What is a "Peaberry" coffee?

October 07, 2016

Fans say a peaberry tastes sweeter, others say it tastes the same but what exactly is a peaberry?

Coffee grows inside of a cherry fruit and usually there are two coffee "beans" per cherry that grow back-to-back - and where the two cherries touch each other it grows flat but the other side is allowed to grow round. What happens in a peaberry coffee is that sometimes there is only one beans that grows inside of the cherry. Since there is no other bean inside the cherry the peaberry is allowed to grow almost round - giving it its distinct shape.

A peaberry is definitely not a different varietal, and no so much a "defect" as it doesn't affect taste negatively. A peaberry is more like an anomaly.

Peaberry on the left, "regular" on the right.

Not all decafs are the same!

September 22, 2016

Did you know that coffee is always decaffeinated before its roasted? There are a few main methods to removing the caffeine from the beans.

First the yucky method: The traditional/cheap decaffeination process was invented in 1906 and involves steaming the coffee beans with acids or bases to open the pores of the coffee bean and then using a solvent such as dichloromethane the caffeine is extracted. Yummy, right?

The second method - called Swiss Water Process - uses water and osmosis to remove the caffeine by soaking the coffee in hot water and running the water through filters. This process is performed several times and there are no chemicals! 

The third method uses natural EA (ethyl acetate) -  This is a similar process as the traditional chemical method in that they open the pores of the coffee but instead of chemicals they use natural occurring alcohols and naturally occurring acetic acid that they make from sugar cane.

There is also the Mexico water process which is similar to Swiss water. The advantage of these two methods is they can be done at the coffee producing country instead of shipping the coffee to a decaf processor which leaves more money in the producing country.

Of course we don't purchase any coffees that have been processed using the first method described above!

My daily grinder for my espresso machine at home is an older Baratza Vario (serial number 0749). I've had this grinder for about 5 years and while it is a great grinder the daily use has taken its toll on the pulley and belt that turn the burrs.  Also the burrs had worn down from putting hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds through it.  So, last week I was conducting a silly experiment trying to grind a non-coffee product which would up seizing the burrs which made the drive belt slip on the plastic drive gear and ultimately melting the belt and the gear!  Thankfully Baratza's customer service is great and the replacement belt, pulley and burrs shipped right away but international shipping can take a bit so I was left with no espresso grinder to get me through a 2 week period. Baratza is also constantly improving their products so the plastic drive pulley is now made of metal.

What's a guy to do?

The only other electric grinder in the house (another Baratza) is dedicated to the drip coffee maker so that one wasn't available for espresso duty so that left the Porlex hand grinder. Normally the Porlex is assigned to grinding while travelling or for Chemex - which is a medium grind coarseness. When I first purchased the Porlex a while back out of curiosity I tried it on the espresso machine to see if it would grind fine enough and I remembered it could do it.

Using the Porlex for espresso

So, how does the Porlex work for espresso? In one word "passable".  The coarseness adjustment on the Porlex is done by adjusting what is essentially a nut on a threaded rod in order to move the burrs closer or farther apart.  The "nut" clicks at various intervals so you can have some repeatable settings.  On my particular hand grinder it took 8 "clicks" to get from my Chemex grind to my espresso grind. 

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good part is the Porlex can grind fine enough for espresso and it got me through my 2 week period without my Vario. The bad is that there is only one setting "click" that is fine enough for espresso so any adjustments you want to make to your espresso pour will have to be done by tamping harder/lighter or adding more/less coffee.  Also, to my taste buds, the espresso produced by the Porlex is sourer and has less sweetness than that produced by the Vario.  There really isn't any ugly - except maybe the time it takes to turn the crank by hand to grind 18 grams of coffee for espresso!  

Overall impressions

The Porlex is $68 whereas the Vario is $670 so overall I'm very happy I had the Porlex so I could keep drinking espresso while my Vario was down but I'm also happy that my Vario is up and running now better than ever! In conclusion, if you have to use the Porlex in a pinch for espresso it's good to know you can but I wouldn't want to do it on a permanent basis. 

How do you take your coffee? This question usually refers to someone taking cream or sugar in their coffee. But what about the temperature at which we drink the coffee? The amount of variation in flavour that can be obtained by drinking the same cup of coffee at different temperatures can be eye opening.

There are several times when people will comment that the only way they can drink coffee is if it's piping hot.  When asked why they don't like it when it's cold they say it's because it only tastes good hot. So we decided to do some research into this. 

The Science

There have been many studies over the past 100 years that have tried to see the effect of temperature on how we perceive taste.  These studies have generally focused on foods in the range of 20C to 37C and in this range as temperature rises the perception of sweetness and bitterness tend to intensify (1).  The sweetness in coffee comes from the sugars that are developed in the roasting process whereas the bitterness comes from the caffeine.  Coffee is usually drunk at temperatures much above the 37C range so what's happening to our taste buds in hot coffee temperature range? Well it turns out our taste buds are muted when consuming foods that are either really hot or really cold and our taste buds are especially limiting the amount of bitterness we're tasting at these temperature extremities (2). So based on this really hot coffee should taste less bitter than colder coffee.

Results

So we did a little very unofficial experiment.  We brewed up some of our Ethiopia Konga coffee and tasted it at four different temperatures; right after brewing, when the coffee was mildly warm, when the coffee was at room temperature and when the coffee was cold (we put in the fridge).  Here are the tasting notes for each of the temperatures:

Right after brewing - Dark chocolate, caramel, medium body, medium acidity.  The coffee at this temperature didn't taste very "clear" (could be due to the muting of the taste buds from the high temperature liquid)

When coffee was mildly warm - Lots of berry fruit flavours, higher acidity (coffee tasted "fresh" and "crisp"), more flavour/clarity, smoother and more mellow than when it was hot, sweet caramel, medium body

When coffee was at room temperature - Very smooth and mellow, creamy/heavy caramel, acidity mellowed out a bit and body increased significantly

When coffee was taken out of the fridge - The berry tastes we had when the coffee was mildly warm became more citrusy, very nice sweetness (not like the caramel sweetness that we had before but more like white sugar), body became thin, acidity reminded me of drinking cold brewed ice tea made from black tea leaves.

Conclusions

At no point did the coffee taste bitter or even "bad" but the taste did change a lot throughout the temperature range!  The one thing that we found very interesting for the mildly warm coffee was that instead of the bitterness increasing we found that the sweetness increased. 

There are several reasons why people consume higher quality coffee but one of those is the lack of bitterness that you usually taste in cheaper mass consumer coffees (especially in the after taste).  Our informal experiment here showed that instead of the bitterness increasing as the coffee cooled it was the sweetness that increased.  Maybe the people that don't like to drink their coffee at temperatures other than piping hot just need to drink better coffee :)

Footnotes:

(1) Nutritional Needs in Hot Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations.

(2) Think Room-Temperature Coffee Tastes Bad? Blame Cavemen

 

Is the 4th wave here?

January 09, 2015

The coffee industry has gone through several different "waves" which have propelled coffee from being preground in a tin to a connoisseur food item.  Are we now in the 4th wave - where the giants (Starbucks, Second Cup, etc) are moving towards the model that has made the small independent coffee shops successful?

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Have you ever wondered why we always offer at least one Mexican coffee? Often we have a selection of Mexican coffees available and I want to let you know why we value them so much.

Mexico holds a dear place in our hearts. Two of the founding members of Other Brother Roasters were born in Bolivia and raised in Mexico. Once we moved to Canada, we moved to the small town of Winkler, Manitoba. Here in Winkler there are many ties to Mexico as many people living here have either had a family member come from Mexico or are from there themselves.  

Mexican coffees are getting better and better every year! It’s really incredible how far they’ve come and we love being a part of their resurgence into the market. For example our lot of coffee from Finca Kassandra was particularly spectacular and was chosen by a local barista to use in the Regional Barista Championships last year.

Mexican coffees have a lot of strength. There are fantastic lots like the Kassandra I just mentioned but they also produce many fantastic “transitional” coffees. Transitional coffees have a familiar taste to someone who has been drinking coffee their whole life but maybe their experience is one of watered-down, flavorless, body less diner coffee.  The transitional coffee provides a familiar taste but with some refinement - some substance and character.

We love Mexico for the people, our home and the food! But we love Mexican coffees because there is enough diversity in their terroir that we can find competition grade coffee, or get coffees that are intended to help transition a coffee drinker from a utilitarian drinker to one seeking an experience. 

So we hope you appreciate the offerings we bring in. We always try to have an African or Central American representation as well but Mexican coffees are so dynamic we hope you take the time to appreciate them as well.

The Manitoba coffee scene has positively exploded in the past 3 years; first with the opening of Jonny's Java in Winkler and then with the opening of Parlour in Winnipeg a year or two later.  Since the Manitoba scene had evolved so much it made sense for the province to host the 2014 Prairie Region Barista Competition (PRBC) which took place in Winnipeg from August 22-24, 2014.  This is the first time the PRBC was outside of Alberta!  

For those of you are not aware of barista competitions they are an opportunity for baristas in the specialty coffee industry to showcase their presentation skills, knowledge of the coffee they prepare, coffee making technique, waste and how the coffee tastes.  Barista competitions are some what similar to bartending competitions.  Barista's must compete at the regional level and place in the top 4 in order to go on to the Nationals.  The winner of the Nationals goes on to compete at the worlds! 

Although the competition is the main event the whole weekend is filled with people from the industry coming together to build relationships through drinks, meals and cafe crawls.

The 2014 PRBC was also the first time that any competitors from Manitoba competed.  One of the competitors was Colton Rempel of Jonny's Java.  From working at Jonny's Java colton had the opportunity to try many different coffees roasted by Other Brother Roasters and when the time came to choose a roaster to represent at the competition he approached Other Brother to work on sourcing and roasting a coffee for the PRBC.

The coffee that was chosen was a coffee from Mexico from Finca Cassandra.  It's very unusual to have a Mexican coffee being represented at a competition as Mexico hasn't been known, until recently, of having truly exceptional coffees.  We went through several different roast profiles with Colton in order to narrow in on a roast that highlighted the coffees sweetness in milk and savouriness as an espresso shot.

Although Colton did the coffee and himself proud with a spectacular routine it unfortunately wasn't enough to put him into the top four.  

As a company we had to push our roasting further than we had before in order to roast coffee that would be used in the competing level and we want to thank Colton for working with us and representing our coffee at the PRBC.

 

Colton thinking about his routine at one of his many late night practice sessions

The sensor judges are going through "calibration" to ensure they are all scoring the coffee equally

Colton (second from right) standing on stage while the winners are being announced

 

Further reading: You can read an interview between Colton and Jonny's Java here

Before the specialty coffee scene got going in Manitoba the coffee options were primarily Robin's Donuts, then Tim Hortons and much later Starbucks.  It was at this time that Jonny's Java - Manitoba's first specialty coffee shop opened its doors in a small mall not in Winnipeg, but rather in the small southern Manitoba city of Winkler.

Jon Plett, who was one of the founding members of Jonny's Java and after who the company is named, started exposing Sam to what a good cup of coffee could taste like.  How the subtlety of roasting nuances can play out in the cup and how different countries (origins) can have different tastes.  The timing of Jon founding the coffee shop coincided with the time where Sam was studying engineering.  The engineer in Sam wanted to try roasting for himself, he wanted to conduct experiments on roasting time, roasting degree and different coffees from different parts of the world.

Over time the requests to roast coffee for family and friends led to the idea of starting a coffee roasting company.  At the time we were searching for a name and it was while at a great Manitoban tradition, the summer night backyard fire, that a conversation something like this took place:

Cousin visiting from British Columbia: "So Jon owns Jonny's Java?"

Manitoban: "Yup"

Cousin visiting from British Columbia: "Ok, so if Jon owns the coffee shop then is it Jon's brother Tim that is the one starting the coffee roasting company?"

Manitoban: "Nope, it's Jon's other brother"

Cousin visiting from British Columbia: "Who is Jon's other brother? Oh, it's Ben right?"

Manitoban: "Nope, it's Jon's other brother"

Cousin visiting from British Columbia: "Oh.  I get it.  I think you guys should call your company Other Brother Roasters"

And that's the story on how Other Brother got it's name.  We think it's pretty neat that the name has a strong hint of family, friends, the history of specialty coffee in Manitoba and the history of roasting.