The winter season, unlike any other, profoundly influences the coffee experience. As the seasons change and we awake to a frost blanket coating the earth, we naturally begin to gravitate inward toward warmer, cozier spaces. Let’s be honest, nothing sounds better than a comfortable couch situated near the fireplace on a cold winter day.
Homeostasis is the body’s response to change. In a physiological sense, homeostasis is the body trying to keep things running as they should amidst internal and external fluctuation. When changes occur, our body responds and attempts to return to a state of stability. This could easily explain why on a cold day we seek the warmth of the indoors, or why a huge home-cooked meal never sounds as good as it does when the first snow of the season falls, but I’d like to think homeostasis is a lot more than a mere physical response.
Unlike any other season, the coldness of winter invites us to seek another kind of warmth, one that isn’t found in a fireplace or warm sweater. The warmth we seek is much greater, more personal, and quite deeper in every way.
Warmth is the feelings of friends and family to share meals with. Warmth is cuddling with your pet while watching your favorite movie. Warmth is opening presents surrounded by your family, and eating too many cookies with you siblings, and telling someone you profoundly care for that you love them.
I remember the frequent gatherings of family and friends around the household during the winter months. There was always a pot of coffee ready, and everyone was quick to drink as much as they could before braving the cold once more. It was in these small moments, between the coffee, the laughing, and the holiday cookies that we all received and gave warmth to one another. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate these moments, and how such a simple drink as coffee played a central role in these interactions. It was these moments that inspired me to curate our Winter Blend.
In creating the Winter Blend coffee, I wanted to express flavors of the winter and holiday season. I achieved this specific flavor profile with coffee from a single origin: Honduras. Throughout the year I’ve tasted several Honduran coffees, all of which have similar flavor nuances. More often than not, these coffees display what I call “lower register” flavors such as chocolates, nuts, and deep fruits (plum, black cherry, etc). Recognizing these qualities, I combined two microlots from Honduras: Abelardo Reyes and Marta Licida Vasquez.
Abelardo Reyes displays notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, and caramel, with a relatively clean body. Marta Licida Vasquez complements this well with cocoa, walnuts, and a heavy body. The result is a exceptionally well-balanced cup of coffee with notes of cocoa, gingerbread, and peanut brittle. We hope this Winter Blend coffee is shared with your friends and family this holiday season.
Come for the warmth – stay for the coffee – together we create Utopia
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. (more…)
It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but most people don’t know that the quality of the water used for brewing affects their coffee’s taste.
According to The Telegraph, researchers have concluded that, “The perfect cup of fresh roasted coffee should be made with water high in magnesium and low in bicarbonate.” When they examined the water’s effects closely, high magnesium ion levels improved the process of extracting the gourmet coffee flavor from the bean while high bicarbonate levels slowed the process down.
That same study showed that water with high sodium levels, like water treated with water softeners or most bottled water, also prevented the more complex flavors from the coffee bean from being extracted.
Chemist Christopher Hendon, who is currently writing a book on brewing the perfect cup of fresh roasted coffee, says that while there is no “perfect composition” for the water, “magnesium-rich water is better at extracting coffee compounds and the resultant flavour depends on the balance between both the ions in the water and the quantity of bicarbonate present.” If you’re not sure about the minerals in your tap water, you can look it up here.
Ok, so there’s a lot of science to it, but what does it mean for those of us just wanting to brew the best possible cup of coffee in our homes?
The water you use should be fresh. This means that leaving water out too long or heating it up only to let it cool down again will affect your brew’s taste.
Don’t use distilled or mineral water. The lack of minerals in distilled water will give your coffee a flat taste, and the minerals in mineral water will affect taste as well.
Decaf. Usually this word is associated with poor tasting coffee. But despite its reputation I have good news for the coffee lovers who are unable to have caffeine or the coffee addicts (like me) who desire a fresh brew at 1 a.m. We here at UTOPIAN roast up some tasty decaf! Whenever I brew some of our decaf for friends or family who cannot have caffeine they immediately ask me after the first sip, “Are you sure this is decaf? Because it doesn’t taste like decaf!” As they enjoy their delicious coffee I briefly explain to them what I’d like to share with you.
Here at UTOPIAN COFFEE CO. we buy decaf coffee that has been decaffeinated using a natural water process. By using a water-based solution, it is ensured that no chemicals come in contact with the coffee and this help maintain the coffee’s natural taste.
Once we receive the raw decaf coffee, we roast it and preform quality checks to make sure it’s perfect. I’m actually drinking a cup of our decaf Colombia as I’m writing this, and to be honest, it’s hard to tell the difference between this and regular! So I encourage you to try out a bag of one of our current decaf offerings. Even if you normally drink regular I find it’s nice to have a bag on hand for those late-night coffee cravings.
With the hot months of Summer coming up, I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts on how to make some great iced coffee. I’ll offer two different recipes: A quick and easy recipe and then a more technical one for my fellow coffee nerds.
The easiest way to make some great iced coffee is to simply double the amount of coffee grounds you are using for the given amount of water. The extra coffee gounds will ensure you brew a strong coffee concentrate that won’t be diluted when it melts with the with ice.
Once you have your grounds and water ready to go, add some ice to your coffee pot’s carafe. I fill the ice to the same line on the carafe that I used to measure water. So if I did 8 cups of water I would fill ice to the 8 cup line. Make sure to brew directly on to the ice! This is a little trick that I promise will make your coffee taste better.
After that, simply brew, pour the coffee into a glass full of ice, and enjoy!
However, if you wish to get more technical with your brew and you use a scale to weigh out your ratios, I’ve got something for you.
Instead of the normal 50/50 water to coffee ratio for iced coffee, I personally prefer a 40/60 coffee to water ratio. I find this yields a slightly better brew. So for brewing 12 ounces of hot coffee I’d normally use 25 grams of coffee and 12 ounces (354 milliliters) of water. Our default iced coffee ratio of 50/50 would have me double my coffee to 50 grams, but our new 40/60 water to coffee ratio would have me use 35 grams of coffee. My water amount would remain the same at 12 ounces (or 354 milliliters). For my ice ratio, I use roughly 2/3 of my water ratio. So I’d use 8 ounces (236 grams) of ice. Always brew directly onto ice. This ensures the natural sweetness of the coffee is preserved and helps keep away bitterness. When you brew hot and add ice afterwards, you’ll most likely notice you end up with a more bitter brew.
This is just my personal iced coffee recipe. Please experiment, tweak it, and use whatever works best for your brewing setup!
We have a brand new coffee blend called Excelso that comes from the Narino region of Colombia. This is a very unique blend because of the geography of this part of Colombia. It is very rugged and mountainous, which is good for the cup of coffee, however, it makes harvesting a lot harder for the farmers.
Most coffee in this region is grown on small, family farms on the side of a mountain. The good part about this is that since the farms are small enough the farmers take very good care of the coffee plants and the harvesting process, which you will be able to tell in the cup of coffee.
The reason mountainous coffees are desired is for many reasons, beginning with altitude. The higher up coffee grows, the better. In order for Arabica coffee to be considered “specialty”, it needs to meets an altitude requirement of 4,000-8,000 ft. Any lower than that and the coffee is considered robusta, which is a lower quality of coffee.
Another reason mountainous coffee is desired is because it typically has a volcanic soil. This is good for coffee growing because the soil holds many nutrients that affect the coffee growing process. We’ve found that coffees that grow in a volcanic soil tend to have a unique natural, cane sugar sweetness to them that other coffees do not have.
This is truly a unique coffee that is characterized by its subtle brightness, creamy body, rich chocolate taste and dried berry finish. Make sure to give it a try!
Espresso con panna- espresso shot topped with a dollop of whipped cream. The whipped cream melts in the espresso making it taste like an espresso mousse when drank.
Undertow- A small, layered espresso drink. Flavored syrup (I like vanilla), half and half, and espresso. The whole idea of this drink is that it is taken in layers. First the bitter espresso hits your tongue, which is immediately calmed down with half and half, and then finally sweetened with the flavored syrup. Quite an experience in a cup!
Macchiato- You may have heard of this, but never really known what it was- until now! The term “macchiato” means to “mark” or “stained” in Italian. An espresso shot is “marked” with a little steamed milk on top to cut the acidity of the espresso.
Lungo- Speaking of Italian words, Lungo means “long” in Italian so an espresso lungo is literally a double shot of espresso pulled long. This adds more hot water into your espresso drink, which will make it bitterer for the extreme, gourmet coffee fans out there!
Affogato- Maybe the tastiest of all! A shot of espresso poured on top of gelato. Like a root beer float, but with freshly roasted coffee!
Cubano- This type of espresso originated in Cuba, hence, Cubano. If you order it in a café, the barista will make an espresso shot pulled WITH a packet of sugar. As the espresso is ground, the sugar is blended in with the grounds and hot water is extracted through both creating a very sweet espresso.
Cortado- A 1:1 ratio of espresso to warmed milk. Cortado means “to cut” in Spanish. This drink should not have any foam, but the idea is to “cut” the espresso with milk.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world right after oil, but happens to be a labor-intensive crop with a high yield, and in most cases, little income. Today, I’m going to share with you the stages of growing, harvesting, and processing coffee from my own experiences. This is a relatively short explanation and there are so many other variables and specificities that affect coffee harvesting.
Let’s start with where coffee is grown. Typically, Arabica (a higher quality of bean) is found at an altitude above 3,000ft and is mostly growing in developing countries. Mainly, coffee is found on small family farms on the side of a mountain or volcano, which in my opinion can be good because those plants are well taken care of since there is a smaller yield. During the growing stages, the baby plants need to be tended to, fertilized, and shaded from the sun, as with most plants. Can you imagine tending to over 500 baby plants with the hope of a small income in the future?
What makes coffee so laborious? I would say besides the mountainous terrain, one of the hardest things about growing coffee is time. Once a coffee seed is planted, it takes about 3 years for it to grow and mature enough to be able to produce a high quality bean. You can tell when a plant has matured by the look of the coffee cherries. In most cases (not all because of different varietals), Arabica beans will be a vibrant, red color and that will be the indication that it is ready for harvest.
Once only the red cherries have been hand picked from the plants, the farmer has some decisions to make. The farmer can process the coffee naturally, washed, or semi-washed. I’m going to focus on the washed process, since that was my own experience when working on a farm.
The term “washed” is pretty self-explanatory. The coffee cherry needs to be separated from the two beans that are found inside and then the beans need to be washed. After the cherry has been taken off, the beans are covered in mucilage and in the washed process; it needs to be completely removed. This can be done with fermentation or mechanically.
Fermentation happens in large holding tanks that store the slimy coffee beans in water. This part of the process can take anywhere up to 48 hours. The key is to remove all of the mucilage in a short amount of time so that the coffee does not mold in the warm temperatures.
After the mucilage has been removed and the water drained from the tanks, the green coffee beans are transported to large patios to dry under the sun. Farmers will turn the beans about every hour to ensure that they are not getting burnt. The beans are left to dry anywhere from 5-10 days. Once the beans are dry, the green coffee with go through a machine to get rid of the last layer of parchment (leftover mucus that dried on the bean) and will be ready for export.
This description of coffee processing is just a basic explanation and as I mentioned earlier, there are many more variables in growing and harvesting that the farmer has to watch and almost obsess over to get paid for the year. At Utopian Coffee, we realize that this is not an easy process and we try to help the best we can. Most of our freshly roasted coffees are products of projects to help coffee growing communities. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask or you can check out our online coffee store to learn more about our coffees or projects.
I think we all have heard both sides of the story. “Drink coffee” or “Don’t drink coffee” and it seems like the research is changing all the time. So what’s the real story? After extensive research on the newest studies, I think I have found the answer (for now).
In their article, ‘A Little Coffee May Be Good — Dare We Say Healthy? — For Body And Brain’, Forbes did a study that was done in February 2014 of the effects of caffeine, not just coffee, and the activity of the brain. We all know that coffee makes us more productive for the day, but what about over time? Is it damaging? Forbes says no and that caffeine actually boosts brainpower and memory over time. “It may wire you up in the short term, but over the long term, coffee also appears to offer some brain-protective benefits”. This statement is referring to the brain protecting itself from diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s.
Secondly, coffee is found to be good for your heart. It may speed up your heart rate a bit, but over the long run, it does not appear to be linked to heart disease. “A recent Harvard study showed that 2 cups per day was actually linked to reduced the risk of heart disease…” However, drinking more than 6 cups a day actually increases the risk. We’ve always heard that caffeine is just not good for the heart, contrary to that, in low doses caffeine is “healthy” .
I think we’ve all heard over and over again that coffee dehydrates you. Well, rest assured that your 3 cups of coffee per day is actually NOT dehydrating you. Relief, right? “…although caffeine itself can act as a diuretic, the amount in coffee is not enough to dehydrate you.” I don’t know about you, but this is music to my ears.
Lastly, coffee is good for your happiness level. Studies have found that coffee is linked to lower risk of depression and suicide. “Researchers say it may be because of the mild boost caffeine gives to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which both play roles in mood.” This is good news for us northerners who have exposure to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because maybe we just need to drink a cup of coffee!
Well, I hope this was helpful to all of you! I know that there has been a lot of back and forth research about this, but this is the newest research on coffee consumption and hopefully it also justifies the 3+ cups of coffee you drink a day. I know it did for me!
If you would like to read the whole article, you can find it here
Speaking of coffee consumption, you all should check out our online coffee store. We have a few new offerings that are amazing! Or we also have a coffee of the month club that you can join to try all of our freshly roasted coffees on a rotating basis. You can check that out here
You may have heard in recent news about the drought in Brazil and how the coffee prices rose significantly. How does this apply to the average consumer trying to buy coffee? I’ll tell you!
Firstly, Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee in the world and they have been experiencing some bad weather for coffee growing. Ideally, coffee is grown in two seasons; wet and dry. The wet season is important because it allows the coffee to flower and grow during the rain. Then, coffee is ripened and picked under the sun of the dry season.
Unfortunately, Brazil has had a little too much dry season this year and not enough rain to help with the development of coffee growing. Already, 5% of the Arabica coffee from Brazil has been found to be bad and cannot be sold.
Gourmet coffee prices closed in late February around $1.55 per pound of green coffee beans. This number is shocking to most buyers because last week coffee was closing around $1.40 per pound and the price went up 9.1% in one day. This is the highest percentage of price increase for coffee since November 2004.
Back to what this means to you. Luckily, coffee is bought months in advance so roasters will not have to adjust prices for the time being. However, if coffee prices stay where they are at or they get higher in the next 2-3 months, then you might be seeing some price increases in retail coffee. So don’t fret quite yet, there is still time for the market to stabilize before any retailers are affected.
UTOPIAN COFFEE CO. is proud to be a supporter of a project called “Women For Women International“, which works with socially excluded women in eight countries where war and conflict have devastated lives and communities. Women who enroll in their one-year program learn job skills and receive business training so they can earn a living. They come to understand their rights and how to fight for those rights in their homes, their communities and their nations.
Here at UTOPIAN we have been able to help five ladies from the Democratic Republic of Congo go through the various classes that Women For Women has available. We are currently assisting Aimerance, also from the DRC, in completing the 12 month program. We just received an update on her progress and we would like to share that with you so you have a better understanding of how your support of UTOPIAN is making a difference across the globe. (more…)
During my time in the coffee world I have witnessed the battle of the roast preference. I have heard about every debate out there, from light roast coffee is acidic to dark roast coffee is burnt. Everyone has their favorite place on the roast spectrum, and with a patriotic spirit they will rise up to defend their roast preference if anyone dares to attack it. We are creatures of habit and if we came into the gourmet coffee world liking one roast over the other, then that’s probably where we have remained. I hope to challenge your favorite roast preference and shed some light on why you may appreciate that roast you happen to look down upon.
I will take on the light roast first since this is all the rage in the specialty coffee industry. Light roasted coffee is often praised because you can taste more of the coffee’s true characteristics. It offers sweet, juicy, and vibrant flavors with a clean finish! Sounds tasty, right? While some of us sip our lightly roasted coffees and proclaim how magnificently sweet it is, others are simply noticing that the liquid in their cup is acidic and makes their tongue tingle. We cannot convince people they should drink a coffee that they obviously do not enjoy, but many a coffee drinker miss out on some really nice flavors that come about as a result of the lighter roast.
Now for Dark roast…and I can already see the coffee nerds cringing. The biggest complaint I hear about dark coffee is that it’s “burnt”. While this may be true in some cases, most of the time, it is not burnt if you’re dealing with quality, small-batch roasted specialty coffee. Dark roasts usually have prominent flavor notes like dark chocolate, and caramel hints with a heavy, lingering finish. Sounds like a delicious dessert to me! As a roaster, there are some coffees that simply lends themselves better to a darker roast and some work better as a lighter roast. I like to experiment and test to find the right roast balance and make a coffee taste as good as it possibly can.
Let me sum it all up by saying I believe most of our taste for a particular coffee roast profile developed as we made our respective journeys to the world of specialty coffee. Going from that “stuff” in a tin can that was ground 18 months ago, all the way to where we are now, we have developed our likes and dislikes. So why should we base our roast preference off of the sludge that we all used to drink years ago? There are actually some light roasted coffees that are smooth and lingering that I have let “dark roasters” try and they thoroughly enjoyed them! On the flip side, there are sweet and complex dark roasts that a light roast drinker will definitely appreciate.
The point of all this is that we have access to some of the finest fresh roasted coffees in the world, so why should we limit ourselves to what we consider to be a “better” roast? I know this because I was one of those people who stuck by their roast with pride! Our palates change over time and we could be missing out on the best coffee we have ever experienced, so don’t be afraid to get outside of your roast profile comfort zone. Drink deeply…and enjoy!
I have come to notice that one of the biggest factors in getting great tasting gourmet coffee is the water to coffee ratio. Previously, I was satisfied people were simply brewing with Utopian Coffee regardless of the ratios they were using, but now I am more focused on proper water to coffee ratios. I hope this doesn’t come off as snobby, but I have started to see that people enjoy their coffee so much more when brewing with the correct proportions.
The most common mistake in brewing is over-extraction, mainly caused by using way too little coffee compared to water. This produces a very bitter cup, which most of the world has come to recognize as the normal taste for coffee. That’s also why cream and sugar are so popular! We describe coffee in terms of “strong” or “weak” as opposed to the natural flavor of coffee because we came into the coffee world only knowing those two options. I believe all this stems from using incorrect brewing ratios, so together we can start to solve the world’s specialty coffee quality problems!
You may have heard or read about people tasting anything from blueberries to cedar in their coffee without having added any flavored cream. For the most part, those of us who taste these seemingly odd flavors in our coffee are not crazy…we just use proper brewing ratios so that all the potential flavor of that coffee is in our cup. The way I explain it is that coffee only has so much “good” flavor it can give, and it takes so much water to extract all the “good” flavor. Altering the coffee and/or water ratio means that potentially the coffee can produce “bad” flavors.
I urge you to try it for yourself: Brew gourmet coffee using 10 g (2 tbsp) for every 6 oz of water. If you have a small scale, you are awesome! Brewing by weight is much more accurate than volume, but that is another topic for another time. For most of us who don’t have a scale, I will just give you a quick ratio; use 4 cups of water and 10 tablespoons of coffee. The resulting brew may taste “stronger” than what you are used to, but it should also be much more flavorful!
Carefully measuring out your fresh roasted coffee and water may seem like more work than you are used to, but the results are worth it! Drink deeply…and enjoy!
The best way to improve your coffee experience at home other than using fresh roasted coffee and proper water to coffee ratios is to use a quality burr grinder. If you are are not already using a burr grinder, hopefully I can win you over! Coffee loses most of it’s aromatics within 10 minutes of being ground. By the time you brew pre-ground coffee, most of the olfactory components have escaped and the result is a flat, but still fairly decent, brew.
If you’re like me, you have decided you need something to simply chop up the beans. Easy enough, right? Once I was told that my coffee would taste much better if I ground it fresh, so I did what anyone would do and immediately got one of the $15 Mr. Coffee blade grinders. The problem with this, as I later found out, is that the blade grinders will “chop” beans into extremely inconsistent particles. This in turn results in inconsistent extraction (*see more detailed (“coffee nerd”) section below, as well as the Brewing Ratio blog for further explanation).
As a new customer to Utopian Coffee, I was still just discovering how to brew great coffee. Thankfully the Utopian crew was able to help me get a quality burr grinder, which is when my coffee experience completely changed. I was brewing with fresh roasted coffee, using a proper water to coffee ratio and finally had a serious burr grinder. Could one piece of equipment actually make that big of a difference? At the time I was a total novice in the new world of gourmet coffee and even I could tell a very significant difference in the way my coffee tasted! There was so much more aroma as it was brewing and the flavor in the cup was just outstanding!
The difference between the burr and blade grinders is that the burr grinders crunch the beans which results in very even, consistent particle size as opposed to chopping it into random, inconsistent bits like the blade grinders do. Blade grinders also operate at high speeds which can transfer heat into the grounds, resulting in additional decrease in quality due to the degradation of the coffee before water even touches it.
Our personal recommendation if you are interested in getting a burr grinder for your home or office is Baratza. They make absolutely fantastic burr grinders and I have been using one for more than two years at my home and we’ve been selling them to our customers and they couldn’t be any more pleased. Baratza has a variety of models and we sell some through our site, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions or to request help in getting a certain Baratza model. As a disclaimer, we do not get paid or receive any benefit from promoting them. We just think that they are a stellar product, we use them at home, and want you to know.
*We grind coffee to expose surface area so that the soluble solids can be extracted. Basically we grind it to get the tasty flavor out of the coffee. By having different sized particles what happens is that when the water comes into contact with the grounds it is not able to efficiently extract the flavor since there are a variety of particle sizes.
QUESTION: I use a burr grinder that has automatic settings (so it grinds for a predetermined amount of time, depending on the setting). I measure my beans by weight, though. I have noticed that there are, at times, significant differences (like 15%) in the volume of bean that can be ground in a set time. Clearly, different coffees have different weights by volume, why is this? -Nathan D. (more…)
I take for granted that I watch coffee roast every day. I always enjoy it, but often fail to remember that it is really quite novel & interesting to many people. I was thinking about blogging this week. It occurred to me that I should compose a brief write-up of the roasting process & include some photos so that you could get a glimpse of what coffee roasting is like. It’s fun. The smells range from the chlorophyll-dominated scent of green coffee (think: fresh grass clippings in spring) to spicey cinnamon-esque aromas ¾ of the way through the roast to the final stages when the smoke intermittently stings your nose if you really breathe it in & the smell is that of toasted bread &….well, roasted coffee. I know that last one’s a cop out, but there’s nothing else really like it—it just smells like roasting coffee.
So the work begins by scooping & weighing green coffee.
This involves nothing more than a scale, a bucket, green coffee of course, and my beloved scoop. We typically shy away from blends in favor of single-origin coffees. There is SO MUCH work that goes into cultivating & processing the caliber of green coffees we purchase that it’s really a disservice to them & the farmer behind them to obscure them in a blend. George Howell says it best, “blends hide the famer.” That said, the weighing of coffee rarely involves different coffees in one bucket. We account for nearly 20% weight loss during the roast, so if I need to yield 20 lbs. I’ll drop 25 lbs. Once it’s weighed out, I take it to the pre-heated roaster & pour it in the big funnel on top.
Then, down they go into the roasting drum. Just prior to a full roast, the drum is preheated to around 420 degrees F. Obviously when 25 lbs. of room-temperature green coffee hits the drum, it siphons off a good bit of that heat. Over the next minute & a half or so, the beans absorb a bunch of heat from the drum & the two “meet” in temperature at about 190 degrees F. Then begins the steady climb toward ±15 minutes & ±430 degrees F.
As the roast progresses, it is important to monitor the heat transfer carefully & adjust the amount of natural gas going to the burner accordingly. In addition to watching the time & temperature relationship, there are a number of visual & fragrance cues available during the roast.
A look at the coffee just a minute or so into the roast:
These are samples I pulled from the roaster with the trier at various points throughout the roast:
Maybe a more informative perspective:
Nearing the end of the roast:
It reached the desired roast depth & now is cooling.
Once the coffee is cooled to room temp, we package it as quickly as possible & either ship or deliver it……but in the interest of disclosure, we typically set a little aside, let it rest 5 or 6 days, & enjoy the fruits of our labor!
I took the fam up to northern Michigan this weekend to visit some of Sarah’s (my wife) family. They live in a beautiful house in the middle of a mature poplar forest. They had a 2-3ft snow base, and despite the cold, the 2 older boys loved being outside. We rode around a bit on snow mobiles, built most of an 11ft wide igloo, got trounced at Settlers of Catan, and—my favorite part—took the boys on a “camping” adventure. Willard (Sarah’s cousin) has a yurt (huge tent) set up in the middle of the forest. It isn’t exactly roughing it, as the thing has a wood burning stove and camp cots.
However, it was literally sub-zero outside, and I don’t think my 4 and 2 year-olds would have been too keen on spending the night outside otherwise. We had such a nice time. The boys were warm and comfortable enough that it was nothing but giddy excitement for them, and that was fun to watch. There is something intensely gratifying about beginning to introduce your children to something that has brought you great joy. I hope it is the first of many winter camping trips with my boys.
Nature was calling at about 3am, so I got out of the cot, stumbled to the door, and slipped outside. Stunning. The moon hadn’t risen yet when we nodded off, but it was now high in the perfectly clear night sky. The air was eerily still, but the blue light from the moon reflecting off of the snow made the night forest as visible as day. The tall, thin poplars stretched forever over rolling hills. I just stood—taking in the bright, silent night for as long as I could tolerate the breathtaking cold. It was one of those moments that words fail and photos couldn’t capture. I’m grateful I saw it.
The next morning, Willard and I collected snow with which to make the boys oatmeal and hot chocolate. Willard also convinced me that snow coffee was a must. I respect coffee enough that I won’t tolerate sins against it too often. This one seemed to be pushing the limits of what I should allow, but curiosity was nagging at me. This was Sunday morning. The coffee was roasted on Thursday. The grind was undoubtedly too fine to use in a percolator, but that was the only brewing implement we had. We crammed the percolator full of snow, let it melt down and added more as necessary. It had snowed 3 inches since we arrived Friday, so there was plenty of trustworthy snow from which to choose. It takes a while to go from snow to 212 degrees, but finally, it began boiling atop the wood burner. I added the percolator basket—now full of coffee. About 3 minutes later, I removed the percolator from the stove. I let it sit a minute or so, poured, cooled a bit, and sipped. Now, I often criticize people for allowing their surroundings to influence palate objectivity. I tried really hard not to unfairly evaluate this coffee. But admittedly, I expected that the combination of snow, a percolator (not an ideal brewing method), and a grind appropriate for drip, would render this coffee a shade better than mud. Shame on me. It was really, really tasty. I am not sure how the stars aligned, but I kept drinking it expecting foulness only to find pleasure. I thought you’d like to see the “rustic” approach to coffee.
Left to right: Willard’s son and my two boys drinking their snow hot chocolate!
A watched pot literally never boils!
It looks thick here, but I promise, it was really tasty.
I had the best time last evening!I have to confess that I was rather dreading it, and I am now ashamed at my pessimism.My friend Jeff Hawkins, owner of Hope CSA (community supported agriculture), asked me to donate coffee for a fund raiser.Additionally, he asked me to come out to the event & speak briefly about the coffee to those in attendance.Between Heaven & Earth is a slow food, fine dining experience situated among the gardens of the Hawkins family farm.It features exquisite, locally sourced foods and serves as the annual fundraiser for Hope CSA, a non-profit educational organization.
Jeff has an understated magnetism about him that renders him universally likable.He is charismatic but not overbearing, meek but confident, and slightly idiosyncratic.Seriously, I can’t help but like him.Clearly, then, I could not refuse his invitation to participate in the event.My wife and I arrived at the farm at 4:00pm to begin brewing coffee.I am not terribly fond of brewing in percolators; providentially the coffee was good despite them.Once the brewing was under way, Sarah and I meandered around the buildings.My favorite among them is a recently constructed, wood-fired oven.Jeff & his son Zach reclaimed bricks from an old home down the road & commissioned a mason to build an oven the size of a FedEx truck.It is beautiful.The antebellum farmhouse is just as stately as you would expect.The equally-aged lilac bush reminds you that there is history here—heritage even.The whole setting is delightfully arcadian. Around 4:30, Jeff led a tour of the farm.We got to see the hogs & several varieties of turkeys.Mostly, though, we caught a glimpse of the philosophy of farming inherent within community supported agriculture.
Following the tour, we were directed to our white-clothed tables.There were five courses in all, and each was complimented by an appropriate beer from Mad Anthony Brewing Company.The food was truly excellent and the beers expertly paired.Brick oven flatbread with duck, rosemary, & Michigan dried cherries composed the appetizer.The salad of field greens, beets, pears, and goat cheese followed. Oh, the goat cheese! In all of its creaminess, it transported me to a land where stunningly beautiful goats frolicked among lillies.The main course brought suckling pig in a maple & honey glaze complimented by herb-roasted redskin potatoes.The peach crisp served for dessert took me back to the aforementioned dreamland, but all of the goats were replaced by large peaches.It was strange.
In all, the evening was a huge success.Spirits were high among the sellout crowd, and there seemed to be genuine support of Jeff’s work.He humbly asked me to keep my calendar open for next year’s event.He’s mistakenly under the impression that I’ll be a tough sell.Truthfully, I can’t wait.
What’s the moral of the story?There are three, if you must be told. Don’t be a pessimist.Support a CSA.Eat good goat cheese; it will take you to places you’ve never been.