Archive for the 'Coffee' Category


Kopplin’s Coffee

On a tip from Garrick, I stopped by Kopplin’s Coffee in Saint Paul yesterday. I now find myself trying to arrange my life so I can get back there soon. It is the coffee shop I have been waiting for.

The espresso, served ristretto by default, was excellent, the first I have had in months that is even worth mentioning. And although I saw no evidence, I hear tell that they may have a guest espresso from time to time. I also had a cup of their Papua New Guinea, which didn’t quite taste fully developed — it felt like a dark caramel flavor was screaming to come out through the just-a-tad-too-light roast — but that was nevertheless very good, no doubt because it was brewed for me when I ordered it.


I see they have TeaSource teas. Smart.

They use local milk.

I was there briefly, just long enough to share a muffin with my son, but expect me to return very soon and spend a bit more time, lingering over carefully prepared coffee. I can’t wait.

Coffee, Podcast

Jeremy Raths on the First Crack Podcast

I overheard a coworker saying that he used to go to Dunn Bros. (a local coffee shop chain, known for roasting their coffee in-store), but he got tired of not knowing whether the same beans would be available. So now he goes to Caribou (a chain that’s local in the same sense that Starbucks is local to Seattle). Caribou always has what he wants.

The funny thing is that this guy appreciates limited release beers from local breweries like Surly. He understands that he can’t always get that beer he wants. Coffee, like wine and like the ingredients in beer, is an agricultural product, varying dramatically by region and season. Awareness of this fact is heightened when you work with someone who can specialize in truly specialty coffee, who can bring in just a bag or two of an amazing bean they’ve discovered.

People expect this with wine, some people understand it with beer (think globally, drink locally), but it’s still an unusual attitude toward coffee.

Enter people like local coffee roaster Jeremy Raths. Garrick van Buren talks with Jeremy in recent episodes of the First Crack Podcast. In episode 99, Garrick and Jeremy talk about how in his business he can focus on these small batches of excellent, limited availability coffees. And perhaps more to the heart of the matter, how the existence of a market for these fine coffees that can command a decent price improves the lives (or at least livelihood) of the farmers, who otherwise earn something close to dirt. Jeremy has volunteered with a group that helps farmers learn to judge the quality of their coffee, which leads to better coffee and ther ability to command a higher price.

The same is true in tea, by the way.

tea from Uva in sri lanka, 10% to the local community, tastes amazing. it could almost turn me into a tea man (James Governor on Twitter)

My introduction to specialty tea was a delightful Sri Lankan, as well. It’s one of the reasons I buy from TeaSource, as I trust the owner (Bill Waddington) to find those exceptional teas that blow me away. Single estate is very much the norm in the specialty tea world, and is having a similar effect on tea growers’ lives as we find in coffee.

Back to the First Crack. In episode 100, Jeremy and Garrick talk about cupping coffee, tasting it to judge its quality. That’s a fun episode as well, with little nuggets of wisdom:

You should never play golf, roast, or cup coffee, after having a fight with anybody… Just go somewhere and shut up.

Thanks for that, Jeremy.


Kopi Luwak

I met Garrick yesterday at Coffee & Tea, Ltd. in Linden Hills to have a cup of Kopi Luwak. It’s really worth following that link to Wikipedia if you haven’t heard of Kopi Luwak, because it’s the sort of story that you’re not going to believe, so you might as well read it from a source you’re not quite going to believe, either. :)

When I worked at the Roastery, we sold Kopi Luwak, and I had my chance to roast and taste more than my share of this unique coffee. Talk about pressure: green (unroasted) coffee was running us about $2 or $4 a pound at the time, but this stuff was $100 a pound. A mistake would be expensive. And it still makes me laugh: we’re drinking coffee made from beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a palm civet? How is that not hilarious?

It really does taste different: musty, heavy, rich, strangely complex. Hints of chocolate, old wood, hazelnut. Fresh out of the roaster, it smelled a bit like a newborn baby’s urine. This sounds compelling, I know, but it’s the only hint of its scatological origins. In the hours following roasting, the flavor changed dramatically. A day later, it was like a completely different coffee. Still had that mustiness, still deeply rich, but its few higher notes had faded. I’ve never had another coffee that changed so much so fast.

Jim Cone, proprietor and local coffee legend, said that they roast only a pound at a time, usually enough for about a week. I suspect that what Garrick and I were tasting was more than a couple days old, enough so that much of its delightful or even interesting characteristics had faded. It was good, but not great. Not what I remember. But a good excuse to reconnect with Garrick.

Jim roasts his coffee darker than I prefer, tending more to what you’ll find on the West Coast. If you’ve had Peets, you know what I mean. When something is that dark, it’s hard to taste the subtleties that I’m looking for. No discredit to Jim — as I say, he’s a legend, with good reason: he’s been roasting small batches of speciality coffee for ages, on a roaster that looks like it’s had its share of trips to the local blacksmith. I just don’t usually care for that particular roasting style.

Still, I came home with a half-pound of beans from Nepal. I didn’t even know they grew coffee in Nepal. Nice.


Grind Only What You Need

If you are or know a barista, here’s a tip: grind the espresso as you need it. Don’t let the grinder run until you’ve got half a pound of pre-ground espresso sitting around getting stale. Seriously. If I see you doing that, I’ll just walk out.

The reasons are myriad, but it all comes down to quality. Not only does prolonged exposure to oxygen make coffee go stale, ground coffee absorbs moisture from the air and swells. Espresso is very finely ground, about as fine as table salt. If it swells, the extraction will be all wrong. If it’s stale, then what’s the point?

With espresso more than most other methods of coffee preparation, details matter. There’s not a lot of room for error. The beans need to be fresh, but not too fresh. The grind needs to be right for the air conditions. The ground coffee needs to be tamped properly (not too hard, not too light). The water quality, temperature, and pressure are critical. The length of extraction — how long water is in contact with the grounds — is a deal breaker. It must be consumed soon after brewing. Mess up any one of those elements and you’ve ruined the experience. It’s the experience of espresso that sets it apart.

So please: you might think it’s saving time or wear on the grinder to pre-grind the coffee, but it’s not worth it.


100 cups

Russell Beattie writes that Mike Rowehl is planning to drink 100 cups of coffee in 48 hours. People are concerned that this amount of caffeine will hurt him badly. I doubt it. 15 years and probably 40 pounds ago, I was regularly drinking 30-50 cups a day. I slept little, drank a lot. I do not say this to brag — a poorly planned camping trip led to a caffeine withdrawal that did hurt me badly; I saw the error of my ways and cut back. I’m just saying that Mr. Rowehl will most likely be fine.

And that the Death by Caffeine calculator is an odd thing to bring into the world.


Disappointed in Dunn Bros.

I was in downtown Saint Paul the morning of New Years Eve and stopped by the Dunn Bros. in the Lawson Building to pick up whole bean coffee. I won’t make that mistake again.

With the exception of the the few years when I worked as a roaster, I have bought most of my coffee at a Dunn Bros. I have done so at least since the early nineties when I lived in Uptown a couple blocks away from their Lake Street store. Half the reason I started working at the Roastery was because I got to work with Marge McCabe, who roasted for Dunns and whose work I much admired.

Because each store roasts its own coffee, they give a strong impression that they value freshness. For coffee, this is essential: you don’t have long after it’s roasted before its flavor diminishes dramatically, which is why I recommend buying only what you can drink in a week, from a local roaster if possible. (If this is not possible, roast your own!) One of the factors leading to Dunn Bros. success is their stressing the value of fresh coffee, and of devising a process for ensuring that the coffee they roasted was for sale only for a few days: after that, it’s brewed.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when the coffee that I bought on Dec. 31 at the downtown store had been roasted ten days earlier. Stale! Unacceptable. I should have refused it at that point, but it was New Years Eve and I didn’t think I’d find anything else open for long. And it didn’t matter much, since I just resolved not to buy any more whole bean there again.

This is not typical of other stores that I frequent, but I fear that franchising has reduced quality. I’ll stick to the stores I know have some real turnover on the beans. Their Grand and Snelling store is good for that, and it’s not far from home.