Tag Archive: third wave coffee

Choosing the Best Beans

Nick Brehany

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

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.

Ikawa and Green Coffee

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. 

Ikawa and Nick

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.

Ashley Cupping 2

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.

Nick the Crust

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.

 

Get to Know Us: Nick Brehany

Nick Brehany

Nick is an avid record collector, armchair philosopher, and coffee wizard currently roasting for Utopian.

Coffee Roaster Nick 2

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.

 

Coffee Roaster Nick

5 Tips To Taste Coffee Like a Pro

Nick Brehany

Taste Coffee

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 1

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.

 

Summertime Coffee: Tips for Making Cold Brew Coffee

Aly Curtis

cold brew blend ashley

At Utopian, we are always striving to generate new ways for our customers to connect with coffee, and this year we decided to create an awesome new blend to highlight one of our favorite coffee drinks: Cold Brew.

Cold brew is a method for brewing coffee that produces a smooth and refreshing cup of coffee totally ready to drink on a balmy, summer day! Similar to making a French Press, cold brew utilizes a full-immersion method, which means the coffee grounds will be completely saturated in water. The difference is you will not need hot water, but you will need nearly an entire day to allow the coffee to allow the brewing to take place!

Our blend is created using an heirloom Ethiopian which brings forth notes of subtle fruits and chocolate, while hearty Colombian beans bring a smooth mouthfeel and hints of lime. The result is a full-bodied and refreshing cold brew that is sure to help you cool down on a hot summer day.

To make Cold Brew you are going to need some basic supplies and a bag of our Cold Brew Blend.

Directions:

Supplies Needed

2 – Large Jars (Approx. 40 ounces)

1 – Paper Coffee Filter or Roll Cheesecloth (or both!)

4 oz Utopian Cold Brew Blend

  1. Grind coffee to a coarse sea-salt like consistency
  2. Pour ground coffee into a clean jar.
  3. Fill jar with approx. 32oz cold water (leave 3” clearance – coffee grounds will degas and will need sufficient room to expand).
  4. Allow to sit in refridgerator for 18-24 hours (keep covered).
  5. After allowing to brew, remove the jar from refrigerator and uncover.
  6. Use cheesecloth or a coffee filter to cover the lid of a new clear jar. Pour the cold brew over the filter and into the new container!
  7. Pour cold brew over ice and enjoy!

If the flavor is too strong, feel free to dilute with cold water, milk or a similar substance. This recipe will yield a bold but smooth beverage. We hope you enjoy this refreshing summertime blend as much as we do! 

*Cheesecloth will remove larger particles – the coffee filter will remove smaller particles giving you a cleaner taste, but this will also take much longer to filter than the cheesecloth. At Utopian Coffee, we suggest trying both and finding what works best for your setup!