filter.

Then enjoy your sediment free cup, and you can remove the paper filter easily after brewing and check how much fines you’ve removed.

image

image

I would  love to hear your thoughts!

Pencil Icon

Pucking fresh coffee.

Freshly roasted coffee is good. No complaints there, we don’t want to drink stale coffee. But for me, there are times where I need to use a freshly roasted coffee. It sucks even more when its for espresso, for example, for QC,  baristas receiving their competition coffee, but its fresh and are itching to taste it, or you only have freshly roasted coffee at home. 

It doesn’t sound like a dilemma of some sort, but trying to dial in, and pulling great tasting shots; out of super fresh coffee is quite challenging.

There always seems to be a certain flavour that’s present when you make an espresso using a fresh coffee, and its quite hard to get rid of. What can you do? Well, you can’t force the coffee to degas and settle, and opening a bag or not sealing them to let it degas quicker is a bad idea. When CO2 is released from the porous walls of roasted coffee, so does the many volatile compounds that make up the lovely aromas. Also, adsorption of oxygen and moisture increases the rate of oxidation, thus, ‘damaging’ the quality of the cup. 

With the frustration I had, I wanted to think of a way to use fresh coffee but not by compromising on quality. I think I found a way, but please note that this method isn’t suitable for a cafe, needing to go through 5kg of fresh coffee. 

All you need is an Aeropress filter. 

image

It seems that when I place a aero press filter on the bottom of the basket, then dose and tamp like you normally would, then extract the coffee, you yield an espresso which is clean and sweet, unlike the harsh, roasty finish you get from freshly roasted coffee.

It seems that the aero press filter removes the bitter qualities in the cup, and what’s noticeable is the colour of the crema. Filtered espresso is way lighter, and it seems that the paper filter restrained fines ending up in the cup. Fines and crema tastes awful, by removing these, it seems like the espresso was free from the bitter and roasty aftertaste. 

I wanted to know how the filter affect the overall extraction of coffee. So by using the same amount of dose, time, temperature, I pulled 5 shots each of non filtered espresso and filtered espresso, and measured their EXT% and TDS%. 

Here are the parameters:

Dose: 17.5g

Time: 28sec

Machine: Synesso Hydra

Temp: 94C

Basket: 20g VST 

Coffee: Square Mile RED BRICK Roasted on 28th Jan

Regular espresso shots:

image

 So, except for shot number 3 , they are pretty consistent. They tasted quite nice, fruity with creamy body, but had this bitter, roasty notes on the after taste.

Espresso shots with aero press filter:

image

 

It showed that with the aero press filter in the basket, with no change in grind setting or dose, it produces shots with bigger mass. What’s more interesting is that, eventhough shots are bigger, and extraction % higher, the TDS% were similar to shots without filters, which pulled shorter shots. 

The filtered espresso tasted slightly cleaner, had more complexity and balance. I really don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know whether the psychological affect of ‘This is going to taste better because its filtered’ is kicking in and playing with my palate, or the aeropress filter is altering the extraction in some way. It’s interesting that, Shot number 3 from regular espresso has 2% difference in TDS compared to a similar shot (in mass) in filtered espresso.

image

Definite thing is that, visually, the shots pours differently, the filtered shot is much more streaky, and the viscosity of the shot is lower than the normal shots. 

5 shots each might not be enough data to justify anything, but,I would love to hear from others what they think!

 

Pencil Icon

Watch your head space.

I’ve realised that, when I talk about coffee, what I say isn’t backed based on a data that’s been proven or experienced myself. This frustration has lead me to actually experiment on few things, rather than pondering and hypnotising myself that my pocket science (very little of it) is correct.

One subject that I always wanted to, but had no commitment to experiment, was the importance (if there is any) of headspace between the shower screen of espresso machines and the coffee bed.

In my perfect little world, I always believed that it did, that having some head space produced higher percentage of consistent shots, without any data to back my opinion on. I started to have firm believe because of several reasons, firstly, I got so frustrated when, even though I have the same dose, grind setting, extraction time and temperature of the machine in each shot, sometimes the results fluctuated quite abit. I started to dissect and see what variables I could control and those I couldn’t, I didn’t even bother about the uncontrollable variables, but I’ve realised that I’ve never accounted head space as a variable.

Those of you who use the Nuova Simoneli Aurelia ,would know that each group head has a brass dispersion block. Which disperses the hot water into 8 different holes for even distribution of water from the group head to the coffee bed.

                         

Now this brass block comes in 2 different thickness, 3mm and 5mm ones. I first thought 2mm difference would only make a minute difference but the results below proved me wrong.

To compare and note the difference between the 2 different sizes of the dispersion block, I wanted to gather 2 different sets of data. First being consistency, and second, rate of flow/rate of espresso extraction.

So firstly, consistency:

I wanted to see the consistency of espresso produced in grams, with different size of dispersion block, when other variables become constant. (Impossible but I’ve tried my best!)

Machine used: Aurelia T3

Temperature: 94C

Time: 28 seconds

Basket: 18g VST

Dose: 19g

Coffee used: Jirmiwachu, Ethiopia SOE

result:

If we ignore the fact that, 3mm block produced big shots that wouldn’t normally cut the mark, it is apparent from the data that, 3mm block produces fairly consistent shot in terms of weight , you have to remember that I’m just looking for consistency in weight of espresso produced.

In the other hand, the 5mm block shows that the shots produced are not even, it fluctuates rapidly after shot 4, it produces some values which could be considered as an outlier, and its hard to produce a mean value.

I’m no scientist, and I think people cleverer than me could give me a better answer, but here’s an educated guess. If we think of the shower screen as a perfume, and surface of our clothes as the coffee bed, applying perfume from a distance will cover broader surface area of your clothes evenly. On the other hand, spraying your perfume in close range will highly saturate a specific area. If we want the water to be evenly distributed amongst the coffee bed, it makes sense to me to have a gap between the surface of the coffee bed. I mean, we are talking about 93~94C water under 9bars of pressure, 2mm difference in my opinion, gives the water some space to actually distribute the water evenly.

                                 

*Note that spent coffee bed from 5mm leaves clear mark of the screw, where 3mm does not.



Lastly, I wanted to record the rate which the espresso was being extracted, by plotting a time/espresso weight graph. The reason why I wanted to obtain this data was to observe the pattern in which the flow of water through coffee bed was affected by the head space.

The result is quite interesting:

Now this graph was plotted using average values from 5 different set of shots, you can see from the result that, 5mm block produces espresso faster than the 3mm block; and that flow is maintained until 17 seconds, where the 3mm block actually overtakes 5mm block and produces more espresso at the end.

Now why does this happen? why does the flow rate gain momentum from 17 seconds on the 3mm block? Here’s my guess, the reason why 3mm block took longer to produce any espresso initially, is because the water starts to fill the basket and slowly, and saturates most of the coffee bed before extraction occurs.

Where as the 5mm block (this is just my opinion), the coffee bed is mostly pushed up against the shower screen, and when the extraction occurs, the water isn’t able to fully saturate the the coffee bed evenly and finds a path which allows extraction to occur without full saturation.

With my shallow knowledge, I wanted to know why there is an increase in flow from 17 seconds with 3mm block, and I came up with this.

Darcy’s law states that, flow rate of fluid increases as pressure increases, until it reaches a certain pressure (correct me if I’m wrong), so it would mean that there are less resistance created by the coffee bed than the 5mm block, allowing the water to flow through the coffee bed at an increasing rate, which means full saturation at the start of the extraction loosens up the coffee bed, and allows the water to flow through  evenly, which also benefits even extraction throughout the coffee bed?

I really enjoyed the shots coming out form the 3mm block, not saying the 5mm block didn’t produce any good shots, but 3mm block hands down delivered the consistency, and I think we all need that in our lives.   

The pocket science rant above could be all wrong, but having the data gives me boost of confidence in what I believe in, and I would love to hear other peoples thought on this. I would also love to be proven wrong, if anyone has better explanation please please comment!!

** For those of you without an Aurelia where you don’t have any interchangeable dispersion screen maybe try playing with different basket size, but keeping the dose same.


Pencil Icon

How do you Americano

Americano has been on our menu as long as we can remember. Without a doubt, recent push to promote manual filter brewing has caught the customers attention, and more people are becoming aware and open minded of this new way to brew tasty coffee.
Still, Americano is a popular choice between customers- specially in recent cold weather conditions.

Throughout the day, we(hopefully) check our dose, time and yield and taste countless of shots to see if the coffee is tasting good. Embarrassingly, what I’ve noticed is that, I invest so much time dialing in filter coffee and espresso, but don’t really taste americanos.
The excuse maybe that, its too hot to taste and its not tasty, but being a drink which is quite popular, bringing money to the till, I think I or We have been turning blind eye on this drink.

Some people say if you weigh every shot, including americano, it should be fine. I know some shops who does that, I’m not saying I never weigh my shots for americano but what I found is that, with our coffee-

Type of coffee Dose(g) Time(s) Yield(g)
Espresso 17g 29s 31g
Americano 18g 31s 33g

Tasted the best, a 31g of shot of espresso which tasted good itself, can’t give you the same satisfying result when you further add 4oz of hot water or steamed milk, there should be different recipe for different types of drink.
When I tasted the americano with the shots which tasted good as espresso, It was very watery and just acidic, I know these results vary hugely on the coffee the shops use but even tasting Americanos from other shops, I know there are room for improvements.

I just wanted to share this to ask if any of you guys have a different method for pulling espressos for americanos, even though It’s a drink which gets no attention in the specialty industry, I want to make sure the 70~80 people who buys americanos from our shop gets the same tasty drink, and more attention from us making their drink as much as the espressos we pull.


Comments are welcome

Pencil Icon

Tasty stale coffee.

One of the many joys working in the coffee industry, is trying endless amount of different coffees, in season being offered. For a year, I was subscribed to weekly and monthly coffee subscription from 2 of my favorite roastery. I’ve learnt so much by tasting different coffees itself, but what I was left with was countless amount of bags of half finished or even some unopened bags. I’m sure we all had this, but I want to focus on our customers, who buy these freshly roasted coffees from our shops.

Recently there has been substantial interest in manual filter brewing method from the customers, and beans have been flying off the shelves. If the beans were roasted on 1st of February, if FedEX does there jobs properly, it could be on the shop shelves on the 3rd of February. Now, we say that coffees taste the best when its ‘fresh’, where generally it is between 2nd day of roasting to 14th day of roasting. Now, I’m not saying it will suddenly taste horrible after 14 days, it will have so much factors affecting this, such as type of coffee, level of roast and also storage. Don’t we all agree that you can drink milk 2~3 days after its best before by dates if they are refrigerated well? Same goes for eggs and many other product.

So customers have generally, 10~12days window to enjoy their coffee whilst its fresh, if its a 250g bag thats around 21g~ 25g of coffee being consumed every day to enjoy them whilst its fresh. Presonally, if you don’t drink coffee every morning, I reckon you won’t be able to finish the bag in time, or you’ll get another subscription coffee and the old coffees are long forgotten.

So, people spend an average of £6 to £13 on bags of coffee, and most likely, they will have around 100g~150g of coffee still in the bag after 2~3 weeks, so what do you do with them? Well, there are lots of things on internet like using old coffees to use as compost, leaving them in fridge and even face pack! I wanted to find out if there are any guide lines, outlining what they can do to make decent cup of coffee using beans over 3 weeks old, rather than throwing it away. Even on the coffee bags, it states, ‘enjoy within 4weeks of roast’. So should people use the same method of brewing for all those 4 weeks? Should they be put off brewing with coffee 3 weeks or 4 weeks old?

-This isn’t a definitive guide to brew good coffee using old coffee, I firmly believe in using fresh coffee will deliver the best result in the cup!

- I will outline the changes you make to your recipe using old coffee from using fresh.

- its an experiment, and I’m not saying it will work for every coffee, as I’ve said before, there are lots of variables to take on board. - If anyone finds something other than what I state below, please comment!

- PLEASE remember, I’m NOT saying you can make the same QUALITY as fresh coffee but something you can enjoy without spitting them out, and actually drinking it rather than putting them in your fridge or your face.

So I wanted to experiment with a coffee I was familiar to, so I chose El Salvador Finca La Illusion roasted by Has Bean, because its on our shops brew menu as well as the espresso, so I know this coffee pretty well. Also luckily, I had an unopened bag of La Illusion which is 5 month old, one which is 4 weeks old and one which is 3 days old. So, I will brew these coffees, with extact amount of dose and water, time and temperature may vary. After brewing, tasting them and mojoing them, then make several changes to find that spot where the old coffees can produce ‘acceptable’ cup.

Firstly, I cupped these 3 coffees, and rated them with scale of 0~10, within different categories.

You can see from the cupping scores that 5month old coffee didn’t do so well, expected really, but surprisingly had the best body from those 3 coffees.

What really surprised me was, how pleasant 4 weeks old coffee tasted like, the only major difference between 3 day roast coffee was lack in overall complexity, but in terms of acidity, it was bright and lively.

So, I decided to brew these coffees as V60 pourover, I know I can’t brew these coffees consistently, but I tried to keep everything the same and mojo the  result which is below.

The result showed that with same dose, water, similar time and technique, as the beans that I used got older, more I extracted from the coffee. This has a correlation to the perceived bitterness I tasted from the cupping result.

With this result, I decided that it wasn’t really worth experimenting further with 5 month old beans, as they didn’t really taste good as V60, very stale, boring and bitter. These were worth going into the fridge and faces.

However, 4 weeks old coffee looked promising, it was bright, some sweetness with nice light body but had unpleasant bitterness coming through. Lacked in the complexity, exciting acidity, sweetness and the body compared to 3days old roast, but I wanted to change how I brewed the 4 weeks old roast to make it taste better and acceptable.

So this is what I’ve changed.

So, the dose was increased by 1g (6.25% increase from original dose) and amount of water reduced by 15g( 6.25% decrease from original dose).

Surprisingly, using the 6.25% increase and decrease method, When I slightly underextracted the brew, I’ve made myself a cup of coffee which was substantially better than one I made before, ok, it still wasn’t good as 3 days old roast, but there was increase in that sparkling acidity and complexity, though sweetness and body was still missing- it was an acceptable cup.

I would be interested to see if anyone experiments with 6.25% increase and decrease method I used with different coffee and brewing method, using old coffees to see if they get a positive result like me.

I know for the experienced coffee professionals, you guys don’t have to read this blog to figure out how to brew decent cup with stale coffee, again, this post is to help(hopefully) home brewers and having fun and learning myself. And please don’t  think I’m weird telling people to try stale coffee, but If you can make yourself a half decent cup of coffee when you have no fresh coffee at home; using 4~6weeks old coffee, and doing some experiments and having fun whilst doing so, I don’t see why people should be trying it. 

In this industry, you learn so much by tasting, tasting is believing!

Comments are welcome!

Pencil Icon

Just add water. Not.

One thing that confused me before coming to Korea, is the method of extraction using Kono or Hario drip(V60) method. Every single video I saw, no on used scales or timers. So since coming to Korea, I’ve drank aloooot of manual drip filter coffees.

I’m writing this post because I’m at a point where it kind of annoys me(personally) after finding out how they extract coffee. It is the method of ‘Just add water’.

Back in London, the coffee to water ratio varies between 60~65g/Litre, this is my personal preference. So, for 1 cup brew, I used 15grams of coffee and 240g of water and extraction time of 2:15sec and I do stir.

In Seoul, I’m seeing baristas weighing coffees with spoon, which is supposed to be 7g per scoop, using alot of coffee for one extraction and no timer or scales being used.

The weird thing is at the end, they add water to the coffee and dilute it heavily, and Korean people(not all but some) are calling this the ‘Korean style’.

I’ve asked several baristas the ratios they use, the most used method was this:

Coffee: 25~30g

Water: 150g

Time: Unknow

Grind: Very coarse(Near french press)

Water temp: 85~90C

So, with that method, the brew ratio becomes 183.33g/Litre, this is way out of charts, though people say we shouldn’t rely on 50 year old data, the method above doesn’t really make sense. The end product you get out of it is dark, syrupy, heavily underextracted brew, so what do they do to it?

They add around 100g of water to it and dilute it, and it tastes like watery vitamin drink.

It’s like, you extract a ristretto and add some water and call it double shot espresso. Yes, it might be the same weight as a double shot of espresso but it isn’t the same drink because double shot of espresso and diluted espresso is made differently. Double shot of espresso(if extracted correctly) tastes good because it has the balance between the sour and the bitter. First part of extraction is very sour because there are much more soluble solids present than water. Extraction occuring at the end is very watery and bitter. Balance between these produces a drink which is not sour nor bitter. If you add water to  ristretto, yes, you will resuced the TDS% but EXT% won’t change.

Let me emphasis again, majority of coffee I’ve drank was Kenyan or COE coffees. So why do this to these coffees? Majority of answers I got was

1. Because they don’t like the bitter aftertaste

2. Because Kenyan and COE coffees have delicate and bright acidity, thus extraction should be cut when the coffee has reached it peak in terms of acidity, then dilute it to loosen the flavor.

3. Cup of Excellence coffees have very clean aftertaste with nice acidity, so to express that in the cup, they cut the extraction in the first minute and dilute it to make it taste ‘Clean’.

I have no right as a coffee person to tell people its wrong, If they think its how it should be done, ok its fair, they’ve bought the greens and roasted and extracted it. But I just think they should look at other variables which affect the quality, flavor,sweetness,aroma,acidity, bitterness and balance of the cup.

Yes, Kenyan coffees have lovely acidity so do COE coffees, coffee people love acidity, and are very sensitive about bitterness. They should be going backwards to seek out the problem why coffee tastes bitter and bland, not seeking ways to emphasis the acidity by underextracting and diluting it.

Such as:

1. Roast profile, isit roasted correctly? Isit too dark ?

2. Method of extraction, can the barista justify why he/she is extracting that way, experimenting with different method? Do you use scales? Timers?

3. Crop, isit a past crop? Is the green too old? Can you check what the year of the crop is?

4. Grind setting and burrs, isit time to change the burrs? is the grind setting correct? Isit time to clean the burrs?

5. Water, isit filtered well? Have you check the ppm of the water you are using?

I know I sound like a little child winging at what other people do, but honestly, it really doesn’t taste good, nd people are paying alot of money to drink it.

It is painful to watch all these good beans being diluted down, without showing its full potential in the cup, I really do hope people start to experiment with brew ratio, brew method and new roast file and let the beans speak for it self, not that first syrupy, underextracted liquid added to water.

Just add water?

Food for thought.

Pencil Icon

Korean coffee scene in my own words. Part I

I’ve been always curious about the coffee scene in Korea, since starting and working with coffee, I never had the opportunity to visit as a Barista. One way for me to learn about the culture was through Aaron’s website http://frshgrnd.com/ and through WBC footages, where Korea did well over the past 3 years.

Though my reason visiting this time isn’t about coffee, I’ve tried to make most out of time whilst I’m here. Thankfully, many people were willing to help me out, taking me to coffee shop touring, and also running around myself; trying to analyse and figure out the difference, similarities and things I can learn from.

(This post is strictly my oppionion, based on what I’ve seen, hear and taste so far)

One thing that surprised me was that, Korean people don’t drink coffee in the morning, coffee shops are quite empty until 3pm and gets mega busy from 4pm, back in London, alot of coffees are made in the morning, many people drink coffee to wake up, that seems not to be the case in here. In Seoul, coffee is something you drink when you meet people or after a meal.

In addition, things I’ve found weird is that, for an average lunch/dinner you are expected to pay £3 in Seoul, but price of a medium latte can vary between £3~3.5

In Seoul, in most cases, coffees are more expensive than food, yet, people are filling up the spaces and they are full till late at night.

There are so much coffee shops in Korea, I was gob smacked by the sheer number alone. In London, Oxford street, I would guess that there would be no more than 15 coffee shops or less; in Seoul, street similar size as Oxford street, 34 exist, majority of them are chains.

Plethora of independent shops exist, much more than London, one distinctive common similarities between these shops exist. Around 70% roast their own, on site. This seems appealing and in some angle very cool, roasting your own coffee, making your own blend. The problem is that, over 80% of these people learnt roasting by reading books, and had no coffee related back ground, I know this because their inexperience and lack of knowledge manifested in the cup massively.

Also, they place the roaster in the shop fronts, next to the windows. Korea is very humid, also temperature fluctuates massively throughout the day, with these condition, roaster should be kept down stairs or in a place where temperatures are more stable, these guys are placing roaster as part of a design, not for any other reason, it was pretty disappointing to see them selling the product for that ridiculous price to the customers.

Korean people are very ‘space’ orientated, we like to have big personal space, thus the design of the cafe changes. Cafe’s are noticeably bigger, with seat and table, nice lay out of the bar, good use of colour, light wood, many accessories, wi-fi and with air conditioner students take these space, tucked away in the corner, drinking coffee and studying or reading a book. In my oppinion, in London, the culture of drinking coffee is much more of; drink promptly or take away, it was quite surprising for me to see that, it is other way round in Seoul.

I’ve also noticed the highlight and over exaggeration of Cup of Excellence coffees around cafes in Seoul. I do agree that Cup of Excellence coffees are delicious, and they are pricey for a reason, as it shows the fact that the farmer have invested tremendous amount of time and effort to produce what he/she have harvested. But I disagree at the fact that Cup of Excellence coffees are ‘God’s coffee’ as described by a Cafe in Seoul, and also the fact that they can charge their customer twice the price when it is poorly roasted, and also poorly extracted. It makes me angry when I see this happening, the farmers have put all the effort and the roasters and baristas ruin it at the end and still charge customers £6~8 pounds per cup. I would be happy to pay the above price if that quality can be proven in the cup, but so far I’ve been disappointed with COE coffees in Korea, there should be more emphasis on microlot coffees, there are amazing microlot coffees being produced and they are not COE, they are cheaper than COE, which means you don’t have to bend your back to buy the green beans; and customers don’t have to feel uncomfortable paying ridiculous price.

This shows the Auction result of Cup of Excellence Costa Rica 2011, top 3 lots are bought from Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Not every people are like that in Korea, there are roasters and baristas trying to raise the bar to a higher standard. For example the coffees I’ve tasted in Coffee Libre in Seoul is so far, the best coffee I’ve tasted, they try to Direct trade with farmers, roast to a higher standard and most importantly, listening to customers and trying to match their needs. La caffe also, the owner, Mr Bang, has huge interests in machine tuning and machine maintenance, I’ve seen some of his amazing works and was gob smacked.

I’m hoping that I find more people like them in Korea, though I havn’t finished my time in Korea, I hope that when I write the post for Part II, I can write more positive things and write about things I’ve learnt.

                    (Part II coming soon)

Pencil Icon

Nose temperature.

One of many things I love about coffee is the fact that, the flavors of coffee that can be discerned changes as it cools. So when we are served a pour over or a syphon, we wait until its quite cool. However, recently I’ve been wondering about our nose, I find the nose really interesting, because as nose contributes significant amount to what we taste; most of the time, what we smell will taste like it. For example when we drink a cup of coffee with our nose blocked, all we can feel in our mouth is the body of the coffee, not the flavor, so no nose, no taste.

So we know that coffee tastes better when its cool, but then when can we smell coffee better?

I decided to have an experiment- to see the difference when our nose is at different temperature, and how it affects how we smell things.

This is what I did:

1. Brew syphon of Costa Rican Santa Lucia from Square Mile, and separate them into 2 tumbler glass( The reason I chose the tumbler glass is because I was able to discern more flavors of coffee, more than latte glass or porcelain cups.)

        

2. Just as they are decanted into 2 glasses, I go out side and start to inhale the cold air (It was 3 degrees celcius) for 1 minute so the temperature of the nose gets lower.

       

3. I come back in and straight away, swirl and smell one of the tumbler glass, then taste.

4. Then drink a glass of sparkling water, inhale the warm air indside(set for 27 degrees celcisus) for another minute.

5. Quickly smell the remaining tumbler and taste.

Because the experiment seemed not fair, in a sense that; I had to leave another tumbler 1 minute longer, I repeated the experiment but then did it other way round (Inhaling warm air first then the cold one).

The result was quite surprising, for me anyway,that when my nose temperature was lower, the aroma was much more defined and vivid than the aroma I could discern when my nose was warmer. I felt that, when I was inhaling at warmer condition, aroma felt muddy and as if something have diluted the aroma.

This started to make me think how roasters roast beans in their roastry, if they have a set temperature when they roast or cup the coffee, as one might roast the coffee and cup them in a quite humid, warm environment, they might not pick up the aroma they sought after.

Furthermore, how this affects baristas who lives in hot and humid countries, how their nose is adapted to smell in those conditions, and if they will notice the difference when smelling between summer and winter- if their country have high temp fluctuation at summer and winter.

Feedback would be nice to see if my nose was completely wrong and I should go and check in the hospital, or if any of you guys experienced same things as me!

My educated guess will be that, humdity or warmer air contains less oxygen but more particles( like dust) which blocks the receptors in the nose, which distrups our smell.

Who nose :) ?

Pencil Icon

Looking after customers and ourselves.

We, as a barista take care of our customers. From start to finish, we try to look after our customers, we try to deliver our promise to make them nice coffee.

We go into much details such as cleaning the basket, dosing, thinking about extraction yield, weighing our shots and so on.. we look after customers behind the machine without them realising, but are we looking after ourselves?

This week, I’ve been working around people who were quite ill, coughing and sneezing. I get very annoyed the fact they still come into work with the state they are in, they say they ‘have to work for the money’. In my opinion, that is being selfish, they don’t realise they might infect other people, and most importantly; they don’t realise customers are watching.

Customers do not look how our shot comes out, but they do look around our surroundings, such as hygiene and cleanliness.

Here is a example:

1. Customer pays for the coffee

2. Barista sneezes into his/her hands

3.Barista manual doses the grounds

4.Barista touches the portafilter handle and starts extraction

5.Few minutes later another barista pulls shots with same portafilter.

From that example above, i would say at least 2 people may have got infected.

Manual dosing when you have just sneezed onto your hands is just wrong. Some people might say the heat from the water will kill the bacteria, it might be true, but that is not important when the customer saw you sneezing, saw you not washing your hands and started to make their coffee. Would they come back?

In addition, when your hands are full of bacteria and you touch the portafilter handle, from that moment every single person who touches that handle will have same bacteria on their hands.

We want to deliver excellent service but sometimes we forget about the most simplest, yet most important things. If you must come into work when you’re ill, at least wear a mask, otherwise have a day or two off, don’t abuse your body.

Her are few things where we can do to prevent bacterias spreading, and most importantly things we can do to respect our customers.

-Buy quick dry antibacterial hand gel, so you don’t have to go back and forth washing and drying your hands.

-Sanitise portafilter handle (with anti bacterial wipe/spray) before other baristas start to use the machine.

-Eat lots of fruits, try to avoid caffeine consumption(or too much)

-Always remember that customers are watching you; even though you think they are not, you are on show, spotlight is always on you.

I know this might be a obvious post for some of you reading, but i see so many people forgetting about these simple things in cafes and restaurants, i had to point it out.

Making good coffee≠best customer service in the world, look back at what you do, start to think more about hygiene if you are alread not.

It’s always good to make nice coffees to our customers, but we should also look after ourselves and customers differently, not coffee wise.