Category Archive: Coffee Thoughts
According to the International Coffee Organization, 71.93 million bags of Arabica coffee were exported from approximately 70 coffee producing countries around the world in 2016. This is a baffling number, but considering the average consumption per capita is nearly equivalent to 1 cup per person, the United States alone consumes around 325 million cups of coffee each day.
As a roasting company, our main goal is to provide fantastic coffees to our customers. At each level, we are working to break down the barrier between delicious coffee and the consumer, but this is no simple task. In essence, part of what Utopian does is filter through innumerable coffees to find what’s best and bring it to you. This past week, the Utopian team cupped about 50 different coffees to hopefully find new offerings for our customers. We would like to share a bit of this process and hopefully give you some insight into our day to day work.
Ashley cupping coffees
Step 1. Order samples from producers and importers
The first step in choosing what coffee we will offer is to connect with people who work exclusively with green coffee. This takes several shapes and forms; one day we will be communicating with a large coffee importing organization, and the next day we will be exchanging emails with farmers and cooperative owners in Latin America. No matter what we do, Utopian works hard to establish relationships and partnerships with various members of the green coffee community.
Once we have made a connection with a producer or importer, we will then start choosing green coffee samples. The goal of this is to obtain a small portion of a given coffee to evaluate before purchasing several hundred pounds. Samples come in various sizes, but typically we will receive anywhere from 150-500 grams at a time. This may seem like a small amount, but with this amount we will be able to fully evaluate any given coffee and decide how to move forward.
Our Ikawa sample roaster with green coffee
Step 2. Sample Roast
When green coffee samples arrive at Utopian, they are stored in our Coffee Lab until they are ready to be roasted. The most difficult part of evaluating samples is creating consistency. Without this, we would not be capable of making sound judgements regarding what coffees we will purchase. One way we eliminate variables, mistakes, and inconsistencies is by roasting all of our samples using the Ikawa sample roaster.
Using the Ikawa to create great samples!
The Ikawa is a small-scale fluid-bed roaster which uses hot air to roast the beans instead of a flame. By using air, we keep unwanted flavors away from the beans, resulting in very clean cups of coffee to evaluate. Additionally, the Ikawa Pro is a profile-driven roaster, which creates consistency throughout the entire sample roasting process. For those curious, a profile is a graph created for the beans to be roasted. By following this graph, we are able to pull forward all the unique characteristics from each sample batch roasted. Even moreso, with the Ikawa I use our standard sample roast profile for 10 different coffees, which roasts each sample to to the same level, leaving only the coffee’s natural flavor to be the defining difference as we begin to taste.
During cupping we will taste several different coffees and compare the unique characteristics of each
Step 3. Taste!
The third and final step in evaluating a coffee is tasting the roasted samples. At Utopian we do this by “cupping” the coffees side by side with as many as 10 coffees at a time. Cupping is a form of brewing and evaluating the coffee with limited variables so we can taste the essence of each sample. We do this by taking a small glass and filling it with several grams of the ground sample. We then sniff the dry coffee grounds, taking notes of any scents we perceive. Afterwards, we fill up each glass with hot water and return to smelling and inspecting each glass individually.
After letting the grounds steep (brew) for several minutes, we break the crust and smell the wonderful aromas beneath. At this point we begin tasting each cup, meticulously writing down what we taste. We do all of this while remaining completely silent to avoid any interference that could cause bias against or for any given coffee. After each team member has tasted the samples, we compare our notes and talk about which coffees will best fit into our lineup.
To break the crust we use a spoon to stirr the grounds at the top which “breaks” the crust formed, releasing aromatics!
More often than not, all of our team members enjoy the same coffees and agree on which ones would be best to source for our wholesale and retail customers. However, arriving at the correct coffees becomes an intricate and often trying process as we scrutinize every coffee that comes through the door. We taste many coffees only to find one which we are excited to share and present. Nevertheless, when we receive positive feedback for even one coffee, it encourages us to continue pursuing the best coffees in the world.
Nick is an avid record collector, armchair philosopher, and coffee wizard currently roasting for Utopian.
What was your first experience with coffee?
I’ve had many “firsts experiences” with coffee. When I was a kid, my parents always had a pot of coffee brewing. This really made me think of coffee as a “life-sustaining” substance, specifically for the working person. You could say I was captured by the mystery behind this beverage. Unfortunately, this was before specialty coffee had really taken off, so my first experiences drinking coffee were quite terrible. Because of this I had no interest in drinking coffee.
My first time really experiencing specialty coffee was at a cafe in my hometown of Warsaw. The cafe manager made me a pour-over and I immediately dumped a bunch of sugar in it because I thought this was the only way to drink coffee. He stopped me and said, “That’s not how you drink good coffee” and made me another, instructing me to drink it black. Immediately I was amazed by how sweet it was; it didn’t need sugar at all. That was when I discovered that coffee could be sweet and complex, not just bitter and ashy.
What Utopian coffee offering would you recommend to someone who is new to specialty coffee?
I would recommend our Colombia. It’s our “house roast” and is available year-round. This Colombia is sweet and complex, yet is full-bodied in a way many people appreciate in a coffee, so it’s a good place to start.
What is your main function at Utopian Coffee?
I oversee coffee quality including the roasting process. I cup our coffees throughout the week to ensure consistency among the roasts.
Which aspect of the new Utopian cafe location at the Landing has you most excited?
My goal is twofold. First, I want to provide a unique experience for customers that expands their view of what coffee is and can be. Second, I’m excited to tell the stories of our partners at origin, whose hard work and dedication to their trade enable us to bring amazing coffee to Fort Wayne.
If you could travel to any country of origin, which would you choose?
I would go to Ethiopia. As the birthplace of coffee, it has major historical significance that affects everything we do today. I studied history in college, so I would love to explore all of the traditional methods of growing, processing, and roasting coffee in order to have a deeper understanding of my trade.
What’s something you would like the average coffee consumer to know about coffee roasting?
Roasting is both an art and a science, simultaneously. Every part of the roast is a delicate balance of chemical reactions inside the drum, every input affecting the taste of the resulting coffee. At the same time, I have a responsibility to everyone who put work into these coffee beans before me at origin to bring out the innate flavors unique to each farm, varietal, and processing method.
If you could spend a day anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d definitely spend the day in Traverse City. I would visit BLK MKT in the morning for coffee and homemade poptarts. Afterwards I’d go for a drive and explore near Sleeping Bear Dunes. I’d spend my evening eating and drinking at Gaijin. Every single day I crave their authentic ramen and dumplings.
What resources or strategies would you recommend to someone who wants to deepen their understanding of coffee?
The best way to improve your own palette is to taste as much good coffee as possible.
To truly appreciate coffee you have to invest in it. Buy good brewing equipment, use remineralized water, and buy fresh beans. Start to watch tutorials on how to make a pour-over or french press. From there, continually refine your process until you have created a ritual. Once you do this you can learn to truly appreciate what coffee is all about.
If you’re traveling, go out of your way to find the best local cafe or roaster. Order a black coffee and soak in each experience. If you want to know more, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
A good print resource is Drift Journal. They publish about once per quarter and highlight the coffee culture of a specific city such as Tokyo or Havana. It’s a fantastic inside look inside how coffee can be seen as a case study for an entire culture. Not to mention, the photography is stunning. I always end up learning a lot about coffee, but even more about humanity as a whole.
What do you want to see from coffee in the future?
Right now, coffee is a very polarizing beverage. Some people only drink lattes with several syrups and some people only drink black coffee made via pour-over. I think there is nothing wrong with either! The problem is they both tend to be done with little authenticity or dedication to craft and science behind it all. In the next few years I hope to see coffee become a more holistic experience, one where anyone can find a drink they love that is idiosyncratic and authentic. I really want the stunning flavors of coffee to speak loud and clear and tell each consumer a story.
One of the most challenging parts of enjoying coffee is understanding what you’re tasting! Trying to put into words the flavors we all taste in coffee can be a huge feat. As a professional, part of my job is to come up with “tasting notes” that reflect the coffee, and sometimes even I am at a loss for words for what I’m tasting. This can be even more difficult for a person who wants to learn how to taste coffee at home! Luckily, the skills necessary for developing a palate for coffee is available to anyone. Here I’ve listed five completely practical steps that will help you learn how to taste coffee like a professional!
Eat diverse foods!
Tasting coffee is all about building up memory reserves where you can recall flavors you’ve tasted before. Imagine if all you ever ate was french fries. You would only be able to speak about flavors in terms of what french fries taste like. Fortunately, there are a number of diverse foods available to the average person, and the more foods you eat the greater ability you will have to create new flavor reserves and recall what you’ve tasted, eventually recognizing these flavors in coffee! I recommend trying new dishes at your favorite restaurant, as well as switching up your grocery shopping list to include new things. Vegetables and fruits are the easiest foods to access when trying to diversify your palate.
Think about what you’re eating
It’s easy to eat an entire meal without thinking twice about the flavors that you’re tasting. Every time you eat without stopping to savor the flavors you miss an opportunity to learn and to make memories for recalling later on! What may begin as an average dinner featuring mom’s spaghetti can now become a challenge to evaluate and discover flavor nuances like never before. Try and pick apart the major ingredients first like tomato paste and noodles, then try and pull out very specific flavors like basil and thyme.
Use high quality water to brew your coffee
Since coffee is more than 90% water, the kind of water being used to brew coffee is very important! In essence, the different mineral qualities of the water will either aid or hinder in extracting the best flavors from the beans. Avoid water with no minerals because the absence of minerals will cause an absence of flavors being extracted. Similarly, water straight from the tap generally has too many minerals and will pull unwanted flavors from the beans. The perfect water can be created at home by referencing the Barista Hustle water recipe or by purchasing some Third Wave Water! If you’d rather keep it super simple, try brewing using remineralized bottled water from the store. Try out different brands and see which one makes the best brew.
Nathan focusing on the characteristics of the coffee
Drink coffee from all over the globe!
Coffee from the heart of Ethiopia will taste completely differently from coffee cultivated in the Peruvian highlands. Because of this, learning to taste coffee like a pro means drinking coffee from different origins. Try buying two coffees from different origins and tasting them right next to each other! Once you’ve mastered this, try drinking coffee from the same country but with different regions, varietals, or processing methods. You’ll soon learn that no two coffees are the same.
Drink coffee with friends!
One of the best ways to learn how to taste coffee like a pro is to drink coffee with others! It’s one experience to sit by yourself and think about flavors, but gettings the opinions of friends can be extremely helpful. While you may taste candied almonds, a friend may taste something closer to vanilla bean. By discussing the flavor of coffee with others you will learn how to taste coffee in an entirely new way!
Lastly, the most difficult part of learning how to taste coffee like a professional is being humble. Sometimes you won’t pick up on the obscure tasting notes that some people will point out. At other times, you will taste something might not be present due to factors influencing your smell perception. But above all, have fun! Learning to taste the nuances of coffee is a challenge but with these simple tips you can develop the skills to taste coffee with industry professionals.
Chemex Pourover – Photo by Noah Huffman
To many of us, coffee signifies the beginning of our day. We carefully integrate coffee into our morning, afternoon, and evening routines. We cherish the moments when we can take a step back from our busy schedules and take a moment to sip our life-generating brews. For some, coffee is an absolute necessity to any productive day. With something so integral to our daily routine, one would think the coffee brewing experience would be just as important as the end result. More often than not, the brewing process of coffee is completely overlooked, and as a result our coffee tastes less than ideal.
Luckily, there is a way to brew delectable cafe-quality coffee at home. Using the pourover brew method will give you coffee that tastes outstanding.
Imagine the classic coffee brewer: you wake up, flip a button, and coffee is brewed and ready in a few minutes. Unfortunately, these coffee brewers often do a terrible job of extracting the greatest amount of flavor from the beans. Brews are left under-extracted which cause a serious lack of flavor as well as an overall underwhelming experience. Especially when you’re spending the money to buy well-roasted beans, your brewing experience should reflect the standard of quality necessary to bring forth the most flavor.
Unlike most automatic coffee brewers on the market, a full pourover setup (which we will discuss) gives an individual all the tools necessary to control each aspect of the brewing experience. But what does this mean? Essentially, brewing coffee via pourover will give you control over several factors taken for granted with automatic brewers, such as:
Coffee to water ratio (strength of brew)
Having control of these factors gives you the opportunity to brew coffee which reflects the depth of flavor and complexity of each bean. Additionally, making a pourover not only creates awesome tasting coffee, but it takes the very impersonal experience of an automatic coffee brewer and makes coffee-brewing personalized and intimate. Taking time to bring the water to temperature, weighing and grinding the beans, and finally controling the entire course of the brewing process creates a unique and beautiful experience.
Now that we have covered some of the fundamental aspects of pourover brewing, we will review the necessary pieces of equipment used during the brewing process.
The dripper is the key piece of equipment used to brew pourover coffee. Essentially, it acts as the context where the coffee brewing process will occur; where the magic takes place. Drippers vary in size and shape from large to small, flat bottom to conical, glass to metal. Choosing a dripper is a matter of deciding what best fits your brewing needs. If you’re looking to brew only a single cup for yourself in the morning, the dripper you choose will greatly differ from the person looking to brew for several friends.
There are two drippers I highly recommend to anyone who is interested: the Hario V60 – 02 and the Chemex – 8-Cup. Both are conical brewers, which aid to facilitate extraction. Many cafes use the Hario and Chemex because they’re recognized as fantastic brewers. Additionally both the Chemex and V60 work well for a variety of different budgets. I personally use a ceramic V60 and the 8-Cup Chemex.
The kettle is used to pour hot water into the dripper and onto the ground coffee. You do not want to use a regular kettle, such as grandma’s favorite tea kettle. Most of these kettles have a very large opening to pour water into a mug, but for pourover brewing this does not give sufficient control over the brewing process.
Rather than a classic tea kettle, a gooseneck kettle should be used. The name reflects the type of spout, which is thin and curved to restrict water flow as well as maximize control over pouring. A well made gooseneck kettle will allow for complete control of the water throughout the brewing process, which will allow you to dial in your brewing recipes accurately and effectively. Likewise, since the stream of water from the kettle is much finer, it will be easier to cover all the coffee ground evenly, which will aid in extracting the most flavor.
The water used should be heated to about 195-205 degrees fahrenheit. Temperatures higher than 205 tend to “burn” the beans, which will leave the coffee tasting flat and lifeless, while temperatures lower than 195 generally will hinder the extraction of flavorful solubles, also leaving the brew underwhelming. If a thermometer is not readily available, allow the kettle to boil and sit for two minutes. By this time the temperature should be within the given parameters.
The pourover process is made null when using pre-ground coffee. As with any pre-ground coffee, a majority of the important flavors and aromas are entirely lost quickly after grinding occurs. Because of this, I highly recommend purchasing a grinder. This will ensure you are obtaining the greatest amount of flavor.
Whole bean coffee used within 3 weeks of the roast date is going to give the best flavor. This coffee is still fresh and retain most of the delicious flavors. After 3 weeks, coffee naturally starts to “stale,” which like most food products means the flavor will be lacking.
The grinder you choose to use will make all the difference for the ensuing brew. For this, there are two types of coffee grinders available: burr and blade grinders.
In essence, blade grinders use blades that spin rapidly to crush, chop, and slice the coffee beans into usable grounds. While blade grinders are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, they will not grind the coffee accurately nor evenly. Because the blades are merely spinning rapidly and grinding the beans, this means there is no assured way for each bean to grind the same. Simply put, you will end with some beans that are nearly whole, while some beans are fine as dust.
The alternative which I highly recommend are burr grinders. In essence, two burrs (either metal or ceramic) are used to crush the beans into a specific size. Because of this, burr grinders tend to grind each bean to a specific size, resulting in remarkably more consistent grounds. This being said, the cheap burr grinder found at the local grocery store will not grind much better than your average blade grinder.
At Utopian, we offer two grinders. The Baratza Encore is a great entry-level burr grinder that does an amazing job for a relatively inexpensive price. This grinder is reliable, and works perfectly for anyone looking to step into the world of manually brewing coffee. A majority of the settings work very well from pourover, as well as other brewing methods such as Aeropress and French Press. I cannot recommend this grinder highly enough for anyone looking for their first burr grinder.
Another option is the Baratza Sette 270. Think of this grinder as the luxury version of the Encore. The Sette will grind more consistently, as well as grinding finer for home espresso use. Aesthetically, this is a beautiful piece of equipment which will undoubtedly bring your home brewing game to a new level.
To brew coffee well, you need to know exactly how much coffee is being used, as well as how much water to use. Using too much coffee and too little water or vice versa will result in an unpleasant brewing experience. Thus, weighing coffee and water are extremely important steps that ensure the quality each brew. By these variables, you can create a brew ratio.
One common brew ratio is 1 x 16.5. This means for every one part coffee, you will use sixteen and a half parts water. For example, if you decide to use 30 grams of coffee, you will multiply 30 x 16.5, resulting in 495, which is the amount of water you will want to use. This ratio is not set in stone by any means. If you want your coffee be stronger, try a 1:15 brew ratio, and if your coffee is too strong, try 1:17.
Water Temperature is Important! Photo by Noah Huffman
Spoon / Stir Stick (for stirring coffee grounds)
Mastering the art of pourover coffee takes time and persistence. As stated before, making coffee in this method is not about efficiency, but rather about the ritual of brewing. Patience is key to making great coffee.
Photo by Noah Huffman
Chemex Brewing Instructions
40 grams coffee ground coarse (a touch larger than coarse sea salt)
660 grams water (heated to about 204 degrees)
Total brew time 4:30 – 5 minutes
- Start the timer and begin by pouring 100 grams of coffee over the grounds in a clockwise motion. The water stream should be thin and cover all the coffee grounds. Use a spoon to then stir over the next 25 seconds.
- At 45 seconds, add water in the same circular motion (slowly and deliberately) until reaching 250 grams at 1:20.
- At 2 minutes, repeat the previous step until reaching 450 grams.
- At 2:45 finishing the brew by reaching 660 grams total.
- Stir one last time, you should shoot for a flat bed of grounds.
V60 Brewing – Photo by Zach Shultz
V60 Brewing Instructions
25 grams coffee grounds medium (it should look similar to table salt)
400 grams water (heated 202 degrees)
Total brew time 2:45-3:20
- Start timer and add 80 grams of water to the brew bed, covering all the coffee grounds. Use spoon to stir grounds, thoroughly soaking the coffee.
- At 30 seconds, pour water in a clockwise motion until reaching 150 grams.
- Around 1:20 add water until reaching 300 grams.
- At 2 minutes, finish the brew by reaching 400 grams water. Stir one last time. Like the Chemex, shoot for a flat bed of coffee grounds.
Final Brewing Tips / Tricks
- Coffees roasted lighter will generally need a coarser grind size, while darker coffee will need a finer grind size.
- Using tap water can work sometimes, but for the best results, use re-mineralized water. This will aid in extracting the key flavors.
- Focus on your rate of pouring. If you pour too fast, you will speed up the entire brew, while pouring too slowly will cause the brew to slow down, or worse, stall out.
- Fresh coffee is key – using old coffee will generally result in a very poor brewing experience.
- Invest time into learning the craft – take a few minutes a day to make a pourover.
- Record your results in a notebook for reference later on – you may find that different coffees need different ratios.
Coffee is one of the most complex and intriguing drinks anywhere in the world. During coffee roasting, a series of chemical reactions that occur within the coffee bean facilitates the development of distinct flavors, aromas, and color. When brewing coffee, these flavors within the bean are extracted, and we end up with a fresh cup of our favorite morning brew.
Coffee, quite like wine, is greatly affected by the terroir, which is the crop’s context. This includes climate, soil, and other environmental factors that impact the coffee’s flavor profile. Because of this, the flavor profile of a coffee from Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia, differs greatly from Colombian coffee grown in Latin America.
The average American consumes over 3 cups of coffee a day. That’s a lot of used coffee grounds going down the drain! Here are a few uses for those leftover grinds:
- Steep grinds in hot water to dye fabrics or paper for an “antique” look.
- Use grinds on a damp rag to remove grease and grime from tools or dishware.
- If you have a scratch on a dark wood piece of furniture, take a cotton ball and soak it in steeped coffee grounds to cover up the mark.
- To create blue hydrangeas, work coffee grounds into the soil. The coffee will increase the acidity level and help the shrub to absorb aluminum, which will give you blue hydrangeas!
- Place leftover, dried grinds in the fridge to remove unpleasant odors. This can last up to two weeks!
- Leftover coffee will also attract cockroaches. Create a trap for them by putting a mound of coffee in the area where the pests are and put a sticky pad in front of the mound to trap them.
- Brunettes or redheads can use coffee grinds in a rinse to shine up their hair in the shower.
- Place grounds in a soap to exfoliate your skin. This will also work as a hand soap to remove odors like garlic or onion after cooking.
- Ants don’t like coffee, so put used coffee grounds around ant hills or openings in you home to deter them.
- Tossing coffee grinds in your compost helps to stabilize pH levels, which will breakdown food more quickly and keep the smell away.