Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back From Vacation/Visit to Cactus Creek Roasters

Hi all, I apologize for the short interlude in posts. I had gone on vacation to visit some family for the last time in the summer. Now it is time to prepare for Graduate school: Year Two.

When I down in North Carolina, I visited Cactus Creek Coffee, a local roaster with the motto "Grown Globally, Roasted Locally." Catchy! I should have thought of that. You know it was going to be a great coffee place because it had the roast first, cafe second look. You know, the concrete floors, the roaster in the background, the sacks of green coffee, with a few tables placed around.

I talked to the barista/roaster running the store, and struck up a conversation on espresso because I was/am looking for classic espresso glasses. Unfortunately they did not sell them, but he offered an espresso shot right away when I mentioned I loved espresso. I surmise that many people in that area of the country may not like straight espresso.

They offered a wide array of single source and blended coffees with a noticeable section of specialty decaf coffee, which is nice for the, well, geriatric crowd in the Pinehurst area. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. They know their stuff. Best part about it, was when I left the store the guy shook my hand and said it was a pleasure to talk coffee with someone who knew their stuff. *toots his own horn*

Oh yeah, they offer their coffee at around 9.35 lb, not bad! Better than the prices here in DC.
Check back in a few days, I will be reviewing the coffee from the 35 North Coffee Company I received a few weeks ago.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Larissa, an avid Metro Espresso reader, sent in a picture of her coffee maker. She prefaced it with, "I don't drink a lot of coffee, but my Dad does. It's mainly for him." Perhaps this is similar to how people say, "Well, my friend did this....what advice would you give him?" :-)

The brand on top looks like it says "Toasters." Is that an old 80's style coffee maker that makes Mr. Coffee look high class? I chuckled at the brewer/cup combo as one piece. If you switched it out with another mug, I feel "Toasters" would reject it due to having any vibrancy and deviating from an office-style lifelessness.

Does anyone else have a retro coffee maker? Want to share? Email me at duderino102 at gmail dot com.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Coffee Experiment: Does Espresso Taste Better With or Without Crema? (Part 2 of 2)

Metro Espresso has reached a new milestone: the first video! While not nearly as good as www.coffeenate.com (which you should check out by the way if you have not), making the video was fun. I did it all in one go, so if I seem to be wandering a little bit, it is because I was pondering, searching for words. Enjoy the video! If you have any constructive critiques to make future videos better, please comment below.

Does Espresso taste better with or without crema? from Jack on Vimeo.

Findings for those who can not watch the video:
1. Espresso with crema: Fuller mouthfeel/body, oily, heavier similar to French press.
2. Espresso without crema: lighter mouthfeel, but the flavors seemed brighter similar to a drip machine or pour over.

The Coffee Queen @ http://thecoffeeqweenblog.wordpress.com/ tried out the experiment. She found the espresso tasted more bitter without the crema. Different results! Though I don't know if I could doing this over again, too much espresso right now.

And yes, you see a USPS box on the kitchen table among other things. This is what happens when the Girlfriend is away. Things tend to leave their "proper places."

(I would like to give credit to www.jimseven.com for giving me the idea to do this, and some of the vocab to describe what I was tasting.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Coffee Experiment: Does Espresso Taste Better With or Without Crema? (Part 1 of 2)

Over at jimseven.com, I recently watched one of his older videos where he argued espresso tastes better without crema. A contentious, perhaps iconoclastic remark, prompts me to do a similar experiment at the Metro Espresso lab. I will follow similar steps as James Hoffman:

Step 1: Make 2 shots of espresso
Step 2: Taste crema alone
Step 3: Spoon it out
Step 4: Stir the espresso
Step 5: Consume espresso sans crema
Step 5 1/2: Drink some water, have some crackers
Step 6: Taste second espresso with crema.
Step 7: Ponder... (I'm not sure he pondered, but I will)
Step 8: Write down thoughts

While I cannot recreate his slick accent, I am intrigued whether it will be a noticeable difference or not. Unfortunately, I will be out of the apartment all day, and will have to conduct this experiment tomorrow.

My question to my readers, what are some of your tips to make better espresso without buying new equipment? Have you tried spooning out the crema? If so, how was it?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Coffee Interview: 35 North Coffee Company

Recently, I interviewed the folks over at 35 North Coffee Company. They were nice enough to answer a few questions about their history, what they offer, and how they support social justice in Africa. Stay tuned, later in the week I will be reviewing three of their coffees. You can find their website at www.35northcoffeeco.com and follow them on Twitter @ 35NorthCoffeeCo Without further ado, please enjoy!

1. Can you give a short history of 35 North Coffee Co.?

35 North was born out of the desire to deliver seriously good coffee to people while maintaining social responsibility through Fair Trade Certified coffee & giving to organizations that help the needy.

2. What separates NCC from other coffee roasters?

We love this question. It is our "On Demand Roasting" schedule. We only roast the coffee once you order it. Furthermore we will only roast your order if we can ship it the same day, if not we will roast & ship the following business day. We do this so that we can deliver truly fresh coffee to customers. Try calling other coffee companies & telling them that you would like your coffee roasted just for you. Chances are they'd tell you to take a hike.

3. On your website, NCC has three goals, "1). Sell the freshest possible coffee at fair prices 2). Pay coffee farmers a fair wage 3). Help children who have been abandoned." Could you explain more about how NCC helps
children who have been abandoned?

Sure, our chief roaster, Matt Hensley spent two years living & working with problems of injustice in South Africa such as human trafficking, drug addiction, child headed homes, abused children and many other things. While there he did some work for Baby Safe (www.thebabysafe.org).

In South Africa, a nation plagued by poverty & HIV mothers literally throw their babies in the trash. Baby Safe works to save these abandoned children as well as counsel at risk pregnant moms-to-be in order to show them that they can be good parents or to inform them of the adaption process so that these babies are not thrown away. We give a portion of our profits directly to Baby Safe.

4. If you had to choose you favorite NCC coffee, what would it be and how would you brew it?

We love our Broadway Blend we consider it our flagship. This is one of the most unique blends we have tasted, of course we are biased. It is a medium roast with Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Mexico Chiapas & Peru SHB. It has a medium-light body with medium acidity. The coffee gives hints of citrus, nuts & chocolate. It is a far cry from most of the over roasted "Dark" blends that are so prevalent on grocery store shelves these days. Of course it is "On Demand Roasted" so this makes it even better because the flavors have not gone away due to the coffee going stale.

5. What can customers expect when buying from 35 North Coffee Company?

Customers can expect a few things: "On Demand Roasting," or coffee roasted just for them. One of the freshest cups of coffee on the market. Smooth coffee filled with flavor.

6. If given a choice between Folgers and Maxwell House, what would you personally choose?

I think I speak for all of us here that we would choose to stay in bed. Is that an option or we required to choose one.

Many thanks again to the people at 35 North Coffee Company.

(I apologize for the formating oddities, Blogger doesn't like pasted text.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Coffee Recipe: Espresso w/ Almond Shavings

Wanting to jazz up my espresso tonight but not necessarily wanting to steam milk, I shaved two almonds using a cheese grater. After I made the espresso in my aesthetically pleasing but inefficient espresso cup, I spooned the shavings onto the crema. I hoped they would remain on top, and some did, but many of the shavings sank. Nevertheless, it produced a neat little effect and plated the two shaved almonds on the bottom.

While it added some taste to the espresso, it wasn't as big as I thought it would. I am not quite sure if baristas have a name for this, but I thought it was novel.

Have you ever tried to spice up your espresso with something? My next idea is to put a slice of habanero at the bottom to see if the chili heat compliments the espresso. Hmmm?


Coffee Review: Central Coffee Roasters' Bolivia Colonial Caranavi

While shopping at Whole Foods writing my earlier post about how to shop for coffee at a local supermarket, I bought a Bolivian coffee named "Colonial Caranavi" from Central Coffee Roasters. They roast in Rappahannock County, VA near DC. Well relatively. This is not to be confused with Rappahannock roasters I reviewed a few posts ago. I am unsure what the "Colonial" part means. I doubt the coffee was made from dead colonial labor, perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Central Coffee stood out to me due to its distinctive brown bag approach with an attractive front sticker displaying a short description of what the coffee tastes like, eschewing ridiculous descriptions that run on for 4-5 sentences. The bag read, "Sharp Fuller Bodied And Slightly Nutty." Sealed vacuum bags tells me that the roasters roasted the coffee a long time ago, and needs to be put in the vacuum bag. The brown bag says, I am roasted fresh, can be stored in a bag, and still be fresh. I am arrogantly proud of my coffee. (Arrogant is used only in the most positive manner here) It had a roast date on the bottom, 7-15. I bought it on the 29, making it two weeks on the nose. While normally this is when the coffee begins to loose flavor, I was not too worried.

1. For supermarket coffee, this was quite fresh.
2. Surprisingly, inside the brown bag was another "cello bag" that contained the beans and was airtight.
Onto the review: Here are my grading criteria.

1- Horrible/Bad: Does not deserve to grace any types of brewing methods. Most likely extremely stale, burnt..etc.
2- Meh: Generally displays uneven characteristics or muted flavors. The overall taste does not blend well, and could be improved up. Stale
3- Average: A well crafted coffee with either a one-dimensional flavor or hints of one. Moderately fresh.
4- Good: Demonstrates a good combination of flavors and/or is freshly roasted.
5- Excellent: Similar to 4, but demonstrates a complex arrangement of flavors and exceeds in quality from similar coffees.

Aroma: Upon opening the bag, I was hit by the "sharpness" of the coffee. Bordering upon pungent, the smell overwhelmed my nose with its sharp smell. After the initial overpowering aroma, a smooth chocolaty or nutty smell briefly followed. Unfortunately, I can't find the exact smell (of the first aroma) it reminded me of, certainly not bad, but not exactly a pleasant bouquet either. This was going to be a strong coffee, if the taste mirrored the smell. (Update: After the beans sat in my grinder hopper for a day or so, the pungency has smoothed over.)

Taste via Espresso:

The bean grinded well allowing a for a decent extraction. Though I may have to go one more click down as the crema appeared too light. The Bolivian had a full body/mouth feel similar to a Sumatran coffee. While it lacks earthy flavors, the Bolivian exhibited a pleasant bitterness enveloping the mouth with a dark taste. I tasted some of the nuttiness as the description says, which mixed well the bitterness. Five minutes after the espresso, the bitterness remained with a good mouth feel aftertaste.

Overall: Central Coffee Roasters crafted a fresh, pleasantly bitter coffee with a tinge of nuttiness giving the espresso a heavy feel that runs counter to the trends of other espresso's to add floral and citrus flavors. The Bolivian does not have a complex taste, therefore cannot score a four on the Metro Espresso scale. It earns 3.5/5 because of its freshness, 9.99 for 12 oz (decent price), and provides a solid espresso in the Italian tradition.

Score: 3.5/5