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Coffee at the Moment by Mark Prince
March Coffeeings and Starbucks Watch!
Posted: April 7, 2008
Article rating: 7.4
feedback: (36) comments | read | write

It's been quite some time since my last Coffee at the Moment that didn't cover sad or horrible news, but the coffee world hasn't stopped spinning in that time, so let's get caught up a bit.

Starbucks Big Push Continues

Click for larger image
Starbucks' website last week
Starbucks has a big thing planned for April 8. What could it be? What could it be?

Have you been visiting Starbucks' website this past week? They continue to make news with their purchase of Clover (listen to the CoffeeGeek Podcast, Episode 61 for more details), their new low-profile espresso machine purchase, and the infamous three-hour training session last month.

But now, as you can see from the screencap, Starbucks has something "big" planned for the 8th of April. When I first saw it, I jokingly thought they'd be coming out with a Quad Venti (that's 80 ounces of 'bucks coffee), but thanks to a poster who shall remain anonymous on the Coffeed website (okay, it was Barry Jarrett), as well as some other anonymous tips, I've got the big scoop for you.

Starbucks is going back to their original logo and colours. At least that's the word for now. Brown and white vs. the predominant green everywhere. The new (old) logoing will be seen primarily on their cups and merchandise you can walk out of the store with - but no word yet on whether the mermaid's nipples will make a comeback (Update: The nipples won't be coming back, but otherwise, the logo to be featured on new Starbucks takeout cups will be the original brown mermaid symbol, with the words STARBUCKS - FRESH BREWED COFFEE surrounding her).

But that ain't all. After the infamous three-hour shutdown PR stunt, it appears that Starbucks has indeed rewritten their training manuals, and is continuing new training in stores for all their US-based staff which to me is very good news. You can't train in 3 hours, but with continuing training, there may be hope yet for the new Clover operators in the shops. And still more: a new coffee roast will also be available to customers to purchase in five pound "bullets" (correction - shipped to Starbucks locations in 5lb bags, but scooped and bagged for customers into smaller 1/2lb and 1lb bags) - the Pike Place Roast.

Want more? People with registered Starbucks Cards will get free milk upgrades (after all, Starbucks is more of a milk vendor than a coffee vendor to some people) and also free syrups and other freebies. I'm not sure how good that one is, but I guess those who like their milk drinks flavored with coffee or syrups will be happy. Another confirmed rumour: when you buy a pound of coffee with your Starbucks Card, they'll give you a free coffee on the house. That's pretty cool, but nothing that a lot of independent cafes aren't already doing.

And there's word on the street too that Starbucks is finally going to free wifi... but with a caveat - it'll only be free for registered Starbucks Card owners. This last rumour is a bit convoluted. I've heard from one source it's going to be free, and from another source that wifi will only be available to Starbucks Card holders for a continuing fee.

But the biggest news outside of the logo change is something I sincerely applaud the company for if it bears true: They will now be roast-dating all (some of) their pre-bagged whole bean coffee, and "scoop dating" all the coffee in the stores that is custom ordered by customers. That's huge news. I guess we'll see in a day or two if all of this materializes.

CoffeeGeek Updates

CG Docs
Literature
Along with the site redesign, I'm redoing all our site literature for the press, for advertisers, and for our writers and contributors.

CoffeeGeek's site upgrades are progressing, but much slower than I would like. The problem is turning out to be that I'm too ambitious with what I want the next version of the website to become. I went from an original plan of coding about three dozen templates and about 75 elements to a monster that has over 200 templates and about 400 elements, and it seriously needs paring down. About a month ago, I shelved the entire build and started from scratch, attempting to simplify things into... well, the original plan. I may still double that, but at least it's less than the last build.

What does this mean for you? I means the public beta we were hoping for by the end of this month probably won't come until June. Sucks. But it's constantly being worked on, and eventually, we'll roll out a public beta of the new website.

In the meantime, we have a lot of new and interesting content for the front page, and much more to come - Liz Clayton, our new content editor, is working hard behind the scenes to establish her role as the editor, and craft relationships with a variety of writers. I'm hoping you're going to see continued fruition of these efforts.

SCAA Minneapolis Preview

The SCAA Conference and Trade Show is coming up in less than a month, and we're gearing up here for huge coverage on CoffeeGeek. We have three reporters working the show, including one dedicated to covering the (far too long) USBC, one covering all the consumer / newbie / discovering coffee angles on the show floor, and myself roaming the floor. We'll also report about exciting new developments in the world of coffee and espresso as well as bring you a few seed-to-cup stories.

As well, I'll be participating in a panel on building communities and raising funds for charities. Over the years, CoffeeGeek has raised about $75,000 for various charities, including our favourite, CoffeeKids, and I hope to be able to articulate some of that experience to people in this seminar so they can garner tools to do similar work.

Fundraising Efforts for CoffeeKids

Speaking of those guys, March is now over, and we're tallying up the results of the fundraising we've been doing for CoffeeKids. We committed to donating 25% of our March advertising revenue to this amazing charity, and our advertisers really responded, by making March one of our highest ad revenue income months ever! After all the calculations were done (exchange rates are a killer), that amounts to $2,527 that we'll be handing over to CoffeeKids as part of our overall donation in May at the SCAA Trade Show.

I'd like to acknowledge our advertisers, not just for how welcome their support is for this website, but also for CoffeeKids. I know at least three vendors actually upped their spending on ads this past month because of this initiative. I'll list them in order of their contributions to CoffeeKids via this fundraiser.

1st in Coffee
1st in Coffee has been one of our longest-standing and most supportive advertisers, and in all my conversations with Jim Smith the owner, he does it as much to help foster this community as he does to advertise his business. When he found out that we were doing this March fundraiser, he really, really upped the ante, and is by more than double the highest advertiser for last month. Whenever you're thankful that a resource like CoffeeGeek exists, you should be thanking people like Jim.

1st Line
1st Line is also a long time sponsor and supporter of the CoffeeGeek website; in fact, they were our very first advertiser. The March fundraising drive was a perfect time for them to buy more adspots than they have in quite some time, and they are the second-largest contributor for March. We really appreciate their support, and their contribution means CoffeeKids is getting a whopping $641.25 (out of the $2,527). Huge thanks to 1st Line!

Pod Merchant
Pod companies get little respect from CoffeeGeek, but the fact is, companies like Pod Merchant produce and sell a vastly superior product compared to the "stock" options that most ESE or Single Serve coffee makers come with. If you like the convenience of single serve and espresso pod machines, these are your guys. And they're our third-largest advertiser for the month of March, and we truly appreciate their support.

Seattle Coffee Gear
A relatively new player on the coffee and espresso equipment vending scene, I've heard nothing but great things about these folks and how they're trying to establish themselves in the market. They've been supporters of CoffeeGeek pretty much since the day they opened shop.

Espresso Zone
Another great supporter of the CoffeeGeek website, these folks are also in the machine vending business, and we have a great working relationship with them. Their March contribution is substantial for our CoffeeKids fundraiser.

Whole Latte Love
Another company that's been with us since the beginning. The only reason they're not at the top of this list is because March caught them in the middle of an existing advertising cycle, limiting their ability to do more that particular month. I'm eternally grateful to Whole Latte Love for their support for CoffeeKids, and I hope you consider them next time you're in the market for anything coffee- or espresso-related.

In addition to the companies above, we had many new and returning advertisers for the month of March, and a lot of them decided to give CoffeeGeek a try because of the CoffeeKids fundraiser effort. These companies include Creative Cookware, a machine and accessories company, PT's Coffee, a roaster and owned by my good friend Jeff Taylor, Aabree Coffee, another longtime supporter of the CoffeeGeek website, FLC Coffee, a roasting company, and Bellissimo InfoGroup, the folks who did the WBC Tokyo Video and do lots of training and education on coffee and espresso.

But that's not all. Here's even more companies, listed in order of contributions: Willoughby's Coffee, Orphane Espresso, Caffe D'Bolla, Great Infusions, Our Coffee Barn, Salavandra, Holland Coffee and Tea, and Turkish Coffee World.

Again, a huge thanks to these folks. They support this website and community, and they really stepped up in March, some going for maximum adspots, because they knew 25% of the revenue was going to CoffeeKids.

Other Monies Raised
I committed our entire Amazon Affiliate Income (clicking this link brings you to Amazon using CoffeeGeek's affiliate code, and we get 3-7% of whatever you spend) for January 21-February 28 to CoffeeKids, and now after the requisite month waiting period, the totals are in. Our affiliate link generated $412.84 for the period, which we'll be handing over to CoffeeKids in May at the SCAA show.

During our dollar for dollar campaign, 13 (!!!!?) of you donated a total of $1,240 to CoffeeKids directly (including one person who donated $800!). Because we're matching these donations up to $500, this means we're handing over another $500 to the charity.

So, after all the accounting is done and the amounts calculated and figured, in May at the SCAA Trade Show and Convention, I'll be handing a cheque over to Carolyn Fairman, CoffeeKids' Executive Director, in the amount of $3,440.30 as CoffeeGeek's official donation for 2007.

The total raised by this fundraiser will be $4,680.30. It pains me that it is so much less than we did last year when we raised $28,000, but it's still nothing to sneeze at.

And there is one more fundraiser effort to come. Starting this week in our Grinder Forums we'll be doing Silent Auctions for a range of Baratza Grinders, with 100% of the proceeds going to CoffeeKids. I'm hoping this will help us break through the $5,500 mark, and possibly even more.

Thank you to all of you who made direct donations. You people are awesome and set an amazing example I hope more will follow the next time we run our CoffeeKids fundraiser. Also again a big thanks to the March advertisers, and another round of thanks to those of you who used the Affiliate Link in January and February.

Other Bits and News

I was very happy to see that long time alt.coffee participant, co-founder of the SCAA, and owner of the oldest continuing coffee roaster in New York City, Don Schoenholt, got a nice profile on Boing Boing a few weeks ago. Liz Clayton wrote in her most recent article "And last but not least, the big question looming remains — who'll be NYC's first local specialty roaster? Stand by for updates.", (btw, it's rumoured to be Stumptown), and I couldn't help thinking why the cool coffee kids in NYC don't think of Don and Gillies coffee as a "local specialty roaster". Or for that matter Dallis Coffee.

Then as I thought more about it, and had a private conversation with someone who respects Don Schoenholt perhaps even more than I do, I think it's a case of two ships passing in the night. Don's one of the old guard now in coffee, a genuine "Coffee Man" in the most honourable sense of the word, but I think he's missed this whole third wave boat, and the chance to hop on it, or actually be one of the driving forces in the way that George Howell is in the mix, or Jeff Taylor or a myriad of other Coffee Men (and Women) who are really embracing the current times of CoE coffees, Clover Love / Hate, and the whole Coffee is Culinary movement. Gillies is a company that mainly serves restaurants, cafes and hotels, and they have to source and price accordingly. But Don has such a deep love and devotion for coffee, it's just sad that he hasn't yet mixed it up with the Gimmes and the Ninth Streets, and the Joe the Art of Coffees.

But it's not too late! It will probably take both parties to move a bit, with Don moving more towards the ultra-premium coffees and different roast styles, and the cool coffee kidz of NYC maybe visiting Don and allowing him to hold court and win them over with his amazing tales of coffee lore and history. Then maybe the question won't be "who'll be NYC's first local specialty roaster" but "who's carrying Don's coffee?".

--

I know I owe you readers a few things. I owe you part two of my Caffeine Exploration article. I owe you a review of several DVDs, including the Training with the Champions DVD and the two-part WBC Tokyo 2007 DVD from Bellissimo Infogroup. Heck, I owe you part two and three of the Tamper articles!

It's been a hectic time what with the CoffeeGeek rebuild, and also my own migration from a PC to a Mac; and in that migration, I somehow lost a folder containing all my writing documents for several months. I've lost my review for the DVDs, I've lost the review I was writing for Scott Rao's Professional Barista's Handbook. I've lost about a dozen coffee reviews I've written and intended to publish, 3 or 4 at a time in these Coffee at the Moment articles. And I lost my latest revisions to the Tamper articles. All I can say is, I'm working on them anew.

I did want to give a special thanks roasters who sent me these coffees for review. I don't have my notes any longer, so I'm going by memory - but I do remember the standout coffees.

Batdorf and Bronson sent along several, including the Colombia Estrella Del Sur which is one of the better Colombians I've had this past year; their Guatemala Antigua Finca El Val, which had an amazing balance and morphed well as the coffee cooled; and their current Yemen Mocha which is always a favourite of mine. All these coffees are priced below $15 for a pound, making them an amazing bargain.

Counter Culture Coffee was quite busy with the James Hoffmann Wilde Easte Adventure Toure, but still found some time to send some coffees, including the Russeni Rwanda offering they currently have. I can't believe this coffee is priced at $10.25 a pound. This blows away anything you'll find at the supermarket.

The Brown Coffee Company sent me two samples of their roast - their Brown Espresso Two: Jacino which has 50% Finca Vista Hermosa coffee in it (that's the farm that Carlos Martin, the subject of my last article, was manager at), and also their custom roast of FVH Guatemalan coffee. If you're a fan of bright, sparkly espresso, you have to give this a try.

And last, but certainly not least, Great Plains Coffee has been sending me multiple samples for months now, with nary a review from me. But I wrote reviews for three standout coffees, including their Yemen Mocha Sana'ani (again, I'm always a sucker for a good Yemen), their Finca El Injerto Guatemalan offering, and a Nicaraguan Fair Trade coffee. All were really nice roasts from a small artisan roaster that you probably never heard of. But now you have, so why not give them a try?

A New Book

Click for larger image
The Espresso Quest
This book used to be called God in My Espresso Cup, but a book with a similar name is coming out around this time.

I hope to have my review of Scott Rao's book in the next Coffee at the Moment article, but there's another new book on the horizon, and I've been privileged to have received a preview copy of the book in pdf format, which I'm just reading through now.

That book is by my friend and coffee confidant, Instaurator, of Michelle Espresso Fame, WBC fame, and of course, his own fame! The book is called The Espresso Quest, The Espresso Lover's Book. It's part personal journey in coffee, and part educational. It's filled with amazing anecdotes and even more amazing photography.

And here's an excerpt from the book - totally copied here without Inny's permission. This is the first few pages from the first section, called The Taste.

THE QUEST BEGINS: ESPRESSO EXODUS
Coffee has always enjoyed local variations, and there is no doubt that these guidelines will incite further vigorous debate. There are few hard and fast rules as to what is considered a standard espresso, and this is evident in different parts of the world. Fast-maturing espresso markets such as Sydney or Melbourne, and Seattle or Vancouver in North America, each define the perfect espresso differently. This is true within a single city as well, much like it has been in Sydney for some time (although it may be changing). In my hometown, the harbor where the world-famous opera house sits divides the city in two. On the north side of the harbor, espresso tends to be a bit milder than the full-bodied and powerful Robusta-blend espressos found closer to downtown on the southern side of the harbor. Regardless of where espresso is enjoyed, the indispensable rule is: Always let your taste be your guide.

For centuries, coffee has incited numerous controversies and passionate discussions around the world. I believe that this is healthy as long as it leads to the gathering of wisdom. Unfortunately, wisdom is so elusive because it is one step beyond knowledge. Knowledge comes from learning the information, facts, ideas or principles. Wisdom comes from actively applying knowledge to a practical test. Someone once said that wisdom is 90 percent hindsight. There is a lot of truth to this. Through experience, a person learns the tricks of the trade to avoid common pitfalls, and in the process gains wisdom.

George came from the sensory-inspired European school of espresso, whereas I came from the scientific-based analytical school. This so-called European (or Italian) approach involves more of the senses, whereas the scientific school is more about measuring grams and liquid volumes in an attempt to try to record the myriad variables involved in creating an espresso. Both of us, however, were united in testing our ideas through practical experiments.

George and I instantly joined forces. I paid for him to fly to Monte Carlo and compete in the inaugural World Barista Championship in 2000. We jumped on the plane together and proceeded to have a lot of fun as we passionately discussed our differing views about espresso. The one thing that united us, in spite of our different approaches, was that we both always let our taste guide us.

Being near the Italian border in Monte Carlo, we came upon many seasoned Italian espresso drinkers. Upon trying my coffee blend at our practice sessions they would refuse to believe that it had been roasted and blended in Australia. they told me tasted too good, therefore it must be Italian. It was a wonderful compliment. I felt assured they were letting taste be their guide!

The European school of espresso is evident in the old school Italian baristas, who can still be found in large cities around the world, although you may have to go a long way to find one.

Sadly, I have heard reports that the professional barista is in decline in Italy. These good baristas know what an appropriate grind feels like. They know what a good pour looks like. They know how used coffee grinds should smell. They can tell if the water is too hot, the coffee too stale or too fresh, just by the way the crema looks. Armed with a basic sensory appreciation, they can produce a sublime espresso that beats one prepared by a so-called scientific barista time and time again. Unfortunately, these baristas seem to be a dying breed, as they are increasingly replaced by fully automatic machines. Why won’t a fully automatic espresso machine produce a more consistent espresso than an imperfect human? We’ll touch on that later.

Regardless of which school the barista comes from, in the end, good baristas must be good tasters of coffee. The barista must be able to recognize how variables in brewing affect the flavor in the one place it counts - in the cup. There is no getting away from it. The barista must be able to taste. Otherwise they are merely dressing a window. and the customer will never find what they are looking for in their cup.

The best baristas combine a few common characteristics. They are curious about what they don’t understand. They take care to present their coffees with a unique signature style. They understand they are performers and their customers are the audience to whom they project their personality and passion. Always strict and severe with their coffee standards, they communicate this dedication and passion to their audience through their character, as well as through their beverage. They can be flirtatious, merely hospitable or a downright Coffee Nazi. But most importantly, they always love tasting their espresso coffees.

Taste is as important for the barista as it is for the customer. When interviewing potential staff; for a position in one of my espresso bars, I quickly learned to ask the hopeful employees if they liked coffee. Without liking the material you are working with, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to have a sympathetic understanding of the product and the customer who purchases it. This is one of the unspoken things customers pick up on. And often without even realizing it, customers will gravitate towards the café that is staffed by baristas who are passionate about their product.

On the other hand, there are also those baristas who can create fancy patterns with milk or chocolate mixed with crema, but sadly they don’t have a fundamental understanding of, and sympathy for, the brewing of coffee. Their passion for excellence is lacking, which is an essential piece in a larger puzzle. Without passion, the so-called “Espresso-X Factor,” is missing. This passion combined with hard-headed, good organizational skills, is the key to many outstanding and successful businesses and is the true Espresso-X Factor.

My scientific approach to espresso came from my training. I learned to carefully and laboriously weigh and set a commercial grinder to dispense a precise weight of coffee grinds, accurate down to a tenth of a gram. What I have since come to realize is that the trouble with this method is that different roast colors and blends will have different densities. So, once the grinder is set for a particular roast, it will need to be reset for one that varies even by a couple of points on an Agtron spectrophotometer scale. (A spectrophotometer, which measures roast color, is as essential to good coffee roasting as a thermometer.)

What I have found during my extensive experimentation, is that beans that look exactly the same to the naked eye, can taste extremely different depending on how those beans have been roasted. The spread of difference between the color reading of the outside of the bean and the coffee inside, is also critical to good flavor development and can only be measured accurately with a spectrophotometer. I also learned during my scientific training that the speed at which the lever on the side of the grinder is pulled will vary the amount of coffee that drops into the portafilter. This too will vary according to the coarseness or fineness of the coffee grinds. Dosing by weight rather than volume reveals a lack of understanding of the ‘coffee press,’ which is absolutely necessary in order to make a succulent espresso. This small, but important element, can make the brewing of espresso coffee a very inexact, frustrating, and elusive science.

There you go - the book is pretty exciting. I'm mentioned exactly once in it, and only mentioned as a foil to Inny's eventual point where he futilely tries to prove you can have good espresso from single origin coffee. ;) It should be available soon.

I think I'll wrap up for now - I had this huge rant planned about Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, but somehow, I just don't have the energy for it. I have to save it up for all the articles I have to rewrite, for the continuing design of the new CoffeeGeek, and for the upcoming SCAA Trade Show in May, where I and our three reporters will attempt to dominate with coverage!

Article rating: 7.4
Posted: April 7, 2008
feedback: (36) comments | read | write
Coffee at the Moment Column Archives email author
Mark PrinceColumn Description
Whether it's up to the minute, happening this day, this week, or in the recent past, this column's goal is to present coffee and attempts to make the experience truly culinary. You'll find short reviews about past events, interesting coffees coming on the market, new and different ways to enjoy espresso and other brewing methods, and give an insight into efforts around the globe to make coffee a truly culinary thing. Column written by Mark Prince.

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