Five years ago, Cook's Illustrated reviewed home coffee makers and gave the Moccamaster, from Technivorm, their highest recommendation. Recently, they reviewed brewers again, as there have been many new models claiming to achieve the same results. This time they put the machines through even more rigorous tests.
So what happened this time? The Moccamaster again got the highest score and was recommended by the hard-to-please Cook's Illustrated reviewers. What wasdifferent this time, is that the Bonavita came in second place, and was Cook's pick for best buy, as it's less expensive than the Moccamaster.
I highly recommend that you watch the Cook's Illustrated review for yourself.
So is it a co-incidence the only automatic brewers we carry at Transcend also happen to be the top two rated coffee makers? Not a chance. We do our homework, we know great coffee, and we only want to offer you the best coffee gear available.
We have plenty of stock of both the Moccamaster and the Bonavita, so if you're in the market for a new brewer or need to get a great gift for someone, now might be an opportune time to do some shopping.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard the words "if coffee only tasted like it smells". And it's true, the smell of freshly ground coffee is widely held in esteem, and yet so often the brewed product falls short. Why does coffee so often leave the drinker wanting?
Recently a popular blogger, Hamilton Nolan, wrote an article on coffee at Gawker, where he asked the question of whether there is really any difference between good coffee compared to average coffee. He wrote in his post:
"I also submit to you that the difference between the world's most expensive cup of coffee and a cup of Folger's that I make in the morning in my shitty drip coffee machine is really not that much, when you get right down to it. They both taste like coffee. Maybe the good coffee is 20% better tasting than the average coffee. Fine. That's not a respectable margin upon which to base an entire lifestyle."
I think that many of Timmy's fans would likely agree with Mr. Nolan and scratch their heads at all the fuss we "third wave" coffee folk make about our product. But I would argue that, when given even just a little respect, coffee doesn't just taste like coffee, but can be something much more. It goes back to my original question, of why coffee doesn't taste like it smells. Coffee is an aromatic beverage, and in order for it to shatter that 20% margin that Mr. Nolan refers to, it needs to be fresh. What do I mean by fresh? Think of how you define freshness in bread or produce. Do you enjoy eating hard stale bread, or wilty slimy lettuce? Didn't think so. But so often this is the state of the coffee that is sold on store shelves and in cafes. Coffee beans are often shinny and oily which erroneously is viewed as a benchmark of quality, when in fact this is a clear indication of staleness or being over-roasted. Coffee leeches oil from within the roasted seed as it ages and is exposed to the staling effects of oxygen. As that oil sits on the surface of the coffee bean, it stales and becomes rancid. What other food product do people regularly consume that is covered in rancid oil?
Most people brew coffee with cheap "shitty drip coffee machines" which virtually guarantees that your coffee will taste mediocre at best, regardless of what coffee you buy and brew. Why? That cheap coffee machine is cheap for a reason. Simply said, it doesn't get the water hot enough and it takes too long to brew a pot. Because the aromatics in coffee are so important, the brewing process must trap the volatile gases coming off of freshly ground coffee into the water. You need hot water to accomplish this goal. The solution; throw your shitty drip coffee machine in the bin and grab a french press and a kettle, or a quality drip brewer. And since coffee is 99% water, the quality of your water actually has a huge impact on the flavour and quality of the cup. All that is required to solve this is to brew with filtered water from something like a Brita filter.
I agree with Mr. Nolan that, at times, if not all too often, those of us working in the third wave coffee industry are too precious about our product. We are often guilty of turning what should be a simple and enjoyable experience for our customers into an intimidating and embarrassing encounter, which leaves many running back to their tried and true purveyors of mediocre coffee. When instead we should make and serve our exceptional coffees with passion and care and allow the flavours and great customer service speak for itself.
So many times I think to myself that I should have gotten into making wine. A winemaker gets to work with her grapes and juice and produce a finished product that is essentially ready to drink once the bottle is opened. Unless something goes terribly wrong, the consumer gets to experience what she was hoping to convey as she crafted the wine. Coffee roasters aren't so lucky. Despite our efforts to source some of the best coffee in the world, and roast it carefully so that the hard work of the farmer is represented, when the coffee beans go into the bag, the product is not finished. Coffee is one of those unique products which requires input and preparation. The brewer of the beverage has the final say as to just how good the coffee really is.
Coffee can be more than a caffeine delivery mechanism. Coffee can inspire and satisfy in ways that other beverages can't. But it can also disappoint and even worse offend. Each link in the chain from growing to harvesting to roasting and brewing is equally important, and if even one of those links is weak or broken, the whole experience can just fall apart into mediocrity.
Poul Mark is the founder of Transcend Coffee.
Spring seemed to skip Edmonton this year as we quickly moved from snow to summer. And while it's not officially summer until June 21, the warm weather has many asking for iced coffee instead of a latte or hot coffee. There is a lot of debate within the specialty coffee industry as to which brewing method is best when making iced coffee. In fact, there is a lot of debate within the industry as to whether iced coffee is even an appropriate expression of coffee at all. You may be wondering what all the fuss is about, and just want something cold and refreshing on a hot day.
We know that you like iced coffee as our sales numbers at the cafes demonstrate this each summer season. But even more than sales, what we want is the knowledge that we are providing a product that we enjoy drinking and that we can stand behind in terms of quality. It is this quest that we at Transcend have been on, or perhaps more accurately, it is the task that I gave Josh recently.
Over the past couple of weeks, Josh has been experimenting and playing with various recipes for a new Transcend cold brew. We played with a couple of different coffees as a starting point, comparing Finca Vista Hermosa Michicoy against the Ngunguru AB. After brewing a few test batches, we quickly identified that the higher levels of acidity in the Ngunguru AB suited a cold brew better than the more mellow Michicoy. We are pretty sure this has to do with the different way coffee extracts in a cold brew method. If you want a more technical look at this, you can check this post out.
Settling on which coffee we were going to use was only part of the process. Now Josh needed to get the recipe figured out so that the end result was a tasty, balanced brew, which, when served over ice, was going to taste better than our current offering in the cafe. We have served iced coffee in the cafes via the Clover. With this method, we brew a stronger cup of coffee than normal, which we then quickly chill by pouring the hot coffee into a cup of full of ice. The down side with this method, is that it is difficult to tell exactly how much the final beverage will dilute as it cools. What we wanted was to be able to serve our customers a better tasting and more consistant iced coffee beverage.
So after more than 30 hours of research, test batches and tasting, we finally are happy with our new recipe. We are now cold brewing in large batches over an eight hour period. The beginning of the brewing process involves adding some hot water to the ground coffee, after which cold water is added and allowed to steep for the duration. The coffee is then filtered, and rests another twelve hours or so, allowing all of the fines to settle out, and then the coffee is filtered again. The resulting product is a very clean, crisp, sweet, and balanced cold brew. This makes us happy. I was tasting the final version yesterday and couldn't stop drinking it. Seriously, this might be the only drawback to our new cold brew, in that it tastes so good, and is so easy to drink that you could easily over do it.
So what does this mean for you? In short, it means a tastier cold-coffee experience, which at the end of the day, is all that we were after. This revised cold brew will be available in the cafes starting this Saturday, May 18 for the Victoria day long weekend, and once we get some bottling issues resolved, we hope to have our cold brew available in bottles so you can take it aperhome and drink at your leisure on the patio. Here's to warm weather, and tasty cold brewed coffee.
Poul Mark is the Founder of Transcend Coffee
We've launched our new Cold Brew Coffee! For those of you who might be a little more on the techy/nerdy spectrum, we'll offer here some more detailed brewing info on our new approach to cold brew.
Brewing coffee properly need not be difficult, but it is in fact quite techinical. People often laugh when I show them my iPhone app MoJoToGo which enables us, with the aid of a refractometer calibrated specifically for coffee, to measure the extraction yield of brewed coffee. What?! Coffee is largely an arromatic beverage. What do I mean by that? What makes coffee taste great is the ability to trap both available solids from the ground coffee and escaping volatile gases into a liquid state, so that when you drink the coffee, your nose and tongue work in concert to provide you a memorable experience. In order to acheive this goal, you require a few essential ingredients; freshly roasted coffee, coffee that is ground just prior to brewing, hot water (92 degrees C or 200 F) and proper ratios of coffee to water (60 grams per litre).
This obviously raises some issues in terms of brewing cold or iced coffee, as many approaches to cold brew take "hot" water out of the equation, which has a dramatic impact on the extraction of available solids and volatile gases. When you brew coffee with hot water and correct ratios, your ideal extraction yield is somewhere between 18% - 22% with a TDS (total disolved solids) of around 1.3% - 1.5%. This is typically achieved by passing hot water through a bed of ground coffee (drip method) over a period of three to four minutes. However when you take the hot water out of the equation, getting the required solids extracted from the coffee requires a much longer brew time (between 7 - 24 hours). This extended brewing process (steeping) produces varied results, and is one of the main reasons there is so much debate in the coffee industry as to which is the best method to brew cold coffee.
Another approach to brewing iced coffee is to brew hot coffee over ice. This has been our approach at Transcend in the cafes as we brew coffee on the Clover directly over ice to chill it as quickly as possible. Obviously, this method remains true to the standard brewing method, but results in a more watered down coffee beverage, in terms of flavour, as the coffee is diluted as it comes in contact with the ice, which melts and dilutes the coffee. Getting the ratio to work, so that your iced coffee has flavour and body, is actually quite tricky.
So this summer, we are trying something different in terms of our iced coffee. Josh has been working with various recipes, brew times and techniques and has come up with a method that is producing very tasty results. We started with our Ngunguru AB which is a very bright (acidic) coffee from Kenya. We chose this coffee as a cold steep brewing method tends not to accentuate the acidity in coffee. Acidity in coffee is absolutely critical in order to provide vibrancy and life, and in our opinion, is especially important in an iced coffee. The freshly ground coffee is primed with some hot water to initiate the extraction process, after which, the remaining amount of cold water is added to the vesel and steeped for eight hours. After steeping in a cold environment, the coffee is filtered once, chilled overnight, and refiltered in order to produce a very clean and crisp cold brew. Our TDS with this method is 1.89% which offers up an extraction yield of 15.46%. Or in other words, it produces a very tasty cold coffee which when served over ice, is far less prone to dilution, and tastes better and more refreshing in the cup.
This is the session that I referred to in my previous blog post. Aaron Davis walks us through the origin and future of Coffee.
Recently I wrote about the growing devastation of coffee leaf rust, and its impact on the specialty coffee industry. I mentioned in the last post that moisture is one of the largest contributing factors in the propagation of coffee leaf rust. Without moisture, the fungi cannot thrive. But as climate change continues to impact the growing regions along the equator belt (the place where coffee grows) it will not only get warmer, but also wetter.
One of the contributing factors placing coffee at risk in the coming years is the lack of genetic diversity among coffee varieties being grown within the international coffee community. The varieties of coffee arabica actually grown commercially around the globe are surprisingly few. During the most recent SCAA Symposium in Boston Dr. Aron Davis Head of Coffee Royal Botanical Gardens in London, reported that only 0.03 per cent of the genetic diversity available in coffee is farmed agriculturally around the world.
While 0.03 per cent is a very tiny slice of the pie, you are probably wondering why this statistic even matters. To put this in context let's hop on a jet plane and take a trip to Ethiopia, where much of the genetic diversity in coffee is growing wild in the forests there. It has been estimated that up to 40,000 wild varieties of coffee arabica are growing in the forests of Ethiopia. Even if this number is wildly over exaggerated, it would only take 4,000 wild varieties of coffee growing to offer up the ratios of genetic diversity that Dr. Davis is referring to. So what does this mean?
When you have a genetic species that is homogeneous, it becomes more susceptible to disease, pests and climate change. Stated another way, coffee hasn't really evolved very much, and in terms of commercial agriculture, farmers tend to grow the same varieties from year to year. And while their have been new varieties introduced over the past 50 years, most are genetically very similar to the rest of the trees being farmed commercially.
What is required is the introduction of new genetic material into the equation, in order to boost the vigor of the coffee growing around the world. This increase in genetic diversity will allow coffee to better adapt and deal with climate change both present and future. While it is easy to prescribe the solution to our predicament, it is far harder to execute. Take Ethiopia for example: while the country possesses much of the world's genetic diversity in coffee, it is not overly excited about sharing this resource with the world community given the lack of benefit it has received over the past century. Moreover, a coffee plant takes between three to five years to grow into a mature tree which can produce fruit, which makes hybrid experimentation a long and costly process.
So, while the industry recognizes the issues facing the coffee supply chain, as a result of inadequate genetic diversity, it is hard pressed at the moment to offer up viable solutions. Most of the scientists involved talk about timelines of 10 to 20 years, and while this is not long in the world of research and development, it is an eternity for those farmers now confronting the eminent loss of their way of life.
Poul Mark is the Founder of Transcend Coffee.
In my last post, I shared some of my experiences in the first couple of days of my trip to Costa Rica to source coffees for Transcend. Today I'll continue with a few more stories.
Unfortunately my trip to the Tarrazú region was cut short because one of our travelling companions had to catch a flight back to the US. Instead, we spent some time at another San Jose coffee shop, this one owned by the legendary Don Mayo micromill. The Chemex of naturally processed Finca Bella Vista was wonderfully fruity and sweet. Like Brazil, Costa Rica is drinking more of its own coffee crop every year (about 30 per cent of this year’s crop is going to stay in the country for domestic consumption).
We left just after eight the next morning for the West Valley, which is home to many of our favourite coffees. Santa Lucia, Genesis, Sin Limites, and Terra Bella all come from this region. Terra Bella in Los Robles was our first visit of the day. Carlos Batalla is a retired engineer and takes a scientific approach to his farming and milling. Before planting his farm, he consulted with soil scientists and agronomists to determine the right variety (he chose Villa Sarchi) and nutrition for his farm. This year he has begun tracking moisture and temperature in his drying facility. He’s found that if the ambient relative humidity is too high, coffee won’t dry properly. He dries his coffee in several stages. He starts by laying it out on a patio so that the majority of the free water can be evaporated off. After about a day of this, he transfers the coffee to raised beds, which he has enclosed in a greenhouse-like structure. Because he doesn’t have very much space, he wants to minimize his drying time so that all of the coffee gets processed in time. This is his first year implementing these drying techniques, and we can’t wait to see how his coffee tastes when it arrives next month!
After some lemonade and coffee at Carlos' house, we headed to Herbazú, which is one of the oldest micro-mills in Costa Rica. Harvest was finished, and the de-pulper was clean and quiet, but the dry mill was full of activity. Four men were hurling 50kg sacks of parchment like they were pillows, and a group of women were sorting through hundreds of pounds of green coffee with deft fingers. The owner, Oscar, showed us his young plantation of SL 28 trees, which will hopefully have full yields next year (very exciting)! We next drove about 100 meters down the road to Finca La Perla, which is owned by Carlos Barrantes. He and his wife were busy building a shed for their brand new micro-mill, which wasn’t installed in time to process this year’s harvest. All of their coffee has traditionally been processed at Herbazú. Next year, they will process and dry-mill their own coffee.
Another 100 meters down the road we came to Sin Limites, a mill we’ve worked with for five years now. Here, the dry-miller was off and Jaime, his wife, and their three employees were hand-sorting the green coffee. As it so happens, Transcend’s coffee was being sorted that day, and Jaime excitedly showed me all the work that goes into that step of the process. I’ve always been amazed at how clean and defect-free Sin Limites has been when it has arrived at our roaster. Now I know why.
Even more yet to come...
Josh Hockin is the Director of Coffee Innovation for Transcend Coffee.
I have attended all five SCAA Symposium gatherings now, and up until this year, I always left thinking to myself that I wouldn't attend another one. Having said that, and given that I have attended every year's Symposium, I obviously still find some value in the annual event. This year's gathering in Boston, more than others, offered up some critical, albeit heady information regarding the current and future state of coffee, which I thought I'd share with you.
During the first morning session, we were introduced to Mary Catherine Aime, an associate professor of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University, who is an expert on Fungi. She talked to us about one of the critical issues facing the specialty coffee industry currently, namely the devastating spread of coffee leaf rust, also referred to as roya, throughout Central and South America. In fact, coffee producing countries such as Guatemala and Costa Rica have declared a state of emergency as a result of this disease.
We learned that coffee leaf rust is actually a fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) that grows on the leaves of coffee trees, specifically Coffea Arabica, the predominant species of coffee grown commercially. We learned that arabica is the obligate host of this vicious parasite which is propigated on the leaf of arabica and thrives in wet and warm conditions.
Other fungi, like Puccinia graminis (wheat stem rust) for example, have a heteroecious life-cycle which requires an obligate co-host (the barberry plant). In other words, the fungi that attacks wheat must live on barberry plant for one year and then on wheat the next. This made the erradiacation of wheat stem rust in North America realatively easy as governments forced farmers to ensure their land was free from the barberry plant, and consequently wheat stem rust as well.
Coffee farmers in Central and South America are not as fortunate as wheat farmers were, as coffee leaf rust does not need a co-host and can thrive year to year on coffee plants alone. In fact, it is estimated that this year alone, some coffee-producing countries might face between a 50 to 70 percent loss of their coffee trees due to coffee leaf rust. What happens with coffee leaf rust is that the fungus attacks the leaf of the tree and grows spores which in turn are shot from one leaf to another. As the fungi propigate, they feed on the leaf and eventually kill all of the leaves on the tree, leaving it bare and unable to photosynthesize or produce fruit. The only defense the farmer has against this devastating disease is the application of fungicides.
So what does this mean for you, the specialty coffee consumer? In the short term, probably nothing. But as this harvest season works itself out in the market, we will likely see shortages in terms of production, which will almost certainly create a spike in the price of coffee next year. And given the ongoing effects of climate change (warmer tempuratures and wetter conditions) coffee farmers in Central and South America will likely continue to battle against the hardy fungus Hemileia vastatrix.
FOR MORE INFORMATION check out the CIAT Policy Brief on Climate Change and Coffee
Poul Mark is the founder of Transcend Coffee.
I think it’s fair to say that we here at Transcend really enjoy coffee from Costa Rica. In fact, about half of the coffee we buy is from there. We currently have coffee from eight different producers from both the West Valley and Tarrazú regions. All of these producers work with Exclusive Coffees, a company that is committed to increasing the world’s access to Costa Rican coffee. Many of the producers that Exclusive works with also run their own micro-mill operations. These Micro-Mills allow small farmers to harvest and process their own coffee separately from other farmers’, so they can remain in charge of the quality of their product. They also get to see the economic benefit of both producing and milling their cherries.
Last month I had the opportunity to go down to Costa Rica and visit with Exclusive and our producing partners during the last days of harvest. I tasted the coffees that we’ve purchased for the coming year and talked to the farmers about how they thought the season went. My first full day was spent cupping in the Exclusive Labs in order to get a sense of how the harvest. Many of the coffees were fantastic. I was informed by Wayner (who would be my guide for the week) that the harvest season was dry. This helped the coffee dry properly after it was milled. After a long day of cupping, we drove to the Brumas del Zirqui micro-mill and visited with the owner, Juan Ramon Alvarado. He’s one of the pioneers of the honey process (where some fruit is left on the bean as it dries), and it was exciting to hear about his experiments with a “black honey” process, which involves removing only the skins of the cherries before drying. He calls it black because as the beans dry, the fruit on the outside turns a black colour. On the way home, we stopped at the Brumas coffee shop and drank espresso and Chemexes of some of Juan Ramon’s coffees. It was great to be able to sit in a coffee shop and drink coffee that was grown, processed and roasted only a few blocks away.
The next day we made the drive south to the mountains of Tarrazu to visit with producers there. We went to the town of Llano Bonito de León Cortés to see the La Joya micro-mill, whose coffee we’ve been buying for three years. Farmer Edwin Alvarado told me that this year, they needed to buy cherries from the nearby La Loma farm in order to meet demand. I had tasted that coffee the day before and was very impressed with its cleanliness and clarity of flavour (a mark of very clean processing!). We also took a drive to the Santa Rosa 1900 micro-mill, which is near the village of Santa Rosa de León Cortés. There, Helbert Naranjo and his father Efrain have been milling their own coffee for eight years, and the family has been growing coffee for over 30. Like a lot of other farmers, he chose to mill his own coffee so he could control the quality and get a higher price for it. He has land that goes all the way up to 2000 meters above sea level, which is great for growing coffee with complex flavours and refined acidity. We’ll be releasing a coffee from their farm Finca Macho in the next few weeks, so watch out for it!
Tune in next week for the latter half of my trip!
Josh Hockin is the Director of Coffee Innovation for Transcend Coffee.
... Discover that coffee is more than caffeine? While it is true that we all have mild addictions to the stimulating effects of caffeine, coffee should be so much more than a pick-me-up. Coffee should be something that inspires us, causes us to pause and reflect on the good things in our lives. Coffee should be that thing that gathers us together, initiates conversations, builds friendships. Coffee should be one of the things that we drink which gives us pleasure, stimulates our imagination, and enables us to taste a little bit of where it comes from. Coffee should be something in our lives which reminds us that we share this planet, and that how we live our lives, impacts the lives of others, even half a world away.
... Finally decide to buy a good grinder? Brewing coffee good coffee at home is not hard. But it does require that you have good quality beans, recently roasted, and that you grind just before brewing. Coffee stales amazingly quickly, and that staling process is exponentially increased if the coffee is pre-ground. While any good coffee company will grind the coffee for you at the shop, it is less than ideal. Do yourself a favour this year, if you haven't already done so, and invest in a good quality burr grinder. You won't regret it, I promise. A good grinder is probably the best thing you can invest in when it comes to improving the quality of coffee you brew at home.
... Start thinking carefully about the water you brew with? Coffee is nearly 99% water. And yet most of the coffee brewed in our homes is done with no consideration of the quality of that water. I know that in Edmonton, our water is very hard, and it does contain additives that effect the over taste and quality of the coffee we brew. One of the easiest ways to improve the quality of the coffee you brew at home is to filter your water with a simple Brita water filter system. For just pennies a cup, you will notice a difference. If you are spending good money on good coffee, then you owe it to yourself and those you serve to use filtered water.
... Stop saying that this will be the year?