Category Archives: Notes

Coffee Meetup During Grand Prix

The latest CGSG (Coffee Greens Singapore) gathering was held in my humble abode during the time Grand Prix was in town. As usual, the gathering was called up at the last minute. And as usual, the CGSG Gang of Four showed up.

CGSG Gang Of Four
CGSG G4: Steve, Kai Seng, Melvin, Colin (L to R)

The gathering was called up as I’ve procured a bag of quite-fresh roasted beans from Intelligentsia@Venice, CA courtesy of Sean Bonner. I met Sean on the chat session moderated by Nick Cho during this year’s WBC. We happened to be the only 2 in Singapore awake at an ungodly hour trying to catch glimpses from  a laggy stream of our favourite baristas in action. One thing led to another, and Sean, who’s a regular at Intelli Venice, bought me a bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Adado on his trip back to Singapore. On a side note, Sean also introduced me Intelli Venice’s Chris & M’lissa Owens (both of them renowned coffee greats) when they were in town for F1.

Kai Seng was the first to arrive as he had tickets to F1 finals that very day, and was in a rush to drink his fill and leave. I assured him that was not going to happen. Sure enough, the other 2 arrived late. We were all dying to try Intelli’s Yirgacheffe, which I’ve decided to save for this gathering. Steve brought his roast of Metropolis Coffee’s Green Line, which is an unroasted version of their popular Red Line. It was roasted to Full City +. Given that it’s home turf, I was the designated barista of the day and proceeded to pull shots for us all.

This CGSG gathering was unlike the previous ones we’ve been having. While CGSG was formed out of our love for coffee, we found that each of us had a common love for steaks, grills, wine, prosciutto, home baked breads, gourmet french butter, blue cheese and all these could be had at Kai Seng’s. (Un)fortunately, this Sunday gathering had none of these distractions and our discussion went back to our first love, coffee. We shared views on über coffeegeek, Mark Prince’s articles on the state of coffee and his call out to bring back spro downs instead of latte art throwdowns. Steve and I both remarked that we’ve become less anal retentive in our home barista routines. I’ve switched from using the Espro clicker tamper to a Reg Barber (which John Ting helped me get from WBC 2010 in London). Both Steve and I have stopped weighing the beans and have replaced the bottomless portafilters with La Marzocco portafilters, I’ve stopped taking infinte photos of the naked portafilter pours as well.

Specially for this Sunday gathering, I went back to using the Espro tamper as I wanted to minimise the variables in our taste tests for Steve’s Green Line and Intelligentsia’s Yirgacheffe. Since all of us were familiar with Yirgacheffe, we decided to prolong Kai Seng’s agonizing wait and pulled the Green Line first. Fortunately, the grind setting on my Compak K-6 was suitable for both coffees. The pull was started at 197.5°F on Eric’s Thermometer. The scent for Green Line espresso was tobacco, and the finish was caramel. Enjoyable indeed. The following picture has the taste notes from Metropolis Coffee.

Then came the Intelligentsia Organic Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Adado. The pull was also at 197.5°F. And wow! The scent was floral, and upon sipping the espresso, we all felt the lemony notes. While 99% of the time on most espresso with this type of taste profile, lemony notes go into overdrive and the taste gives way to brightness and acidity. This time, it was different. Very different. It was a first for all of us. The lemony notes pulled back. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what it reminded us of. Steve mentioned lemon cheesecake. I said lemon meringue or lemon cream. It was the defining moment of a Godshot for all of us. On the bag’s taste notes, it describes the Yirgacheffe as “Jasmine atop lime candy, lemongrass and bergamot.” The 2nd shot was quite consistent with the first. Same lemony notes that never had a chance to go beyond.

While our steakouts (what I call our wining and dining at Kai Seng’s for now) are both satisfying and sinful, I do miss our home barista jam sessions. I hope we get to do one more before the end of this year as soon as Steve can get his new place in order.

Factors to Look Out For When Buying Freshly Roasted Coffee

I’ve wanted to broach on this subject for a long time now, ever since some friends and I have experienced disappointments from roasters in Singapore. What typically happens is that we’re assured by the MBTC (Men Behind The Counter) that the beans we’ve bought are freshly roasted the week before or so, and then we get home only to find out the beans are stale beyond consumption. Before I go any further, I would like to thank the following for their time, effort and photos:

Matt Riddle and Shari Bagwell from Intelligentsia Coffee, USA;

Tim Wendelboe and Tim Varney from Tim Wendelboe, Norway.

The following few points are some factors to look out for when buying freshly roasted coffee.

1)     Whole beans
When whole roasted coffee beans are ground and broken down into tiny fines, it results in a significant increase in surface area from which a rapid deterioration of the coffee occurs. And if you are buying freshly roasted coffee, you would want to buy whole beans instead of ground coffee.

2)     Roast Date
I am quite particular about the freshness of my coffee and I tend to discard beans which are older than 14 days. In Singapore, most roasted coffee packaging I’ve come across do not have roast dates. Instead, they list expiry dates which should be ONE YEAR from the roast date. Next time you pick up a bag of locally roasted coffee, just subtract a year from the date of expiry to determine how fresh the coffee is. I asked both Intelligentsia Coffee and Tim Wendelboe on the window of consumption on an opened bag before discarding the coffee and their replies were:

Matt Riddle, Intelligentsia: “2 – 3 weeks would be the top end of optimal storage time.”

Tim Wendelboe: “3 – 4 weeks, when coffee is packed in a one way valve bag flushed with nitrogen or CO2 then vacuum sealed. In an open paper bag maximum 4-5 days. We operate with 3 weeks on our bags that are vac sealed and flushed with nitrogen.”

3)     Proper Treatment and Packaging
Coffee is highly volatile and prone to staling upon roasting. The roasted coffee beans begin to degas carbon dioxide and deteriorate the moment they are being roasted. Proper packaging and treatment of the coffee as they leave the roastery are very important to prolong the freshness of the beans. The following are some features roasteries use on their packaging of coffee:

a)     Opaque one way valve Bags

b)     Resealable or Zip-loc

c)     Nitrogen flushed before sealing bags
Tim Varney mentioned that “When the bag is flushed, then sealed, the bag is sucked tight – but is designed to be able to stand up. Also, there is a one way valve on the rear of the bag to release the CO2 over time.”

d)     Immediate packaging of the beans upon cooling after the roast

The following are prime examples of coffee bags from the 2 aforementioned roasters.

FYI, the roast date for Tim Wendelboe Espresso is found on the lower right corner of the label.

Last but not least, I asked both roasters the following:

“I’ve come across a few roasters in Singapore who fib on the actual roast day. A good way to tell is the smell and the oil on the beans. Am I correct? What are other ways to tell you’ve been had?”

Matt Riddle stated “Really, just by looking at coffee it’s hard to tell when it was roasted. So much would depend on the level of roast, age of the (green) coffee and other factors. The best way to tell if the coffee is fresh is to grind some,  and pour a little water over it. if it blooms, it’s fresh. If not, it’s probably getting up on the window if not past it. You can most certainly smell old coffee…it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you smell it.”

Tim Wendelboe’s answer was “It depends on the roast and the cooling technique. If you cool the coffee with water quenching the shelf life is max 5 days and the beans will get oily the day after roast if they are dark roasted. Lighter roasted beans have longer shelf life and air cooled coffee has longer shelf life. However a good indication whether the coffee is stale or not is by looking, smelling and tasting. Oils is a good indicator of stale coffee as oils oxidize and turn bitter when in contact with oxygen.”

Incidentally, both coffees in the photos are legendary and you can order them online below:

Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso

Tim Wendelboe Espresso

Americano Sans Crema Test

While I used to dismiss the americano as a watered down drink, I’ve grown to appreciate it much more after talking to fellow coffeegeek KS. It is much easier to discern the taste profile of the coffee if one is not used to the intenseness of an espresso. Of course, this intense taste profile comes only with freshness of the bean and quality of the barista and the machine preparing it. After watching James Hoffmann’s video blog and this morning’s taste test, I’ve embarked on another taste test now involving watered down espresso. I used a Bodum Pavina for the espresso, so that the crema could be clearly delineated. Here are the details:

Brazil Moreninha Formosa
Roasted to Full City +
4 days old
Dose: 18 grams

For this 1st shot, after separating the crema, I tasted both cups before adding water. Both taste tests were the same as previous post.

1st shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple:  Start at 200, end at 204 Fahrenheit.

Espresso only:  Slight bitterness.

Crema only:  Good fragrance. Taste spreads thru entire tongue.

Water-espresso 2:1 ratio:  Tastes like…. coffee. Smooth, even cup, no bitterness.

Water-crema 2:1 ratio:  Tastes wonderful. Pronounced fragrance.

Water-crema-espresso:  Good body, very smooth with good fragrance.

The first thing that hit my mind after drinking the 2 different cups was that if the Aldo Coffee taste test was repeated here, the ones who chose Maxwell House will go with the water-espresso cup, while the ones who were able to distinguish the CoE Fazenda Kaquend will go for the water-crema cup. Drinking the water-crema cup brings me the same sensation as my Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda. It doesn’t taste like conventional coffee. It brings the best to the table. To get a taste profile like this, I feel I have to roast the beans to almost Full City, without ever hitting 2nd crack.

2nd shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple:  Start at 198, end at 202 Fahrenheit.

Espresso only:  A bit bright, lemony feel.

Crema only:  Strong fragrance, berry-like.

Water-espresso 1:1 ratio: Citrusy lemony hints. A bright and smooth cup.

Water-crema 1:1 ratio:  Aromatic, perfumed cup. Hint of blueberries. Esmeralda-like. Not like coffee.

Water-crema-espresso:  Coffee with a good aroma. Smooth. A bit lemony. Pleasant aftertaste.

After this 2nd shot, it is safe to say that crema is not rubbish. Au contraire, watered down crema is IMHO a good way for beginners to distinguish the fragrances of the particular coffee. I would reiterate as I have stated in the previous Espresso sans crema taste test, espresso is not complete without crema. If this does work across the board for all coffees, I wonder if this process of separating the crema out will redefine espresso tasting/cupping sessions.

Espresso Sans Crema Test

After reading James Hoffmann’s 1st video blog (well done, James!), I was prompted to do an espresso tasting session at 1 am, and I’ve done enough to give myself a caffeine high at this point. His last words were a shocker. I won’t give any spoilers. You have to watch the video.

The message is that he was also prompted to do a taste test, following a discussion he had at The Coffee Collective’s blog post. Without further ado, here are my findings, and I believe there are more to come.

Brazil Moreninha Formosa
Roasted to Full City +
4 days old
Dose: 18 grams

I did 2 pulls at different temperatures, each indicated by Eric’s Thermocouple.  I used a Bodum Pavina for the espresso, so that the crema could be clearly delineated. I then separated the crema into another cup. Then I tasted the espresso, followed by the crema only, and then both the espresso and crema. (Note: for this article, the espresso means the black liquid without the crema.)

1st Shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple: Start at 200, end at 204 Fahrenheit

Espresso only:  1st sensation was that it was bitter, a tobacco feel. Bitter aftertaste.

Crema only:  Sour, with a tiny hint of some sort of fragrance in the mouthfeel.

Espresso and Crema:  Bitter and sour (At this point, I was thinking, “My home barista skills have gone into the Dark Ages.”)

2nd shot:

Eric’s Thermocouple:  Start at 198, end at 202.5 Fahrenheit.

Espresso:  No bitterness, more body than the 1st shot, very mild aftertaste, taste is mostly congregated at the back of the mouth. A bit nutty and dark chocolate.

Crema only:  No sours at all. Lemony feel. It’s almost akin to perfume oils. There’s a pronounced fragrance but not of the floral sort. Taste goes over entire flat of the tongue.

Crema and espresso:  Perfumed lemony dark chocolate.

I Hate (with a capital “H”) to disagree with The Coffee Collective and James, but I believe that espresso is incomplete without the crema. I believe that the crema is what gives espresso the fragrance and the defining factor that lends to its character and body.  But likewise, the body is incomplete without the head (pun intended). I will definitely be staying on this topic and will include more taste tests. My next set should involve americano.

Brazil Moreninha Formosa

Roasted on I-Roast 2 Rec 2, stopped with 2 minutes remaining.
Full City to Full City +

2nd day: espresso, slow drip, 45 second ristretto, gorgeous naked flow. Extremely creamy, long aftertaste. Hint of spice, chocolate notes. I think taste will be more pronounced when it peaks later. Will be better tomorrow or day after. Needs more rest. Fantastic RISTRETTO roast. I’m in love! What have I been doing blending this with Zambia? This Brazil is great on its own. KS, take note, I know you have some left, don’t waste blending it.

Brew Better Coffee in Your Hotel and at Home [NewsWeek]

Newsweek’s Budget Travel weblog discusses the limitations of most drip coffee makers, then highlights how to brew a better pot despite those limitations. For example, the post claims that your drip coffee maker probably never reaches the perfect brewing temperature. The solution:

Do a “trial run” of your coffee maker—without coffee—to heat up the machine. Pour the heated water back into the device and brew your coffee as usual. While you won’t get the water to a perfect level of hotness, you will get it pretty darned close.

The post covers a few more smart hacks for accomplishing a better cup when your brewer isn’t ideal, so if a good cup of coffee is what keeps you going on a long day, these tips could save you the cost of a trip to your coffee shop but still provide you with a good cup. Photo by emdot.

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[Pour Quality] The Emerald in the Coffeebloggosphere’s Crown

Eliminating The Suspense

Esmeralda = emerald in Spanish, OK?

The Esmeralda That Was

Esmeralda is one of the coffees widely regarded as one of the world’s best; its reputation is that of a modern-day Jamaican Blue Mountain. Last year, my curiosity got the better of me and I arranged to procure some from Paradise Roasters. In blogging about it, I introduced it as follows:


I probably don’t need to write too much about this one. If you have been living under a rock, or if you just happen to be one of the few people who doesn’t follow the coffee auctions, you might not know that this is currently the world’s most expensive coffee. Previously, that dubious honour went to kopi luwak. (I’ll spare you the jokes – google it if it’s news to you.)

Esmeralda has an impressive back story; in a nutshell, the gesha varietal that makes up the Esmeralda Especial lot seems to have basically gone extinct except for a few random rediscoveries in Panama. It just so happens that this particular farm’s gesha offering has won something like four Best of Panama auctions and every single other cupping competition it has been entered in. In terms of scores, the consensus seems to be that it’s a 92 at a minimum, with some tasters going as high as 97!


The 2007 Paradise Roasters lot displayed a predominant and intense mandarin flavour in all brewing methods, …

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Rate of Flow

What is an acceptable rate of flow from a bottomless portafilter?


Brazil Moreninha Formosa Day 5

For me, I try to keep it to a mouse tail. While I know this is applicable
to those stock portafilters with their bottoms intact, I’m not sure
about the bottomless. Something to look in the forums for. My ideal for
a well-rested coffee would be to do a 45 second ristretto, where the
flow is sticky, gooey, and drips down like chocolate fudge, and I’ll
cut the flow at the slightest hint of pale. Intense.

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Stale Coffee Beans

I’ve got just a bit of Vivace Dolce left, over 3 weeks since their roast date. To make the best of it, I’ve been

  1. Keeping the beans in its original one way valve bag, taking care to press out as much air out of the bag before ziplocking it.
  2. Keeping the coffee beans in the dark, away from light.
  3. Drinking only Aeropress – I can taste the staleness when I did espresso for the beans a week past the roast date. Aeropress is one of the ways to go. Having Aeropressed coffee from 3 week old beans still beats coffee from any of the major chains in Singapore.

Mmmm… I just snuck a few sniffs from the bag of freshly roasted Brazil Moreninha Formosa. Needs maybe 2 more days of rest.

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