Keep ’em Clean

Quick hit here, coffee kids.  Just like with an automobile, keep your coffee equipment happy and it’ll keep you happy.  With cars it’s tires and oil changes (and other, less regular maintenance as needed).  The espresso machine equivalent to that is changing out “gaskets and baskets,” meaning, the gaskets that go up into the top of your espresso machine grouphead and portafilter brew baskets.  These days of laser etching means baskets are more sturdy than they used to be and have a bit more life in them.  But gaskets, by virtue of the fact that they are made of rubber–necessarily need to be changed out regularly so that they don’t get brittle and begin to leak all over your beautifully pulled espresso shots.  The frequency of gasket changes will vary with your use.  We change our about once a quarter, before gaskets have had a chance to hardify.  

Below are two gaskets.  The top one is obviously the older one.  Some of that warping around the edges is actually the pull of the awl used to get them out, as well as the little dimples that are part of the gasket design.  But there are indeed signs of warp and wane on what should otherwise be smooth edges, as in the new gasket toward the bottom of the picture.   Image


For the price of a couple good shots of espresso you can ensure that all the espresso shots you serve with be consistent in that your equipment will remain in good working order.  So keep ’em clean, folks, and they’ll return the favor.  


So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about roast styles.  I often receive coffees from friends and customers who travel thither and yon and bring back a bag of the local XYZ Roaster’s coffee.  Almost always I find something interesting and tasty in the bag (my friends/customers know not to bring back cat poop coffee or its equivalents).  But anymore, I also am finding a rise, albeit an anecdotal one, in the prevalence of ultra lightly roasted coffee.

I say “ultra lightly roasted” when I mean to say “something that borders on a cupping-for-defects roast coloration,” which is to say, just at the end of the last crackle of first crack and well, well before the approach of second.  If a roast moves from the beginning of first crack to the beginning of second crack in, say, three minutes, these roasts are probably being dropped at 1:30 to 1:50…maybe a late as 2:00.

My personal sensibilities have some issues with this.  My first issue comes upon visual inspection.  Thumbnail down into these beans and crack them open and it’s a rare day in which you see an even strata of roast coloration over the cross section of the bean.  You find the zebra-striping that comes when the drupe’s (coffee bean’s) foldovers show a light outer layer, followed by a noticeably darker subsequent inner layer, and yet another lighter fold inside of that.  Uneven.  And this, to my brain, means the very real potential for misdevelopment.  If a drupe has not had enough time to develop its sugars evenly, this will be evidenced by uneven coloration.  Sugars get more and more brown the more they have been baked, cooked, roasted, broiled, etc.  The colors tell the tale.  And if the colors are “off” then it only follows that the taste is, well, in some way, off.  And that’s kind of the thing.  Often they look really handsome on the outside.  But break them open and you will see they have not been developed evenly–whether by roasting too quickly or by dropping too soon after first (or even to have plowed through the early drying stages)–so as to create an optimum baseline from which to derive tasty liquid of them.  When things look a certain way, there’s a reason.  A cause.

That’s my first issue.  The second is of course, taste.  One hand holds the other.

Externally lovely or not, sugar doesn’t lie.  It either is developed well or it isn’t.  And in coffee a well-executed roast is nothing short of a needle a good roaster must thread to find just the right level of sugar development.  Not too light, and certainly not too dark.  Goldilocks.  Just.  Right.  Every. Time.

But I think I’m in a currently shrinking minority here.  The trend most definitely seems to have swung again back to these very lightly done offerings that, frankly, all taste hay-like and vegetal.  Like quakers.  Which–help me understand–why would you spend good money on non-quakered coffee, only to have it look and taste a little like quakers?

Let me not cause a misunderstanding here.  I am not sitting on my perch from on high claiming what is acceptable and unacceptable in roast profiles.  Do as you please, please.  Nor am I saying one style is superior or inferior.  I am only trying to get to the why of why people would flirt so close to the edge of underdevelopment as to be underdeveloped?

I’m looking for someone to make the solid case as to why Roaster X would roast so lightly and leave so much real flavor via proper sugar development on the table…make the case other than trends and fads.  More importantly, who are the roasters out there doing a really great job at sugar development so we can tout their skills and support them?

The workshop is back.  Oh, is it back.  


Turning this into liquid gold on Tuesday, 27 March.

We have had so many requests for an espresso workshop lately we have carved out an evening of caffeinated fun for you.  Seriously, we say this every time because it’s true every time:  space is extremely limited so don’t delay if you want to participate in this fun workshop. 

All the deets are below the fold here.   


As I broke yet another portafilter brush yesterday (snapped clean off) I was reminded of the importance of keeping a clean set of tools.  We talk a lot about consistatizing the coffee experience here at The Brown Coffee Company — taking the necessary steps to ensure that one espresso shot, one pourover, one ColdBrew is as consistently delicious as the last…and the next.


Clean Surfaces

If we’re serious about taking espresso seriously we need to grapple carefully with the “known knowns” we can control that contribute to shot inconsistency.  Among those are the usual suspects:  consistent weight; high incidence of uniform grounds particle size; water temperature stability; and so forth.  One of the basic considerations everyone knows about but gets surprisingly overlooked intraday is the massive importance of keeping one’s portafilters clean.  And it’s understandable to a point.  Even the most careful baristas who find themselves in high traffic espresso bars all find themselves in the same predicament:  If I’m busy cleaning a portafilter I’m not serving customers.  You might guess the easiest response to that:  If you’re serving customers with dirty portafilters, are you really serving customers?


Known Knowns. Coffee buildup makes the parts we can't see look gross over time. The worst of it is, rancid coffee oil buildup is largely invisible

Some best practices.  First, schedule daily and intradaily chemical and non-chemical cleaning.  Intraday, even if it’s busy, one still can generally find the time to give a non-chemical scrubby scrub utilizing said cleaning brushes and the easy access one has to very hot water.  This can take a little as 30 seconds but can help boost the flavor of your espresso back closer to its intended taste.

Second, if you are in a higher traffic location that has a full time back bar to do your dirty work for you, have them do the deeper chemical cleaning for you (including a good soaking in near boiling water).  Since this will necessarily mean the loss of one or more of your portafilters (read: you will be slower on the line), consider purchasing a second set of portafilters.  Then it’s just a matter of bing, bang, boom, switcharoo, and you’re back in business with a fractional loss of time.

The longer I do coffee the more I realize that so much of what we can control in brewing better coffee is simply mitigating as many variables as possible that cause us to make a divine shot one time, and simply a pretty good one the next.  Control what you can control to the best of your ability and you’ll go a long way to making the next customer as happy as the last.

It’s a small part of the larger mosaic of minimizing variables in the good fight for better and better espresso.




Here comes the big buying season.  Coffees in Central America are being lovingly pulled from trees and carefully processed as we speak.  Soon we’ll be getting the calls, emails and visits from farmers, brokers and the like, all wanting us to try their samples, make commitments to lubricating their financial wheels so they can keep rolling another year.  Some samples you just don’t have time to roast and cup and take notes on.  Others you semi-desperately wait for.

Obligatory picture of coffee cherries ripening on the tree

El Salvador seems to be finishing early.  I am keen to start getting those early packages of samples from our contacts there.  Some promising things in the works.

We have also decided to make a run at some quality Costas this year.  Costa Rica has been an area that we’ve bought some very decent gap-fillers from in years past.  But I’m interested in The Brown Coffee Company making a more permanent move in that direction.  So we’re in contact there as well.

Also starting to get the early East Africa rumblings.  But we’ll see.

All that to say, this is the time of year we buyers/roasters begin to salivate, Pavlov style.  Here’s to the bell ringing


New year, new avenues

New year, new avenues.  The Brown Coffee Company is pleased as punch to announce some of our recent coffee partnerships.  In November we began selling coffee and gear at Amazon.com and have begun getting some good traction there.  This week we are happy to let you know we have begun collaborating with Roaste.com.  We’re pumped about both of these developments and want to encourage you to check us out via those avenues.  Amazon offers a price discount and discounted shipping, while Roaste offers free shipping.  Both have very good about advertising for us.  One recent Roaste customer had this (lovely if long) review on us:

I am surprised that there has not been another blog post about this recent addition to the roasters here at Roaste, Brown Coffee Co. I know it seems like there is always a new roaster starting to sell here, but thought I would take it upon myself to welcome them because I was very happy to see them here yesturday and have already ordered a bag from them.

The reason that I know of Brown Coffee Co is because they are based in San Antonio and one of my friends happens to have family that lives there. As you may have guessed they have been kind enough to bring a bag of coffee back from Brown Coffee Co a few times over the past year and have been impressed each time they come back with a bag for me.

If my own personal recommendation was not enough for you, they were highlighted on Serious Eats last year as one of the 5 Small-But-Mighty Coffee Roasters to Seek out. The list that you see also had them with other roasters that people have talked about here including Handsome Coffee Roasters, and Wreckingball Roasters. I have also heard very good things about barismo, which made that list as well. If you are only as good as the company you keep then this roaster is doing a very good job in being mentioned with these others.

I also took the opportunity to look through the Brown Coffe Co website and was very impressed to see that they are hosting one of their growers for a Q&A. To me this made my eyes bug out a little bit because it just shows me how committed they are to keeping relations with their growers, which is probably going to translate to the cup.

Unforunately since the last time I had them was over the summer I cannot remember what exactly I had, but needless to say I already have a bag on order with them and hope you guys do the same as they are not a roaster to overlook

All that to say, we are stoked to be moving into new avenues to provide a wider audience with our coffees.

Up Sleeves

Up Sleeves.