Sometimes, while I am in the shop, but not roasting, I hear people comment about the machine as they walk past it.
Last week I heard it described as a “strange giant machine” and another girl told her friend it was “some sort of brewery thing”. Most accurate was a boy of eight who told me it looked like a steam engine.
Much funnier though was a comment my wife overheard while sitting near the coffee mural near the back of Bucer’s. Two girls were talking about the painting and discussing what the fruit was. One girl said, “They look like cherries, but I know they’re really grapes”.
Um, actually, they are coffee beans. No really. That’s what the whole painting is about. There are coffee beans on the tree, some being picked by a lady, then in bags, then roasting, and then in a steaming cup. It’s coffee. It’s a mural in a coffee shop. You’re drinking it right now.
I had originally posted this on my other blog (which is far more active) but then realized it should have gone here instead.
In which I wax scientific while reading Newton’s biography:
Blending coffee beans does not a homogeneous mixture make. Unlike much cooking and mixing, such as the incorporation of water into flour, the small dosages of coffee used when making espresso actually serve to highlight discrete nature of the mixture. Remember that “discrete” is the opposite of continuous. When you graph it, it moves in stair-steps instead of a smooth curve. The probability of the mixture being dramatically “heavy” on a certain variety of bean increases as the sample size decreases.
Say that your “espresso blend” is a combination of 4 different bean types, 25% of each: a deep dark Sumatra, a couple of medium-bodied central American batches, and one bright and floral African. Assume they are mixed as evenly as possible, but that nothing mechanical enforces this ratio. Say that a shot contains the grounds produced from 32 beans. Ideally, there will be 8 beans of each type in that shot (8+8+8+8=32).
What is the chance that the mixture will be off a bit? Ex:(8+6+10+8) Pretty high, but no big deal. What is the chance that it will be really screwed up? Ex:(15+0+1+16) Pretty unlikely but it’s got to happen every once in a while. Now say your blend is more complicated: (8+8+8+4+4). Now the chance that one of your types will be missing completely skyrockets. You can’t make subtle changes and have them “take” in the real world. The discrete nature of the mixture resists that subtlety. Sure, it will be there across the mean of 1000 doses, but the distribution will be all over the place. This kind of variation can be frequently blamed for inconsistently tasting shots, I am certain.
This is a quality control challenge that, as far as I can tell, nobody is dealing with directly. It seems to me that there are some relatively simple mechanical solutions that could be devised to keep the mixture stable across dosages. An array of single-bean dispensing hoppers feeding into a buffer would be the most obvious solution. This would be versus a traditional single conical hopper feeding directly into the grinder. Is anyone building these? Why not?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Here is mine!
If you find yourself in one of the three downtown coffee shops in Moscow, here is what I recommend you order:
One World Cafe: Their supplier consistently has an Ethiopian coffee they brew in one of the drip carafes. It’s very good. I get the Ethiopian drip nearly every time I’m in there.
Sister’s Brew: Sister’s does a very good job with their milk consistency. If you’re looking for something creamy and sweet, a white chocolate mocha here would definitely deliver.
Bucer’s Coffeehouse Pub: I’m biased of course since I help roast coffee here, but I’ve always believed it to be the best espresso in town. The Cuban-style espresso (which is espresso with a small amount of caramelized sugar so as not to cover up the flavor of the coffee) is definitely what you should get. Ask for a “Cubano con leche“. 12 ounces is about the right concentration.
There’s a new coffee drive-through next to Dominoes Pizza called Retro Espresso (link to Facebook page).
The owner built it out of a remodelled airstream trailer and it looks pretty cool. They appear to be going out of their way to use good ingredients. Worth checking out next time you’re on the road.
The Argonaut newspaper had a piece on it, but I can’t seem to find it on their site anymore.
I should mentioned that I’m now an employee at Bucer’s. I’ve been training as their back-up coffee roaster for the past few months and I had the opportunity to do all the roasting during the past three weeks while the main guy has been out of town. It’s gone OK but I have plenty to learn! If you are a discerning customer, you may have noticed that things are bit brighter than usual. This can be good for drip, but espresso usually does better with some darker, earthier flavors.
I’ll still be posting here occasionally about local coffee. I still frequent many of the other places in town just for variety’s sake too.
This from an old travelogue I read recently. This happened while the author was passing through a village in Switzerland in the early 1900s.
In his shoes, I would have done the same!
I also asked him for coffee, and as he refused it I took him to be a heretic and went down the road making up verses against all such, and singing them loudly through the forest…
-Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome, p.164