Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rowster Roasting Class Pushes the Envelope

Blitzkrieg Roasting Class - Rowster Coffee, Grand Rapids, MI
May 23, 2011
This was my first trip to the famed Rowster Coffee and it was a treat! First of all, kudos to Kurt Stauffer for offering such a class. He's truly democratic in his willingness to help anyone from anywhere get better at the craft of roasting. Along with it, he instilled in each of the 5 participants (including me) the amount of dedication it takes to roast and roast well in a retail setting. He also convinced us of his passion for roasting each coffee to it's optimum level. The small size of the class enabled each of us to explore our own roasting issues -- I was able to go heavy on questions related to roasting decaffeinated coffee and samples. Kurt has swung back and forth on the "must be light roasted" to "could be dark roasted" pendulum. A phrase I learned in the class: "the paradoxes of coffee."

Kurt's staff, Stephen Curtis and Andy, were great. The Lever espresso machine pulled some wonderful shots and was impressive to see. So was the level of cleanliness Kurt keeps around his literally "middle of the shop" roaster. All eyes at the bar can see everything.

The class:
  • Started with a review of what is roasting.
  • A market segmentation of roaster "classes" (as a marketer, I found this quite interesting)
  • Chemical processes of roasting
  • Tour of the roaster (machine) anatomy
  • Looked at and discussed roast profiles
  • Teamed up in pairs and each got to roast a 14 lb. batch of Monserrat (Colombia) Cup of Excellence. Obviously, this was the best part!
I now understand why Rowster's tagline is "New American Coffee". With unique and high-level classes like this out there, a new age of coffee in American is dawning. Keep it going, Kurt!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

MotownThrowdown II - fun!

Motown Throwdown II, May 19, 2011 Location: AJ's Cafe in Ferndale, MI
I enjoyed the second Motown Throwdown in Ferndale, MI on May 19th. AJ was a gracious host at his cafe. Tom Isaia (Coffee Express) did a great job organizing us. First event - Signature Espresso Drink Contest, with Lani Peterson of Kerry Beverages judging. Teresa Pilarz of Espresso Elevado (Plymouth, MI) won $300! Runners up were Lorne Keeny of Coffee & Friends, Okemos and Brian Cullen, Tres Bean Coffee House, Walkerville, Windsor (Ontario).

The second event: Best Coffee Contest - had 13 entries -- all Colombian. Sally Rivera (imported from Cafe Imports) and Ruth Ann Church (Artisan Coffee Imports in Ann Arbor, MI) cupped and scored all 13 of the coffees, which took almost 2 hours. The top 5 Colombians were then brewed and poured into 5 numbered airpots. Then all participants could taste and judge. The informally scored ranking was:
1) Coffee Express Co., Plymouth; Giraldo Exotico (imported by Royal)
2) Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids; from Didier Reinoso's farm - used at the Barista Championship in Houston
3) Cafe Imports (green coffee importers), St. Paul, Minnesota.

4) Coffee Express Co., Plymouth; organic
5) Artisan Coffee Imports, Ann Arbor; you guessed it right! This was a DECAF coffee from Artisan Coffee Imports and it was in the top 5 out of 13! The coffee is from the state of Tolima, southern Colombia, and the ASOCEAS cooperative -- a group of 58 farmers near the town of Rio Blanco.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deconstructing Decaf at the SCAA

May 1: Jose Ramirez, Director of Coffee at Farmer Brothers, graciously included me as a co-presenter of his SCAA lecture titled, "Deconstructing Decaf." 40 participants filled the room on a Sunday morning! Jose walked us through the technical details on the various decaffeination processes -- including a new one using triglycerides!

Photo (right) -->: Decaf Kenya AA Meru - green sample next to 3 other regular green coffee samples at an SCAA booth.

For my part, I shared the marketing complexities of decaf, focusing on the relationship between costs, pricing and quality. By clarifying the fact that there are two extra costly steps to getting a decaf coffee, people are better able to see why quality compromises are being made all the time. We looked at locations of decaf plants on a world map, comparisons of how much each decaf process costs, compared mark-up practices for pricing decaf and shared consumer data and marketing tips for decaf.

It was great to have 2 participants in the room from decaffeination plants -- Descamex and Maximus were represented. The best question/quote, I thought, was from Alfredo Rego of Idaho who asked, "why is it at a coffee show like this, you go up to a beautiful espresso bar like Counter Culture has set up and they have 5 amazing coffees -- but no decaf? Isn't everyone a little over-wired and caffeine weary by 3pm on day 3?" Couldn't agree with you more, Alfredo!

Hopefully the roasters in the room are now better able to choose to put QUALITY and TASTE FIRST. This typically means asking one's supplier/importer as many questions about the origin, age and storage of the green coffee as one asks about any regular coffee -- and worry less about which decaffeination process. Whether a coffee is decaffed using water or methylene chloride will make less difference to the taste than whether the green coffee was full of defects or a good, fresh, clean coffee.

Thanks to all who attended! Check out Artisan Coffee Imports for more information and guidance on finding great tasting decaf coffees.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SCAA Houston - Day 4 - Single Origin Decaf Cupping

May 1: This was the big day - Artisan Coffee Imports first cupping at an SCAA event took place starting 9:15am. About 15 cuppers came! I was worried a Sunday morning event would be too tough for anyone to get to. The amount of prep work was more than I anticipated, so many thanks go to Jose Ramirez of Farmer Brothers and Robert Athay of Theta Ridge for their help and support.

The cupping featured 9 decaf coffees, two of which were on sale by Artisan Coffee Imports:
  • decaf Kenya AA, Meru-Riankune (precision or MC decaffeination process)
  • decaf Colombian AA, El Meridiano, Tolima-Herrera region, ASOCEAS coop, (ethyl acetate - EA - process)
The other coffees on the table were:
  • decaf Kenya CO2 process
  • decaf Kenya SWP
  • decaf Colombia traditional (MC) process
  • decaf Colombia SWP
  • decaf organic Peru CO2 process
  • decaf organic Peru SWP
  • decaf organic Sumatra SWP
Cuppers at the session included Stumptown, Ritual, Equator, Invalsa, Swing Coffee, Wawa, Coffee Express, Crop to Cup, Caravela, Just Go in Taiwan and GEPA - Fair Trade Company in Germany.

Guest cupper, Ben Kaminsky of Ritual Roasters, cupped our triangulations -- he correctly picked out the decaf 3 out of 4 times! The trays were Kenyans, Colombians, Perus and Sumatras. The Sumatra was the one he missed. He said the Kenyan was the next one where it was almost too close to tell.

Near the end of the cupping, Justin Archer of Ecom/Sangana/SMS gave some comments on the challenges farmers are facing in Kenya. Frederick Kariithi, Chairman of the Rung'eto Coop in the Kirinyanga region of Kenya, also added some insights. They mentioned the struggle in Kenya to raise production which has fallen steeply in the last decade. Kenya used to produce 120,000 metric tonnes, and last year was down to only 35,000 -- next year 2011/2012, might get back to 50,000 m. tonnes. Poor weather, climate change and aging farmers are a few of the culprits mentioned.