Coffee Corner: A Beginners Guide to Third Wave Coffee (Part 1)

Post by Grant Mouton

Third wave coffee shops are the meeting place of a diverse group of people. The early morning office goers, moms after the school drop off and lets not forget – hipsters! They all have one thing in common (apart from their love of coffee), that is they are unaware of many intricacies of the mysterious third wave coffee shop. Sometimes it can be difficult navigating these establishments – It’s early morning and as you walk in your attention is taken to the sound of coffee beans popping in the cooling pan, they have just reached first crack. The humidity increases as you near the POS, condensation is collecting on a snapchatters iPhone – the steam wands are certainly working. More than that, the aroma is unmistakable. It’s the smell of early mornings and late nights. It’s the smell of a pending deadlines and relaxed Saturday mornings. You mutter “one latte please” only because you heard the person before you say it.

3rd Wave Coffee
3rd wave (or specialty) coffee is treating coffee as an artisan foodstuff. It is when meticulous attention to detail is applied in the farming, processing, roasting and brewing aspects. Each single origin batch is treated uniquely and prepared differently to enhance its inherent characteristics. It is always fresh, always prepared according to the highest standards. In 3rd wave coffee shops, your barista is trained to vary pressure, water flow and temperature for each drink to make it truly unique and exceptional.

Roast Levels
Third wave coffee shops pioneered the art of lightly roasted coffee. This does a couple of things, it burns off less caffeine so you have a stronger cup. It also maintains many of the inherent, delicate flavors of the coffee to give you a much more rounded experience. Next thing is to talk about the names of these roast levels, because gone are the days when everything was “dark, medium or light” roast – we have become a lot more specific now.

Cinnamon: The lightest roast is called cinnamon roast. No, there is no cinnamon in it and it won’t necessarily taste of cinnamon, the name comes from the color of the ground coffee when roasted at this level.

City: City is the next roast level. Here the bean has achieved something called “first crack”. This first crack happens as a result of moisture vapors expanding with heat and eventually forcing their way out of the bean – This crack happens at around 205C and this is likely the most common roast level you consume at third wave coffee stores. Shortly after this level we achieve City+ which is a slightly darker version of City. (The name “City” comes from the fact that this roast was most commonly used in the eastern cities of the USA)

Full City: This is the stage where the beans start undergoing the cracking process for a second time, and again there is a slightly darker version called Full City+. These roasts will have lower acidity than the aforementioned (because the darker you roast, the lower the acidity) and also higher solubility, meaning you will have more coffee in the water after extraction. As a result, one tends to achieve more robust flavor and creamier body from these roasts.

Continental: Here we have old school coffee. This is coffee that has been roasted to such a point that the essential oils begin to reach the surface of the coffee bean. This can also lead to excessive smoke creation inside the roasting drum with negative effect on the flavour. The names of continental roasts include: Vienna, Italian, French and Spanish.

Single Origins vs Blends
By now you have been offered a single origin as opposed to the standard blend, so what exactly is this? Single origins are coffee beans from a single farm or lot in a specific region/province in a certain country that has been processed in a uniform method and consists of one variety of coffee plant. To try put this simply, the beans are all the same as one another. Blends on the other hand can be a mixture of two or more single origins.

Jargon
Ever heard of someone ask for an extra dry cappuccino? How about a ristretto or lungo? Some coffee aficionados will even ask for a high yield espresso. What exactly are these:

Dry: This is when extra air is purposefully added to the milk when steaming. It creates a large layer of foam atop the coffee.

Ristretto: This is a shorter stronger version of an espresso. This “espresso” will be sweeter and more acidic than its regular counterpart.

Lungo: A longer, often nuttier tasting version of an espresso – overdo the extraction and it will start to taste of wood.

Portafilter: The “portable filter” that locks into the espresso machine

Dose: The amount of coffee that one puts into the portafilter

Yield: The net weight of the espresso once extracted

Pour Over: Fresh filter coffee made by hand. Filter coffee has received a bad rep because of the poor quality coffee used to make it, as well as the fact that it would often be left to stand for hours before being served. Truth is, freshly filtered coffee is one of the best experiences you can have.

Keep sipping!

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited.
Brand manager at % Arabica.


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Coffee Corner: Coffee Myths Debunked

Post by Grant Mouton

There is a lot of conflicting information floating around about coffee. Some is passed down from generation to generation, some found on the internet and some would seem as truth where it really shouldn’t be.

#1: Want to keep your coffee fresh? Store it in a freezer

Don’t do it! The only way to have fresh coffee is to buy fresh coffee, grind it yourself as needed and to not buy more than a two weeks supply.

Unfortunately neither vacuum sealing nor freezing helps with this. If you can’t manage to do the above mentioned points, the best way to store your coffee is in a cool, dark place with around 50% humidity. Freezer air is very dry and the moist coffee will tend to equalize with its surroundings, so freezing would dry the coffee out causing it to be stale.

#2: Strong coffee is a dark roast

To answer this we need to define what “strong” coffee is. The most common answer I got when I asked people what constituted as a strong coffee is “a dark roast” and the reason being “because it is bitter”. Other answers included “coffee with a lot of caffeine” and “espresso”.

Now none of these answers are exactly incorrect because there isn’t a standard definition of what it is that makes a cup of coffee strong. So I’ve taken it upon myself, without consulting any authorities to standardize the definition: A strong cup of coffee has a higher percentage of coffee (oils) in solution than other cups, i.e a high coffee:water ratio.

From this definition we can tell that a dark roast coffee could be stronger because the darker the roast is, the higher the solubility of the coffee – however the darker you roast, the lower the caffeine content. Moreover, espresso can also be considered correct as it will also have a higher coffee:water ratio than other brewing methods.

The best way to ask your barista for a strong cup would be to ask for a “high yield” coffee. The barista would then dial in the necessary settings in the equipment to give you that high coffee:water ratio that results in more flavor.

#3: Can I get a tall flat white?

No, no you can’t! Why? Because there is no such thing. The same thing goes for: Cappuccino, Cortado, Macchiato, Gibraltar and Café Bon Bon.

These coffees have special names for a reason, their names are in essence their ratio or recipe. Each of the aforementioned has a very specific ratio of espresso and milk. Change that and you have a different drink entirely. Just yesterday I saw a “Macchiato” the size of a latte in Avenues mall, when an actual Macchiato is a double espresso with just a tablespoon of milk foam! I’d be happy to mention the ratio’s of the various drinks in the comments below if someone is interested.

#4 Coffee dehydrates you

Caffeine is a diuretic, which causes you to urinate more frequently. However, your drink (unless it is an espresso) makes a significant contribution to your daily water intake. Only excessive coffee intake may cause dehydrating effects.

So why do some stores serve water with your coffee? To help you taste the coffee better. It is simply a way of cleansing your palate between sips.

#5: Espressos contain more caffeine than brewed coffee

If you are talking about concentration of caffeine then yes, its a slightly more concentrated dose. However, by drinking a small cup of brewed coffee you will be ingesting significantly more caffeine. An espresso contains roughly 40mg of caffeine, whereas a short cup of drip or filter coffee will have around 100mg. Also, don’t be fooled – darker roasted coffee (as mentioned earlier) contains less caffeine than lighter roasts.

#6: Coffee is good/bad for your health

Honestly, I have done extensive reading on this subject and I have read articles stating that coffee prevents cancer only to read one that suggests it can cause it. Similarly, I have read that it aids in weight loss but also read that it has no effect on it. Coffee itself contains very few calories, negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals etc. so I think it is safe to say that moderate to high consumption of coffee will not have any significant effects (positive or negative) on your health.

Keep sipping!

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited.
Brand manager at % Arabica.


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Coffee Corner: What makes good coffee good?

Post by Grant Mouton

coffee1

In my previous articles (“My coffee is cold” and “This coffee is too expensive”), I touched base on how temperature affects your perception of flavour as well as pointing out that coffee is in fact under–priced. Today I’ll be taking all of you avid coffee drinkers a little bit deeper by answering a simple question: “What constitutes a good cup of coffee?”

Coffee seems to be a simple thing – but I can assure you that there is a whole lot happening behind the scenes that many are unaware of. To try and keep you, the readers, enthralled; I will divide this segment into the following:

• What makes a one coffee bean better than the rest
• What sets baristas apart
• How can I tell if my coffee was good?

bean

What makes one coffee bean better than the rest:
Plants are funny things, temperamental at the best times. Now, I am no botanist, but I have had my fair share of veggie patches as well as a once glorious Bonsai collection in the past.

Let us begin with the anatomy of the coffee tree. The coffee “bean” as we all call it is in fact a seed. This seed is no different to other plants’ seeds in that it is responsible for the plants reproduction. Plants do a wonderful thing when they are stressed due to lack of rainfall or thin air as a result of high altitudes or other stressful situations. Plants, when under certain stressors put extra energy into producing more, stronger seeds. The reason for this is that is the mother plant wants their offspring to be stronger and healthier with a better chance of survival, perhaps for them to even flourish. This touching act that is written into the DNA of the plant ends up benefitting the ever consuming human -it results in a mother plant putting extra energy into its fruits and seeds which results in a better coffee experience for us. This phenomenon is not exclusive to coffee – it has long been observed in grapes. Another thing that helps is biodiversity. As with all plants, the higher the biodiversity, the more effective pollination occurs which also results in better fruits.

So we now know that weather conditions can affect the coffee and that some of the best coffee is grown at high altitudes. There is also a trend in bean flavours that shows the higher the coffee is grown, the fruitier and more floral the taste will be. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. Many other factors can contribute to the flavour of coffee, i.e. What sub-varietal is the plant? What was the processing method?

I want to highlight the importance of processing. This is the method whereby the seeds are removed from the cherry and dried. It is crucial to the quality of the bean that utmost care is taken at this step to avoid rot, leaching of flavours and the removal of defects.

So you are looking for a tree grown on the correct slope (sunlight) in a biodiverse area that is high enough above sea level and also processed correctly. Not asking for much, right? If a bean doesn’t tick all the boxes, it won’t taste good.

tamping

What sets baristas apart?
A good barista has attention to detail that is borderline OCD. The reason for this is that when you are working with the temperatures and pressures they do, it is easy to ruin a cup of coffee by extracting for 1 second too long or too short. Making sure the coffee grind size is not too coarse or too fine, they need to be consistent with tamping (packing the coffee into the portafilter) and rinsing the machine’s groupheads etc..

There is so much going on that the barista needs to pay careful attention using all of their senses during each step of making the coffee, or you’ll be left quite literally with a bitter taste in your mouth.

They are on the frontline of the early morning assault on tiredness. Getting up before you do to ready the shop – calibrating machines before you’ve even had your first stretch! These champions of coffee use all their senses for each cup to ensure a great end product for you. I am forever grateful for them.

How can I tell if my coffee is good?
This is probably the simplest topic I will discuss. Your coffee is good if you enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste – and tastes differ. Sometimes you want more, you what to strike a conversation or bask in the ambience of the store. It all boils down to your enjoyment. If you enjoyed it, then it was good!

Keep sipping!

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited.
Brand manager at % Arabica.


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Coffee Corner: This coffee is too expensive

Post by Grant Mouton

coffeebeans1

As someone with almost a decade in the industry I can safely say that even your most expensive cup of coffee is, in fact, under-priced. For those of you who managed to attend the screening of “a Film about Coffee” at the Contemporary Art Platform in Shuwaikh last week, you might have noticed that this subject was briefly talked about.

So why is there this rift in thoughts? Why is it that coffee producers and coffee consumers disagree with the pricing of coffee? On the one hand we have the people in the coffee supply chain feeling short-changed and on the other the consumers feel that their cup of joe is costing far too much.

*Disclaimer: I am a part of the specialty coffee community, and you will see that the article is heavily in favor of this industry. I have however been as factual as possible, enjoy!*

First things first, we need to realize that there are three different types of coffee at three very different price points. It’s a concept we all know and understand with restaurants, but not with coffee. We can liken coffee stores to three different tiers of restaurants:

– Quick service restaurants (Global franchises; no trained chef) $

– Casual dining restaurants (More focus put on quality of ingredients, store aesthetics; entry level chef, mainly cooks) $$

– Fine dining (Utmost attention to details; traceable, high quality ingredients; well-trained chefs) $$$

To try and simplify, I will refer to the first two tiers as commodity coffee from hereon. So in coffee you have the same thing. The modern 3rd wave (or specialty) coffee can be thought of as “Fine dining coffee”. For this you pay a premium, but it is not just a greater mark up.

Labour
In commodity coffee the baristas are site trained according to the company’s standards and not recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association. Whereas in the 3rd wave stores, you will have at the very least one employee who has not only travelled the world to attend courses and seminars, but also constantly learns through online platforms to stay at the cutting edge of coffee knowledge – all to ensure a better coffee experience for you! Now one can certainly see that a more highly skilled barista bears a greater cost to company than an entry level barista.

Green Bean Sourcing
Just as quick service restaurants (QSR) constantly seek to drive the cost prices of the raw materials down, so too do commodity coffee shops. It is no secret that the giants in the industry use anywhere between 25-40% of Robusta coffee beans to make up their blends. But, so what if they use Robusta? Well it is a very cheap, low quality variety of coffee that has zero pleasurable flavor traits to it and is very bitter. I recently attended a course in Copenhagen where we trialled the use of the highest quality Robusta. During a blind tasting (I thought I was taste testing Arabica beans) I noted on my scoresheet that a particular bean was defective, i.e. not good enough to serve. Turns out said bean was in fact some high quality Robusta. This variety is more than likely the reason why the majority of people think of coffee as bitter. On top of that, the Arabica beans that commodity coffee shops do use is considered to be low grade, again it is cheap and has no desirable flavors. To put some numbers to it, Robusta retails for $1-$3/kg, whereas high quality, specialty Arabica coffee can retail anywhere between $25-$300/kg

These high prices are justified though. Specialty coffee is comprised of picked, sorted and processed coffee and is held to a much higher standard. Commodity coffee is grown on flat land and the process is almost fully mechanized. The reason that mechanization doesn’t work with coffee is because not all of the beans ripen at the same time and unripe coffee (unripe anything, really) simply does not taste as good.

Equipment
What if I told you that most commodity coffee chains don’t even have an espresso machine? Well, it’s the truth! Most of these commodity coffee giants have a “pseudo-espresso” machine which, again, is as automated as possible and yet they are serving you espresso based drinks! The reasons behind this are simple. Making a good espresso and steaming milk correctly is very difficult with incredibly small margins for error. I can assure you it will take months of practice just to learn to steam the milk correctly. Latte art? Forget about it! This is a craft that needs constant upkeep and at least a year behind a machine to become remotely good.

coffee2

Recipes
Commodity coffee shops will only use 6-8g of coffee when preparing a regular size coffee. In contrast, specialty coffee shops will use between 16-22g for the same size coffee. This is really important – specialty coffee uses at least double of an already more expensive raw material to prep your coffee, and yet we don’t charge twice or three times the price!

Economies of Scale
This is a pretty basic concept, but those who haven’t taken economics 101 it boils down to this: A company purchasing over 100,000 tonnes of coffee per year has much more leverage to negotiate prices than a company only buying 1-2 tonnes of coffee. This means that even if specialty coffee shops were to use the exact same low quality coffee beans as the larger coffee companies, the cost price would still be higher for those specialty stores.

When all things are considered, I hope you come to the same conclusion that I do, and that is: Specialty coffee is in fact under-priced, hence great value for money and commodity coffee actually has very high profit margins for a substandard product. The other thing you can consider is from a social responsibility point of view: Specialty coffee pays people in the supply chain, commodity coffee pays large corporations and favors mechanization; This in turn leads to higher rates of unemployment in developing areas (yes, I did just guilt trip you into buying specialty coffee!).

Keep sipping!

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited.
Brand manager at % Arabica.


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Coffee Corner: My coffee is cold

Post by Grant Mouton

coffee1

So I was asked by Mark to write about coffee. At first I was overjoyed at the thought. This was, after all, what I had wanted to do for ages. So I got sucked in; I put my head down and I wrote. I put together a little over 1500 words and I reread it. It was gibberish, strewn with jargon and technical talk, laden with scientific references. It was too much, but then where does one start with coffee? Well, at the beginning of course, the beginning being the flavour of coffee and in this article I am going to focus on how temperature affects flavour.

Customer: “My coffee is cold”

This is something one hears all too often, and you begin to think as a consumer these baristas really ought to know how to steam milk to the right temperature – heck it’s their profession! What you’ve just done is stumbled into a great coffee shop, riding the 3rd wave of coffee – you’ve just had a cup made by a coffee specialist and know that there is method to this madness.

The first point to consider is how your tongue works. Simply put, it registers flavours better in a certain temperature range. If we use ice cream as an example; One does not taste the sweetness when it is frozen, only once it melts on your tongue (Go get an ice cream, I’ll prove it). Similarly, melted ice cream can be hard to drink because of its intense sweetness.

Beverage producers in the modern era focus less on quality and flavour and more on ensuring the beverage is served at a certain temperature. I call this the “warm beer phenomenon”. In my home country there is a very popular malt beverage and the company advertises its flagship bottle being drunk in frigid conditions. The merchandising team stocks bars with powerful sub-zero fridges and the design team has even put a large snowflake on the label that turns blue when it is cold enough to drink. They are planting the seed that this has to be served extra cold.

Ok, so what does this have to do with coffee? The answer is as follows: the colder the beverage the less you are actually tasting (your tongue works best tasting things between 15-50 degrees). Once the beer in question warms slightly you will more than likely throw it out.

Larger coffee chains use this technique too. Their hot drinks are scalded and their cold drinks are over iced – you will even see crushed ice being used instead of blocks. This crushed ice has an increased surface area in contact with the liquid so you have significant, rapid cooling.

What it boils down to is this: These coffee outlets are hiding their flavour, likely because it is bad. They are serving super cheap beans on subpar machines with undertrained baristas, but you the consumer are left unaware as you cannot taste much and that’s exactly what they want. The consistency is also much greater, they are consistently bad.

coffee2

The second reason certain shops serve warm coffee is this: Heating milk to and not above a certain temperature enhances the inherent sweetness. Above 65 degrees you start to breakdown the lactose present in the milk (lactose can be thought of as milk-sugar). This as well as other reactions occur at higher temperature and affect not only sweetness, but also texture. Overheat your drink and you are left with milk that has terrible texture and much lower levels of sweetness.

But what if my coffee is served without milk, it’s still not hot enough?! Well, the same applies with regards to tasting only between a certain temperature range. However, if actual ground coffee is subjected to temperatures above 93 degrees, you start burning the coffee and this inevitably results in a bitter, over extracted drink. This is similar to what happens when one steeps their tea for too long.

coffee3

So before sending your warm coffee back next time (and you may, you are entitled to whatever temperature you wish – you are paying for this drink), take a sip, think about what you’re tasting and know that you will sacrifice this fantastic orchestra of flavours, aromas and textures when overheating your coffee.

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited. Brand manager at % Arabica.


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