• On Cartoon Rats and Coffee Blends

    On Cartoon Rats and Coffee Blends

    When professional chefs are asked to recommend movies that do a good job of depicting the energy, stress, and flow of a high-end restaurant's kitchen, one of the surprising films that regularly appears on that list is Pixar's Ratatouille.  The animators did a phenomenal job of getting not only the big things right, like the general layout of the kitchen and chefs' attitudes, but they picked up on small details, like the small burns that many chefs have on their wrists.  It's such a great movie (I love all things Patton Oswalt)...apart from the fact that there are rodents touching food...ewwww.

    Anyway, the reason I bring up that movie is because of a different scene.  In my mind, it's one of the best scenes at describing how chefs experience food.  I'm talking, of course, about the scene where Remy is reunited with his brother in the alleyway behind the restaurant.  Remy has his brother focus on truly tasting a piece of cheese and then a grape. Not just eating them, mind you, but really tasting them - first individually, and then together.  When it comes to food, not only is the sum often far greater than the individual parts, but there are (almost literally) an infinite number of combinations that can be created.  That's the excitement Remy feels about food, about cooking.  That's how he knows his place is in the kitchen. In a very, very good way. I'm a pretty good cook, imo, and wouldn't dare presume to call myself a "chef", but even I felt that.  

    What does that have to do with coffee?  Within this current wave of specialty coffee roasting, single origin coffees get all of the love.  Every single one of the coffees I sell can be traced back, not only to a country of origin, but to a region within that country, and typically down to a cooperative of growers, or even a single grower from as small as a 3-5 acre lot of land.  Customers want to taste what makes that particular bean so special - roasted in a way to accentuate all the best parts of that coffee. 

    Blends, on the other hand, have gotten a bad rap as an easy way to sell off cheaper, lower-quality beans.  Typically roasted extra, extra dark to hide the beans' obvious imperfections and shortcomings.  It doesn't have to be like that, though.  Instead, if done well and intentionally, blends can be way to accentuate and elevate the individual beans.  They can create balance and harmony. They can come together to form Captain Planet....sorry, wrong post.

    I have 3 blends in my inventory:  Lilo & Stitch, IP Global Espresso, and Mokha-Java.  They are all fantastic. 

    • My Lilo & Stitch is a blend of an Ethiopia Sidama and an El Salvador Pacas.  It is my absolute go-to for any cold coffee preparation, but it shines as a cold brew.  The El Salvador provides a deep, dark base, but the lighter roasted Ethiopia keeps it from getting lost in the mud.  I wanted a lighter, more refreshing cold brew for the summer months and couldn't have been happier with this.
    • I hate admitting this, but I didn't give espresso its proper due until very recently.  I fell into the trap of, "if it's dark enough, it'll be good espresso."  I was very wrong.  After lots of re-reading and new research, I've finally put in the time and effort to build a proper espresso blend.  Natural African coffees for texture, mouthfeel, and dense crema.  Sumatran coffee for dense, syrupy body.  Washed, Honey, and/or Natural Latin American coffees for chocolate, nuttiness, fruit, much flavor.  It's the best espresso I've made, and among the best I've ever (EVER) tasted.  Did I mention I got married in Rome?
    • The world's oldest coffee blend - the OG, if you will - is the famed Moka Java. Named for a blend of Yemeni Moka and Java coffees, it's pungent, spicy, playful, beautifully balanced, and damn near perfect.  They got it right the first time.  Over time, coffees from both Yemen and Java became pricier (I'll avoid dipping my toes in international politics, thanks), and so the blend evolved.  Now, it's generally agreed to consist of a mix of a Natural Process African coffee (typically Ethiopian Harar, but other varietals like Yirgacheffe, Sidama, and Guji, as well) and a Wet Hull Indonesian coffee (typically Sumatran, but sometimes Sulawesi or Timor, among others).  You can read more about my Mokha Java in its description, but it consists of 2 organic coffees - a Triple-Pick Sumatra and Natural Ethiopia Guji.  Each delicious on its own, together, they create magic.  

    I want you all to know that I do take my blends very seriously.  I put as much time and effort into building them as I do in selecting each of the single origin coffees that I roast.  Maybe more, in fact.  There's intention in the selection of each component bean.  Its roast level has to not only enhance that one bean, but add to the overall profile I'm trying to create.  The final result needs to be greater than the sum of its parts, otherwise what's the point?  

    Continue reading
  • On Weights and Measures

    On Weights and Measures

                   Ten years ago or so, my wife and took a series of cooking classes at The Chopping Block in Chicago, including a bread baking class.  (My bread-baking game was already strong well before the pandemic hit.)  As an introduction to the class, the chef instructor had two identical ½ cup measuring cups filled with flour on her teaching table.  Although they appeared to be identical, when she weighed them out for us, it turned out that one weighed a full 10g more than the other.  That might not seem like much, but in the world of baking that can be the difference between a perfect loaf of bread and a brick.  Even though most recipes you’ll find will give measurements in volume, to get the most consistent results time after time, you really want those powdery, potentially packable ingredients to be measured by weight.

                   Speaking of powdery, potentially packable ingredients - coffee. Ask any espresso drinker and they’ll tell you that a difference of 1-2g in their portafilter can be the difference between dark, syrupy bliss and a thin, sour swill that’s unfit for human consumption.  Small differences in the amount of coffee grounds exposed to water across all brewing methods, though, can really make a profound difference in the end result.  Selfishly, if you’ve tasted my coffee at my tent and enjoyed it enough to actually buy some, I want you to experience the same coffee at home that you had with me. 

                   All of that to say – if you don’t already have a scale for your coffee, GET ONE!  You simply cannot make consistently good coffee consistently if you’re not measuring it by weight.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you do want something digital that’s accurate to 0.1g if you’re mainly brewing espresso and to 0.5-1.0g if pretty much any other form of brewed coffee gets you through your day.  If you mostly drink espresso or pour-over coffee, a “coffee scale” with a built-in timer might be convenient enough to be worth the few extra dollars they typically cost.

                   Once you’ve got your scale, below is a rundown of how I brew my most commonly drunk coffees.  I’m happy to discuss Aeropress, pour-over, and French Press techniques in person…and I’m always excited to hear about new ways to make this incredible beverage. 


    • Gaggia Classic espresso machine w/ stock Double Shot portafilter
    • 18g very fine grounds, grounds distribution tool, tamper
    • 21-23s brew time
    • 34-36g espresso out

    Drip Coffee

    • Bonavita 8C coffee brewer
    • 63-65g grounds – on the finer side of a medium grind
    • 1000mL cool, filtered water
    • 60g : 1000mL is a good starting point; I like my coffee a little strong

    Cold Brew

    • 1 Quart (32oz) mason jar, with lid
    • 90-100g (approx. 3 – 3.5oz) coarse grounds
    • Fill jar with cold filtered water, stir, and refrigerate 18-24hrs (16hrs as an absolute minimum)
    • Break the crust with a spoon and remove the foam
    • After the grounds settle on the bottom (give it ~30min if possible), filter the liquid through a coffee filter to remove ultra-fine grounds (no one likes chewy coffee) and bittering oils

    Happy Brewing!


    Continue reading