Monday, November 30, 2009
This is going to be a mish-mash of ideas I've had over the past week. I've discovered that the time between boarding a plane and liftoff are some of the most creative moments, and I tried to make good use of them between flying to St. Louis and flying home.

Sitting on my jet in preparation for my return flight from St. Louis and thinking back on the week I'd just spent with family, I wondered what a miracle it is that I live at this place in time, that a two month journey by foot, a month by wagon, twelve hours by car might be accomplished in just over an hour by air. Also, in just below two hours, the Concorde jet is capable of spanning the Atlantic Ocean, and the space shuttle may orbit our planet in its entirety.

How splendid, indeed.

So, I ask you, was it luck or merely coincidence that I awoke into this life? Is it not equally plausible that I might have awoken in third-world Africa, or as a Shah in Dubai? I'm not speaking of my physical form, mind you, as that could only have come from my parents. Rather, I'm speaking of the spark that gives me consciousness, that sets my heart to beating, my eyes to seeing, my mind to dreaming. Consciousness itself is a fragile and transient thing, disrupted by elation, death, dreams, and myriad other states of being that send ripples through our individual realities, distorting our continuance and rendering the validity of our perceptions null and void.

I consider this all RIGHT NOW, because the plane I'm sitting on is more than capable of extinguishing the timid flame that burns within. As we taxi out my heart begins to race. My eyes are set outside the window, a million thoughts running through my head. Passing lights of multiple colors that line the runway, the cracked tarmac in desperate need of a pave, the pilots twitchy adjustments of course, my stomach and my lungs being pushed into my seatback by ever-increasing lateral Gs. As we gain speed, the dull bass drone of the engines grows louder, louder, forcing all thoughts out of my head save that at the present moment the severe frictional strains on every nut and bolt of the craft might prove JUST TOO SEVERE, snapping the landing gear, or the wings like twigs and sending us plowing back to Earth with all deliberate speed.

I draw a breath and hold it till it burns. The adrenaline pumps into my brain, faster, faster, slowing the moment until the jet, screaming down the runway at two hundred miles per hour, may very well not be moving at all. The world outside is a muddled blur. Speed mounts. The drone of the engines is at a fever pitch, and my palms sweat.

Faster
Faster

And it is at the point when the front wheels leave the tarmac, that you feel the sickening dip as the back wheels leave and the wings catch a breeze, that time halts and the anxiety is infinite. It is at that time that I break through.

LIFTOFF.

The breath I held, I now exhale.

~

So, in other news, I found a brilliant little shop up in downtown Belleville, about fifteen minutes east of St. Louis. The shop is set in an historic building on Main Street, the interior is all light hardwood neatly varnished, with walls covered in local art and lined with bookcases filled with literature of all types. In one corner rests an acoustic guitar, beaten well. I put this to use for nearly an hour. The highlight of the shop, obviously, is the coffee bar, boasting a beautifully cared-for La Marzocco Linea, its trademark deco logo shining proudly for each and every customer. A homemade fixture showered soft light down on the machine. In front of the bar was a feeding trough stocked with fresh bags of coffee. The coffee is imported green by the owners son and roasted in the back. They had a selection of African and South American beans. The coffee I enjoyed was a Kenyan, which I was moved to purchase a bag of. It was floral, a bit fruity, light. It was a fantastic breakfast coffee. I am anxious to see how this coffee will work when run through an espresso machine.

I mentioned these notes to the owner, who was working behind the bar, and she joined me in a cozy corner to talk shop for a while. At the present, her and her husband run the only specialty coffee shop within twenty miles in any direction, capturing business from students in town and the numerous attorneys lining Main Street. I mentioned my shop in Atlanta and she immediately called her son only to state that he had been in the shop not a month ago, with a church group. I grinned ear to ear as I told her I had assisted her sons group in a scavenger hunt they were conducting. I believe I offered them dishes to wash. It's fantastic how small the world seems sometimes. We discussed competition, machinery (she procured a four-group Linea for just over $4000), and the general direction the coffee industry is taking.

I enjoyed the conversation, I enjoyed the shop, and first and foremost, i enjoyed the coffee. So, if anyone happens to be in the area and dig the cozy shop vibe, check out Oregon Trail Roasting Company, in downtown Belleville, IL.

In my next post, I'll talk about some industry-specific topics, like third-wave practices, and about the virtues of sending everyday coffees through an espresso machine just for kicks.

Later,

Dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:32 AM | 0 comments
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Cresting waves of cloud
White with foam
Like an ever-crashing tide
With no shore to call home,
Tinged pink by
A swiftly-setting sun
Just wave after wave
Spanning the globe,
Through break in violent sea
I see
The irregular grids that
Mark civilization,
Like the scars of past dreams,
The legacy of men and women
Ill-content with a life of chasing...
What?
Sustenance?
Accumulation?
Grass that's more green.
Through the crystal waters
of calmer seas
I see
Inevitability.

Like electrons attracted to their nucleus within,
perhaps people are attracted to, and invariably surround, some greater force, some dominant energy, some life-giving power that, when stumbled across, beckons that we stay a while, take rest from the eternal mobility of purpose. it beckons we set up shop and just see what happens.

but then,
those people don't see what i see,
confined by land
is that the world is full of opportunity,
and they are not free,
that i,
though similarly confined
by chair and cabin and general lack of atmosphere at a cruising altitude of 34,000 ft,
i am living,
i am free.

-dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:53 AM | 0 comments
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Here's an interesting thought...

the number one traded commodity in the world is crude oil.
the number two traded commodity in the world is coffee.*

in many respects, oil runs the hardware of our everyday lives,
while coffee runs us.

i was reading an article the other day about, among other things, the prevalence of coffee in everyday american life. i found it not particularly shocking, but somewhat surprising that 54% of american adults drink at least one cup a day, and amongst coffee drinkers, they average 3.2 cups/day.**

coffee has become a lubricant for fast-paced american culture. so much in this life happens over a cup. business meetings, first dates, artistic expression, philosophical debates. the drink stimulates the minds of over 160 million americans every day, and yet, as integral as the drink is to our lives, i sometimes feel it gets taken for granted. drinking coffee is no longer about enjoying the history, ritual and complexities of each cup, but more about juicing oneself for the rigors of the coming day.

in times such as these, in the throes of global financial meltdown (or, to be fair, recovery) the last thing we need is more rigors. i mean, scurrying around all day trying to make ends meet is stressful enough, but add to that a giant caffeine buzz from the 20 oz shot in the dark you just pounded whilst stuck in morning rush hour and you're at serious risk for an embolism before your boss even utters a word about how this quarters falling stock prices are inexplicably linked to your actions.

all i'm saying is, it's time we brought some of the enjoyment back into drinking coffee. this is a drink steeped (thank you, thank you...) in history and ritual. its been enjoyed all over the world, from peru to pennsylvania, from sumatra to san antonio. in ethiopia, the birthplace of the drink (and the only region of the world to which coffee is native), natives sit in a circle while coffee beans are roasted, ground and then brewed, passing a vessel around the circle so that everyone may enjoy the drink communally. in italy, there are over 270,000 baristas dedicating their lives that each of the 14 billion espresso shots consumed annually is better than the last.*** coffee has tradition, and it has a passionate following, and it's a shame that the majority of americans enjoy the drink "on the go," gulping it down before it has a chance to make any lasting impression on their taste-buds, much less their lives.

in recessionary times, it has been said that people tend to turn to one or two indulgences to get them through the rough spots. people go to bars, they go to the movies, they go shopping, they knit, they do whatever it takes to distract them for a short time from reality. i would love to see people turn to coffee shops in this manner. let's reinforce the ritual, celebrate the history. let's make coffee a relaxing part of the day and not an added stress. there's no reason to wait in line for twenty minutes, constantly glancing at your watch, worrying you might run late, all for a 20 oz burned cup of brown-drink. it just isn't worth the stress. that same cup of coffee can be produced at home, in somewhere around 5 minutes, and you'd have to try pretty hard to make a cup of coffee at home that's as abused as the stuff you buy in the typical starbucks or quiktrip.

just picture this little scenario: you rise from slumber one morning and wipe the sleep from your eyes. slowly, you amble downstairs and flip on the television, surfing for a moment until you find an interesting news story. you then walk over to your pantry and take out a freshly-roasted bag of ethiopian coffee from a small farm just outside of yirgacheffe, known for organic farming methods and traded fairly and directly with quality-driven importers in the states. you pull out your french press and your nondescript grinder and grind a small amount, just enough for a couple cups. from within the grinder you can smell the light floral notes, maybe a hint of strawberry and blueberry, maybe a little vanilla. you dump that into the press, add some hot water and then amble back upstairs to hop in the shower.

elapsed time, from bed to steeping brew - 6 minutes.

by the time you get back downstairs, there will be waiting for you a steaming mug of the most beautiful coffee in the world. the aroma may meet you as you step out of the shower, it may meet you when you hit that last step, but it will meet you, and it will brighten your day.

so, in an effort to use coffee as a way to relax, and not let it add to everyday stress, here are some things to think about:

1. take a few moments with the cup. sip it as you eat some toast and bread, watching the news. since this whole lecture is about leisurely enjoying the cup, i would advise keeping it out of the car.

2. explore the drink. read up on it. study the history. more knowledge of the drink will foster a more fulfilling, satisfying drinking experience.

3. try cupping. cupping is the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting, where cuppers are able to compare three or four coffees side by side, calibrating their palettes to the distinctions between the offerings. in my opinion, it is the best way to expand ones coffee palette. better, in fact, than simply drinking a lot of espresso. basically, when one drinks two or three coffees side by side, he or she is able to compare distinctions between the coffees immediately. there's really nothing like it.

4. use coffee as a way to reconnect with friends and loved ones. schedule a meeting at your local coffee shop, take a date, whatever. just find a way to make connections over a mug.

5. use your local coffee shop as a reference, not just for the end product. most local shops sell home brewing equipment such as french presses and pour-overs, but some also sell the more heavy-duty stuff, like home espresso machines. the baristas at these shops will be more than happy to discuss the virtues of any brewing technique, as well as which coffees are best suited to each. so pick their brains. and when you pick their brains, tell the baristas you'd like to pick their brains. they love hearing phrases like that.

6. buy your beans at these local shops. forgo the pre-ground, mass-market stuff in the grocery store. chances are its old, and of dubious quality. the beans at local shops will be the sorts of beans the baristas would want to sell, and the sort they would drink themselves.

7. finally, when you must get a cup on the go, get it at that same local shop. buying independent fosters a sense of community, of belonging. having a regular coffeeshop is like having a regular bar or barbershop. after a while, you develop a rapport with your barista and the shop becomes more than just a spot to get ones morning fix, it becomes an escape, a respite from the tedium of everyday life.

so there you are.

key thing to take away from this is that coffee can be a relaxing experience, it doesn't always have to be the fuel for future stress.

i hope you all get out there and enjoy some coffee.

-dan

* Top Traded Commoditites
** American Coffee Consumption
*** Italian Coffee Consumption

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 6:18 PM | 0 comments
Wednesday, November 11, 2009







Those of you who know me know I am a guy of somewhat limited interests, and they pretty much all revolve around espresso these days.

You all may have heard that I do something called latte art. In specific, you may have heard that I've made a practice out of dominating local latte art competitions. But this is all very ambiguous.

What is latte art? What's the point? How is it applicable? I think these questions deserve a bit of clarification.

So, without further ado, let's just dive right in, shall we?

Latte art is the creation of designs on the top of a latte or a cappucinno using espresso as a canvas and milk foam as a medium. It is a technique used by baristas to add a bit of flair to an otherwise standardized beverage, to differentiate quality-driven, specialty drinks from the sort of ho-hum everyday stuff you might get from the larger chains. The practice began in Europe, in the traditional cafe setting, with baristas using a flick of the wrist to manipulate the foam atop cappucinnos and machiattos into resembling small leaves, or hearts. The practice became more widespread in the early nineties along with the lattes explosion in popularity. As the latte became the drink of choice in America, latte mugs began growing in size, inflating from the traditional 5 oz capp to some 14-16 ounce monstrosities served in vessels that more closely resembled cereal bowls than anything you might drink coffee from.




With all the extra surface area atop these massive drinks, baristas began pushing the limits of latte art creation, pouring increasingly complex designs to fit the larger pouring surfaces.

Latte art sometimes comes under criticism for being superfluous, or vain, but I believe it serves a number of beneficial purposes to the client. First and foremost, the foam that compsoses that perfectly poured rosetta you are about to consume is made up of millions of tiny bubbles, each containing within it the aromas and flavors essences of the coffee below. Soooo, with each sip you are not only tasting the latte, but some of those aromas are drifting upwards into your nose and you are smelling the drink as well, adding extra sensory involvement. At the same time, you can't really pour art unless you have smoothe, velvety foam that feels as good as it tastes when you drink it. Again, extra sensory involvement. So, now you have taste, smell and feel all involved in the drinking process, making the experience much more than simply drinking a hot beverage. Finally, add to all of that the striking visual appeal of a perfectly symmetraical, high-contrast work of art floating atop your latte and the drink is elevated to something more than it once was. A latte with well-poured art is an EXPERIENCE.

Another benefit of pouring art that us baristas love is that it piques the interest of the consumer in what is known as Third-Wave, or Specialty coffee as the future of the business. You see, it's not that we baristas pour art for our sake, but it's very much to emphasize what we believe to be an exemplary product. A nicely-poured design gets people asking how, and why we do what we do, and what it means for the end-consumer. Seriously. Next time you go to a shop, if you notice a rosetta atop your beverage, ask the barista why he chooses to take the extra few seconds to pour art. But be careful what you wish for. The response will likely take much longer than it took him or her to pour the beverage.

Enough of the preamble. Let's delve into how it's actually done.

In order to pour latte art, the barista needs a few things.
1. Fundamentals
2. Tools
3. Time
4. Dedication

Firstly, the barista needs to have his fundamentals down. He needs to pull quality shots, with quality crema. It has been shown that crema is not essential to the creation of latte art, but some good color in the crema makes the end product look more appealing, and less washed out. I'll get more into that later. Also, the barista needs to master the art of foaming milk. The creation of microfoam is essential to pouring, to the extent that some might say it is the most important aspect of the technique. So, break out those shiny new steaming pitchers, folks!

Secondly, the barista needs a number of tools, including a quality espresso machine, a good grinder, a tamper, a mug and a steam pitcher. Let's take beans and milk as a given.

Thirdly, the barista needs time to practice, practice, practice. It takes a making a lot of drinks to learn to steam the proper milk, and to get any sort of muscle memory for the movements of the pour itself. It certainly helps if the barista has a shop to practice at, because you get a lot of practice on any given day of making drinks for customers.

Lastly, the barista needs a passion for creating drinks, a drive for continuous improvement, and thick skin. I say thick skin because it takes a LONG time to get any good at doing this. I've been slingin' spreezy for almost three years now, and I've been pouring art for about a year and a half, and I'll say right now that my art isn't the best out there. In fact, it took me a good six months to pour my first design. That's hundreds of drinks with awkward milky blobs that got served to customers. Thankfully, most of those drinks came with lids to shield the customer from the horrors beneath.

Okay, when you've got your basics down, and you have tools at your disposal, and you've had a lot of practice and you've thickened your skin, it's time to attempt a pour.

Start by pulling some shots and steaming some nice, creamy milk.









Holding your steam pitcher loosely in your fingertips and your mug at a slope in your other hand, begin pouring slowly into the mug towards the edge closest to the pitcher hand.









If any foam rests atop your espresso at the beginning of the pour, move the stream of milk over it to push it back under the espresso in the mug.

As your pour slowly, the milk should be pushing through the espresso and creating a layer beneath it, raising the brown espresso layer up as the mug fills. This is all physics and density, but it is very important. You want to keep the espresso and the milk as separate as possible until the "shake" to maintain high color-contrast for the end design. Keep pouring until the mug is about half full. At this point, lower the steam pitcher all the way to the surface of the liquid, beginning to pour a bit faster as you lower as the pitcher drops.









When you've reached the surface of the liquid, you should be pouring agressively. You should see a little bit of white foam come out of the tip of the pitcher. This is often called the "halo" of foam.









As soon as you see the halo, flex your fingertips rhythmically, swinging the pitcher in a tight pendulem motion, back and forth, back and forth. Every time the pitcher swings upwards, a little stream of microfoam swings out of the tip of the pitcher, creating a continuous line of foam that etches back and forth in a crescent, much like switchback hiking trails on the side of a mountain.









As more milk comes out of the pitcher, these lines will begin to crescent and compress upon themselves. Keep your stream of milk close to the pitcher edge of the mug. As milk comes out it will cause the lines youve pouring to expand backwards, filling the mug up with your design.

Keep in mind that as your mug fills, you should be tilting it back to avoid spilling the liquid.

When the mug is nearly full, slow your pour (but do not completely stop it) and move the pitcher forward, pushing the crescents of foam into each other.









Finish your design by swiping the stream of milk across the newly-compacted lines, towards the far side of the mug. This action will suck in the top of the heart and shoot a tip out on the far side of the mug.









Carefully set down the mug and admire your handiwork.









If all went to plan, you should have a well-defined heart in your mug. If you were careful about pouring slowly at first and pushing any stray foam back under the espresso layer, you should have a high contrast between the white of the foam and the deep brown of the crema. If you kept pouring close to the pitcher edge of the mug, you should have a design that fills up the mug. If you flexed your fingertips rhythmically, you should have symmetrical and well-defined lines comprising your design. If you slowed your pour and swiped your milk across the design at the end, you should have a well-shaped heart top and tip on the bottom.

If you don't have all these things, don't fret. This stuff takes practice. Just keep at it and you'll be pouring like a master in no time flat!

For more reference, please go to Youtube and search for "Latte Art." There you will find hundreds of videos of pours. This is partly the secret to my success, as I have spent hours studying the pour techniques of baristas from around the world. Just keep at it until you find what is comfortable for you.

And next time you see a design in your morning latte, make sure to let the barista know. It will be a nice break from dealing with the everyday stresses of his morning rush.

Later guys,

Dan


Daniel Stewart Mueller at 2:50 PM | 0 comments
Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Swiss are also known for their sense of design.

The Swiss style is a typographical format utilizing left-justification and minimalist typefaces to foster a sense of standardization. The movement began shortly after World War II as a solution to the growing issue of miscommunication in the midst of cultural integration. After the war, the governments of several European countries decided to make use of the extensive rail system constructed for the war effort as a means of connecting Europe in a way unrealized at any point before. The rail systems were linked and facilitated cross-border travel, but many travelers found themselves at a loss understanding signage across the continent.

Enter the Swiss style. It was decided that a standardized system for formatting rail signage was necessary. From that point onward, all signage would be left justified, set in either Helvetica or Akzidenz Grotesk, which are both sans serif fonts.

The picture at the top is an example of Swiss style typography.

I suppose I should mention the differences between serifed and sans-serifed typefaces, as I spoke of them above.

The term "serif" refers to a graphical "base" at the top and bottom of a serifed font. These bases came into prominence as older civilizations began imprinting type into clay columns. The ends of letters tended to dry thinner than the middles, creating cigar-like shapes that were unpleasing to the eye. This was compensated for by adding flat lines at the ends of the legs of letters, which balanced the weight of the legs with the fatter centers of letters.








The above is an example of a serifed font.

The term "sans-serif" refers to type families that do not have these bases. These fonts are typically more minimalistic and have been used to express progression, modernism and clean class. The first words, or even symbols beforehand, were written in this style. Cuneiform, an ancient writing style, utilized an instrument with a pointed end and a flat end that was pressed into wet clay to form rudimentary symbols. Cuneiform is one of the oldest methods of recording data and is the progenitor of the sans-serif style.






The above is an example of a sans-serifed font.

Modern examples of each have strayed from prescribed forms and shapes while sticking to the fundamentals. Here are some examples of typefaces popular right now.








Slab Serif









Future Sans-Serif



Another way of looking at typefaces is type width. Most fonts have a proportional width, in which the space a letter takes up varies depending on the letter. Some other typefaces are fixed-width, or monospaced, in which the space a letter takes up is predetermined and every letter is made to fit within that space.

Here are some examples.





Proportional



Fixed-Width (Courier New)

So there you have it. That is my meager introduction into typefaces. I may supplement this in the future with some insight into how one might use each kind of type, and what emotions or image each kind evokes.

Later,

Dan

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Daniel Stewart Mueller at 6:13 AM | 1 comments
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704112904574475722260947260.html

This article features my cafe. It concerns the guerilla efforts of Illy Coffee, and Italian coffee conglomerate, to break into the American retail market. Illy has been selling specialty coffee in the United States for the past twenty years, but their product has largely been isolated to high-end grocers such as Whole Foods and Fresh Market. As brand recognition and demand increased, Illy felt it was time to expand, offering retail outlets to move their product to a wider demographic.

Basically, instead of setting up their own retail venues, Illy utilizes independent coffee shops all over the country to feature their products. These shops are help to a stringent code of quality in an effort to control the brand equity of the roaster and distributor. Shops are chosen based on location, predicted sales volume and general commercial values. If a shop is approved, they are set up with an espresso machine, grinder, branded swag and various amenities necessary to conducting a profitable coffee business.

The deal is win-win, as Illy sees it. The independent business gains one of the most well-respected coffees in the world, and with that brand they gain a global customer base. The coffee company gains a foothold in the retail market without expending capital on property and all entailed costs. The independent shop involved is held to contract, however. They maintain that they will provide, exclusively, Illy coffee products for a duration of 3 years. In exchange, the roaster agrees to maintain all equipment, provide continual training and provide business consultation all along the way in order to develop a highly profitable business entity.

My experience with Illy has been excellent, mostly. Their training is indeed top-notch, if slightly infrequent. Our sales rep is knowledgable and shows genuine interest in seeing our establishment flourish.

If I had one complaint about the arrangement, it is that I see Illy as being slightly behind the specialty coffee times. The trend of the foreseeable future is towards more sustainably-run establishments, promotion of single-origin, direct trade, organically-produced coffees than large-scale, mass-production coffees. Even Starbucks, sworn enemy of Illy and independent coffee shops around the world, recognizes the publics demand for single-origin, differentiated products and provides them readily. Illy espresso is indeed fantastic, but it represents a blanket flavor profile of all good coffees and does not emphasize any given source in its blend of 14 varietals.

My question for the company is, if you have access to farms around the globe, why not provide some single-origin, small-batch offerings every now and again. How fantastic would it be to drink a Yirgacheffe from one of the finest roasters in the world. Or, better yet, how fantastic would it be to be able to offer that same Yirgacheffe spreezy-style to a discerning customer in his morning latte.

In my experience, a fulfilling coffee experience is an adventure. It is pulling a super-bright, fruity or chocolately single-origin, widely known as a pour-over specialty through my Linea just to see what would happen. It is playing with dosage and brew time to compare a coffee at various stages of the brewing process. I guess what I am saying is that an enjoyable coffee experience is about embracing the natural variety in coffee. It is an organic product and is therefore succeptible to variation. This should be welcomed and worked with, not worked out through careful screening and blending.

That is my challenge for the company. Show some single-origin love. Your customers will love it and your retail venture will benefit. There's nothing worse than losing a customer to Starbucks becuase you're not carrying the customer's favorite Peruvian vartietal that just happens to be in season at the moment.

In other, related news...

THURSDAY NIGHT THROWDOWN!!!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
9PM @ Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge

Come support me as a try to bring it home for CafeNineteen in an Atlanta-area latte-art pour off. The event is a blast. There's good music, good drinks, friendly people and the electrifying atmosphere of healthy competition.

Sign-ups start at 8. I'll be there at 830-ish. Pouring starts at 9. Stop by and cheer me through the first few rounds. And, back by popular demand, I will be taking requests for which shape I pour.

That's about it. Keep dreaming, but be awake when you're awake.

-Dan

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Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:30 AM | 0 comments
Monday, November 2, 2009
I love coffee.

Here's a thought I had on the matter.

I was cooking dinner the other night. Steak. I was using a cast-iron skillet. Rule number 1 for cast iron is, apparently, to season your skillet when you first purchase it. Basically, you give it one good wash and then rub some crisco on it. You rub it in good, into all the little iron-y nooks and crannies. Over the life of the skillet certain flavors and oils will get stuck in those nooks and crannies, trapped in with the cooking grease, providing an evolving flavor to all future foodstuffs you prepare with the skillet. In the case of the cast-iron skillet, its usually a good thing. You get a nice smoky flavor when you cook a steak, you get a grilled flavor when you throw in some veggies. It's pleasant.

Anyways, the next day I was pulling some shots at work and noticed that, out of habit, i tend to wipe out and rinse the portafilter with hot water between shots to get rid of all the espresso grounds and oils from the previous shot. Why do I do that? What would happen if I simply wiped out the previous shots' grounds but did not rinse, effectively leaving the espresso oils in tact for the next round of shots?

Thus the experiment began. For the next twenty shots I pulled out of that portafilter I wiped out the grounds, but I left the oils on the filter. After twenty shots I a shot from that filter and a shot from a freshly cleaned filter and compared taste.

Results - Aged oils very much ruin a shot of espresso. The natural brightness of the shots were masked by burnt, smoky overtones. The shots were ashy and overly bitter. The shots out of the clean filter remained balanced, bright and finished sweet and clean.

I was shocked with the results, but when I thought about it a minute it made sense. Espresso is delicate. The grind is fine enough that it burns easily and the oils tarnish quickly, souring shots as quickly as thirty seconds after being pulled. Coffee, in general, when exposed to water for too long, have a tendancy to become bitter. espresso, especially. If the preinfusion on a shot is too long, or if your grind is too find and water rests atop your puck for too long before pushing through the filter and out the pour spouts, it sours and embitters (word?). Thinking along these lines, it's easy to see why aging a portafilter doesn't have the same effect as aging a cast-iron.

Anyways, it was an interesting experiment and I urge everyone to give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:48 AM | 0 comments