So much has happened in the world of coffee, and in the microcosm world of CoffeeGeek in the past month or two, Iím way overdue to tell you about some fantastic new things happening in and around all of it; my only excuse is I need more hours in the day. But I cannot wait any longer. So let me first say I hope all of you had an enjoyable Christmas holiday season and that your New Year is bright, fun, safe, and prosperous! Now letís find out how December and early January looked in the world of coffee, and talk about helping others out a bit.
The Holiday Gift List
For the second time in seven years, Iíve had to put aside doing the Holiday Gift List and Fund Raiser for CoffeeKids on the CoffeeGeek website. Iím not happy doing this, but it came out of necessity. Weíre in the midst of a six month project to completely rebuild CoffeeGeek.com from the ground up, and while we tried to get the HGL off the ground, we just didnít have the time to do it right and do it justice. But it will be back next season!
The one worst off by this is CoffeeKids, our favourite charity around here. We managed to raise around $28,000 for them last year with a lot of work and effort, and this year, nada penny. But I want to change that, so hereís what weíre going to do in the next thirty days
Silent auctions for Baratza Grinders
First off, weíre going to be holding some Silent Auctions in our forums during
January and early February (moved back to March because of logistics) for some great grinders from the fine folks at Baratza. Theyíll be popping up in the Grinders forum as a sticky topic, and the idea is, they will run for 4 days, and those who want to bid simply respond in the thread with their bid price. Weíll have a defined finishing time, but with a caveat - there will be a five minute "window" after the last bid is placed - so if someone makes a last minute bid seconds before the auction ends, the bidding will remain open for five minutes longer in case anyone wants to bid higher.
100% of the proceeds go to CoffeeKids, so I hope everyone bids generously. The auctions will be for the grinder + shipping - everything included. You win the bid, you make a direct donation to CoffeeKids for your bid amount via paypal (CoffeeKids uses paypal exclusively now for their donations online), and Baratza will ship you a fully warrantied grinder. Look for these posts in the Grinders forums starting in late January!
This one goes out to our advertisers especially - we will be donating 25% of our
January 31-February 28th ad revenue (moved to our March revenue, which is projected to be higher) directly to CoffeeKids. So advertisers, if you were looking for a time to renew your ads, now is the time. As a special bonus, in a future Coffee at the Moment article, I will post a detailed list of all the advertisers who took part in this, letting you know which advertisers helped out with the donations. Realistically, this should generate about $750 for CoffeeKids, but Iím hoping for a lot more. Look for updates on this in future articles.
CoffeeGeek.com has a policy of no affiliate link programs or shared revenue with any advertising vendor, save for one - Amazon.com. Iíve never really explained this fully, and this seems like a good time to do so.
Iíve always been opposed to affiliate programs / commission programs for this website, even though I get approached several times a month to do it, and the reason is influence. I do not want to be involved in the revenue streams this website sets up for our advertisers, nor do I want this website to be influenced in any way by those streams. CoffeeGeek.com could easily make much more income by taking that route, but remaining neutral and not tied to any one advertiser is important for our readership and the trust you have for this websiteís content.
Amazon.com is a pretty radical exception. Their affiliate program is not a direct-type where Amazon would push me to do sales, to market them in a specific way, or to demand results, or moderate our forums in favour of them, etc etc. The program is quite passive in terms of how one can use the service, and most of the control is in the hands of the affiliates (that'd be us). It's what I think of as an "opt in" system - using as much or as little as I want. Probably most important is this - Amazon has no influence on the editorial content on this website, nor do they try to have any influence. Because of these reasons and many more, theirs is the only affiliate program I feel comfortable using.
Until recently we deployed the affiliate links in a very spartan way - if we do a pro review on a product that we bought, typically Iíll provide an amazon link to it. I would link a few products in the Holiday Gift List to Amazon, and that was about it. A couple of months ago, I amped up the Amazon linkage on CoffeeGeek - because of the nature of providing a shopping choice for GeekLinks - the "where to buy" text links you see in the consumer reviews section - I felt it was a good fit to use Amazon affiliate links there as well, so I purchased a 100 link package (itís weird paying myself), and set up a bunch of links. This has helped increase the siteís revenue a bit - about $500 a month, which goes towards paying for the redesign, paying for our new content editor, and other costs.
So starting today and going through to the end of February, I will donate 100% of the proceeds we generate through our CoffeeGeek Amazon Affiliate Link to CoffeeKids and hopefully that will raise at least another $500 for them. But hopefully it will be a lot more with your help. How can you make that more? Well, if you use the link above - and here it is again for you - www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/coffeegeek-20 - when you shop at Amazon, almost everything you purchase during that visit generates an affiliate revenue of around 5-7% for CoffeeGeek; so use that link for all your shopping at Amazon.
Second, if youíre perusing our Consumer Reviews section and see "Amazon Affiliate" as one of the Geeklinks, click and buy if you're shopping for that particular machine.
Once this fundraiser is over, I'll report the amount earned through the linkage. It takes 3 months to get the check from Amazon, so it will be a few months before I can turn over these funds - but it may just be in time for the SCAA show in Minneapolis.
The last way I want to raise money for CoffeeKids is to encourage you to make a generous direct donation in the next 30 days (till February 22, 2008 at least) to the organization. You can do so by clicking this graphic:
And I would encourage you to use that link button above to make a donation, because I plan on matching your donation, dollar for dollar, up to $500 total for the next 30 days. The more you readers donate, the more I will donate, but you have to use the button above, which goes directly to CoffeeKids' paypal donation page, but is specially tagged with a CoffeeGeek identifier. This way, CoffeeKids can tell me at the end of this donation run how much was donated, and I will match it.
CoffeeKids is a fantastic organization that does a lot to help families in the poor nations that produce the beverage you love so much. Donate the price of a pound of a great coffee, or better yet, donate the same amount you spent on a grinder, or your tamper, or a set of cups - it's not a lot, and it will help so many families out. CoffeeKids has has recently revamped their website and they have a new blog and lots of new information on the website, so give it a visit to find out what's going on and what they are doing to help improve lives.
In February and March, I'll report back about how much we've been able to raise for CoffeeKids. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the silent auctions in our forums, use the Amazon Affiliate Link for CoffeeGeek when shopping at Amazon, and donate directly!
Recently I got a very interesting email from a CoffeeGeek.com reader (and she also reads my personal site) regarding confusion about thermoblocks, "thermoblock boilers", "steel lined thermoblock boilers" and some old verbage I wrote about six years ago about thermoblocks in general, where I said:
but the heating element inside is, for the most part, inadequate for the rather complex task of producing espresso and steamed milk. ... Avoid if possible
Thermoblocks have come a long way in six years since I wrote that they should be avoided. As an example, there's a machine called the Ascaso Steel Duo, which has a boiler and thermoblock inside - the boiler is used for espresso, the thermoblock for "on demand" steam, and it actually steams quite well for its machine class.
The emailer also was confused over boilers, thermoblocks and some ad copy she read that said its heating device was a "steel lined thermoblock boiler". If it features a 'thermoblock boilers", no matter what their material - steel, aluminum, copper, these things are still thermoblock heating devices. And what exactly is a thermoblock? Well they do range in design, but the few I've seen cut apart look very much like an old home radiator heater, or a liquid cooling device, but in reverse. They are essentially a snaking, folded set of tubes that are wrapped around heating coils or elements. As water passes through these tiny tubes (many of them are barely one or two millimeters in diameter), the heating elements flash heat the water, delivering, in theory and design, water that is at the proper brewing (or steaming) temperature upon exit.
Boilers on the other hand are single large cavity vessels that has a single heating element inside, sometimes a coil that is not unlike a compact florescent lightbulb (in look).
Boilers are mainly preferred for two reasons:
First, they don't reduce pump pressure nearly as much as thermoblocks can - once the pump builds up sufficient pressure inside the boiler, it stays at that level and not much is "leeched" off as the water goes from the boiler to an espresso machine's grouphead. Thermoblocks do leech off pressure from the espresso machine's pump - as water snakes through the thermoblock, pressure is reduced and restricted by the nature of the design. Lately though, companies are designing their machines with this deficiency in mind, so if the thermoblock will leech off about 2BAR of pressure (as a guess) from the water that passes through it, the designers will set up the pump and restrictor valves so they deliver 11BAR or more pressure to the water at the entrance - and when the water exits, its at 9BAR).
Second, boilers provide more built up steam and "head room" for capacity of steam when steaming milk. The problem with boilers is it takes some time to go from brewing temperatures (about 95C) to steaming temperatures (about 130C or so), but once it has a build up, steam is usually pretty good, especially if the heating element stays active, or the boiler size is large enough. With thermoblocks, they can transition from brew to steam temperatures a lot quicker because of the minute amount of water they have to heat up in a given second. The downside is, because the volume of water inside the thermoblock at any given time is very small - maybe 5, 10mls - steaming power would be pretty weak.
At least that's the theory, and in empirical testing six, seven years ago, the practice for the user of an all-thermoblock machine. But lately, I've tested a few machines with thermoblock designs, and they've come a long, long way in steaming ability, so some nut has been cracked by engineers and designers, and thermoblocks today in some machines may not be the bad bogeymen of only five and six years ago.
Food for thought, and I do welcome anyone who has more detailed (or unlike me, scholastic and engineering) knowledge of these systems to comment in the thread for this article, and explain better how thermoblocks work.
Great Coffees for December and January
Seriously, there were just too many to mention here, so I may do a end-month article to catch up. In short though, I got to sample coffees from the following companies:
Tim Wendelboe Coffees, the roastery of 2004 World Barista Champion Tim Wendelboe - both his espresso blend and a great single origin.
Intelligentsia Coffee and their three amazing Golden Cup Rwandas, the 1st place, 4th place, and 14th place.
Batdorf and Bronson's great offering from Ethiopia, the Natural Limu.
And last, but not least, six absolutely stunning coffees from Counter Culture Coffee - a selection of microlots from Aida Batlle's Finca Mauritania farm and some other fantastic coffees.
Because some of these coffees are very time limited, I will speak about those ones in this article, and cover the others in the next.
Counter Culture Coffee
This is truly the motherlode. CCC sent me five amazing coffees to sample last month and all were simply home runs. Here's my notes on each.
Aida's Grand Reserve Special Microlot, Finca Mauritania, El Salvador, $32.50 / 12oz.
A super premium coffee, and definitely worth the price, This is the coffee equivelant of Oculus or Grange in the wine world. It's an all peaberry coffee that was cupped and microloted by Aida and CCC's chief cupper and buyer, Peter Guliano. They started selling this in very limited editions on January 15, 2008, but if you hurry, you should still be able to get some.
Tasting notes: I was tasting everything in this as the coffee mellowed and cooled down. Notes of bittersweet chocolate, cherry and if you can believe it, cantelope - nice, juicy, sweet - dominated at the start, but lots of spicy, peppery flavours intermingled. I had this as a press, vac pot and aeropress, and each method presented some special unique things in the cup. Totally blown away, and when I was through the 12oz, I wished I had 36oz more.
At $32.50, it's not cheap to the layman, but a bargain to those who appreciate great coffee.
Finca Mauritania Peaberry, Finca Mauritania Pulp Natural, Finca Mauritania Pasa. These three coffees are to be sold in a three pack by Counter Cuture Coffee, but are not listed on the website as of this writing - best to call them at (888) 238-5282 for details. I have no idea on the price, but would guess it would be around $40-$60 for the three pack.
These are the other amazing microlots offered by Aida Batlle and Counter Culture. They each present some very unique tastes based on different sorting, picking, and pulping methods.
The Peaberry Microlot was close the the Grand Reserve in terms of taste profile, though it's obvious that the Grand Reserve is the ultra premium - this one's just the premium. I got a lot of fruits and vanilla on the initial aroma of this coffee and chocolate, red fruits, and a fairly bright, dancing acidity on the tongue. Vanilla returned in the aftertaste, and it was just a great coffee experience. Highly recommended.
Pulp Natural - from what I understand, one of the many experiments that Ms. Batlle has been involved with on her farms, and this resulted in a very fruity deep, heavy body coffee that I think just about everyone who likes coffee can appreciate. It's much more earthy than the other offerings here, but still maintains the sweetness level that the Mauritania coffees are known for. There is a cherry bomb throughout the taste - start, middle, aftertaste.
Pasa - another experiment from Finca Mauritania - this one is following the (Australia's) Mountain Top "Bin 35" model a bit. The cherries used to produce this coffee were left to raisin (I think Mountain Top lets this happen on the tree, while Ms. Batlle did it after they were picked). The result is something quite different - so much so that Counter Culture recommends this as an after dinner coffee, "perhaps in a snifter".
In my tasting notes, I got plums and cherries with a bit of earthiness in the aromas, followed up by - yes - raisins, cherries and chocolate in the cup. Superbly deep body, low acidity, huge mouthfeel and a very pleasant aftertaste. If there ever was an afterdinner coffee, this is definitely in that league. It'll be interesting to see where this coffee production style goes in the next few years, but right now at least, it's a knockout.
Kuta Waghi Valley, Papua New Guinea, Counter Culture Coffee, $9.95 / 12oz
I can't believe the price of this coffee. At $10, it's a complete steal. It should be $20 or more, based on what it delivered to me in my cup. But then again, this coffee's target tastes are everything I love in good coffees - deep chocolate, lots of cherry and red fruits, low acidity, and huge body. That's what the bag said, and here's what my cupping notes say
Tasting notes: Aroma is off the charts - I'm getting chocolate and red fruits, and chicory spices. In the cup - this is a syrupy, deep body coffee. There's a melange of tastes from hints of chocolate (I think it's more from the aroma) to nuts and red fruits and a bit of citrus without any acidity. Like hints of those tiny Christmas mandarin oranges, just barely there as it cools. There's a very lingering, buttery coating aftertaste that makes you want to savour it for some time. At $10, this is a must buy.
And now, a few other companies...
Ethiopia Natural Limu, Batdorf and Bronson, $11.75/lb.
The bag said "blueberry cheesecake". I found it difficult to believe, until I pressed this coffee out.
Blueberry. Cheesecake. Creamy. It was all there!
Okay, let me quantify. When you hear people like me talking about these kind of whacked out flavours - be it blueberries, cherry, milk chocolate, anise, cardamon, tobacco, whatever, we're not talking about tasting that flavour at anything remotely close to 100% strength. It's more or less a hint, a whisper, a feeling, that kind of thing. Experienced palates will usually get it right away, but even the most inexperienced tastebuds will still be able to notice it if they just sit and think while sipping, and some coffees are more obvious than others in their distinct flavours.
This coffee from Batdorf is one of those coffees. It's a natural process coffee and one that Scott Merle from B&B works in depth with, both with his brokers and as the roastmaster at the company. And at $11.75, it's another steal - this is a shining representative of how great Ethiopian coffees can be.
Intelly sent me their three offerings from this year's Rwanda Golden Cup competition. This is the precursor to Rwanda being the first non-Americas Cup of Excellence auction - it was a test, and by all accounts, a very good one. Intelly scored the first place, fourth place and fourteenth place coffees from this auction. I'll talk about the first and fourth place offerings.
Muyongwe 1st Place Rwanda Golden Cup, $27 / 1/2lb.
Definitely one of the top ever coffees to come out of Rwanda, a country I've been trying coffees from for four years now. For me in the cup, instant jasmine aromas, followed up by a lot of fruits - almost candied fruits, the cup was so naturally sweet. What's really special about this coffee for me is that, as it cools, it really mellows out and the fruits go away, to be replaced by more deeper basetone notes, and definitely a lot of chocolate in the aftertaste. A really amazing coffee, and for $27, you can taste what has been judged the best coffee to come out of one of the true up and comer countries in the specialty coffee world.
Kanzu 4th Place Rwanda Golden Cup, $23 / 1/2lb.
While the Muyongwe may have won, I have to say this was my personal favourite of all the Rwanda Golden cup coffees I've tried this year. I think it's because this coffee appeals to all the things I seek in a great cup of coffee - massive body, and lots and lots of chocolate. This has to be one of the most chocolate-laced coffees I've tried this year. Intelly claims there's blackberries and dried fruit in the cup as well (in their cupping notes), but I couldn't find it - the overlapping layers of different chocolate, from aroma, to initial taste, to mid taste, to aftertaste, to cooled down tastes were just amazing.
Again, this is one of those thoroughbred coffees, and a very limited offering. Get it, and get it now, if you're a fan of coffee with deep body and huge natural chocolate notes.
Coming up end month
I've simply run out of space with this article, so I'll try to get a end of the month Coffee at the Moment up where I'll cover some of the many things I've missed this time around, including:
- the big World Barista Championship (WBC) Machine testing event that happened just a few days ago in Vancouver. Both espresso machines and grinders from various manufacturers were tested to see what will be the official machines for the 2009-2011 WBC - and this time round, the grinder will be mandatory for competitors! It's so soon after this event that I haven't had time yet to put together any thoughtful prose on the subject, but it was big, it was awesome, and it was very eye opening. I have some photos up on flickr from the event right now, so check those out, but look for big coverage of the event soon in this spot.
- Bellissimo Infogroup has been very busy this year with producing DVDs, including something many in the industry have been clamoring for quite some time now - a WBC DVD. Matt Milletto (who just got married this year - congrats Matt!) sent me screener copies of their new Training with the Champions DVD, and the two DVD WBC Tokyo 2007 set. I've been through the Training with the Champions DVD several times now, including a screening with one of the participants, Phuong Tran (USBC 2005 Champ) and have a mini review ready to go. The WBC DVDs just arrived before Christmas, but I'll do a screening of them in time for the next article.
- Tim Wendelboe coffees - I'm so excited to taste these coffees from the 2004 World Barista Champion and his new roasting venture. I will have a full review next article.
- 49th Parallel Coffees - Vince and Mike Piccolo have been hitting complete home runs lately with their coffees and their roasts, and I have a few to review next issue.
- Caffeine, part two. In the last article, I got into detail about caffeine and how it balances out in various coffee beverages, and promised the second part this article. I lied... the wrap up will be in the next article.