I just returned from the annual coffee convention sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). There was a lot to see, including the US Barista Championship and some amazing new commercial espresso machines from Slayer and La Marzocco. The 2009 World Barista Champion, Gwilym Davis, made me a perfect machiatto with Square Mile Coffee. It was amazing. Here are some highlights that relate to the home brewing enthusiast:

I met Gerard-Clement Smit, the inventor of the Technivorm. He’s elegant and funny, and obviously pleased to see his creation receive so much praise here in the US. He invited me to take a tour of the Technivorm factory, which I hope to do soon. A little later, I talked to another roaster from Portland who told me that he bought a Technivorm brewer from Europe in 1983. It’s still going strong. Further proof that these things are built to last. Smit’s design has barely changed from the original 1964 design, with the exception of thermal carafes introduced a few years ago. Why mess with something that is proven to last? With how much specialty coffee has changed in the last few years (even the last two to three years), it’s remarkable that this machine is still one of only two coffee makers that brews according to standards set out by the SCAA.

Double Technivorm should be here this fall! This unit, the Technivorm Moccamaster CDT-20, is basically two Technivorm CDT units put together.The European unit runs on 220, so both can brew simultaneously. The US unit will run on 110, so the units brew back to back. This coffee maker will be ideal for small offices looking for high quality coffee without a bulky commercial machine. More info to follow.

double_technivorm

Pourover everywhere: The trend towards single-cup brewing was very evident. This is an old school way of brewing coffee that minimizes waste while burnishing the delicate flavors in coffee. It makes a very clean cup, the opposite of french press. Pourover stations were everywhere. Most of them are hideous. We’re working with a local carpenter to make one out of salvage walnut wood. It will be gorgeous and functional. Stay tuned. If you’re currently using pourover equipment and are having trouble, check out our brewing guide.

Grinders are really important:

The importance of grinding: I took a thorough class on the science of grinding coffee beans. We looked at micron photographs of ground coffee particles, statistical distributions of particle size, brewing time and particle size matrixes, and all sorts of wonky stuff. To spare you from having to go through this yourself, Here’s a brief and simplified guide to grinding coffee at home.

Grinding is by far the most neglected part of the process of making great coffee. It’s easy to ignore as it’s the unsexy part of making coffee, but it really has a huge impact on the final cup. Grinding by itself cannot improve upon the careful work of the coffee grower and roaster; it can only not mess it up. However, there are many ways that improper grinding can ruin the flavor of coffee.

Here’s a rundown of the most common problems with grinding coffee at home:

Dull burrs: If the burrs aren’t sharp, your ground coffee will be inconsistent. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it has a dramatic impact on flavor. With an inconsistent grind, the big chunks will not give off much flavor to the coffee (thus underextracting) while the tiny dust bits will extract very quickly, and the hot water will continue to pull out compounds beyond the optimal time (thus overextracting). With auto-drip coffee makers, the ideal brewing time is five minutes. Unpleasant compounds (like bitter, smoke, rancid) will manifest very quickly after the 5 minute brew cycle.

Some coffee makers have a 9-10 minute brew cycle, so almost half of the brew cycle is pulling out bad flavors, which is why most “home coffee” tends to taste rather bitter and require cream or sugar to be palatable. This is what makes a brewer like the Technivorm stand out. Use a burr grinder with sharp burrs to ensure consistent particle size, then a brewer like the Technivorm to ensure the temperature is around 200 degrees and the brew cycle concludes within 5 minutes. You’ll be on your way to delicious, naturally sweet and never bitter coffee every time.

Heat transfer: Coffee has hundreds if not thousands of volotile compounds that evaporate at certain temperatures. Many of these evaporate at 100 degrees. If your grinder heats up while grinding (either from spinning the burrs too quickly, or perhaps from dull burrs which have to work harder to grind the coffee), you will lose some of these beneficial compounds. The Baratza grinders are designed with a DC motor that spins at a lower RPM to reduce heat transfer.

Coffee oil buildup: All oils turn rancid eventually. If the burrs are not cleaned properly, the coffee oil buildup will start to impact the flavor of your brewed coffee. You can manually remove and clean the burrs in your grinder, or you can use a product like Grindz that will absorb the oils. Grindz is composed of small, coffee bean shaped pellets that are made of rice and wheat. It’s a completely safe, food-grade product. You grind up these pellets to absorb the oils, then grind some coffee to eliminate the Grindz powder.

Blade grinders: Next to freshly roasted beans and clean water, burr grinders are the most important component for making a great cup of coffee.

Inexpensive blade grinders are popular, but really just chop coffee beans instead of grinding them, leaving you with grounds that vary in size from huge chunks to a fine powder. This difference in particle size gives you inconsistent extraction, blending sharp, bitter over-extracted flavors with dull, sour under-extracted flavors. Not a very good cup, eh?

Burr grinders, on the other hand, grind beans between a rotating burr and a stationary surface. This gives you grounds that are uniform in size and shape, from which the sweet, smooth flavors of the bean can be extracted reliably.

Burr grinders are also easy to adjust, so you can find the perfect grind setting to set your brewing method. With a blade grinder, you have to shake while grinding and counting seconds to get the right type of grind. All that motion heats up the coffee while grinding, leading to scorched flavors in the cup. Burr grinders grind quickly without heating up the beans.

It was really great to be in a huge building filled with coffee nerds. There are some exciting new products for home brewing in the works. As always, we’ll evaluate them carefully before deciding whether to offer them to you.
Best for now,

Mark


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1 Comment

  • Written by: Gabe

    Great insights Mark. As someone who recently started using the Technivorm, I can tell you that it brews a cup of coffee like no other machine I have ever used.

    I recently switched from a blade grinder to a burr grinder and started using freshly roasted beans (including the Nicaragua Florencia from Clive) and I can’t stand coffee made anywhere else now.

    Keep up the good work and thank you for summarizing what you are learning. I look forward to your future articles and products.

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